40 Years

A week ago, I celebrated my 40th birthday.

I remember when my mom turned 40. Her sisters arranged a special surprise – we woke up to find a flamboyance of 40 pink plastic flamingos roosting on our front lawn and a sign saying “Honk! Stephy’s turning 40!” to encourage all drivers passing by to pay homage. Her birthday party that evening was filled with “Over the Hill” decorations and gag gifts. I can’t recall if I gave her a pair of dentures or a cane.

My own 40th birthday was not quite so outrageous. The pandemic put a bit of a damper on the celebration I had originally envisioned (a rooftop extravaganza) but it was still a day spent with family and friends (on the phone and online), and it was topped off with a barbecue in the evening with community and five very special guests (our first guests since the pandemic began!). Lots of food and conversation and laughter, and of course, cake.

While I have no qualms about turning 40, celebrating my birthday always reminds me that the summer is passing. It’s surprising how quickly this summer is moving along. March and April were painfully slow in passing but since then, time has sped up enormously. Thankfully, it has been filled with many good things.

For one, I made a book! Not a professionally published book but a self-made book of a number of posts from this blog spanning my first three years with the congregation. It was a project that I had on my ‘To Do’ list for a long time and finally did it. I am really pleased with the result. It’s a lovely memento but also, I hope, I’ll be able to share it with women who are discerning a vocation to religious life. They might appreciate to hear one woman’s experience of discernment.

This month I’ve been in UN mode. Earlier in the year, I was named regional representative to our UN NGO – collaborating with our CJ and IBVM representatives at our NGO in New York – which I am delighted about and which has already been so much fun. I spent two weeks of July glued to my laptop, watching meetings of the High Level Political Forum, and participating in side events on financing for development, child abuse online, and climate change. Now I’m working with the NGO Working Group on Girls and contributing to planning for activities for the International Day of the Girl on October 11th. It’s energizing to be engaged in this work again.

I’ve also been working on research for a comprehensive paper that is part of my theology studies. I’ve been reading about children’s rights and religious freedom, the spiritual and religious development of the child, and ecclesial and sacramental engagement of children. There’s lots to explore and it has been fascinating to do some reading on these topics. I’m grateful to have the time to devote to it and to be able to explore interesting tangents and ideas.

The day after my birthday, I gave my first-ever homily/reflection as part of St. Basil’s parish online Gathering series. I really enjoyed the process of preparing the homily, and though I was nervous about the delivery, it went well, and perhaps I’ll have the opportunity to do something similar again in the future.

Finally, I’ve been re-visiting last year’s Mary Ward Summer School – reading Mary Ward’s letters again, and adding in some of St. Ignatius’ letters. I’m finding so much that inspires and consoles and challenges and, above all, so much that reminds me of what my vocation is all about and what has attracted me to it. This little extract has given me another way to look at this time of the pandemic:

I would wish you every well-being and prosperity imaginable that might help you in promoting the service and glory of God Our Lord. However, then I think that these illnesses and other temporal mishaps frequently come from the hand of God our Lord so that we have greater self-knowledge and a diminished love for created things, along with a deepened realization of the brevity of this life of ours. In that way we can equip ourselves for the next life which is to last for ever.
    ~ Ignatius of Loyola, Letter to Isabel Roser, 1532

Of course, in between all of these projects, I’ve spent lots of time on the roof, enjoying the sun and an occasional dip in the pool, reading and relaxing on the lounge chairs (I need more Ted Chiang!), watching the new Babysitters Club series on Netflix (so good – somehow both nostalgic and modern – and brings back lots of memories of reading the BSC books), watching Singy Songy Sessions by the marvellously delightful Kate Rusby, and walking a virtual camino.

And now…I’m going on retreat! A very different experience this year to be sure – a Zoom retreat from my bedroom – but I have no doubt that this 4-day retreat with the “Under 55ish” group of religious across Canada will be just what is needed. Time to reflect and rest and give thanks for these 40 years.

