Just Around the River Bend

In June of 1995 my older daughter turned five years old and just after her birthday a new Disney movie was released, Pocahontas. She was crazy about that movie. She had Pocahontas pajamas, t-shirts, bathing suit, bed sheets, and that Halloween she was Pocahontas head to toe. Just recently when going through some boxes of old clothes I found the white crew socks that when folded down sported an embroidered image of Pocahontas, complete with “leather” fringe around the cuff. I saved them.

Growing up in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, walking distance from my backyard to the mighty Mississippi River, I am familiar with the term river bend. There are several bends in the river in the area where I grew up. When I would come home from college on the weekends, I would head for one of these bends, park the car, and climb up on the levee to sit and watch the ships go by. I would climb down a bit of the levee so I wasn’t visible, but still safe from danger of the fast-moving currents and rocky shoreline. I always felt like I was home once I had seen the river up close like that.

After college, I chose to stay in my college town and seek employment there. I had lots of friends in that town and compared to my hometown, it felt like city-life. I loved living there and participated in the community in many ways: serving on the parish council at church, singing in the church choir, volunteering on political campaigns, doing service work with the undergraduate members of my sorority, and eventually, becoming very active in the local community theatre troupe. Still, whenever I went home to see my parents, I would head for the levee to sit and stare and smell and feel the Mississippi River rolling past me.

I missed my parents and my brothers, my aunt and uncle, and other relatives in my hometown, but I always felt like whatever it was I was searching for was elsewhere, like Pocahontas sings, “just around the river bend”.

Hurricane Katrina changed everything. My parents lost their home, and my mother lost her will to fight. Katrina struck in 2005 and my mother passed away in 2007. She had fought kidney disease and other illnesses since 1993, but after Katrina, she just gave up. She had lost everything, and found herself starting over in “the apartment” which she said as though it were a four-letter word. In reality it was a duplex, and it was lovely, but it wasn’t hers, it wasn’t home.

And, so, I don’t go to my hometown and sit on the levee and revel in the beauty of the Mississippi River. My dad now lives with my brother about forty miles from our hometown, and he is battling congestive heart failure. This week I have been here with them as my father bounced back and forth between the hospital ER and the rehab facility/nursing home poignantly called River Bend. Pops and grandsonsDriving there to see him, I was struck by the irony of him being there, in a place called river bend, when that term had always brought such warm and happy thoughts to me.

For four days I went to River Bend to sit with him, visit with him, help him sit up for meals and to go to the bathroom, and sometimes, I just sat there while he napped. I saw a lot in four days. I saw nurses and nursing aides treating patients with kindness and compassion. I saw staff smiling and joking with one another and with family members of the residents. I saw clean floors and good medical care being demonstrated. I saw familiar faces of people I from my hometown who were there for a variety of reasons: rehab, recovery from a stroke or hip surgery, and some who had nowhere else to go. I visited with my fourth grade teacher, who was lucid and witty. I visited with the sister-in-law of my first grade teacher, who was still sharp as a tack at the age of 90.

Miss Elsie and me

Miss Elsie and me

I also saw some things there that made me incredibly sad.  Some of those things will stay with me forever, burned into my memory in a way that only that kind of sadness can do.

In the end, we decided to bring my daddy home to my brother’s house for home health care. He was very unhappy at River Bend, mostly because he was out of his element and partially saddened by what he was seeing there. He is very weak and his prognosis is not good, but he is happy to be home in familiar surroundings, with my brother and his gentle giant of a chocolate lab.

My dad napping in his recliner with ever-present Beau napping nearby

My dad napping in his recliner with ever-present Beau napping nearby

After nine days, I had to head back home. As much as I love my daddy and want to be with him, and as much as I want to stay and help my brother take care of him, I have to return to my own family, to my husband and daughters, to my sweet little dog, and to my 7th and 8th grade classroom. Just like Pocahontas, many years ago, I looked beyond the river bend and found my dreams, and it took me far away from Louisiana, far away from my hometown, far away from the mighty Mississippi River.

The Top Ten Things Teaching Taught Me

In 2002 I left a stressful but lucrative job as a real estate paralegal to live abroad for two years as an expat trailing spouse. It was the first time in my adult life that I had nowhere to go each weekday. Other than maternity leave in 1990 and 1992, I had been employed full-time since the summer of my college graduation.

