Saturday, August 27, 2005

August 2005: Julie Mooney

On Saturday, August 27, a friend of mine died. Julie Mooney, 41, had breast cancer that metastasized to her bones. She was the mother of two boys — Quinn 10, who is in my son Jacob’s class at St. Monica, and Dylan, 13, an 8th grader there.
            Her death was not a surprise. We all knew it was coming for quite awhile. The day before she died, I received a call letting me know she most likely had fewer than 24 hours. And the moment the phone rang at 6 a.m. that Saturday morning, I knew what the message would be. Yet, despite the fact I have nothing to be surprised about; despite the fact I knew about the chemotherapy and radiation and morphine; despite the fact that it was expected; part of me is still shocked. Part of me still looks at her age at death and thinks it’s unfair — that she only had half a life. She didn’t get to finish everything. She had to leave right in the middle of being a mom, when there are still lunches to be made and carpools to drive, hugs to give and birthday presents to wrap. She had to leave before she and her husband could celebrate any milestone anniversary like 20 or 25.  She had to leave too soon.
            But while part of me rails at the unfairness of it all, the other part understands that there are no guarantees — that while most people are older than 41 when they die, some are even younger. Before Julie’s breast cancer had metastasized to her bones in May of 2004, she had been cancer-free for the five previous years. The breast cancer that she had had when her boys were tiny was nowhere to be found for five years, and during that time, Julie had the chance to see her two little boys turn into bigger boys. She saw them learn to read and ride two-wheelers.  She coached their classes’ variety show numbers and volunteered in their school. She smiled her enormous smile thousands of times in those five years, and those of us fortunate enough to know her were able to enjoy her unbelievably positive personality.
            On the morning of her death, our family went to St. Monica for the morning daily Mass. After the opening song, the priest announced that the day was St. Monica’s feast day — St. Monica, patron saint of wives and mothers. My husband and I looked at one another, first stunned, then with that sense of “of course.” Of course God chose St. Monica’s feast day as the day for Julie to enter eternal life. Julie’s children and husband were her life. I saw her death on St. Monica’s feast day as recognition from God of the goodness of Julie’s devotion to her family. I also see the day as significant for another reason. While I believe Julie will continue her mothering from heaven, she is now unable to do the practical, day-to-day things that keep a household running. I see her death on St. Monica’s feast day as a call to the St. Monica community to help Julie with her parenting. I believe that Julie, with the help of the Holy Spirit, will inspire some of the mothers and fathers of the parish to know what her sons need. I believe she will put the right words in our mouths to give comfort to her boys, to help nourish them and guide them. The date of her death reminds us of our responsibility.
             Looking toward this coming year, I cannot imagine how difficult it will be for Julie’s family to go on without her. I find myself talking to St. Monica — mother of 3 — more than I used to. And I’m pretty sure St. Monica and Julie are talking to each other — discussing a plan to help Dylan and Quinn, and her husband, Dan.

 Two mothers, together in Heaven, working together.

Friday, August 5, 2005

August, 2005: Frozen Boys

My boys were playing freeze tag with some friends the other night and having finished the dinner dishes, I sat on the front porch and watched. Liam, 7, had only played the game a couple times before, and was taking the rule about being frozen very seriously. While his older brother, Jacob, 10, would stop and casually stand in one place when tagged, Liam held the exact position he had been in at the time of the tag. I watched with amusement as Liam struggled to balance on one foot, arms extended, not even blinking, until someone ran by to unfreeze him again.
            If I could, I would freeze the current ages of my two boys for a couple of extra years. At 7 and 10, they are full-throttle in the middle of childhood, and it’s my favorite stage so far. Their 3 ½-year age difference, which seemed like quite a gap when they were younger, has finally narrowed. They can play together well, and Jacob is kind enough to go easy on his little brother to keep Liam’s frustration at bay. They no longer need the constant supervision their 2-year-old sister requires. A nice mix of dependence and independence, they’re old enough to put their own pajamas on, but young enough to still want to be tucked in.
            Maybe it’s the former junior high teacher in me that wants to gently tap each of my boys and tell them they’re frozen at 7 and 10. I know about the attitudes that can come when kids turn 12 or 13, and I’m enjoying the absence of eye-rolling and talking back while I still can.
As far as I can tell, our boys are holding onto their childhood a little longer than some of their peers. Bill and I have limited their exposure to TV, movies and even popular songs. It has left them a little out of sync with pop culture, but I think it’s also kept them innocent longer. With no cable, no Game Boy, Game Cube and I-pod, there’s nothing for them to do but play and read. Nothing to do but be a kid.
But while I can keep them from growing up before their time, I can’t freeze them in mid-childhood forever. I can’t freeze them at 7 and 10 any more than I can hurry their sister through the unreasonable two’s and toward the more rational three-year-old stage. I can’t freeze them any more than I can freeze my own age. Time dictates its own pace.
What I’m hoping, though, is that I can learn from my current desire to hold onto the present. So often, as a parent, I’ve looked ahead or behind. When the boys were babies, I longed for the time when I could sleep through the night. When they started school, I looked back wistfully to our lazy mornings cuddling together. Now, rooted in the present, I’m (finally) appreciating them for the age they are. Fully enjoying my boys at their current age makes me wonder if what I’m looking for is not a forever 7- and 10-year-old, but rather, a spirit of enjoyment and wonder for my children, no matter what their age.  Maybe I’m looking for the grace to see the beauty in every age — even those ages that might seem more difficult, like two or thirteen.
I will pray that God will give me the grace to enjoy my children when they’re teens just as much as I enjoy them right now. And who knows, maybe when Jacob is 16 and Liam is 13, I’ll say it doesn’t get any better than this, only to be proven wrong again when they’re 24 and 21. I don’t know. I do know though, that 7 and 10 is wonderful. Scooters and soccer. Freeze tag and kickball. Popsicles and chapter books. I can’t freeze it, but I can savor it. I can drink it in. And I am. I certainly am.