A Resurrection Story

I have a beautiful story to share.  As our beloved Saint John Paul II once said, “We are an Easter people, and Alleluia is our song.” This personal story, written by my daughter Nichole, is the sweetest testimony to the healing power of Love and Prayer that this mother’s heart has ever heard.  I think the truest form of human suffering is born when we don’t know who we are as children of God – Beloved.  Only from this deep knowing of Love itself do we find Joy, and by its stripes we are healed. If you have ever said a prayer for our family, I thank you from the very bottom of my heart.

Nichole Pullano
Personal Essay

Bottom Of The Wine Bottle

Life isn’t fair, and what’s even more unfair than life, is death.
So, there I was, only capable of existing. I sat back down in the waiting room of the hospital. We had been here for almost 8 hours now and I still had two more doctors to see. The room was kind of spinning and my eyes had grown heavy. They took my shoes so I didn’t have the option of using them to hurt myself. I looked around at the rest of the troubled people in the room. I was not like them, not at all, and yet here I was, sitting in the same waiting room as them. I had been to the hospital many times, but never like this and rarely ever for myself. The entire day was a blur and I still couldn’t seem to fathom what was real. By this point, I could feel nothing. I thought I was nothing, completely consumed by emptiness. The past few months had been spent constantly drinking myself into oblivion, somehow ending up stumbling through the same memories, and then watching the same crimson color fall from my skin. I had so many questions, most of which could never be answered. I was dark and lost, but I existed.
The smell of the room was familiar and distinct. It brought me back to when I used to visit the hospital every day. I lost most of my innocence when my three year old brother, Michael, was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor. We spent most of our time in his little hospital room, playing puzzles and reading stories with our other seven siblings. It seemed too quickly that his time ran out. After watching him fight for eight hard months, he lost his battle. And that was it; the beginning of the end of me had begun.
My parents sat with me in the waiting room, praying, hoping, and wishing for my healing. My poor parents. I couldn’t bear that I was putting them through more than what they were already dealing with, but I needed them. They are the only people that I will ever need. Ever. I was and am thankful to have them. They reminded me all the time that I was not alone in my struggles, that I didn’t have to simply just exist. They were always encouraging me to talk about anything and everything. They didn’t want me to feel how my older sister, Anna, had felt. Something about my brother’s death never truly left her, and she had the toughest time with it. I found that the way she talked about his death, was exactly how I was now talking about hers.
Anna was part of my everyday life; I knew not one day without her. Being only one year older than me, she was the one person that I had with me through everything; the closest thing I had to myself. Losing her was never an option. What frustrated me most though, was how unprepared I was. When I answered my phone that night, waiting on the update of the accident, I wasn’t ready. When I sat there beside her beautiful lifeless body, letting my tears fall to her, hoping she was catching them somewhere, I wasn’t ready. When I watched everyone I loved surround my family and her casket with their pained eyes and wet faces, I wasn’t ready. Looking through her clothes and other possessions and suddenly calling them all mine, I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready to face life without her, and I will never be ready. But that’s the thing about death; no one asks if you’re ready and nothing prepares you. The only thing that’s guaranteed is that it happens. And it happened, and she was really gone and she wasn’t coming back. Sitting in that hospital room, wondering what I was going to do now, I knew that I wasn’t either.
The events leading up to my breaking point seemed unreal. I had no idea how I ended up where I was that day. It had been about a year since I’d lost my sister. Two weeks prior to my ultimate breakdown, I didn’t think it would be possible to lose anyone else I loved. I didn’t think I would be able to do it again, and I was right. When they called me to tell me it was true, I felt myself completely shut down. This was really happening again; I was really losing another piece of me and, once again, I didn’t get to say goodbye. I couldn’t comprehend why I was losing so many people that were close to me. Now, a widely-loved and hilarious friend of mine with whom I had grown close over the years, had joined the angels standing and waiting for me. Reed was someone I connected with, a rare connection that you wouldn’t come by often. He thought the world of me and he never let me forget it. I was confused, I was devastated, and somehow it seemed to get worse.
Since Anna’s death, I had become a popular figure in the media regarding death and my community. When someone passed, I was often quoted and questioned because I was ‘already a story.’ Upon hearing about another death at my high school, reporters were quick to begin writing an article, but this one was featuring solely me and Reed. It came out only a few days after his death and was my ultimate downfall. The article angered and offended many. Now, I was not only the girl that seemed to be cursed with death, but I was also the girl that used these deaths as a means of receiving attention. It was all about me all the time, they said. I had made many enemies with words that weren’t even my own. Most of my friends wouldn’t even look up at me in the halls; I didn’t talk to anyone. I began barely even existing. I was always dizzy and cold, drowning in my clothes and in my sadness. It was so unbearably difficult to even get out of bed in the morning. I was slowly and completely self-destructing. The weight of this burden was only getting heavier, and I was only getting weaker. I tried not to succumb. I tried to do it all by myself. I tried, but I couldn’t.
I had been holding on for years, upholding my reputation as the strong one. They were always watching me, a celebrity for all the wrong reasons. Nothing was a secret; everyone knew, but they didn’t understand. No one lost what I had lost. I had grown to be so extremely weak. I had let myself exist for all those who could not. I didn’t think it would get better. Then I surrendered. That day, I found myself stumbling into a classroom, letting one of my teachers catch me. I didn’t know what was happening to me, but I knew I was done. I had completely given up. I was sobbing and shaking and uttering complete nonsense. I somehow found the words to express how I didn’t think I could exist anymore. I finally said things out loud that I had never before. I wanted nothing to do with this war of a life I had been given. The only thing keeping me here was what I had left of my family and that was my reality. So, my parents cried for me, and my teachers cried for me, and the few friends I had left cried for me. I had finally fallen. That’s how I ended up shoeless in a hospital room with the two people who would do anything to rid me of all pain. For weeks, it was nothing but doctors, medications, appointments, priests, check-ups, high points, and low points. I was finally on the road to recovery.
I think about these events every day, and how I’ve grown to think and act differently. Nothing ever returned to the way it was before. Michael, Anna, and Reed were all a part of me, parts I will always wish I could have back. When they died, these parts of me died too. It was a long and never-ending journey to find myself again. But what I found was that I was actually long gone. I am a completely different person and it took a lot of growing up to accept that I couldn’t return to my old life; I had to build a new one, always keeping in mind what I had learned.
These experiences have taught me so much about what I value and who I’ve grown to be. I’ve learned that one of the most precious gifts ever given is time. You aren’t always given much of it and it eventually runs out. I’ve learned that the smallest things can become the biggest things and it’s too easy to take them for granted. I have experienced real, genuine heartache, pain that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. But I learned that I don’t have to face it alone; it’s okay to need help and it’s okay to be weak sometimes. I realized that death, pain, and sadness do not have to consume me, peoples’ opinions about me do not have to define me, and what is out of my control does not have to ruin me. It is a choice. I know that this burden will always be there, and it will never get lighter, but every day I get a little bit stronger and a little more resilient. The day I truly accepted the unfairness of life, especially my own, was the day that I stopped existing and started living. Since then, I have learned to be happy and to appreciate what I have in front of me, praying every day that I can continue to find the good in all bad situations. I will always carry my memories with me, never forgetting where I’ve been and how I’ve felt, but I have grown. Today I am strong and whole as ever, knowing that I have the greatest souls above me and living on through me, and with them I am never alone.