 

30 years

Back in the 90s

This afternoon as I sat on our rooftop patio, enjoying the afternoon sun, my mind travelled back to 1990, to this day 30 years ago when my mom received a heart transplant. She was 36 years old. 

That day is a bit of a blur now but I remember pieces of it. No doubt each member of my family remembers something different. I was 9 years old and in grade four. The day before she would have her transplant, Mom and I had been at my softball game. Her pager went off. She went to find a payphone to call the hospital to see what the news was. She had been on the transplant list for several months by that time. We were living in Calgary but had spent several months the previous year living in Edmonton in anticipation of her surgery. During that time, her pager had gone off sporadically and she had called the hospital each time only to discover that it was a false alarm. But this time, she came back to tell me that she had to go. There was a heart available and she had to go to Edmonton right away. Being 9, I didn’t really think through the consequences of what she was saying and I told her I would prefer to stay at my softball game until it ended and then meet her back at home. 

I was lucky to see her before she left. When I arrived home a while later, my aunts and two of my mom’s closest friends were there. My aunt Jessica was going to accompany Mom to Edmonton on the plane that had been arranged for them. I arrived just in time to say goodbye to her as they hurried out the door. Mom later said that I had been so calm and brave but I think I was just oblivious because as soon as they left the house, I burst into tears. It wasn’t easy to sleep that night, wondering what was happening to her, waiting to hear news about the surgery. The next morning my brother and I stayed home from school, hoping for an update. When one hadn’t arrived by lunchtime, we both decided it would be better to be busy at school than sitting around at home, waiting. 

I remember sitting in the classroom during the afternoon recess (I was catching up on what I had missed in the morning) when the principal came in (a tall man I found intimidating and a bit scary) to say that he had just received a call from home and that my mom had come through the surgery and was in recovery. I was so relieved. I am sure we celebrated at dinner that night.

But it wasn’t the end of our waiting.

In 1990, organ transplants were fairly new and so recovery was quite different than it is now. Mom had to stay in Edmonton for three months, in the ICU for several weeks and then in an outpatient residence. My brother and I weren’t allowed to visit her while she was in the ICU. I remember the first time we made the trip to Edmonton we had to stand behind a glass partition and wave to her. It was heartbreaking for all of us. The only joy I had was exploring the University of Alberta Hospital with my cousin. We wandered along all of the hallways and discovered the vending machines on each floor, testing them to see if they would randomly yield their delights. Once, we were rewarded with a free root beer. 

In recovery at the University of Alberta Hospital

Finally, Mom was moved to a different floor of the hospital and we were able to go in and hug and kiss her. In a way, it was like meeting a stranger. Her face was puffy and red from the steroids she had to take and she had a long scar that ran from her breastbone down along her abdomen. I was fascinated by it. I think she was self-conscious of it later on because the scar only faded so much, but each time I saw it it made me happy. It was a sign of the new life she had been given, a gift for all of us. 

The outpatient residence

Mom eventually came home in August (and saved me from attending a day camp that would have had me riding my bike all over the city – no doubt it would have been good for me but I equated it with torture). It was like having a special guest come to stay. My brother and I were so happy to finally have her home. Each year on May 16th, we would celebrate the anniversary of her heart transplant. I would bring her flowers and it would be like a second Mother’s Day. Every year, even as a kid, I remember being so grateful that someone had offered their organs for transplant so that Mom could keep being my mom.  

At home with the new regime of medication

When she died on May 7, 2003, she was two weeks shy of her 50th birthday, and nine days shy of her 13th heart anniversary. I think of her often during the month of May, sometimes with sorrow on the day of her death, always with gratitude on the day of her heart transplant and with joy on her birthday. Her life, like all lives, unfolded as she did not expect but she met each challenge with courage, generosity, forgiveness, and love. 

Happy 30th anniversary, Mom.