Remembering Sister

Today I learned that one of my favorite teachers has passed.

I was blessed to attend an outstanding, private, all-girls high school; Ursuline Academy in Dedham, Massachusetts.

I have referenced my school in several posts, including “Perfectionista!”  I specifically talk about Sister Ursula (Sister)in my post, “eye lock

In “eye lock,” Sister Ursula was the nurturing, caring and perceptive teacher who clearly saw through my “stiff-upper-lip-ish-ness” in homeroom on that cold December day. It was the day before my nana died.

As mothers, we have an inherent capacity to identify and detect our children’s needs, fear, sorrow and happiness. We know when something is off with our kids. We can FEEL it.

Sister Ursula was not a biological mother, but I observed on many occasions her innate ability to express that maternal love to her students especially when they were troubled. She extended her love and genuine warmth without appeal. She just knew what to do.

She did this for me, and I will never forget it.  She responded to her maternal sense toward me in her homeroom, first period,  in Latin 2.

It was the day before my nana died. I knew it was imminent. Although I kept my fear and sadness it to myself (without success, apparently,) she sensed my sorrow and despair within the first minutes of class.

After our opening prayer, she paused, looked at me with her head tilted in compassion and asked, “Mistress Mary, what troubles you so?”

I burst into tears. I sobbed in her embrace, and she just held me and comforted me as mothers do. My classmates looked on silently and respectfully with kindness and compassion. I told her that Nana was not expected to live.

That was correct. She died the next day.

Last May, I attended my 3oth high school reunion which, in itself, is gross and mean and hurts my feelings. Yes, thirty.

Despite the sparse attendance from our class, there was a remarkable connection between us. It was as if we had not lost a moment.  Ursuline is a special and unique school whose students have an uncanny bond as sisters. It is a bond which transcends time and does not discriminate concerning graduating year.

Sister Ursula, along with numerous other teachers, both religious and lay, made our experience one of learning, love of learning and just plain love.

I struggled immensely in my formative high school years. I was privately coping with repeated sexual abuse by my grandfather, Nana’s husband. I kept it a secret from my school. Despite that and all my sadness, my school community made me feel loved.

So, in close, here is my testimonial to this remarkable lady.

What a loss to our Ursuline community. Sister Ursula was a dynamic woman whom I will never forget. She was an inspirational and impassioned person. Sister went to great lengths to better our learning with her zeal and candor. She was a lover of art, humanities, sharing her knowledge and being in community.

She had MOXIE.

I will forever remember her for her blessed gift of shining a light on the uniqueness and beauty of each of her students.

One of the many remarkable things she did was to collect a stone from the beach each summer for every one of her homeroom students. She painted it uniquely for each young woman and gifted it on the student’s birthday. On one side she painted a relevant quote. On the other, she painted a picture

Who does that?

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I wish that all Ursuline girls had the wonderful gift of Sister. And for those of us who were blessed enough to know her, let her spirit live on in all of us.

Rest in Peace, Sister. Love to you.

 

That’s All.

 

 

 

eye lock

I was 15 years old and in my freshman year at Ursuline Academy. My home room teacher was Sr. Ursula. She also happened to be my Latin teacher. I loved her.

But I did not love Latin.

Sr. Ursula took attendance on one cold and dreary December morning. When I uncharacteristically mumbled a quietly “here,” she looked up at me, paused and walked to my desk. She took me in her arms and after a few moments she asked,

“Mistress Mary, what troubles you so?”

I fell apart.

Nana had suffered a stroke the evening before.

Nana was on life support. My mother and her siblings and spouses gathered around her hospital bed. My brother and I were the oldest of her seven grandchildren and the only grandchildren present.

My mother spoke to Nana as if she were conscious. Mom encouraged my brother and me to do the same.

I did as told. I prattled to Nana about my cheerleading practice that I’d had earlier that day. I told her I did well on my math test. I couldn’t think of anything else to say as she laid peacefully with the ventilator doing its job.

I shifted from one foot to the other. My brother and I continued to catch eyes. We knew it did not look good.

Nana passed away the next day.

My Nana was a kind and special lady. She touched many lives. It was not surprising to see such an outpouring of people gather to offer their condolences at her wake.

But.

It was disarmingly surprising to look up and see my three cousins standing in that funeral parlor clutching their mother, my Aunt Betty.

“Surprising” is the understatement of the century.

I am referring to The Aunt Betty. The Aunt Betty who called my grandfather out on sexually abusing my cousins. The one who ensured that her children would never, ever have to see that monster again.

That one.

There in the parlor stood an incredibly brave woman embracing her three beautiful daughters as if she were their coat of armor.

The moment the family noticed her, the energy in that room filled with disdain. In their eyes, she was repugnant. The divorce of my uncle and her was atrocious. But that wasn’t the real reason they loathed her.