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The Great Temptation

I was looking at an old family photo hanging on my wall and noticing the smiling faces of my 4 oldest girls. They looked downright joyful, with a sparkle in their eyes and not a care in the world (other than the perceived hideousness of the outfits I made them wear). The photo was taken pre-cancer… pre-death… pre-trauma. In that moment, I was tempted. I was truly tempted to give in to anger and despair and resentment because the cross they have been given to bear is just not fair. The cross I have been given is not fair either, but at least I’m a grown-up.  They are just kids.  It’s not fair that we couldn’t shield our children from the world, so they could be simply children. I hate that their smiles don’t always reach their eyes. I hate that tragedy has worked on breaking them at such a young age and the effects have rippled through our family for these past few years.  ‘Something’ was really tempting me to give in to ugliness and evil.

But I didn’t, and I never will, and I will tell you how and why. Giving in to that would be akin to taking the morsel Jesus dipped in the bowl at the last supper.

Judas Iscariot, the one who is to betray Jesus to the High Priests, is depicted reaching across the table to dip into the dish.

I will never understand how Judas actually took that piece of bread from Jesus. How could he choose darkness when he had been walking with the light for three years?  Why would anyone want anger, hatred, and resentment over Love, Peace and Joy? Why doesn’t Love always prevail?

The answer is age-old.

Satan has dangled the carrot of power and control since the beginning.  He did it in the garden,

“The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Gn. 3:4-5

And tried it on Jesus in the desert,

“the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” Mt 4:8-9

And uses every moment of suffering and vulnerability in us, still to this day!

