No matter the weighing age or magnitude of responsibilities, a mother’s love always has a way to undo every knot in life.
I never understood Mary. She was far-away, a flat Christmas card-figure, having nothing to do with my world, or the miseries that I faced. And ditto for that group with the weird military-sounding name: “Legion of Mary.” To me, all things Mary were passé—including the rosary. “Why repeat those boring prayers? Only old ladies hung on to these things.” These thoughts kept streaming into my mind that night while at the hospital.
Stuffed with tubes, our mom, Peggy Jo, lay unconscious on a ventilator. As we were not permitted to be in her cubicle, we overflowed the ICU waiting room: milling and whispering, like the sheep without a shepherd. What precisely was her condition? Which doctor was in charge? Clueless, we were in a mess. The one we all loved was slipping away.
Finally, we got an update. The emergency surgery done on the previous day, had corrected the bowel obstruction, but it left mom at enormous risk for infection. Would her chemo-debilitated body, with its depleted white blood cell count, find the capacity to fight back? The next few hours would tell. Collectively, we ate without tasting, babbled without sense, stared off into space, and silently cried out wordless prayers. We floundered for a reason to hope.
Around midnight a curious visitor appeared. It turned out to be a nun. I had not realized that there were any nuns left in this hospital, and who knows—why she materialized right then. Kindly, she offered to pray with us.
As many of my family were not much into the Catholic thing, I was surprised when a sizeable number of us trailed behind her to the chapel. She began reciting a rosary—of all things. Too weak to protest, we collapsed into those quiet, familiar rhythms: “Hail, Mary, full of grace …” Words seemed to soften into wings, soothing and lifting us. A hope began to flicker.
Mom hung on that night. By the next day she was making small and steady improvements. In the end, we were given the gift we sought: her remarkable come-back, and the joys of having her with us on this earth for another sixteen months.
Since that night, several “re-sets” have put my life on a better track. This may have a lot to do with mom, so, I want to say some more about her. Peggy Jo was a quiet soul. With Larry our Dad, she raised the eleven of us, but her remarkable works at home often passed unnoticed. She was a faithful life-long Catholic and a member of Saint John’s Legion of Mary, and who knows how her countless rosaries and other prayers have impacted each of us over the years? I definitely needed more than my share. Growing up I clashed repeatedly with mom. I was mean to her and kept her at a distance. But she never gave up on me.
As she was not very expressive, the “inside story” of mom’s faith remains untold. But I have an inkling that somehow, sometime—Peggy Jo connected with Mary. I mean really connected—“Mom-to-mom.” Why not?
Here was another quiet one who gave all she had faithful and devoted. Mary, who tended to skinned knees and scrubbed the soles of dirty little feet. Mary, who cared fiercely for her Son, and endured with Him to His bitter, bleeding passion on the Cross, in her, Peggy Jo, met a mom who understood without a word. They connected heart-to-heart.
And death will never extinguish their bond. Recently, as I was asking Mary to undo the knots in my life through my newfound devotion to “Mary, Undoer of Knots” (A novena to Mary, imploring her to undo those knots in lives which imprison us in sin, anxiety, and hopelessness), Peggy Jo popped into my head. Bingo!
Why had I never before caught such an obvious connection? Peggy Jo herself was a world-class “undoer of knots!” I should have known: I who bungled one sewing project after another. Wailing and whining, I would dump my latest mess into her lap. And with serenity, she would finagle her “seam-ripper,” untangling my project, and while she was at it, I kept at my crabby attitude.
This brings me back to that hospital chapel scene. There we were, a huddle of misery, crying out to heaven. And did heaven’s heart come forward to meet us? Did not Mary herself join in prayer for her beloved Peggy Jo, and comfort us in that bleak hour? Yes! And, multi-tasking mom that she is, I believe Mary was up to one additional task.
Remember how back then, I did not “get” Mary at all—did not even care to really understand her? Well, she cared. And she never gave up on me. With subtlety and grace, she went into action behind the scenes. I suspect that on that night long-ago, Mary was indeed hard at it. Yes, undoing knots—tackling in the depths of my clueless soul: one stubborn obstacle or another. Softening my hardness, drawing me close, which only a mother could do.
And now from eternity they are double-teaming it, Our Lady Undoer of Knots, and Peggy Jo. Two moms, on a mission! Untangling any snarls of impossibility thrown their way: dismantling those botches, mending hearts, and restoring, the puckered fabrics of life. Together they are creating for us, from a mess that is mammoth or trivial, opportunities for new beginnings.
Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, Pray for us!
Margaret Ann Stimatz
© was brought back to her Catholic faith in the flood of heavenly graces released at the death of Pope John Paul II. She has published articles in “Family Digest,” “The Word Among Us” and two Guidepost collections. Most recently, she co-authored “Mercy for Little Souls,” a booklet of inspirational reflections on the suffering and self gift of a young priest, Father Stuart Long. Stimatz is a licensed therapist working with children who are emotionally distressed, as well as their families.