At first, I had lots of things to do: get my daughters settled into a new school in a foreign country, learn my way around town, figure out shopping in a foreign language, unpack and settle into a new house, etc. Eventually though, the “to do” list grew shorter and I grew restless. The answer of what to do with my days came via the school’s weekly newsletter: “Help wanted in the high school library”. The library has always been one of my favorite places on earth. Sign me up!

And so began my two years volunteering in the high school library at the international school my daughters attended. I also volunteered in my 5th grader’s classroom, teaching a series of classes on the cuisines of ancient civilizations. The teacher told me after the first class (lentils and sausages), “You should be a teacher!” Soon after, I began substitute teaching and finally, acting as a teacher’s aide in a middle school class where students designed projects to solve global problems.

When we returned to the states in 2004, I worked for three years as a youth minister, spending a lot of time with middle school and high school students. I continued substitute teaching and finally decided to make a permanent career change into education. Putting the cart before the horse, I got a full-time teaching position and then started a graduate school program to become certified to teach English in grades 7-12. It was hard work learning to be a teacher while actually teaching, and with the addition of evening graduate courses, I often wondered whether it was worth it. Eight years later, I can answer that with a resounding YES.

Now considered a veteran teacher, I am still surprised at the many things teaching taught me that I had never considered when I was just the parent of two school-aged children. While some of my top ten list may seem frightening to a new teacher, overall my message is that teaching is the hardest work I have ever done but also the most rewarding.

