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.

Sunday, November 22, 2015


For 25 years we have known, but it doesn't make it easier when things shift- when my mom was rushed to the hospital by ambulance for respiratory failure.  COPD brought on by a genetic disorder that my kids and I carry, but don't, thank God, have.  Our lungs are fine. Our lungs can repair themselves and then behave as they should.  But hers have been on overdrive for years, cleaning, cleaning, cleaning, like an OCD housewife wearing holes in the carpet with over enthusiastic vacuuming.  Hers are puffed up like balloons that can't, won't, deflate properly.

She hasn't been able to talk very well. Not her usual rambuncious self.  Not her normal bossy pants self.  Not her 'get me a vodka tonic and don't be stingy with either' self.  A breathy whisper.  The vocal chords need air to work properly, it turns out.  Without it, they just get tight and squeaky.

The drugs are good.  We have grown to love morphine.  It is the thing that helps keep her calm when the air decides to quit.  That and lorazapam. Anti-anxiety.  I am ridiculously grateful because without them she is drowning in fear. Her body betrays her spirit, fighting for air.  Better living through chemistry.  Living through chemistry.  And maybe a gentler death, too.

I have been praying with her.  I send her little texts at night as I head to bed.  I quote scripture or just wish her a sweet and peaceful night.

I am jealous of her time, of solitude with her.  I know you are her friends, have been there for her, love her.  But get out of her room now.  Let me have time alone.  I need to hold her hand and speak of things you cannot overhear.  I need to ask her questions that will haunt me forever if left unspoken. I need to strain to hear the truth inside her whispers.  I need to let her love me.  I need to love her.

My kids have met death before.  They met it face to face when their friends' mom died.  The one who made sauce and meatballs and let Noah stay over every weekend. The one who sat in the pew at church with us, week after week, Sunday after Sunday.  The one who died one night.  Who just didn't wake up.  Who left us all grief stricken and in shock.  They have met that death.  The angry, forlorn, shocking death.

But this one is different.  Not the same shock. Or the sense of outrage at it's unfairness.  Instead, it is a quiet grief.  My mom considering this a teachable moment.  She wants them to walk on this journey with her.  To not be afraid.  To step to the edge with her and feel the love that surrounds us all.

I am crying a lot.

Sunday, November 08, 2015


I was supposed to go on retreat last weekend.  It was canceled at the last minute for lack of participation.  I was utterly crushed.  For weeks I had been looking forward to time away from the hubub of life.  A whole weekend of silence, listening, resting in Him, and walking.  But on Thursday I got a call that it was not happening.

I went home and cried.  Big, deep, ugly cry. I carry so much in my day to day life, especially at work. And I felt like the weight of the world came crashing in at that moment.  

My staff assured me that God had something else planned for me.  And while that might have been true, at that moment, it was little consolation.  I was devastated.

So I went home and cried.  And cried out to Jesus.  Lord, help me.  Help me.  

And thus began a funny one way conversation with my friend Jesus.  He got all cryptic on me.  He gave me little orders and expected me to just follow.

I woke up on Friday morning with a sense of him telling me "Clean your room."  Sort of like what I say to my teen aged sons.  And yes, my room was a mess.  Laundry piled up, books all over the place, every surface covered with stuff.  It was as inhospitable a room as you can imagine, made worse by the fact that it needs a paint job and some organization.  

"Make it a place of retreat."

I didn't argue.  I didn't resent the fact that I lost my beautiful weekend of silence to a laundry folding marathon, vacuuming under the bed and decluttering my bookshelves.  It took me the whole weekend to get it all sorted out and dusted.  I helped Emmett clean his room while I was at it, complete with a new comforter and sheets, cleaned bunny cage, swept floors, fresh curtains.

"Go to Mass" was the next order I got.  So I walked to the little church in my neighborhood on a weekday morning and attended Mass with about 6 other folks, all of whom are well north of 60 years old.  As I sat in the church, I felt a sense of peace and joy.  Oh yeah!  I can do this every day if I want!  I LOVE this!

"Come visit me."  The same little church has a tiny adoration chapel.  It is a dusty, funky, vintage 80s affair with a laminate altar, some dying plants, and a few milk crates filled with old candles stacked in the corner.  Hardly a place that inspires fervent prayer.  But between pulling the dead leaves and watering the thirsty plants, I felt a powerful sense of His presence.  On the little bench where I was seated, people had left old devotionals, hand written prayers, and a worn set of commentaries on the gospel readings for every day of the year called 'In Conversation with God'  which is not to be confused with the very new age series of books of a similar name.  