Carried in my heart until we meet again in heaven ... Counting my Siblings For as long as I can remember, when I met people who would ask, “How many siblings do you have?” my answer was always “one.” But I recently had an epiphany: That answer isn’t true. I don’t have just one sibling; I have two. So why wasn’t my eldest sibling in the count? I never met Paul Francis. He lived—and died—before I ever came to be. Why should my sister be acknowledged because she has lived 40 years (and counting), but my brother not because he lived only 6 weeks? That I never had the chance to play Hide & Seek with him doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be acknowledged. That I never rode my bike to piano lessons with him doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be remembered. That he never got to experience family trips to Scotland and Nova Scotia, road trip adventures, and lots of singing and silliness, doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be counted. I don’t know why Paul Francis died, but I do know how he died (miscarriage), and more importantly, I know that he lived (albeit briefly). So why do the early miscarried get swept aside? “It’s common to miscarry, especially your first child,” people will say. So what? Why should the fact that the loss is common to make us act as though the individual never existed? “It hurts to bring it up,” others might suggest. That reminds me of a Facebook post by a friend of mine whose child died several days after birth. She shared this quote by Elizabeth Edwards: “If you know someone who has lost a child, and you’re afraid to mention them because you think you might make them sad by reminding them that they died—you’re not reminding them. They didn’t forget they died. What you’re reminding them of is that you remembered that they lived, and... that is a great gift.” A beautiful remembrance Paul Francis lived, and he deserves to have that acknowledged. If the mere mention of a miscarried child’s short life brings indescribable pain and one run from referencing him or her as a result, burying the reminders not only doesn’t serve those little lives, but it doesn’t serve the grieving heart, whose incapacity to acknowledge is evidence of a need for healing. And we don’t find healing by stuffing—we find healing by releasing, wrestling, grappling, and honoring. Those who have lost a child to stillbirth or to miscarriage late in pregnancy often—and rightly— memorialize their children with hand and footprints, even photos. But such tangible memories can’t be made with children like Paul Francis, who die as young as 6 weeks post-fertilization; so what can be done? One website about miscarriage shared this quote from a grieving heart: “The mention of my child’s name may bring tears to my eyes, but it never fails to bring music to my ears. If you are really my friend, let me hear the beautiful music of his name. It soothes my broken heart and sings to my soul.” My sibling can have a name. My parents never knew if Paul Francis was a boy or girl, but if they’d had a son, that would have been his name. Incidentally, Paul means “small; humble” and Francis means “free.” My sibling can be continually referenced in my life. Now, when asked how many siblings I have, my response is matter-of-fact: “two.” And I leave it at that. If asked, “Brothers or sisters?” and “Are you the oldest?” I casually reply, “My brother is the oldest, and he’s in Heaven; then there’s my sister, then me.” Sometimes there are no further questions. Other times, there are, and I treat the conversation about the life, and loss, of Paul Francis before birth, as I would if any other sibling of mine lived and died after birth. My sibling can touch lives. As someone who spends her life advocating for the rights of pre-born humans, I realized my lack of reference to Paul Francis was a betrayal of my beliefs—for if the pre-born are as valuable as the born, if I would reference a sibling who only lived until the age of 2, 10, or even 20 years, why not acknowledge this sibling? Do I really believe Paul Francis was just as human, just as precious, just as unrepeatable as a late-term fetus, infant, toddler, or teen? Would I hide the death of an older sibling? Then why hide the death of a younger sibling? Truly Life-Worthy By referencing my deceased sibling, some people inevitably ask what happened, and when you explain miscarriage, that individual is challenged to look at miscarriage in a different light—to look at it as a great loss, as losing a born child is a great loss. As a result, my deceased pre-born sibling becomes the impetus for a discussion about how we view the pre-born, and an opportunity to normalize treating the pre-born like the born. By not dismissing his death as “oh, well, it was just a miscarriage” but treating it seriously, my example invites others to share their stories of loss, revealing even their own miscarriages. At which point I can ask questions to further healing such as, “Have you named your children? Have you thought about planting a plant in memory of your children to have an object of life to remember them by?” When we do this, we often validate the feelings many women and men have silently felt, but never viewed as legitimate. In response to this new approach of my sibling count, a friend responded, “If I were to do that, when people ask how many siblings I have, I’d have to say 17 because my mom had 7 miscarriages.” Well, what an opportunity! You can be guaranteed my friend will get some kind of reaction to an answer of “17,” and it surely will open doors to talk about how we view the pre-born and how we work through the heartbreak of losing children. It will also acknowledge each and every one of her siblings as valuable enough to warrant attention. Had Paul Francis not died, he’d be celebrating his 41st birthday right about now. And as I think about it, I’m a lifetime overdue on writing him a poem (something I like to do for loved ones) to honor his life: I do not know what it is like, To live with an older brother. But one thing that I do know, Is that you made our mom a mother. You were first to grow in her womb, And in that way, we’re connected. We both spent time beneath her heart, And with love, we were infected. Would you have written poems like Dad? Or, like mom, sing me to sleep? Maybe like our sister you’d have been a peacemaker, Or an avid reader of all things deep? I tell others about you now; I didn’t do that before. I pledge to remember your existence. Telling of you opens a door. Why, Paul Francis, was your life so short? Do you have the answer now? For us we stay in mystery, Trusting God, to whom we bow.