Every once in a while it hits me that the hand we have been dealt is just so unfair.  I look at those beautiful happy souls in an old photo and can’t stop the negative resentful thoughts. It’s easier to overcome this temptation when all is well and going according to my own plans, but when things are not looking so rosy, it’s tempting to feel like we have been thrown to the wolves and the deck has been stacked against us.  It is imperative that as quickly as those thoughts surface, I take control of them by an act of my will.  And therein lies the how. The gift of our free will is powerful – that is how we never have to give in to temptation. Of course the deck isn’t stacked against us.  Jesus says as much in scripture, 

“And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Cor 10:13

We always have all that we need to overcome temptation and evil. Period. Judas had the power to overcome it as well, but he chose to reach out his hand and take that morsel instead. The God I know and Love would never stack the deck against us and He certainly didn’t set us up to fail.  To the contrary, He has stacked the deck highly in our favor.  He stacked the deck for us during His ministry on Earth when he established the sacraments and the priesthood and set Peter as the first in line to lead His church.  He stacked it when He promised that the gates of hell would never prevail.  He stacked it from the cross when He gave his final earthly gift; his Mother.  He stacked it by opening the gates of Heaven and sending his Holy Spirit to be with us always.  He stacked it with the ultimate sacrifice of himself.
When we face trials there is often the temptation to turn away from God. I hear it said again and again; “If God really loves me then why did he allow (fill in the blank)?”  When evil and suffering are at work, we blame God and question why.  At the first sign of trouble we demand God show himself and explain.  When that happens we have bought into the lie and are playing right into the hand of Satan.  God can stack our deck all day long but it does us no good if we only play our own game by our own rules.  We need his church.  We need the sacraments and the wisdom of the church fathers and the saints who have gone before us.  We need every single tool at our disposal because we are under attack.  As long as we live on Earth, we constantly have to fight the temptations that our human nature is susceptible to.

God never abandons us in our trials and temptations, but I think sometimes He allows them just to show us how strong our free will is.  We have to know our strength in Him in order to become saints.  And in order to know our strength we first have to be humble in our weakness. Nothing teaches humility like realizing, through our trials, that we are not in control.  We cannot control life and death, sickness and disease, poverty or wealth, or the choices others make, but we can control our response to them all.  We can control whether we rise up to the challenge and respond with faith, trust, and surrender to God, or whether we fight (kicking and screaming) to maintain some illusion of control.  That is why Love and peace and joy do not always win out.  Our desire for control, and belief that we have it, is the great temptation.  Wanting that control is the ‘something’ that was coaxing me to give in.  As a parent I want to be in control of what my children are exposed to and what trials they have to suffer. (If I were, I guess they would suffer precisely nothing.)  Naturally, I want to protect them and shield them, but giving in to anger, despair, and resentment is just plain silly and only hurts myself.  And therein lies the why.  Our trials are good for us.  They help form us into the saints we are all called to be and this is true for my children, too.  Sainthood should be the desired goal of our entire lives.

In this modern age, being in control has become increasingly ingrained in us by our society.  We are so self-reliant and self-sufficient that it’s easy to forget we need God, every single minute of every single day.  Every minute that disaster doesn’t strike us we should be thankful for the grace and protection that is keeping us safe.  Anna’s date of death, March 2nd, happens to be the feast day of St. Charles the good.  Shortly after she died, a friend sent me one of his quotations that has stuck in my mind ever since: “We are in the middle of dangers all the time, but we belong to God.”   Unfortunately, the modern view tends to be just the opposite.  We have the expectation of controlling as much as we possibly can and when disaster strikes we are angry and upset that we didn’t see it coming, or that God didn’t protect us.  How differently we would view suffering if we lived a more God-reliant way of life!  If we stepped outside of ourselves and practiced letting go all the time, and not only when we are forced to, it would be easier to do when we need to.  So, if the goal is sainthood, we should be thankful for our trials since they give us the opportunity to relinquish control and trust more fully in God.

There, but for the grace of God, go I.


“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” 1 Cor 15:10

The gift of my free will is powerful, but it does not give me control over life and our circumstances.  Disease will strike.  Accidents will happen.  Trials will come, but in my weakest moments my free will gives me the power to tell Satan to go to hell and to let God be God.

