Last year on Thanksgiving Day our family received the sad news that my uncle (also Siena’s Godfather) had passed away. He was 49. I owe much of who I am today to my Uncle Patrick’s active role in my formative years. I was also named after him.
Little Red Hen and I returned to California with our one-month-old baby to attend his funeral service, a beautiful Latin Requiem Mass. Even though she didn’t understand the concept of death, Siena was able to see her Godfather for the first time and say goodbye in her own way. She also brought hope and smiles to our grieving family. We later flew to Colorado to attend his burial. Patrick finally returned home.
While Thanksgiving Day will always be tainted by this sad event, I do have much to be thankful for – such as my uncle’s influence on me, his support and his example.
I wrote the eulogy for his funeral program and I would like to share that with you:
Patrick was well known for his love of the rugged wilderness. It was here that he ventured as a young man and longed to revisit as an adult. It was here that he felt the closest to God and the most in touch with himself. Patrick was a student of American history, learning the forgotten ways of the Native Americans and survival techniques used by the early fur traders. However, just reading about these remarkable times never satisfied him. He lived his passion and used his immense knowledge of wilderness survival to venture into the mountains with a rifle and a few basic tools. In an act that would have left many frozen and starving on the mountainside, Patrick was at one with the wilderness and returned to civilization at the time of his choosing. Hunting, fishing, and exploring the Rocky Mountains are among his fondest memories, in solitude and with those he loved. The unexplored and wild reaches of our nation’s backcountry, he often remarked, was a perfect reflection of God’s majesty.
Patrick’s Roman Catholic faith was as solid as the Rocky Mountains he loved. His trust in our Lord and His Church was unwavering. From this solid foundation, he derived great strength that he drew upon throughout his life. This inner strength was reflected outward in the form of uncompromising integrity, trustworthiness, and a compassionate demeanor. These attributes echoed in everything he did, from his personal relationships to his business activities. Like his father, he was known as a man of honor who commanded respect.
Perhaps it was Patrick’s inner strength that formed a beacon of hope for so many whose lives he touched. Perhaps it was his jolly sense of humor or his limitless stories about mountain expeditions that so entranced family and friends. Whatever the reason, he was immensely likable. All those who interacted with Patrick learned about themselves in the process. Children and adults alike found their sense of adventure as he conveyed in dramatic prose his many exploits. Wayward souls found in Patrick a well of strength, a role model, and a guiding light. His life experience and great wisdom were gifts he imparted onto his friends and anyone who sought advice or needed help. His family was infinitely blessed by his kindness, love and support, knowing that they could count on him to make time for their needs. Fulfilling a promise to his father, he spent his final days caring for his beloved mother, always her guardian. Patrick was a gift to us all.
Patrick lived his life for others, often at the expense of pursuing his own dreams. He frequently spoke of his desire to return to the mountains and build a cabin on a few acres of his own. He is there now, camping on a rugged moonlit peak with his outfitters tent and a blazing fire. He is looking down on us with a smile. His spirit and his memory are that of a grizzly bear: strong and enduring. He will be sorely missed.
Rest in Peace Uncle Pat.
Still, it was beautiful to see so many people gathering to celebrate the Eucharist, especially on a day that isn’t even a Holy Day of Obligation! I think people really like sacramentals… why else would Mass attendance consistently be so high on Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday? We are flesh and blood people, and we associate with tangible items in a different way than we do with matters of the spirit or of the mind. We might easily forget a homily about the importance of sacrifice, humility, mercy, and forgiveness but we will remember those things with a physical symbol throughout our day. Hearing the priest say, “Remember you are dust, and unto dust you shall return,” as he marks a cross on our foreheads, smelling the smoky ashes (an ancient symbol of repentance) with their hint of incense, feeling the grit on our foreheads… they are all ways for us to experience what might otherwise remain abstract. It all reminds us of our mortality, and calls us to die to sin in order to share in Christ’s resurrection.
Because I am a flesh-and-blood human, I’ve decided that I’m more likely to stick with my Lenten sacrifices this year if I have some accountability, and what better way to hold myself accountable than to share my plans with the whole Internet the handful of people who read our blog? I’ve always liked the idea of not just giving up something for Lent, but doing something extra as well. Trading one negative habit, temptation, or tendency for one positive one. So this year I’ll write an update each Friday about how I’m doing with my Lenten commitment. Before I share what that is, I have a couple jokes for you.