Dubious about how to raise your child? Here’s a simple, yet workable way! As a first-time mom, I was very apprehensive about my child. I looked for advice on the internet, books, and from anywhere I could get guidance. Some things worked, but some did not. Yet, nothing eased my mind. Most of what I found on the internet was too pragmatic and experience-based (not relevant for my baby). I tried many ideas offered but they never seemed to work they only wasted my time and gave me false hope. I knew in my heart there had to be a better way. Child-rearing is not a new thing and I wondered if it had been so perplexing in the past. Times were different, but there were also challenges then. People coped and the human race flourished, from generation to generation. I took this up in my prayer, offering it up during the Holy Mass, adoration and family prayer. The more I offered and prayed about the situations, the more I realized that I needed to seek and ask for parenting wisdom to nurture the baby, God has entrusted to my care. I am to raise him in God’s way, not the world’s way! I asked Him to show me how to raise my child. What must I do when he behaves like this? How will I teach him His ways? Then, God inspired me to read scriptures to my child. It was then I remembered that from the moment I received Jesus into my life, I had felt the power of the word of God! It had an incredible impact on me. I had often tapped into this supreme source of love from the creator. So while my son was playing and running around, I began reading the Bible out loud, chapter by chapter, animating the scripture verses with intonation. At first, I found it odd, but in between his play, he stopped to listen and on one occasion he even attempted to snatch the Bible from my hand. I continued to read to him— Catholic magazine articles, Christian stories—and our house came alive with Christian commentary all the time. What was the result? Reading the Bible to my child meant I was reading it for myself too! I got really excited about our new adventure, reading and learning about God together. The days I did this exercise, I found my son was better behaved than during those days when I used the internet for guidance. There were days when there were challenges, but that did not last long. His tantrums were short-lived. There was such joy and peace that as a family we were able to tackle things together. I felt as though an invisible person was helping us through it all, even without our asking for help. We felt comforted and knew that the Spirit was uniting us all in His love and wisdom. We were able to share some parenting wisdom to first-time parents who were struggling with the early years of childrearing. Today we continue to tell the story of Jesus to our toddler and to our newborn baby. I needed guidance and I implored the Lord God for help and wisdom. He heard me and bestowed his great gifts on me. The best we can do is to put our complete confidence and trust in Him. God continues to teach us through His word.
In times of great distress and loss would you still hold on to God? Awaiting Love I would like to share a small piece of my life in testimony to Our Lord, Jesus Christ. Like many couples, my husband and I had married planning to raise a family and modestly prayed for the grace to nurture them in holiness so that they could become great saints. However, during the early years of our marriage, we delayed pregnancy, because we believed our love for each other needed to mature before we could enter parenthood. Although we barely acknowledged God’s plans for us, when we felt it was “the right time”, we expected Him to readily supply the gift of a child. Our happiness knew no bounds when we discovered that I was pregnant! The joyful days we shared with our beloved child sustained us when that short life on earth ended in miscarriage. Despite our devastating grief, my husband and I grew stronger in faith and hope. About ten months later, our journey into parenthood took another turn when we were blessed with our second pregnancy. We were elated that God had favored us by allowing our love to bear fruit again! Our parents were overjoyed at the long-awaited answer to their prayer on the auspicious Feast of Divine Mercy. I remember how my husband and I thanked the Lord before the Blessed Sacrament for endowing us with His abundant graces, in spite of our unworthiness. Turn of Life We booked our appointment with the OBGYN the following week and looked forward to seeing our precious child at the first ultrasound. The mixed emotions of anxiety and excitement, like butterflies wobbling inside me as we waited, are still fresh in my memory. As the doctor prepared for the ultrasound, I constantly prayed with my eyes closed. Much to our consternation, the doctor could not confirm the presence of our child , giving us two possibilities – we had either walked in too early, or it could be an Ectopic Pregnancy, which can be life-threatening. Although we had never heard about ectopic pregnancy, we turned to the Lord with faith, hoping that he could turn the situation around. For what is impossible for man is possible with God! I had been feeling a slight stomach ache due to gastric trouble, I thought since the pain wasn’t excruciating. It was evening before we got home after completing all the blood tests. Suddenly, I started feeling suffocated and the pain in my stomach became excruciating. I did not know what was happening to me, but my husband wasted no time summoning emergency care. They rushed me to the nearest hospital where he was informed that immediate surgery was required. Shocked beyond