When I look longingly at the Joy of days gone by, temptation to despair may arise, but I know that it holds no real power.  Instead of being bitter and angry about what has been lost, I choose to pray in utter surrender,
Jesus, I trust in you. My kids have been broken, but you are the divine healer and can restore us, Lord. I didn’t ask for these trials God, but you can use them for your good. We have lost so much, but as long as we have you, Jesus, we have everything.  I am Thankful.”

"We are always in the midst of danger, but we belong to God"  1083- March 2, 1127

“We are in the middle of dangers all the time, but we belong to God” St. Charles the Good 1083- March 2, 1127

Fear

When our son Michael was first diagnosed with a brain tumor, my God, was I afraid!  I had fear, pure and raw, of the unknown, that my little boy had just lost his childhood and that he might lose his life.  I was terrified.  We didn’t know what was in store for him, but what we wanted was for him to be cured and resume being a 3 year-old boy.  He did indeed lose his childhood and he did lose his life, but as we went through his treatment I came to a point of acceptance where the fear was no longer in control.  It didn’t happen until a few weeks before he died (at the age of 4), but thankfully it did happen.  Trust me, it wasn’t something I had wanted to face at all.  We were perfectly fine and happy doing our thing, taking care of our family, and living life, when suddenly and unexpectedly the rug was pulled out from under us. Then, over the course of his illness, there was a gradual transformation from living solely for this life, to having Hope in the next one.

Imagine having a bone reset.  You think your broken leg is healing fine since it looks okay and seems to be working for the moment, and then the Doctor tells you that it doesn’t actually work properly and he has to break it again to put it in proper alignment.  I would definitely be afraid of that!  I would probably balk and look for any possible alternative, too.  Ouch!  Ultimately though, despite the fear, I would of course want to do what was best for my limb and for my life.  I would endure, and when it was all over, I would move on with life and put that painful experience behind me.  Except that every time I used that leg I would remember and probably be thankful that it is in proper working order and allowing me to run and walk and live the way I want.  Maybe using it would be sweeter for having gone through such an experience, but certainly there would be peace about choosing pain for the ultimate good.

Shortly before Michael died, my fear was replaced with a tremendous peace. It was a peace that surpasses all understanding because I had not yet grasped that it was for the ultimate good.

 “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Ph 4:7)

Truly, this is what happened for me.  It was beyond my ability to understand or reason; it just overcame me.  My trust and faith were totally in God, not medicine, or doctors, or any treatments of this world, and God guarded me.

Still, after Michael died, when people would ask me how I was surviving that loss, I really didn’t know.  They could not imagine such a thing, and as it was for them, for me, the thought of losing any of my other children was terrifying and unspeakable.  Even though I had gone through it and am still ‘going through it,’ I could never have imagined facing that fear again.  I had put my trust in God, and was rewarded with Peace and Joy from deep within; He was helping me Trust Him more in every other area of my life, so there was plenty of “fruit.”  Surely He would never ask me to face the unthinkable — again.

And then the unthinkable happened again… Losing Anna was terrible, but something amazing has happened. Where I had been an utter slave to fear, God has now freed me. Where my trust had been mostly in Him, it is now solely in Him.  By allowing Anna’s death, He has allowed me the opportunity to see and understand what Trusting Him truly means.  If I had to lose another child, or every single one of them, I trust in Jesus.  When I am asked now how I can go through such losses, I no longer wonder the same thing.  I no longer fear that it would be unbearable.  God will guard me no matter what life brings.  I know that.  I know that.  It’s liberating.  Death has truly lost its sting.

 “But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:55)

I didn’t get that before, but I get it now.  God did not just help me through two especially difficult and tragic deaths.  He helped me to know Him so intimately that death has no hold of fear over me.  What we think of as death and loss, I now think of as gain and hope.

It’s kind of like the difference between giving a man a fish and teaching a man to fish.  He didn’t accomplish this work in me completely from losing my sweet little Mikey.  That little boy so precious to me, like all of my children, a piece of my heart and soul, was ripped out of my grasp and I was forced to experience detachment.  Losing Anna has forced me to more fully understand detachment.  As I trust more deeply in Christ and Love Him more fully, my earthly self is elevated to Heavenly Joys.  It’s the strange and difficult call we have as Christians to be in this world,  but not of this world.  We are called to love and to love deeply and yet be detached from it all.  I think that Loving is precisely how we learn to be detached.  It is Perfect Love that accomplishes this; the Love of God that comes in, and through, and with Christ.  When we truly have Christ, everything else pales in comparison.  The things of this world fade away.

