Catching Curveballs: How to Live to An Abnormal Life

When life throws you curveballs--how to live and abnormal life @emily_m_deardo

“Normal is just a setting on the dryer.”

We’ve all heard that one, right? While it may be catchy, and even comforting, it’s not really helpful when your life goes from normal to really abnormal, especially if it happens without warning. A phone call, a doctor’s appointment–these things take only seconds to rearrange our lives.

Over the past few months, I’ve seen a lot of dear people’s lives go off kilter in the medical sense of “off kilter”. So I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on living a life of abnormality.

 

life throwing you curveballs? Here's how to deal with it @emily_m_deardo

“Normal? What does anyone in this family know about normal?”

1. You have to embrace the abnormality as the new normal. This is the most important and perhaps the hardest thing. No, most people’s lives do not involve random Sunday morning runs to the ER, or IV malfunctions at two a.m. But guess what. Yours does (or whatever your circumstances dictate).The sooner this becomes “no big deal” to you and your family, the better. This is especially important if you have kids. The kids will react much better if you are calm and treat what is happening like it’s the most normal thing in the world. Now, sometimes, this isn’t possible. But regular hospitalizations, tests, ER visits, and the like are much less scary if they feel routine.

 

2.Remain calm (at least in front of medical personnel) when you hear that your plans are about to radically change. (That doesn’t mean you can’t get upset about it. I’ve had my share of crying jags in empty exam rooms about hospitalizations I didn’t want.) However, if you’re going to get upset, do it fast, ugly-cry, and then move on.

Think about what you need to do immediately. What do you or your child need right now–medications? A favorite toy? Does your cell phone need charged? Are there people that you have to meet with later today, and now that’s going to be impossible? Write a list, call people–whatever you particularly need to do right away, do it.

(I tend to think the following: I need my CI battery and charger. I need my glasses, contact case, and solution. My meds are mostly in the hospital formulary, but some of them aren’t, so I need the bag of meds brought in so I can give the nurses what I need to take and they can put it in my med drawer. I will need the charger for my phone and iPad, which is plugged into my computer, and I’ll need the wall charger, which is in the other bag. Etc.)

When I first heard about transplant being an option for me, I had to admit, I was FREAKED. I had no idea this was actually something that I had to think about now. Thinking about the immediate things I needed to do with this information was much less scary than letting my imagination run wild.

 

3. Be upfront with important people in your life. When I worked, I told my bosses, this is my medical situation. There are times when I may be out of the office for long stretches. I cannot control when this happens. I will update you with information when I have it. This means that there have been calls from ERs to my bosses. If you’re a parent who has a child who’s sick, and you will be missing a lot of work, I suggest you talk to your bosses and get really familiar with your leave options.

 

4. Talk to Patient Accounts at the hospital. Really talk to them. They are your friends! Use the resources that are available to you. If there’s a social worker handy, it can’t hurt to talk to said person and see what’s there for you and your family to use.

 

5. For parents: treat your children as normally as possible. I really, really, REALLY cannot stress this enough. Do not give them the mindset that because they have health problems, they are “super special” and don’t have to do homework or are entitled to things that other kids don’t get. They may need accommodation. That’s one thing. And they may get more toys, etc. because of their hospitalizations. OK. But telling them they don’t need to do homework or whatever because they’re “in the hospital” or “sick” or whatever is not helpful and not good for their development.

I always had to do homework. When an IV bled out at 2 am the night before my Algebra II final, I didn’t get to skip the final. I took it later that same day. If I’d have been admitted to the hospital, I’d have taken the final when I could, or we would’ve made arrangements. I never got out of schoolwork.

 

5. Be prepared, but don’t be Eeyore: Obviously, expecting that things can happen, and being prepared for them, is a mental help. But don’t be overly freaking out. Don’t think that everything is catastrophe, or feel like you cannot plan anything because who knows what is going to happen. There will be seasons of life where things need to be readjusted–holiday plans, vacations, etc. But there are also times when everything’s fine.  You have to ride it like you’re surfing. Do not let worries control your life, especially if you’re the parent. Your kids can sense this. Really. And it just makes them tense up and freak out because the parents are worrying about me so there must be something to worry about. For example: I knew that CF was fatal when I read about it in our World Book encyclopedia (ah, the 90s!). But my parents weren’t going around wailing and gnashing their teeth about my demise, so I figured, hey, I’ll think about this when I’m 30 or so.