My plan is to start being more involved with my community. Ever since putting teaching on hold in order to move to a new state and have a baby, I’ve built myself a pretty insular world within my home. I’ve long complained to God that I miss feeling like part of a community, particularly the faith community I had found in college, so it’s time I do something to change that. Overall I plan to spend time this Lenten season becoming more connected to the community outside my home. More concretely, I will attend at least one event per week through my parish or in the wider community. Those outings should make good fodder for blogging, so I’ll have my husband help hold me accountable for what I’m giving up, and ask you to help hold me accountable for what I’m adding.
Oh, and I have it on good authority that Siena plans to give up complaining when we put her in her carseat, and start taking longer and more predictable naps each day. I’ll let you know how that’s going each Friday, too ;-)
Hawk in Winter and I have spent many of our waking hours lately working on a website for our photography business. Siena has other ideas for how she’d like us to spend her waking hours, however, so it’s been difficult to find a block of time when we’re both available.
Our friend Jillian had kindly offered to watch Siena for a few hours this weekend if we wanted to get away for an evening alone. In the past, Siena has slept through her trips to restaurants so we hardly noticed we had her along. We chose to take Jillian up on her offer, but to use our time without Siena to work on the website, then take Siena with us to Mass and dinner out. Things didn’t go quite as planned, however! (I seem to be using that phrase quite a bit since becoming a Momma…)
We picked her up from Jillian’s and learned that she was hungry and fussy, but had refused the bottle. Jillian suspects she’s starting to teethe, so we’re bracing ourselves for that adventure. I fed and burped her in the back during Mass. Not ideal, but she was quiet and alert after that. Previously, she’d slept through most Masses. She still earned her usual praise from those in the pews around us once Mass had ended.
On our way out of the church, the parish priest asked if we could help him with something. When we first met with him about Siena’s baptism, he was delighted to discover HiW’s technical abilities and has asked for help with a few projects. He is interested in the latest technology, but not quite proficient. A few months ago, for example, he asked HiW to teach him how to check the voicemail on his iPhone. He had a couple hundred unheard messages, but instructed HiW just to delete them so he “could get caught up.” (!)
Saturday night’s impromptu project was setting up Father’s new computer, which then evolved into securing the WiFi network for the parish and connecting the printer. This time, I had an assignment too. Once I mentioned our aspiring photography business, he ran to a back room and emerged with another new purchase – a Nikon D60 camera, two lenses, and a flash. Siena was mostly content on a blanket while I took things out of their boxes, put them together, and tried not to drool over it all as I jotted down some instructions for him. After about an hour, he had to go meet with some other parishioners. Once we finished, we locked up as instructed, and headed off to the second part of our evening – dinner out – almost two hours after we’d planned. Here are some blurry cell phone pictures of our adventure:
We have become accustomed to two things when we bring Siena to a restaurant.
1) Waitresses and other customers come up to us and gush over Siena.
2) We are offered a high chair, turned upside down, so her carseat can rest on the wooden dowels that make up the base.
Both things happened this time. Even a couple of truckers came over to adore our daughter! What made me laugh out loud, though, was reading the sign attached to the underside of the highchair’s seat, visible only when the whole thing was turned upside down. Click the picture to see it bigger:
That’s okay. Siena didn’t sleep anyway, and didn’t want to be in her carseat. She wanted to be held, preferably in either a sitting or standing position, thankyouverymuch. It looks like her days of extreme portability are over. Which means we’ll be having far fewer Saturday Nights Out.
My lucky little sister got some amazing photos of our Holy Father last week when he visited her college, Catholic University of America. When Pope John Paul II visited CUA in 1979, it was those students who first chanted, “John Paul 2, we love you!” which was echoed my millions throughout the world for years to come. My sister says she was trying to convince people to chant “XVI – he’s our guy!” (pronouncing each letter of the Roman numeral for 16, as he is the sixteenth pope to take the name Benedict) but I guess that one never caught on. ;-)
She is a great photographer, and arrived early to get a good vantage point. These photos are better than most I’ve seen in the media, and certainly better than the ones on CUA’s website of the same event.
More here: 3,000 CUA Students Rockthe Pope.