I can tell myself all day long that my children have never belonged to me.  That is a bit of a comfort and of course very true, but I think that it is in loving them selflessly and truly that the balance is found.  I want for them Eternity.  Simple.  I want them to be in Eternity with their God, more than I want them to be here with me.  I love them that much.  I love God that much.  Yet I know that my love is very far from perfect. I pray constantly to love more and to love better.

 “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 Jn 4:18)

This doesn’t mean that nothing scares me or hurts me.  It does hurt to face days without my children here, but that doesn’t mean that I want them back.  I have to keep myself in check all the time when my kids walk out my door.

What if they get hurt?, I ask myself.

Well, what if they do?  I trust in Jesus.

What if they get assaulted? Or taken? Or in another accident?  I sure don’t want that to happen, and will do everything I can to avoid or prevent it, but ultimately I trust in Jesus.  I trust wholeheartedly and completely that if God were to allow any of these things, it is for a sure and certain purpose with the ultimate goal of eternity.  I love Him enough to Trust Him with my children.

No one wants difficult circumstances or hardships in life.  No one wants that bone to be re-broken.  I think that’s very human.  We seek pleasures and comforts when, very often, it is sacrifice and difficulties that are good for us.  Picture the image of Mary standing before the cross — silently.  Didn’t she want to cry out?  Or beg, plead, and scream?  Imagine her pain at seeing her son tortured.  Instead she was silent and accepted the cross — the literal cross happening before her very eyes — of her own son.  There is wisdom there.  Lent is a beautiful time in our church calendar to practice this.  Practice being uncomfortable and sacrificing.  Our crosses are good for us.

Christ-followers know and understand that the way to Hope and Joy and Love, and Happiness and Fulfillment and All that we truly Seek, is the way of the cross.

 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Jn 16:33)

The Final Hour

For the past several weeks I’ve been wishing someone could just hit a fast forward button.  Even if it is a little irrational I don’t want March 2nd to come.  In some strange way it feels like Anna’s final hour is about to happen again only this time we know it and it is frightening.  I’m not sure why I feel this way when obviously the worst has already come and gone.   I think the anticipation is far worse than the day will actually be and part of me wishes we could just skip through.  I’ve been keeping busy, keeping distracted, keeping exhausted.

I’m not at all sure what is so frightening.  Perhaps it is fear that the suffering might change or get worse but then I have to ask, “So what if it does”?   I don’t think it’s possible that it could be as hard or as awful as March 2, 2013.  And if I’m honest, I wonder, “Is it really the worst thing”?  Here I am. Alive and well.  With fruit to show for my troubles. My Surrender comes more readily, my Trust is more certain, my Faith is stronger and my Hope is a force to be reckoned with.

Why are we so afraid to suffer?  It’s hard but we embrace so many things that are hard and we do it for mere worldly gains.  Truly when the pain is the worst I throw myself before God, into Him.  I live more intimately with Him and that is not a bad place to be at all.  In that way my suffering brings my greatest Joy.

March 2, 2014 will simply be day 365 without Anna, no better or worse than the day before or the day after. I know there is much to gain and be learned in these weeks of fear and anxiety and sadness and overwhelming loss.  I know this time of trial is fleeting.  And because I am called to live in the world my time of living purely and deeply in the heart of my God is fleeting as well.

For the past year I have been confronted time and time again with thoughts of how fragile and temporary this life is.  Sometimes I carry on business as usual without giving it a thought and other times I cannot escape the simple profundity of that truth.

Anna left the house on a Friday evening and called goodbye.  I didn’t drop what I was doing to give her a long hug and a kiss goodbye.  To her that would have just been awkward.  (And it wouldn’t have been enough of a goodbye anyway)   How could we not have known it would be her final hour?  There was no sense of it.  No warning and ultimately no final Earthly goodbye.  She walked out the door full of life and hasn’t walked back in.

“But about that day or hour no one knows…” (MT 24:36)

I know for a fact she had every intention of walking back in.  And waking up in the morning.  And taking pictures of her first clients for her budding photography business.  And seeing friends.  She had a journal next to her bed.  Was she about to write in it or had she already?  I don’t dwell on all the things she left undone.  That list is too long to wrap my head around.  But it does always lead me back to the same thoughts.

What if this were my last hour?  Am I ready?  Am I  afraid?  Am I excited?  What if today I meet God face-to-face?  How am I living for Him?