If you’re a parent, try to do your freaking out when the kids aren’t around/awake. See point above. This doesn’t really go away because your kids get older. It’s hard to control yourself and console someone else.

 

6. As far as sharing on social media: let’s just say I was really glad I didn’t have Facebook in the years leading up to my transplant. There was no place–and there still is no place–for my parents to share photos of me in hospital rooms, in recovery, etc., because they do not have Facebook, or blogs.  If your child is old enough, talk to the child about sharing this private information on social media platforms. Some kids don’t care. Some kids, like me, care greatly. I did give dad permission to update my friends with regular emails when I had my transplant, but I would not have wanted him to attach any photos.

There are few things you can control, as a patient. You may not want these moments splashed all over Facebook or twitter. But talk to your family/your child about these things. Get everyone on the same page.

 

7. Do not worry about the things that MAY or MIGHT happen in five, ten, fifteen years. This is a waste of brain space and a huge source of stress. Think about what is currently happening. Focus on the immediate moment. What needs to get better? What are people trying to find out?

 

8. This probably should have been first, but: pray. Really. Get in touch with your pastor/priest/rabbi/whatever. I found it immensely comforting to talk to certain hospital chaplains that I really liked (Fr. Mark! More on him later!). God is in control, guys. He really, really is. Remind yourself of that frequently. Know that I still have to remind myself of this often. 🙂 I don’t think it ever stops, really, the need for Him to take care of all this. But if you don’t pray—start. It helps.

 

What do you do when life goes off the rails? How do you adjust? Do these suggestions help? Let me know in the comments.

 

curveballs small

Rest

Rest

tabernacle rest

Rest isn’t really something we talk about, is it?

I mean, sure, we talk about sleep. We talk about how to get more of it, how to get better quality sleep in the time we are sleeping, but it’s usually in the context of, “I want to stay up and binge watch House of Cards so how can I get an awesome night’s sleep in like five hours?”

Our bodies aren’t meant for that. We may be a 24/7 society, but our bodies are not 24/7 machines.

In my “past” life (when I was working full time) I ignored rest like it was my job. There was no time to rest. There were deadlines and things to do and getting up early to beat traffic. There was no time for the nine hours of sleep I needed, because then I’d be going to bed at like eight thirty, and then I couldn’t do theater, or church things, or sing in the choir, or anything else I enjoyed.

I was also the same way in college. I was in a lot of things. I just went, went, went, until I landed in the hospital. Then it was an obvious TIME OUT from God. Go, go, go, until you can’t go anymore. And since everyone does it, how bad can it be?

When I left my job, I realized how much sleep I’d been missing. I’ve always liked sleep and my bed (“I miss my bed. I’m thinking about keeping a picture of it in my wallet.”–The West Wing). Sleep is good. Even the Bard said so: “Ah, sweet sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care.” (Macbeth II.iii) I found I needed a solid 9 hours to really be happy, productive, and uncranky. And also–head bang–healthy. My body needs sleep.

This is not something people are generally sympathetic to. Admitting you need sleep is almost shameful. People say “Oh you can make it up.” “Oh, we’re not tired!” But in my case, I can’t make it up. My body needs sleep. It needs that time to rest and repair, otherwise bad things happen later. So now I know I need nine hours of sleep, and I’m finally getting it. And I’m much happier and probably healthier for it, because I’m not always running on coffee and sleep deprivation fumes.

But there’s another part of rest–spiritual rest. And this goes back to the same sort of thing: “Oh, I don’t have time for it.” I don’t have time for prayer, I don’t have time for a retreat, I don’t have time for a holy hour. And this may be true for a lot of us (moms, CEOs, full-time worker bees, etc). But I also know that even when I was working full time, these spiritual rests were vital to keeping me sane. I need that time in prayer, whether it’s saying my rosary at home, attending a Holy Hour at my parish, reading a spiritual book, or weekend long silent retreats.

We have to go to the well of Christ to fill us spiritually. We have to draw the water every day. If not, it’s just like sleep deprivation–at some point, you crash and burn. You can’t handle it anymore, you know? Everything becomes way too hard. But with Him, and with adequate rest, we can handle things (if not completely, then at least better).

But it can seem like time wasting, right? Or not as important? There’s dinner to make and laundry to do and trash to take out and sidewalks to shovel and oh the plumbing needs fixed and the car’s being wonky and the bills need paid……who has time for sleep? Who has time for rest?

You do. You have to have it.

