My Nanny Pat

nanny patMy aunt, Ann Patricia Harvey Tomancik, passed away on Friday, May 18, 2018, just 28 days after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. After spending all weekend doing lesson plans and prepping for missing school, my husband and I flew to Louisiana early Monday morning for the wake on Monday, the funeral on Tuesday, a quick visit with my almost 92-year-old father-in-law Tuesday night, and then we flew  back to DC early Wednesday morning. While in Louisiana, I was able to spend time with my cousins and their families, with both of my brothers, my sister-in-law, my nephews, my husband’s brother and his wife and their two sons. Over the course of those whirlwind days and nights, I learned two important things: (1) it is wonderful spending time with family even in sad times, and (2) grief is exhausting.

On Wednesday, after coming home from the airport, I took a nap, did a bit of school work, and went to bed early, only to awaken on Thursday feeling exhausted and numb. Another nap on Thursday after school did not help, and I found myself half-asleep long before my normal bedtime. Thankfully, we had no school on Friday. After sleeping in late yesterday and today, I finally feel “normal”, although I am still feeling in a very personal way the loss of someone very dear to me. You see, she wasn’t just my aunt, and I felt an incredible and overwhelming need to express this. My cousin graciously allowed me to read my own eulogy to my aunt at the family luncheon that was held after the funeral and burial. Here it is.

To all of you, she was Mom, or Grandma, or Pat, but to me she was my Nanny Pat, my godmother, my mother’s only sibling. I was the flower girl at her wedding to Uncle Frank, and she has always been dear to me. As a little girl I remember our pilgrimages to Baton Rouge to spend a weekend with the Tomanciks, where I would be glued at the hip to my first cousin, Elizabeth, or as I have always called her, Lizard. When the Tomanciks came to visit us in Port Sulphur, I always knew there would be a tin of her little miniature pecan tarts coming out of that car.

One of the best birthday presents I ever received was my very own subscription to Reader’s Digest magazine. I was an avid reader even as a young child, and I had discovered the little magazine filled with stories in the bathroom of Nanny Pat’s house in Baton Rouge. Months later, near my birthday, I received one in the mail, with my very own name on the label. I believe I was 11 or 12 years old at the time, and I could not believe I was going to get one of these wonderful little magazines every single month for a whole year.

One summer we went to Baton Rouge for an entire week. My mom went to help Nanny Pat after she had surgery on the veins in her legs. During the day, my brothers and I went to Vacation Bible School with our cousins. I remember having so much fun that week. Another time, just after Michael was born, we went to Baton Rouge and collected Richard, who was a young toddler. He came home with us to Port Sulphur for a short while to give Nanny Pat time to recover with the new baby and the two older children, Lizard and Steve. My dad set up the baby bed in my brothers’ room and every morning Richard would wake early and stand in the baby bed, shaking the rails back and forth, singing the Batman theme song at the top of his lungs. If we shushed him, he would just whistle it instead. We would finally fish him out of the baby bed and bring him to the kitchen where he would happily eat or drink anything we put in front of him, shouting out, “I do, I do,” when we asked, “Who wants chocolate milk, who wants eggs, who wants toast?”

When I married into the Ardillo family in Amite, Louisiana, Nanny Pat married in as well, coming to visit my in-laws whenever we flew to Louisiana for Christmas or Easter. She loved eating at my father-in-law’s restaurant and having coffee or tea with my mother-in-law in her kitchen. Whenever one of my husband’s relatives was in the hospital in Baton Rouge, there would be Nanny Pat, sitting in the waiting room with them, keeping them company, praying with them, helping take their minds off of things. Just this past Christmas, she sent my father-in-law a Christmas card with a little note, which he kept on the kitchen table to show me at Easter.

My Nanny Pat loved my daughters, always asking right away when we talked, “How are the girls?” For birthdays and holidays, we always received thoughtful gifts in the mail, always things with ties to our Louisiana roots. She loved sharing pictures of her friends and family, especially her grandchildren, whenever we were together to visit. She wrote me long letters, many pages long, filling me in on the whole family and all of her friends, many of whom I had never met nor would ever meet. I always knew what was going on at Woods and Waters and in her church groups. She loved sending me clippings from the newspapers with recipes or articles about people I knew from Louisiana. It seemed like she was always thinking of me.