Anna's friends and sister all wear a piece of the puzzle engraved with "Live a Little"

Anna’s friends and sister all wear a piece of the puzzle engraved with “Live a Little”

Anna’s famous last words have become “Live a little”.  She used it as her senior quote in the yearbook and it’s become a mantra among her friends.  And I can’t think of anything more appropriate to describe Anna’s philosophy of life.  She wanted to Live and by all accounts she certainly did.  She found the fun in every situation or made her own.  She was kind, generous, loving, intelligent, compassionate, talented and the pain of losing her brother gave her a unique perspective of the fragility of life. She simply wanted to ‘Live a Little’.

I can’t help but wonder in her final hour if that philosophy served her well?  Was she living for HIM a little?

Certainly no one wants us to ‘Live a little’ more than God does.  After all He is the creator of “living”!  He sent His son for exactly that purpose.  In Jesus’ own words

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (Jn 10:10)

Jesus wants abundance for us, not mere existence.  He came and served and suffered and died so that we might live life to the full.  He knew human suffering well.  He experienced it himself even before the cross, and rightly wants us to know that our suffering is not because of Him or the Father.  Our trials are because of the enemy, but God’s plan for us is living!1961644_10152266045058678_732702104_n

As we go through these days I just can’t help but be reminded of these days last year.  It truly seems like yesterday we were in the same spot with a high school senior.  Waiting anxiously everyday for those college acceptance letters and planning college visits for March and April.  The drama department at Westhill is getting ready to put on their musical production. Last year it was Footloose and Anna had fun designing the poster for it.  Just like last year, the boys and girls basketball teams are making a sectional run and the seniors are excited to cheer on their team. There are so many plans being made for the near future and it’s such a fun and busy time for Seniors.  Lacrosse starts soon.  Spring break.  College.  Senior skip day.  Yearbook.  Ball.  Graduation.  Anna was riding on the high of earning Four Gold Keys at the scholastic art awards and her work was on display at OCC for the month of February.  She was busy getting her portfolio together and was able to take it in person for a review at SU where she received high praise and constructive criticism.  She had been accepted with scholarship to Savannah College of Art and Design and was on top of the world about making that dream come true.  Then and now, there is so much living going on and it’s good.  It was an exciting time for Anna last year and this year feels much the same for Nichole.  Business as usual.

Only there is a new awareness about all of it. We will all have to face a final hour.

In this hour before the anniversary of Anna’s final hour I turn to my Mother Mary as I so often do for her example.  During her own son’s final hour she walked beside him, every painful step.  She endured until the end.  She loved, prayed, wept.  This son she thought would be a great King was murdered with criminals.  Her hopes for a savior for her people apparently shattered.  And Mary trusted.

Oh Yes I will take a page from Anna’s book, my beautiful daughter.  I will Live a Little.  For Him.  With Trust.

Breastfeeding and Pelicans

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So this is my first ever quick takes Friday post!  I always enjoy reading these posts but have never had 7 relevant, entertaining and meaningful topics to post about all in the same week before.  And if I do it’s usually Wednesday by the time I write them.  So here I am.  With good stuff.  And it’s still Friday.  Yay!  Must be that Blue Moon this week (and it had me breaking out ‘The Smurfs’ for family movie night!)

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So the news you’ve all been waiting for (unless we are friends on FB, Instagram, twitter or I have your email, phone # or you live in my neighborhood or you have children living in the 315 area code….) Drumroll please…. Our princess Olivia Grace Pullano arrived August 6, 2013, 8lbs 13oz.  She was and is beautiful and healthy and probably just as stubborn as her Mom Dad since she decided to stay put for an extra 9 days.  Nine. Daaaaaaays. Nine… But she is here safe and sound and there aren’t enough hours in the day to adequately Praise God for this little miracle! Yes she was a good size baby but she is still a tiny little nugget and our whole family is totally in love with her!  I think we many need a sign-up sheet with a 20-minute rule to cuddle her!

Don't you just love newborn papoose babies?!

Don’t you just love newborn papoose babies?!