Lent is a good time to think about this. Winter can be brutal. We can feel beat up and badly used. But we’re looking toward spring, it’s a good time to reassess our habits. What’s working for us? What isn’t?

Slipping on rest definitely does not work. Stop doing it. Listen to Christ and trust him. Come to him. Rest.

How a Lay Dominican (that’s me) prays!

Since we’ve had a Dominican Friar and a Dominican Nun (also known as the first and second orders of the Dominican order, respectively),  tells us how they pray, it’s time to get the third order in here.

Me. 🙂

So anyway, this is how I pray, and I’m using the same questions put to these fine people. Enjoy.

Romans verse

Who are you? 

At the most basic level, I’m a child of God, whom He created with a purpose for some unknown plan of my life. He knows the plan, I don’t, and sometime I’m OK with that. Sometimes I want a burning bush. 🙂

At a more prosaic level, I’m a daughter, writer, actress, singer, first grade CCD teacher, cousin, niece, granddaughter, and sister.

What is your vocation?

My vocation is to the Third Order Dominicans–Lay Dominicans, as we’re called now. We are part of the Dominican family but we are “in the world”, in that we’re not cloistered like the nuns, and we don’t wear habits or live in community, like the nuns and friars do. We have regular work-a-day lives but it’s colored by our specific call to praise, to bless, to preach (one of the order’s mottos) and to spread the Truth of Christ and His Church throughout the world.

What is your prayer routine for an average day? 

My day starts are various times–right now I’m writing full-time, so I don’t have a time I have to get up. When I get up I have my coffee and say lauds and then have time for lectio divina, which I’ve recently started in earnest. I find that I have to do it after lauds or it doesn’t get done.

At 3:00, I pray the Divine Mercy chaplet and the Office of Reading. Around 5:00, I pray Vespers and say my rosary, if I haven’t said it earlier in the day. Before bed I usually have at least 15 minutes of spiritual reading/mental prayer, and I’ll say compline if I can. As a Lay Dominican, I’m asked to say at least morning and evening prayer (lauds and vespers), pray the rosary daily, and go to daily Mass when I can. If I go to daily Mass, it’s usually the 11:45 at my Dominican-run parish.

How well do you achieve it, and how do you handle those moments when you don’t? 

Since unlike Br. Humber or Sister Mary Catharine, I don’t live in community and have a life that is governed by a horarium, it can be difficult, especially vespers, since that’s right around dinner time. If I’m going out (like I am this evening, to a hockey game), and circumstances dictate that I can’t say vespers at the regular time, I try to say it when I get home. Yesterday, for example, I had an early morning doctor appointment, so I missed being able to say lauds. Since I’m not bound by pain of sin to say the office, like priests are, if I miss it’s not a huge deal. I just get back to my normal routine the next day (or as soon as I can. There are times when I’ve been hospitalized and unable to say my breviary because I wasn’t quite with it. 🙂 ). On most days, I manage this fairly well.

Do you have a devotion that is particularly important to you or effective? 

The rosary, and we’re going to talk bout that more below. I’m also a huge fan of the Divine Mercy chaplet, and the Liturgy of the Hours. In fact, wanting to pray the Liturgy of the Hours regularly is what led me to the Lay Dominicans!

Do you have a place, habit, or way of praying?

I generally pray while sitting in a corner of my couch, next to a small end table that has a candle with Our Lady of Guadalupe on it, and a statue of Our Lady of the Smile. My rosary beads and some devotional books are also on this table. I pray lectio at my kitchen table so I have room to spread out my Bibles and my notebook.

Do you use any tools or sacramentals?

My rosary, of course. Lots of books–breviary, the Ignatius Study Bible New Testament, and the C.S. Lewis Bible, which I adore. I also like to use a pamphlet of rosary devotions, or the Magnificat Rosary book.

What is your relationship with the Rosary? 

I love it. I’ve always loved it. I always have one on me–usually a few, actually. It’s my favorite way to pray. I love how many layers there are to it; there’s always something new to think about. It’s my go-to intercessory prayer. When people are on my prayer list, that means they get a decade of the rosary.

Are there any books or spiritual works that are important to your devotional life? 

There are a few I regularly go back to: Mother Mary Francis’ Come, Lord Jesus (a book of Advent meditations), Fr. Richard Neuhaus’ Death on a Friday Afternoon for Lent, and Be Holy, by Fr. Thomas Morrow, is amazing.

What is your most recent spiritual or devotional reading?