She was the one who exposed our grandfather for sexually abusing two of her daughters.

The girls looked horrified, frightened and as if they were trying to melt into their mother. Aunt Betty held them tightly. Very tightly. So much so that the four of them looked like one.

My eldest cousin, with eyes, averted to the floor, buried herself into my aunt’s left arm. My youngest cousin, only waist-high to her, buried her face into her mother’s hip.

Then, there was Laura. Laura leaned into her mother’s embrace with her left leg planted on the floor, and her right crossed behind it.

At that moment, Laura and I locked eyes.

She smirked. Not a mischievous smirk, Not a disingenuous smirk or glib smirk.

It was the same smirk that both of us wore in our school photos that were taken around the time we were being abused by Grandpa.

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It was a knowing smirk.

Those moments were profoundly impactful. She and I connected on a very intense level. I will never, ever forget it.

There stood a very brave woman. She dauntlessly brought her girls to say goodbye to their Nana, whom they loved. That took such strength in a room filled with such disdain.

But she did it.

Just as she had the courage to stand up for her daughters.

She had guts. She had gumption. She had MOXIE.

That was the last time I saw Laura. We never spoke the words of our abuse to one another.

But that look, that eye lock, said it all.

And 35 years later we have made up for time. We face it. We talk about it. We compare notes and share similar stories of how our lives have played out.

We continue to heal together.

That was the connection that my cousin Laura and I always had growing up together. We understood each other. We knew each other. And sadly, tragically, even, we lost many years.

Reuniting with her has been a blessing. It has been easy. And you know what? Our reunion feels like slipping into my favorite and most loved slippers.

That’s all.

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October 25, 1984. My Dear Mary Beth,…

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“Drinking beer and telling lies” as Dad would say (at the 2004 World Series)

It is Father’s Day. This is the fourth Father’s Day that has arrived since my dad died. I still miss him every single day.

One good thing is that this is the FIRST Father’s Day that I did not cry when I went to the card aisle.  That has to count for something.

Recently, I helped my mom clean out her attic.  I found a box of my old stuff.  In it, I discovered an envelope with my name written in my father’s notorious script.  It was one of the Palanka letters I received on my Junior Retreat.

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Here is what he wrote down.

October 25, 1984

My Dear Mary Beth, This is a difficult letter to write because I try to tell you as often as possible how I feel about you, and something new is hard.  I’ll try not to be too long-winded.

Every day I pray and thank God for you, for you are the most wonderful gift that I could receive from Him. You are my joy and my happiness.

I know that I ‘m not as patient with you as I should be.  I know that I’m short with you, and I regret it every time.  I hope that you know it’s because I want you to be everything you can, and I seek your happiness always.

No man could ask for more than you are in a daughter. You’re a good girl yet full of fun and life. You’re a mover and a shaker who loves God and is loved by God very much (look at the mother he gave you.)

Thank you, Mary, for never giving me a worry or a care about what or who you are. Thank you for being a truly beautiful person. Thank you for all the happiness, joy, love, fun and pride you have given to me.

Thanks for understanding that your daddy doesn’t want you to grow up and understanding that I’ll always need to have you as my little girl.

Thank you for talking to me more. Thank you for being kind to others. Thank you for being nice to Gram. Thank you for making your mother so happy.Thank you for being such a good friend and sister to your brother.

But I supposed that I thank God for you so often that I should say thank you for being you. I could go on and on.

I could go on even longer about the things you have forgiven me for and how you still love me. Thank you.

When we found out that you were to be born, I was as happy as I had ever been.  When you were born on December 31 and gave me a tax deduction for the whole year,  that was a sign of the beginning of all the good things and happiness that your brought and are still bringing to us all.

My dream for you is that you be as happy and fulfilled as you can possibly be.  I pray that God allows you to be as happy as you have made your family and me.

I pray that Jesus takes you in his arms and protects you forever.

After that, I pray you have all that you want and that you have children that make you as happy as you have made me.

Mary Beth, you are a beautiful woman with charm and grace, blessed with intelligence and wit as well as an inner glow that makes you shine.

I thank God for allowing me to be your father. It’s a high gift.

I truly love you now and forever – no matter what.

Daddy

I loved my father dearly. But I am the first to admit (as would he) that our relationship was complicated.  That is not to say that it lacked love.  Quite to the contrary, we adored each other.

But there were hurts. There were disagreements.  We had our share of impasses.

The thing is that our relationship was always REAL.

This letter is invaluable to me.  I will hold it in my heart forever. It is a gift better than any other he had ever given to me. I treasure it.

So on this Father’s Day, 2015, I don’t feel quite so sad that my dad is not with me, grilling a steak and drinking a beer or hitting some golf balls as we used to do.  Because you know what? He is right here.

Happy Father’s Day.