In 1995, my Nanny Pat gave my family a life-changing gift: she donated a kidney to my mother. My mother had been on dialysis for two years, and she was on the transplant list but she was not doing well. Nobody in my family was a match, not my dad, my brothers, or me. Lizard volunteered but my mother said no, since she was a young mom with two little boys, my mother wouldn’t take the chance that something would go wrong. It wasn’t a good time; Uncle Frank was seriously ill and Nanny Pat was busy taking care of him while worrying about her sister. After Uncle Frank passed away, Nanny Pat quietly went and got tested and then, to our surprise, announced to all of us that she was a perfect match. The surgery was June 20, 1995, and almost immediately my mother’s health improved. She saved my mother’s life and gave all of us twelve additional years with her. When my mother passed away in 2007, my Nanny Pat was at my side, in my parents’ little apartment in Belle Chasse, where they lived after losing everything in Hurricane Katrina. She and I said the rosary together, along with my dad and brothers and my cousin Penny. I was so thankful she was there.

My Nanny Pat never met a stranger, she could make friends at the drop of a hat. She was so cheerful and full of life, even when I last saw her Easter week this year, before she even knew she was so ill. I will miss her so much, but I know I will see her again. For now, she is with Uncle Frank, my mom and dad, her brother, her parents, and all her relatives from Scotland who have gone before her. Thank you for everything, Nanny Pat. May Perpetual Light shine upon you.

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Love Never Fails

It’s midday Sunday and I am just sitting down to write this week’s essay. It’s been a busy weekend. Friday night was the wedding rehearsal and rehearsal dinner for one of my colleagues, a third grade teacher at my school. Months ago, after announcing her engagement, she stopped me as I was coming in to school one morning and asked me to do one of the readings of scripture at her wedding. I am still surprised at how emotional I became when she asked me, immediately choking up and fighting back tears. I hugged her and said yes, of course, and thanked her for making me a part of her special day. Yesterday was the wedding and reception, and much of this morning was spent looking at wedding photos on Facebook posted by some of those in attendance.

I moved to the DC area from my home state of Louisiana in 1988, so by all accounts this should be my home now. But, with no extended family here, and not having grown up here or gone to school here, in a lot of ways I don’t feel “at home”. One of the times when this is most evident to me is when hearing about weddings. If we lived in Louisiana, we would be invited to weddings much more frequently than we are here in Maryland. We are friends with a lot of people, but often not close enough to get invited to weddings. It is understandable, with the high costs associated with even a modest wedding in this day and time, but nonetheless, when we are invited to a wedding, it is indeed a special occasion for us.

Our own wedding, June 10, 1989, was very small, mostly just family, a few of our own friends who mostly were involved in the wedding in some way, and a few friends of our parents. our rehearsal dinnerThe rehearsal dinner was at Tom’s family restaurant, Ardillo’s in Amite, Louisiana, founded by his grandfather Roy S. Ardillo, in 1947. My father-in-law continued to run it after the death of his siblings, until it closed in May of 2012.

at our receptionThe reception was at my parents’ house, with a table set up in the living room for the wedding cake made by a friend of my mom’s, the groom’s cake made by me, and finger foods that were made by my mom, some of her Sodality friends, and relatives. food at our receptionIt was in our minds, the perfect balance. We placed our focus on the wedding Mass, where we received the Sacrament of Matrimony. We had attended pre-Cana preparation at our then parish, St. Ann’s in Washington, DC, where we were both active in parish life while we dated and were engaged, Tom singing in the choir and me teaching religious education on Sunday mornings. planning our MassWe spent time picking out our readings, asking friends and family members to participate, and picking out music for the Mass. My good friend Ann was my maid of honor and Tom’s brother Jay was his best man. Our godparents brought up the gifts. My cousin, Penny, played the organ for the processional and recessional. our musiciansA mutual friend, Steve, who was instrumental in our spending time together early on, played guitar and sang, along with another friend, Kay, who cantored the Mass. Steve even wrote a song just for us and sang it after Communion. In every single way, to us, it was perfect.