Right now I’m reading Benedict XVI’s General Audiences: Prayer. And I’m just about to finish those. Next up will be a book by Cardinal Wuerl that, incidentally, Brother Humbert got me for Christmas. 🙂

Are there saints or other figures who inspire your prayer life or act as patrons?

St. Therese of Lisieux was my confirmation saint, and I have a strong devotion to her. St. Catharine of Alexandria, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Dominic (of course), and St. Catherine of Siena are also some of my favorite patrons. Since I sing, St. Gregory and St. Cecilia are often called upon. I also love the story of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and pray to her frequently. My Dominican patron is Blessed Lucy of Narni, and yes, she is most likely the influence for both “Narnia” and Lucy Pevensie, which makes me happy, and may have been an influencing factor in me choosing her. Also St. Genesius of Rome, the patron saint of actors!

Have you had any unusual or even miraculous experiences as the result of your prayer life?

Negative. That’s OK though! 🙂

How a Cloistered Dominican prays: Sister Mary Catherine!

I was fortunate enough to meet Sr. Mary Catherine (and most of the other Summits nuns!) when I was discerning if I had a vocation to their wonderful life in Summit, NJ. Obviously, I didn’t, or I wouldn’t be writing here (ha!), but the deep Dominican spirituality and joy I found there continues to echo.

Like last week’s post, Sr. Mary Catherine discusses how she prays. To round this out, I think I have to write about how a Third Order (or Lay) Dominican prays. Then we’ll have the whole series! 🙂

The Guardian Angels

The Guardian Angels

Cortona_Guardian_Angel_01

Today is the Feast of the Guardian Angels.

Yup, Angels are real, and yes, you have a Guardian Angel. And no, people do not become angels when they die. Angels are completely separate from human beings and aren’t interchangeable. We become saints, not angels. (everyone in Heaven is a saint, they just might not be a canonized saint.)

You should pray to your guardian angel. Do you? Last week in CCD we taught the kids about angels, and we’re teaching them the Guardian Angel prayer. (Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits thee here, ever this day/night be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide.)

The Feast of the Archangels was Monday, so it’s a pretty “angelic” week, this week (rim shot).  But seriously, you might want to pay attention to your guardian angel, if you haven’t. You have an incredibly powerful protector with you all the time, whose only job is to watch you. Take advantage of that.

Summer in the Little Oratory–Chapter Nine and Ten

 

The Little Oratory(All Little Oratory posts here)

We’re doing a chapter twofer today, since I don’t really have a lot to say about Chapter 9, which is “Who prays and who leads prayer in the Little Oratory?”

In my house, currently, the one who leads prayer is me. The one who prays is also me, because I live alone. When I was growing up, my parents took turns leading the prayers. When we were in the car going to school, Dad lead the prayer. At home, mom usually still leads the prayer before meals, and other prayers, it was whoever felt like it.

Chapter Nine says that the “women is the heart of the home”, but also that the “family needs this masculine side of things in the same irreplaceable way that they need the feminine. The family needs leadership and a strong example.” (108, 109)  I really suggest that you read chapter 9, because one, it’s short (ha) and two, it’s beautiful writing.

Chapter 10 addresses difficulties you may have in the house, from actually making a prayer table (finding a space, keeping it clean, etc. ), having time to pray, “making” children behave during prayer time, and the well-balanced spiritual life.

Basically, whether you have kids or not, a husband/wife or not, you need to make time to pray every day. This is sort of nonnegotiable if you want to have a relationship with God that is deeper than surface area stuff. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, just like the oratory doesn’t have to be elaborate. But you do need to pray. We’ve talked about lots of different types of prayer throughout this series, and some of them will speak to you more clearly than others. But prayer is non-negotiable. Start small, but start.

If you’re worried about kids not paying attention–it doesn’t really matter. I’m sure–I know–my brother and sister and I didn’t always pay attention during family rosary. Sometimes we forgot where we were in the mysteries, or sulked because we wanted to watch Rugrats, or were thinking about the sleepover we were having that weekend. Whatever. But he important thing is that our parents prayed with us, on a pretty regular basis. There were Catholic statues in our home. We had holy water fonts in our bedrooms. Prayer was something we did on a regular basis, and it was something we saw our parents doing on a regular basis. We each had our own rosaries and had Catholic movies we watched to learn about the saints. Eventually, all of this seeps in, and we remember these things. Sometimes you may despair of them learning anything (I teach first grade CCD, I know about this), but you’ll be surprised at how much they are actually learning and absorbing. Your example is a powerful one. Make it count.