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  To learn about palanka click this link http://www.ehow.com/how_8088924_write-palanca-letter.html

grace happens…

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ˈmirək(ə)l/

Several years ago I leased a beautiful, new car and was reveling in its purity. It was not yet tattooed by the hands of urban parking, and the rims were still gleaming. On my new shiny’s maiden voyage from the dealership, I drove to collect my son from school.

As I waited for him in the pickup line, I spotted my boy joyfully skipping to the car grinning ear to ear, backpack trailing and waving what I thought to be a piece of paper.

“Guess what, Mama?” he asked, out of breath.

“What, Sweets?” I responded.

“I won STUDENT OF THE MONTH!” he proudly announced.

I beamed! I wanted to shout it from the top of the Hancock Tower! I wanted to send out an email blast! YAY!

Then, he handed it to me. Yes, IT.

The sticker read, “MY SON WAS STUDENT OF THE MONTH AT BLAH BLAH SCHOOL.”

Oh, Lord.

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This was, most likely, the only instance I voluntarily (was it voluntary?) slapped an announcement on my bumper. If given a choice, I would have publicized my son’s success in my way to my family and friends, not necessarily to my fellow commuters. TMI.

I can think of one other exception to sharing a message on my tail, however. I would be willing to post the sticker, “Grace Happens.”

Have you ever seen that bumper sticker? It has a white field with a serendipitous font and little yellow stars on it. It is light, hopeful and divine. I love it.

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It is TRUE! I believe that Grace happens all around us, all the time. It is a bestowal of blessings. Do you see it?

Each time I see that bumper sticker I am reminded to open my eyes and witness Grace. It is everywhere.

Grace has been present to me in remarkable ways on several occasions.

My dear dad passed away of heart failure in 2010. Clearly, it was sudden and the most devastating event in my life. I still miss him every single day.

Dad and I shared great passion and strong opinions on many topics, yet we agreed on few. Our relationship was a tumultuous one, but it never, ever lacked love. Looking back, I am thankful that, no matter what our differences, at least our relationship was REAL.

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At the time of his death, he and I were just starting to reconcile after a hurtful impasse that had kept us from speaking for months. Despite our past disagreements, we had never been so disconnected in my 43 years. Looking back, I would have given just about anything to have been on good terms when he left this life. I wished I’d had the opportunity for a do-over.

But he died. Grief crippled me. I could barely function.

One morning, I accepted that I could not face that day. I surrendered myself back to bed after I dropped my son off at school. Then, I had a dream that I am confident will remain crystal clear in my mind forever.

I dreamt that I was standing on a sidewalk on a rainy day waiting for my dad. He and I had a standing appointment each week on the same day. My head was down. I was studying a big, muddy puddle at my feet. Then, it dawned on me. He was not coming.

All of a sudden, to my surprise, a car slowly passed me, upsetting my puddle. It stopped when its rear bumper aligned with where I was standing. I looked up to see the driver’s window slowly roll down. My dad’s face appeared in the window, and he looked at me.

“Dad? But you are gone!” I said.

“I am not gone, Darling, I am still here with you.”

“Can you see me, Daddy?”

“I can’t see your face but I can see you from above.”

Then, I woke. The dream ended there. I felt enormous love in my heart and the deepest comfort imaginable. Grace happened. Reconciliation happened. I knew he would never leave me. It was finally clear. He loved me so.

I am so grateful that my dad continued to visit me for months after my dream. I understand that he was checking on me. He was reassuring me and he was trying to alleviate my excruciating grief and GUILT. Let’s not forget the guilt.

I felt his presence every Sunday at church and my husband made sure to have a clean handkerchief in his pocket. It became a thing. One day I saw Dad observing (inspecting) the landscaping of my new house. Good thing he could not speak. One time, for a split second, while waiting in the drive-through, I swear I saw my dad in the Camry two cars back. That was unexpected.

Life is messy. Life can be hard and tragic and disappointing and so many other things. On our journey, we don’t know where we are going to land. But, there is a plan. And Lovey, Grace has everything to do with it.

I do not know what inspired me spontaneously to look for and find my long-lost cousins on Facebook but I was overcome with the sense that somehow, that very moment, I needed to.

My friend request has reunited me with my Laura, who, in just five months, knows almost all the secrets I have ever kept. And if you keep reading my blog, soon enough you will know all of them, too.

We were meant to go to the police. We were meant to meet Officer Paul Smith. Officer Paul Smith was meant to find another victim of our grandfather’s abuse. Laura was meant to write her blog post, “He Wrote it Down,” which has resonated with SO many.

Now, Laura and I, holding hands, are about to do the next great thing. And guess what? We are certain that Grace will join us.

Grace happens! Do you see? It is a miracle. It is a marvel. It stupendous phenomenon and it brings very welcome consequences.

Thank you, Grace.

03 Native New Yorker (Radio Edit)