This weekend’s wedding festivities were quite different by contrast. The bride has a large extended family, representing several different cultures. Both the bride and groom grew up here so they had many friends and family members to invite. The wedding Mass was held at the church parish of the school where we teach so there we all felt “at home”. children with coupleThe bride had invited her current 3rd grade class to the wedding, and they attended in full force, along with many of their parents, all smiles as they watched every move of their teacher on the altar. There was a certain energy to the wedding Mass that was almost palpable, brightly colored dresses and the sounds of young children filling the large church. The reception was equally lively, with a steel drum band playing during the cocktail hour and a DJ spinning popular hits in dance music after dinner. dancing the night awayFlower girls and junior bridesmaids danced the night away side by side with older relatives and middle-aged couples, ourselves included. The featured libation was chosen by the newly married couple, a rum punch, which was delicious and as colorful as every other detail of the two days of festivities. It was a beautiful celebration of the love of these two young people.

Knowing the bride stemmed from a large family, I was truly honored to take part in the ceremony. I was given the second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. I know it well, having heard it many times at other weddings and as part of the readings in weekly Mass. I began practicing it as soon as she gave me a copy. Even though I serve as a Lector in my parish, Shrine of St. Jude’s in Rockville, as well as a Lector at some of our school Masses, I fully appreciated the significance of being asked to read at their wedding and wanted to perform this duty to the best of my ability. taking the reading to papal massOn September 23rd when I was getting ready for the Papal Mass, I folded it up and tucked it into my purse. I told the bride I would be taking her and her fiancé with me to the Papal Mass and then I would bring the Pope to their wedding Mass via the same piece of paper, which I did.

This reading from Corinthians is very powerful, and its power comes from the poetry of the words themselves. Studying and analyzing words is what I do for a living, teaching literature to middle school students, showing them how to break down passages of literature for its deeper meaning. Reading is one of the great joys of my life, and the more I focus on my own writing, the more I appreciate the beauty of words and the power that exists in truly well written prose. This piece of scripture is a fine example.

A reading from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians (12:31–13:8a)

Brothers and sisters:
Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts.
But I shall show you a still more excellent way.
If I speak in human and angelic tongues
but do not have love,
I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.
And if I have the gift of prophecy
and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge;
if I have all faith so as to move mountains,
but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give away everything I own,
and if I hand my body over so that I may boast
but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous, is not pompous,
it is not inflated, it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, 
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails.
The word of the Lord.

Even though St. Paul was not talking to a young couple about to embark on a lifetime together, this popular New Testament reading is still listed as a choice for Catholic wedding Masses. The detailed “laundry list” of what love is, as well as what love is not, can be applied to the Christian community of Corinth, who had fallen away from the teachings of the Gospel, as easily as to a young man and a young woman trying to live a life of faith in today’s fast-paced world. It is difficult to find time for peace and quiet reflection in a world of instant communication via many different types of social media, evidenced by Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram images of this weekend’s wedding being posted while the events were still taking place. I myself fell victim to this increasingly more popular trend, holding handstaking a quick photo when the couple took their seats for the first reading. The way the groom so sweetly was holding the bride’s hand was so reminiscent of my favorite photo of our own wedding, a now-yellowed photo taken by a relative as we exited the church after the wedding, my new husband not only giving me his arm to walk me down the aisle but taking my hand as well.us leaving the wedding

In the end, this young couple needs only the excerpt from St. Paul’s letter to the people of Corinth and the closing words of the priest’s homily at their wedding to help them navigate the joys and strife of their new life together. It isn’t about the beautiful wedding attire or the delicious food and drink at spectacular venues. It isn’t about the Pinterest ideas or the ubiquitous iPhone cameras in the hands of nearly all of the guests. It isn’t about the rain and dark clouds that dampened the two days’ activities. It isn’t about the dress or the cake or the flowers. It is about love. And, love never fails.

“New Testament Readings.” For Your Marriage. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Web. 4 Oct. 2015.