Saturday, July 01, 2017

A death in the family

My house is full of memories. Every time I sit on the porch, I think of Peter, my spiritual director.

For over 13 years, on a monthly basis, he would come up the front stairs. Towards the end, it grew harder. Even the two steps sometimes posed a challenge, especially going down.  I talked to Nguyen about building a railing. I even looked them up on Amazon. But somehow, in the hustle and bustle, we never got to it. I suggested Peter use the back stairs, which had a rail, but he never did.

Yesterday I went to a local deli to buy sandwiches for me and Emmett. As I stood in line, I realized that lately, most of my sandwich runs were for visits with my mom and visits with Peter. Before his kidneys started acting up, the usual was a roast beef sandwich, no cheese, with lettuce, tomato, onion, and mayo. Lots of black pepper.  After the low sodium diet it was low sodium turkey with low sodium cheese.  But no matter how you filled it, Peter loved sandwiches.  On Fridays, outside of the Easter season, I usually made grilled cheese. Once, I made frittatas with fresh eggs from a friend's farm. I was grateful I had cracked the eggs into a bowl first. Two of them had chicks inside. Peter never said a word as I unceremoniously dumped them into the trash and started again.

He ate whatever I served him. It was a part of his practice, I think. Even if I forgot it was Friday and served meat, he was a gracious guest.

My dining room table. I always sit in the same seat. Every day for 24 years, I have sat in the seat with my back to the windows. Except when Peter came. He got that seat for our lunches. I always sat to his left, in Noah's place. We were close enough to be able to speak softly and still hear each other. Close enough that the pepper could be passed without reaching. Close enough that a clean handkerchief could be offered in the event of tears.  (Did Peter always swap out his handkerchief before coming to lunch, I wonder?)

Once, I couldn't make lunch. It was a strange time when I got some sort of inflammation in my knee. The draining, the MRI, the doctors couldn't fix it or figure out what it was. For a couple of months I was immobilized, unable to walk or even get to the bathroom without the use of a cane. It started in January, right around the time I began a program to read the bible in 90 days. Since I couldn't really do much else, I read the bible. I read and read and read. Until one day, on the Thursday of Holy Week, I finished.

During this time, Peter came to lunch. But instead of me making it for him, he arrived with lunch for the two of us. Hot dogs with buns. Cole slaw. And two bottles of beer.  It's funny that I never offered him a beer at any other time.

Just once or twice did I go to his house- a beautiful little cottage overlooking a lake in Chepachet. It was after his prostate surgery and he wasn't up to driving yet, but was up for lunch. I think he even cooked. I seem to remember some noodle dish. He was very fond of Asian food. He made us tea in real Japanese tea bowls. We used cloth napkins and talked.

Every part of my life is so deeply connected with Peter. He prayed for me constantly. He offered advice reluctantly.... always prayerfully, always seeking the Holy Spirit first.

He was my first confessor, the first person I took communion from, my Godfather, my friend. For weeks now I have only been able to think of the loss. I have only been able to feel the loss. I have been overwhelmed with the loss.  But yesterday, I woke up and realized that Peter is in Heaven. He is in JOY. The place of love. He is one of the saints holding bowls of prayers, lifting them to God and Jesus. It seemed selfish, suddenly, to lament his passing. The loss for me is nothing but gain for him. So, I will cherish his joy, even as I learn to live in a world without him.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017


The last several weeks have been a series of losses.

On May 17th, my mother, Pat Hegnauer, died.  She lost a long a fierce battle with alpha-1 anti-trypsin deficiency, a lung disorder that gave her COPD at the end of her life.

A few days later, I learned that my spiritual director, Fr. Peter D'Alesandre, had died on May 16th in the same hospice facility. I still am not sure how Peter died. In the weeks following his death, I have not been able to reach his family members... and it seemed rude to ask at the funeral.  I can only assume it was complications related to a recent surgery.  The obituary said he died peacefully. I am haunted by the possibility that I was actually in the hospice center when Peter was there dying. I am not sure of that, though.

For the first couple of weeks after my mother and Peter's deaths, I was in too much of a fog to think straight. I could barely hold a conversation. I would walk away realizing that most of what I meant to say never made it out of my mouth. Thoughts just hung there, unspoken.  It was strange.

A week and a half after my mother died, I tried going back to work. It was very hard.... not because the work is all that hard, but because my job is a lot about making decisions, big and small.... and about supporting my staff in their work. I struggled with even the simplest decision and frankly didn't feel like I had enough strength to support myself or my family, never mind staff members.

It was on the Thursday after I returned to work that I got the call from Vietnam about my father in law. Nguyen's dad had peacefully passed away in the hospital. He died of heart failure.

Since then, I have taken a short leave of absence to try and process all these deaths. For the most part, the processing has been unsuccessful. What am I to make of this? I don't know. I have been spending much time sitting, reading, tending to my growing collection of houseplants, going to daily mass. Not thinking much, just being. Hanging with my husband and kids.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

4 Years In

On Thursday, I had the opportunity to share my conversion story with the Young Adult Group at Pius V Church in Providence. It was a lovely night. It started with an hour of Adoration and prayer, followed by a Benediction by the priest. We headed downstairs to a comfortable lounge filled with sofas and armchairs. I spoke for at least an hour and answered questions for another 30 minutes or so after.

After so much turmoil entering the Church, it is amazing to finally be in a place where I feel embedded. It is hard to remember the time of not being Catholic, to be honest. The life that came before seems so distant, now.

It has been over a year since I posted to this blog. My mother is still with us, living in a nursing home run by the Catholic Diocese. She is savoring these, her last days. The spark is still in her spirit, even as her physical health has declined.

I am grateful for the time together. God has blessed our last year and a half.