  1. While reading is FUNdamental, a lot of students do not think reading is FUN. Being an avid reader, this came as a shock to me. Both my daughters are big readers and while my husband prefers nonfiction to fiction, he loves getting lost in a new book or revisiting his favorite science fiction writers again and again. I had no idea so many children thought reading was boring or hard work only associated with school. Of course some in every class love to read but they are clearly the minority and generally prefer to keep that fact to themselves. In my attempt to turn some of my students into readers, I’ve reorganized my classroom library. Instead of placing the fiction books on the shelves in alphabetical order by author’s last name as in the public library, I’ve organized them by genres and shelved them in small baskets clearly labeled “Sports Fiction”, “Mysteries”, “Animal Stories”, “Science Fiction”, “Historical Fiction”, and so on. This has helped some. When students finish a test or classroom assignment, they know they can go to the shelves and find a book to read while waiting for the rest of the class to catch up. I purposely end seventh grade literature on a high note, by teaching the Agatha Christie masterpiece And Then There Were None. This mystery draws them in and hopefully sends them home for the summer wanting to read another of Christie’s jewels. In eighth grade we read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. As Dr. Watson retells the story of the curse on the Baskerville family, we learn about the Victorian era and how to distinguish red herrings from foreshadowing. I post my personal reading list on the wall outside my door, changing it each time I finish a book during the year so that they can see that I am reading for fun, too!
  2. Everything inside the bells takes half the time you estimated. As a new teacher entering the profession as a second career, lesson planning and mapping out a unit were a mystery to me. I would write out my lesson plan and on paper it seemed as though there would not be enough time to cover it all. But, the bell would ring and I would begin, and nearing the end of the material I had set out to cover I would glance at the clock, utterly shocked and horrified that the period was only half over. This led to scrambling for something to fill in the rest of the period. I got better at this as time went on, and—while by no means perfect—eventually I developed an innate sense of how long something was going to actually take in the classroom. I still have days where things don’t last as long as I had estimated, or days when the bell rings before I have completely finished my lesson, but those days are fewer and fewer.
  3. Everything outside the bells takes twice as much time as you estimated. The converse of #2 above is that lesson planning is time-consuming, and so is everything else that goes along with that lesson plan. There are copies to be made; things to laminate; bulletin boards to imagine, create, and put up; tests and quizzes to create; grade books to set up and maintain; communications to parents and administrators to write; papers to grade; grades to post; and the list goes on. I teach middle school language arts with the ultimate goal of getting my 7th and 8th graders ready for high school English essay, term papers, A/P exams, and more. I have to assign essays to my students in order to accomplish that goal, and grading them and giving effective feedback is time-consuming and never-ending.
  4. Beware the faculty room if you want to stay healthy. There is always food in the faculty room. Sometimes it is just a dish of hard candies, and sometimes it is a Costco birthday cake which serves 75 that has been dropped off by a parent after a family celebration. Muffins, donuts, cookies, chips, boxes of Christmas candies, trays of sandwich wraps, and more all find their way to the faculty room. It is a danger zone for anyone trying to lose weight or just to maintain a healthy diet.
  5. Beware the faculty room if you want to stay positive. This one is tricky to discuss. Comradery is important. We all need to vent, to talk about things to relieve the stress, or to get advice as to how to handle a difficult student. When faculty morale is down, however, the faculty room becomes a place that breeds negativity. After years of struggling with this, a veteran teacher, mentor, friend of mine said to me that it is perfectly okay to eat a sandwich at your desk in the peace and quiet of your own room instead of joining in the fracas. Some days I do just that and use the quiet time to catch up on emails or to just check my Facebook and Twitter accounts, something I would not normally do during the school day. This year, after a few years of transitions in administration and faculty, I decided my classroom theme would be the Pharrell Williams hit song “Happy”. I decorated my door with smiley faces bearing the names of my 8th grade home room students and played the song full blast every morning during home room period to get everyone back in the spirit of coming to school. I changed my ring tone on my cell to “Happy” and sometimes, when the faculty room gets to be a bit too much, I have been known to pull out my phone and play the song. Everyone gets the message—gossip, sniping, and snipping immediately turn into laughter. Other times, I just excuse myself, and in the words of American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson, just “walk away”.
  6. People outside of education do not understand your job. As a working parent, I envied the teachers at my daughters’ school, because when their 3:00 dismissal bell was ringing I still had two and a half hours at work. Ha, little did I know! Even with two planning periods a day, and I know I am pretty fortunate because many other schools have far fewer, there is not time do everything that good teaching demands. I also envied the fact that teachers had the summer off. I now know that summers are the time to take apart that unit that isn’t quite working and think through how to make it stronger and more effective. There are professional development courses to take, certifications to renew, new textbooks to review, new novels to read. Then of course, there are the small things that I didn’t understand, like bathroom breaks. I had never considered that I had to align my bathroom breaks to my teaching schedule. Need a hot cup of tea or a drink of water? In an office environment, no problem, but in a bustling middle school with students changing classes every 40 minutes, and both your planning periods in the afternoon, you just have to keep calm and carry on. There is also the delicate matter of respect. When parents are anxious or upset over their child’s grades, they sometimes forget that they are writing or speaking to a professional. This has been very difficult for me. I am quite certain that these same people would not speak to their doctor or to their lawyer that way, but for some reason they are comfortable speaking to their child’s teacher in a less than professional and respectful tone.
  7. Classroom management is as difficult as negotiating a peace treaty. When I started teaching I was told the old adage, “Be a witch until Halloween” as well as other things like “Don’t let them see your fear” and “Be consistent and treat everyone the same all the time.” This of course works, and you will have a quiet and calm classroom. What you might not have however is an engaging classroom with the free exchange of ideas. Yes, there has to be a set of classroom rules. Yes, you must be consistent. But, you also have to demonstrate that you are human, that you care, and that you want the best for them, from them, and out of them. This demands a balancing act. After two years of being tough, I decided to take a page from the old Sears and Roebuck catalog in a long ago campaign where they advertised “the softer side of Sears”. Occasionally I let them sit wherever they want, even next to their friend who will distract them. After weeks of being cooped up with inside recess due to frigid weather, I will tell them to grab their class novel and head outside for independent reading in the sun on the black top. These little things make a world of difference in the life of a middle school student, and can have a big impact on their attitude and attentiveness.
  8. Catholic school parents traditionally have large families. One of the most rewarding things I have discovered in teaching has been the upside to “teaching my way” through an entire family. I am now teaching the youngest children in families that had children I taught during my first and second years. I’ve been able to get to know the parents and develop a real rapport with them, establishing trust and respect on a two-way street. I have been able to see the common threads that tie these siblings together but also to see the differences that they each bring to the family name. “You had my sister” or “my brother really hated reading until he read Agatha Christie in 7th grade” are some of my favorite things to hear the first week of a school year.
  9. Teachers do not just teach, a/k/a be prepared for “other duties as assigned”. That is something you must realize early on. A K-8 elementary school is a huge machine, with moving parts everywhere, and to make it run smoothly sometimes requires all hands on deck. Parking lot duty in all sorts of weather, the dreaded recess duty, after school clubs, spirit week, arts festivals, science fairs, school plays, field trips, clean-up services as needed, these are all tasks that teachers do in the normal course of a school day. Being flexible is the number one key to success on this front. In fact, flexibility is the number one key to success in education in general.
  10. Teachers are smart. To teach something you must have mastered it yourself first. This also came as a surprise to me. My grammar and punctuation has improved immensely since I started teaching English. I instinctively knew how to punctuate sentences and which verb form to use in a particular sentence but after teaching for eight years, I also know the grammar rules to back it all up. In my attempt to connect the literature I teach to world events and foreign cultures, I have become more knowledgeable in world wars, international politics, world religions, and much more. Researching authors and their life stories while teaching their literature has made me a more well-rounded reader myself. My basic math skills, which admittedly were quite poor, have improved enough to be noticeable to my closest friends and husband, something I had not imagined would happen while teaching language arts. Grading papers and determining percentages, calculating field trip fees, and many other things have helped me improve in this area.