— 3 —

And I don’t know if I can do this justice in writing but I thought I’d share with you our first moments home with Olivia.  So we arrived home to paparazzi and fanfare and barely contained crowds holding signs and cameras.  (My kids and a few hundred of their closest friends)  Olivia and I loved every minute of meeting her newest fans but her hunger won out and we had to pause to eat.  Spoiler alert: Somehow I did not adequately prepare my younger children for the natural and beautiful act of breastfeeding.  I got settled in a comfy chair and got Olivia all situated while a little crowd gathered around for the momentous occasion.  Without a second thought I lifted my shirt to nurse and happened to glance up at the faces of my youngest children.  Andrew (7) was a little bug-eyed and his mouth was open in protest, though no sound actually came from his mouth.  After a minute he frantically looked around and ran over to make sure I was completely covered up.  And I mean completely. So when I finally emerged from the blankets, my attention was drawn to horrified face #2, Laura (5).  (Really?? Have my kids never seen someone breast feed??)  She was just as stunned as Andrew but quickly found her voice.  She immediately and efficiently cupped her little hands around her mouth and went all through the crowds shouting “No one look at my Mom!!!  She’s feeding the baby from her boob!  No one look at my Mom!” Over. and Over. and Over. Relieved that the situation was firmly under control, I turned my attention to my sweet little Melissa (3) standing quietly by.  She had calmly taken in the entire scene but had just one question for me.  She leaned in close and whispered, “Mommy, do you have apple juice in there too?”

True Story

— 4 —

  Just one week after Olivia arrived, Bill and I celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary.  While the day was a little overshadowed by, well, breastfeeding, and everything else, the occasion was remarkably celebrated in our hearts.  Not a day goes by that I am not thankful for the Man that coerced me into a few dates and quickly stole my heart.  I never could have imagined all that God had in store for our lives together.  Happy Anniversary Honey. What an honor it’s been to have you by my side!

— 5 —

This past week we marked 5 years since our little Michael went home to the Lord.  It hardly seems possible that it’s been that long.   I can still picture his sweet little face and hear him running to our room as soon as the sun was up and saying, “Mommy and Daddy!  Wake up.  It’s a beautiful day!”  He had the right of it.  We didn’t have a minute to waste with our beautiful boy.   It’s been a while since I’ve listened to his Song of Love but the minute I heard that music I was reminded how special that song was to Michael and all of us during his illness.  I am so grateful to that organization for bringing some Joy during a time that was not very joyful.  It always brought a smile to his face to hear his name in a song!   Here’s a link to Mikey’s song on YouTube that we put to pictures if you want to check it out!

— 6 —

   Of course Anna is never far from our thoughts and many days are so bittersweet.  Bill and I still say, “I just can’t believe Anna died”.  Sometimes I expect her to walk in the door from a long trip or something and the reality hits with fresh force.  She is not walking in the door.  She is not swiping her newest baby sibling from the cradle for late-night snuggles.  She is not joining in the back-to-school frenzy.  Her friends are all heading off to college this week and gathered one last time to say goodbye to Anna. IMG_3275Chinese lanterns made their way up and over the city of Syracuse.

6 months ago, I wondered how I would manage to get her ready for college with a brand new baby in tow.  I tried to imagine saying goodbye to our first-born baby as she embarked on a new chapter of her life. I tried to imagine our house without her.  I couldn’t imagine it but somehow I am now living it in a way I didn’t dream.  The words of scripture, and the mass, strike me for the 1000th time. “Free yourself from needless worry and anxiety” and from Luke’s gospel:

Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life ?  Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest.

As always, I am comforted by the truth of Anna’s reality.  What a waste my earlier worries turned out to be and the thing is that even if she were alive and well and heading off to college right now, my worries still would have been a waste!!  That verse goes on to instruct, “Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

We are not promised longevity in this life. We aren’t promised an easy life, or luxury, or power or wealth or health, but each of us is here for a purpose.  We are part of the divine plan with work to do for the kingdom and we have a limited time to get it done. Our time might be gone in the blink of an eye.  I know it too well. I will ask myself today, and every day, “Lord, how can I serve you?  How can I Love You, my Treasure?”  and then I will pray for the Grace to do it!

— 7 —

And last, a friend recently told me something cool and since I had never heard of it thought you might not have either.  He was visiting a church in NJ which had an image of Jesus captioned “Jesus my Pelican”.  I had never heard Jesus referred to as a pelican before but it’s really a fitting comparison. “The symbolism of the mother pelican feeding her little baby pelicans is rooted in an ancient legend which preceded Christianity. The legend was that in time of famine, the mother pelican wounded herself, striking her breast with the beak to feed her young with her blood to prevent starvation. Another version of the legend was that the mother fed her dying young with her blood to revive them from death, but in turn lost her own life.”  You can read the rest of the article here http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0682.html  Interesting!!