I picked up the nearest copy of 'In Conversation' and randomly opened the page.  It was from the readings for the season of Advent and was about doing a daily examination of conscience.  It suggested that every day, we ask ourselves a simple question.  'Where was my heart yesterday?'  Was it on God?  Or was I focused on fear, anger, frustration, or something else?  It goes on to suggest that we repent of those times when our heart was distracted and ask God's help in staying focused on him for the coming day.  

I went home and bought a copy of the current volume of 'Conversations' for my kindle.  And every day since it has been a wonderful part of my daily time with God.

I was sad and disappointed that I wasn't able to go on retreat last weekend.  But in the days since, I have been spending much time with my Beloved, reading the daily cycle of prayer in the church, going to Mass, sitting in silent prayer, and enjoying my tidy room, a lovely place of retreat in my own home.  

Such a gift.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Heaven on Earth

I was a lector that day.  After the consecration, I was standing behind the altar with the Eucharistic ministers and the altar servers.  The priest, Fr. Mongeon, was saying the final prayer before giving communion.  "Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb."

And suddenly, I felt a wave of peace.  A moment in which I truly believed that God could and would take away the sins of the world.  That we would taste the joy of Heaven.  My heart was flooded with love.  My eyes filled with tears.  I knew, in that instant, what Heaven feels like.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

RIP John Michael

13 years ago, as I was just beginning my walk as a Christian, I joined the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship forum online.  Through it, I met many good people.  I went to the annual convention.  I wrote about my conversion to Christianity and it was published in a book on UU Christianity.  I eventually left the Unitarian Church and lost touch with most of my UU Christian friends, but over the years, one of the most lasting things was a correspondance with John Michael Keba.  

John was raised as an Eastern Catholic who had explored different faiths, including Unitarianism.  He was a hot head who got into vicious debates with UUs about all kinds of things.  He was a very smart, very fiesty man who eventually got himself banned from the forum.  For a couple of years we didn't connect.  

Then, one day, I knew that I could no longer be a Unitarian.  I began searching for a new church.  A Christian Church.  My search brought me to many Episcopal Churches.  But one Sunday, I decided to visit St. Teresa of Avila, a Catholic Church in Providence.  At the time it was pastored by a wonderful priest name Fr. Ray Tetrault.  I cried through the whole Mass. And though I knew that I wasn't ready to become a Catholic, for the first time I thought that someday, I might end up there. 

On the way home, driving under an overpass on the highway, I remembered John Michael.  I remembered that he was Catholic.  I decided to write him an email telling him that I had visited a Catholic Church.  He relentlessly tried to convince me to join the church.  I resisted.  I wasn't ready and I knew it.  But nevertheless, we continued to email each other, sometimes daily, usually weekly.

Thus began a correspondance that lasted over 10 years.  

The irony was that over the next several years, as I was drawing closer to the Catholic Church, John was leaving it.  He eventually chose the absolute polar opposite and joined the Religious Society of Friends.  And even there, in a faith about peace and quiet and the gentle calling of the spirit, John was a rabble rouser.  He was fiesty and cranky and got into all sorts of trouble, I think.  I believe that he was seeking peace.  He believed in peace.  He yearned for peace.

In some ways, John was actually responsible for my choosing to work at CareNet.  He insisted that if God was calling me, I had no right to refuse.  And if there was doubt about the call, he was having none of it.  John was fiercely pro-life.

Once I started working at CareNet, I would occasionally write to him, especially when things were particularly tough.  I asked for his prayers.  He prayed.  He encouraged, exhorted.  But somehow, after his father died in 2014, our correspondance dwindled. 

This morning, I woke up thinking about him, and for some reason, felt sure that he had died.  I went online and found that yes, indeed, he had died over the Christmas Holidays.  There is no obituary.  No record of his death save for a brief comment on his facebook page.  His extended family didn't even seem to know about it. Fortunately, one of his friends was willing to message me back on Facebook and tell me the story of his passing.  He died alone in his home. He wasn't found for days.  No one seems to know if there is a grave somewhere.  

Dear Jesus,  I pray that John is at rest in your arms.  He was deeply aware of his sins.  He loved you with all his heart.  He was a man who yearned for peace.  The peace that surpasses all understanding.  I pray, my savior, that he is with you.  May his soul rest in your peace forever.