As I write this it is mid-April and as my eighth year of teaching draws to a close, I look forward to a “summer off”. I am feeling tired and worn-out. But, I am renewed in the knowledge that I have helped my eighth graders prepare for high school and have made real progress with my seventh graders in their writing and reading comprehension. I look forward to summer break and to the start of a new school year, where I have the opportunity to start anew, to return to school energized and ready to improve and strengthen my materials and lesson plans, to continue to develop my teaching skills to be the best that I can be. As I said earlier, teaching is the hardest job I have ever done but it is also the most rewarding. Shaping young minds may sound trite, but it accurately describes the important and noble job of helping children along their academic path. It is not for everyone but for those with the courage to meet the demands of this vocation, it is life-changing.

Poetry 101

artic avenue forsythiaIt’s early April and a damp, gloomy day out. Yet, in spite of the temperature being in the 40’s this morning, signs of spring are visible. When driving my daughter to the metro today I pointed out to her the forsythia in full bloom up and down both sides of the street. I told her how much my mother loved forsythia and how she always hoped it was in bloom when she and my dad visited me here in Maryland. My daughter and I talked about where we could plant some in our own yard. As happens most of the time, my thoughts turned to literature, and I asked her if she knew the poem “Forsythia” by Mary Ellen Solt. It’s a concrete poem, meaning the words of the poem are arranged in a deliberate way with some symbolic meaning or connection to the subject matter of the poem itself.

When I started teaching eight years ago, I spent a lot of time reviewing the poetry unit in the eighth grade literature textbook. I wasn’t very strong on poetry, and had always thought I didn’t care for it. But, after a few years of searching for the right combination of poems to teach to my 8th graders, I developed a new appreciation for poetry. The more I researched and read in preparation for teaching my poetry unit, the more I began to love studying poetry myself. Reading a poem and rereading a poem, looking for metaphors or allusions, digging for the deeper meaning, all of these things were like working on a challenging crossword puzzle or playing a word game with a well-matched foe.

Teaching poetry became something I enjoyed as much as teaching the fiction pieces in my curriculum. There are many positives to teaching poetry. Choosing a class novel for 40-50 eighth graders is tricky. Along with analyzing a potential novel for its use in covering the standards, one must also consider whether it will be appealing to the majority of the students. Is the protagonist male or female? Does it contain age-appropriate language and subject matter? Will it encourage intellectual curiosity or a broader world view? All of these things are much easier to take into account when selecting poems for a poetry unit.

For struggling readers, the thought of delving into a 300 page novel is daunting but for those with even the shortest of attention spans, a poem is manageable, and, if chosen carefully and presented in an engaging way, it can even be enjoyable. For example, the masterpiece “Oh Captain! My Captain!” by Walt Whitman, is a great poem to help students understand an extended metaphor. First, students read the poem silently to themselves. Then we read it aloud. Then I read the poem to them, using my dramatic voice and facial expressions. Finally, we begin to take the poem apart and break it down.

My student desks are arranged in a big square with everyone, myself included, facing the center of the square, so no one is left out, “in the back”, or excluded. As we discuss the poem, I am on the lookout for any early signs of recognition of the metaphor. If necessary I will ask some leading questions, such as, “What could the ship represent? Who is the captain? What was the prize sought?” When the light bulbs start going off and I see the signs of comprehension rippling around the room, I can sit back and let them take over the discussion. It is a great teaching moment, and I look forward to it each year.

bea swindell

Mrs. Bea Swindell

In phase two of the poetry unit the students select a poem to memorize and present to the class. While required in the academic standards, the announcement of this assignment brings wide-spread fear and terror throughout the room. Most overly self-aware adolescents will do anything to avoid public speaking and combining that with memorizing something for a grade is not something they look forward to. However, this is something of a rite of passage for all middle school and high school students. My husband can still recite the poem he memorized for school, and I can proudly share that in high school, as somewhat of a dare as well as to impress my beloved English teacher Mrs. Bea Swindell, I memorized the entire poem “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe, all eighteen stanzas of it. I can still recite from memory the first two or three stanzas but to be able to recite it in its entirety would require some work of this middle age brain.