Happy Friday! For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

At His feet

It’s such a happy and joyous time of year if you are a parent of a senior in High School. The culmination of years of planning and working and testing and playing and accomplishment is happening in many ways as the school year winds down.  The seniors are enjoying lots of festivities and award ceremonies leading up to Graduation and ultimately moving on to the next exciting phase of their lives.  Parents get to revel in successes, organize the celebrations, re-live the glory days of our own High School fun and generally take pride in our kids.  For our family the anticipation started last Fall with SAT’s and the first college acceptance and it was gradually building until a friday night 3 months ago.  On March 2, 2013, we had to abruptly change course with all of our plans when our daughter Anna was killed in a car accident.

We have changed courses and accepted what is before us but these days are still hard. Even as I celebrate and rejoice on behalf of all the other kids, my heart aches without my own.  It’s a strange place to be because I can’t say she should be here.  She shouldn’t obviously.  I can’t even say I wish she were here.  I would never wish her anywhere but exactly where she is.   I just miss her.  All these moments of celebration are moments that scream at me “you lost so much”.

And those are the moments that I am reminded of my place.  The place where Hope springs eternal and Love conquers death. The place of wisdom and truth where our beautiful Mother meets me in my pain and sorrow.  It is the place from which the whole of my life has purpose and meaning. I belong at the foot of the Cross, the only place where the joys of the world pale in comparison to the triumph of Eternity.  To sit at the feet of Jesus is to remember that I have not lost.  Truly I have gained.  Anna has gained.  Teach me your ways Lord.  Turn my tears into dancing.  At your feet, with your Mother, I will learn. This is the day You have made for me, by your cross and resurrection, so I will rejoice and be glad in it.

When I sit at His feet I am reminded of the reason for my Joy and it has little to do with Earthly celebrations and accomplishments. When I sit at His feet my purpose is renewed. Basic, elemental – I am His.  Mary is quietly by my side but her example speaks volumes.  I am here to do your will Lord.  I am here to live out your purpose for me come what may. I am here simply to receive all that you have poured out for me; Mercy, Love and Healing.

And it is easier here to remember that there is a time for every purpose under Heaven.

There is a time for rejoicing and celebration.

There is a time to sit at His feet.

Surrender

The question I’m being asked daily is “How are you doing?” followed by “No but, how are you really doing????”  (and I so appreciate the love and care and concern behind the question).  Depending on the person and situation my answer varies but the most honest thing I can say is that I’m terrible and wonderful.  I marveled at this strange coexistence after Mikey died and struggled to reconcile myself with the truth of it.  And here I am again in this achingly familiar place…

Anna Pullano 1/27/95-3/2/13

Anna Pullano 1/27/95-3/2/13

The fog and shock of early days is gradually lifting and is being replaced by a reality that is vivid and real and unescapable.  We are going about our daily lives because that’s what you do but the world is tipped a little on its axis.  It just doesn’t feel quite right.  And then moments come that knock the wind right out of my barely flapping sails and it’s all I can do to move on to the next moment.  It seems like everything around me should shift into slow motion somehow.  I’m almost surprised to realize every time that precisely nothing stops or slows down.  In fact no one around me or in the entire world could have any idea of the inner horror of those moments.  I miss my first-born daughter in a way no one else could possibly miss her.  My relationship with her was unlike anyone else’s.  The void in my life and in my family feels vacuous at times and it’s a very lonely and isolated place to be.  The disbelief that the accident actually happened and resulted in Anna’s instant death washes over me again and again.  How can it possibly be true?  What are the chances?  We had no warning. No goodbye. No second chance.  She’s simply no longer here.

In those moments I am terrible.

No matter what truths I know and hold dear the terrible moments rise up and they are beyond my control.

There are a few things I can control however and in those moments I call on the power I have been given to choose a course of action.  I very literally call on the holy name of Jesus and beg Him to come into my present moment.  I get on my knees.  I get on my face.  Not my will but yours be done.

I Surrender.

I offer myself and my pain and every ounce of terrible to the Lord and ask His grace and mercy in return. His gifts can’t be received without surrender though.  Only when I am empty can He fill me.  When I have nothing He reminds me that He has everything I need in every single moment.

And when I come to that, again and again,  I am wonderful!  I am amazed and inspired by the power of Christ within me.

The past memories and the future what-if’s fade into meaningless-ness and the glory of the real future we have is made present.

“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:13-14)

When I surrender, God restores my strength of will to stand in the present moment and accept it for exactly what it is.  If I’m truly honest the present moment is not terrible. I can count my blessings and my gifts.  I know He is present and at work within me and in my life.  I can trust Him and who better to trust than the one with the Power?  I know the promises He has given me and is fulfilling despite the present sufferings.

 He reminds me of the reason for my Joy and I am wonderful.