New to poetry? Or, perhaps do you wish to reacquaint yourself with it? Along with Mary Ellen Solt’s “Forsythia”, here are the ten poets and their poems chosen for my 8th grade poetry unit, a collection that most of my students find enjoyable and approachable. Half of these appear in our textbook, others I selected. Most can be found on the internet or at your local public library. Read them a few times and then take them apart. Look for those extended metaphors! Broaden your world view, one poem at a time!

  1. Eleanor Farjeon. Farjeon’s poem “Morning Has Broken” was the basis for the well-known Christian hymn, but its popularity reached new peaks when Cat Stevens turned it into a hit single. Examples of her poetry: “Cat!” and “Morning Has Broken”.
  2. Walt Whitman. Whitman’s collection of poetry Leaves of Grass made him a literary superstar, so much so that when he died his funeral became a public spectacle. Examples of his poetry: “O Captain! My Captain!” and “A Noiseless Patient Spider”.
  3. Emily Dickinson. Largely unknown throughout her lifetime because of her reclusive nature, after her death nearly 1,800 poems she had written were discovered in her room by her sister. Examples of her poetry: “The Sky Is Low, The Clouds Are Mean” and “Because I Could Not Stop For Death–“.
  4. William Shakespeare. No study of poetry, or literature for that matter, would be complete without including the Bard of Avon. Writers of love letters as well as students of literature can find themselves lost in his sonnets, filled with wonder at his mastery of the English language. Examples of his poetry: “Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind” and “Sonnet 18 Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day?”.
  5. W. H. Auden. An Anglo-American poet, Auden’s famous poem “Funeral Blues” made it to the big screen in 1994 when it was featured prominently in the Hugh Grant/Andie MacDowell movie Four Weddings and a Funeral. Examples of his poetry: “Three Short Poems” and “Funeral Blues”.
  6. Cecil Spring Rice. Another example of a poem being set to music is “The Two Fatherlands” by British poet Cecil Spring Rice, who was the British Ambassador to the United States from 1912-1918. Written in 1908 while he was serving in the British diplomatic corps, the poem speaks of service and loyalty to the two “fathers”, God and country. British composer Gustav Holst adapted a section of the movement “Jupiter” from his symphony The Planets as a setting for the poem. The music and lyrics were later modified for use as a Christian hymn. Examples of his poetry: “Day” and “Urbs Dei” (“The City of God”) or “The Two Fatherlands”, better known as “I Vow to Thee My Country”.
  7. Robert Frost. American poet Robert Frost is well-known and widely studied. Frost was asked to recite a poem for the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy, the first poet to do so but a tradition continued with Presidents Clinton and Obama. In the car on the way to the swearing-in, Frost was very nervous about the weather conditions on the bitterly cold and windy January day in 1961. When called up to the podium, he found that the wind and glare from the sun and snow prevented him from reading a poem he had written especially for the occasion, so instead he recited from heart his 1941 poem “The Gift Outright”. Examples of his poetry: “The Road Not Taken” and “The Gift Outright”.
  8. e. e. cummings. American poet Edward Estlin Cummings, known for his irreverent use of lower case letters, intentional misspellings, and irregular word/line placement, was a prolific writer, amassing nearly 3,000 poems in his lifetime, along with several novels, plays, and essays. Examples of his poetry: “Your Little Voice Over The Wires Came Leaping” and “a pretty a day”.
  9. William Carlos Williams. Another American poet who excelled in multiple careers was William Carlos Williams, a pediatrician and general practitioner, who famously said he worked harder as a poet than as a doctor. A contemporary of Robert Frost and Ezra Pound, Williams’s final book of poetry, Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems, earned him the 1963 Pulitzer Prize. Examples of his poetry: “The Red Wheelbarrow” and “Willow Poem”.
  10. Edgar Allan Poe. Only 40 years old when he died in 1849, Edgar Allan Poe left behind a treasury of literature. His death and the circumstances surrounding it are so mysterious and compelling it is almost as though he is a character in one of his gruesome short stories. Examples of his poetry: “The Raven” and “Annabel Lee”.

Cradle to Grave with Mary

My mother told me when I was a young girl that when her mother lay dying in a hospital bed, drifting in and out of consciousness, she would say that the children were coming to get her. My mother asked her, “What childrenour lady of fatima book?” She then told my mom that the children of Fatima were coming to get her and take her to God. Years later I was in a used bookstore, killing time while waiting for my daughters to finish Saturday morning dance class, and I saw a beat-up paperback book called Our Lady of Fatima by William Thomas Walsh. Thinking of my mother’s story, I bought the book and read it cover to cover in one sitting.

With both parents having been raised Catholic, I am, as they say, a cradle to grave Catholic. However, I did not know much about Fatima when my mother first told me of her mother’s final hours. After reading Walsh’s book, I was overwhelmed by this story. I followed up with the story of St. Bernadette’s apparitions of Mary at Lourdes. While compelling, I was more fascinated by the story of the three children at Fatima, particularly the actions taken to try to make them retract the story of Mary’s visits to them. The children were separated from each other at the local police station and each child was told the others were being tortured for lying. The children remained steadfast in their stories and refused to recant.apparitions in belgium

When moving overseas in 2002, I had hoped that I would make it to Lourdes and Fatima, but it didn’t happen. My daughters and I, along with a friend and her daughter, did visit a lesser known site of Marian apparitions, Our Lady of Beauraing, located near Namur, not far from where we were living in Waterloo, Belgium. Belgium boasts yet another site of Marian apparitions, in Banneux, about 50 miles from Beauraing.

our lady of beauraingThe story of the five children who were visited by Mary in Beauraing is a very moving story, similar to Fatima in the disbelief by town officials who held candles to the feet of the children as they knelt in the school yard praying as Mary appeared to them. The children experienced no pain from the candles being held to their feet and remained trance-like until Mary left them.

As a result of my self-prescribed study of the Marian apparitions, I began to think about the rosary in a different way. Growing up, we were not a family to gather together and say the rosary. My dad did not like getting to church too early, because some parishioners would be saying the rosary together, out loud, and that bothered him. For years after learning more about Fatima, though, I began saying the rosary (silently) before Mass.

In 1993 my mother was very ill for an extended period of time and suffered through many surgeries, twelve in a two-year period of time. I spent a lot of time in hospital waiting rooms when she was in intensive care and in her hospital rooms when she was well enough to be moved out of ICU. I always had my rosary with me. When my mother’s cousin, Anna, came from Scotland to be with my mother after these surgeries, we talked a lot about the rosary and about Mary. Anna’s mantra was always, “Our Lady will not let us down.”  I prayed the rosary more fervently than ever, with Anna and alone as well. It was through Anna that I truly felt I began to experience my faith as an adult, that it was mine–not just something I had inherited from my parents. The peace I felt praying the rosary during those difficult times was of great solace to me.

Once when I was home in Maryland, in 1994 I believe, I received a call that my mom was back in ICU in Louisiana and not doing well at all. I was on the telephone in my bedroom (landline) and I remember reaching into my night table drawer for my rosary while I was talking to my brother. As soon as the conversation ended, I started a rosary then and there. I remember asking Mary to please spare my mother, to allow her to recover to see my daughters grow up, to let them have the opportunity to know their grandmother. This was important to me because my mother’s mother died when my mother was still in high school, so I never knew my maternal grandmother, or my maternal grandfather, who died shortly thereafter.

My dear mother died in 2007, just a year before my older daughter graduated from high school. She didn’t get to see the wonderful young adults my girls have become, although she certainly knew and loved them up to the end of her life. In fact, in April of 2007 we spent Easter with my parents in Louisiana, attending the Easter vigil Mass together. My mother was in relatively good health then, which made her death in August of that year even more shocking to us. I have a great photo from that night of my morosarym standing in between my two daughters, the three of them caught in silly laughter, a rare thing since my mom, raised in the Scottish tradition of being reserved and restrained, seldom laughed out loud.

This essay is being written on Holy Saturday, the “silent” day in the Catholic church. We are between death and life, after the crucifixion and before the resurrection. On this day we think of Mary, a mother who has experienced the death of her son, who waits at his tomb. We wait with her in this quiet time. Tomorrow is Easter Sunday, and our family will go to Mass and celebrate Jesus rising from the dead. I will take time to say the rosary and to give thanks for the gift of my faith, given to me by my parents at birth, but a gift I nurtured and fostered through attending Mass, through receiving the Sacraments, and through prayer, through devotion to Our Lady and the rosary.  Happy Easter!