Grief My husband was shocked into silence. He began to question God, “What wrong have we done to be tested like this?” A storm of random thoughts started popping through his head, but at the same time he felt blank and desolate. Once the surgery started, one of our friends joined him and they began interceding for me, calling out to Mama Mary for help in the Holy Rosary. They continued to pray the Rosary until the doctor emerged with the good news that the operation was successful. Although she had only seen such a complicated case twice in her twenty years of medical practice, I had miraculously survived. My left fallopian tube had ruptured, resulting in the loss of half my blood volume and the consequent struggle for the doctors to maintain my heartbeat. Afterwards, I had to be kept intubated in the ICU for almost a day without being allowed even a single drop of water. In spite of my torment, I took the chance to share my suffering with Jesus Christ on the cross when He cried out, “I Thirst”. I offered up my sacrifice for the reparation of sins, particularly that of abortion, and other evils spreading throughout the world. Finding Solace Although this cross is very heavy for me and my husband, God has never, ever forsake us. Throughout this ordeal He has consoled us through His Holy Spirit, sending us holy people to give us solace in our distress. Truly, it was God speaking to us through them. My husband and I wrestled with God for almost a week, until we realized how grateful we should be for my deliverance from imminent death, rather than crying over what we had lost. We committed our little one to the Lord and I started to speedily heal, by God’s grace, physically, mentally and spiritually. I am certain that the Lord offers immeasurable grace where there is intense suffering. Jesus knows our anguish and looks at us with compassion and tenderness from His cross. We know that He is doing something tremendous in our lives through this pain and hardship if we just rest at His feet and glorify Him through our wounds. We completely trust Our Lord that He will bless our marriage with fruitfulness in His time if we patiently surrender ourselves totally to Him without reserve. Nothing is impossible with our Almighty God. To the Lord Jesus be all Glory and Honor, now and forever, Amen.
One of the hardest things to do is to keep silent in the face of false accusations, but know that God speaks in your silence. Split Second It was one of those usual days in a busy mom’s life: doing the laundry, cleaning, washing the dishes, cooking, feeding the kids, putting up with the tantrums, changing diapers ... the list goes endless. I was giving a cozy, warm bath to my four-year-old daughter, Anna (Ann Maria), while my six-month-old was fast asleep. Being affected with severe cerebral palsy, Anna cannot sit by herself and has to be supported. I was giving her a nice bubbly scrub, accompanied by the usual rhymes I often entertain her with; and all of a sudden the grip I had around her chest loosened, and she slid away right through my fingers, with her head hitting the edge of the tub. It happened in a split second and my heart wrenched at the thought of the pain on her forehead and the subsequent scream that would wake the baby. As I quickly lifted her back up, to my utter surprise, my little girl neither screamed nor showed even the slightest expression of dismay at her mom’s inattentiveness. I couldn’t control the tears rolling down my cheeks as I watched my little girl with a reddish mark on her forehead, sitting calmly as if nothing had happened. A Deep Imprint in Heart I was immediately reminded of Jesus with the crown of thorns on his head; being hurled with insults, beaten, and spat on. Despite all of this he never expressed the slightest hint of dismay. However, unlike Jesus who sat silently through all of this suffering, I have on many occasions lost the opportunity to be silent in my trials. Throughout the rebukes of our bosses, taunting by colleagues or lack of consideration from our loved ones, we often feel lost. When one is unjustly blamed for the errors of others, questioned for competency, or worthiness of doing the job, demeaned for all the little and big things done around the clock, it is little wonder some fall into the shadows or strike back in retaliation. But is this the right way to approach? A Life to Follow The life of Saint Zita of Lucca clearly imitates the way Jesus himself dealt with such situations. She is popularly known as the patron saint of domestic workers and housemaids. Zita lived in the thirteenth century near Lucca, in Tuscany, Italy. Brought up in a poor but devout Catholic family, Zita at the age of twelve went to serve the Fatinelli family of Lucca. Being humble and sweet- natured she was initially very well thought of by her employers. Very soon her co-workers grew jealous of her. Though she carried out her household duties well, the other servants blamed her for anything that went wrong in the house. These false accusations were believed by her employers and life for Zita became very difficult. She continued to be patient in doing her daily tasks, and humbly accepted the punishments that came her way. In the end, her silence triumphed. The Fatinelli family recognized her goodness and raised her to the position of chief house-keeper and children’s nurse. Zita never abused her position of authority to repay those co-workers who had given her hardship but instead was ever more generous and kind in helping them out. Impossible feat! Is this possible? Saints might find it easy to be silent but how about the rest of us? Does this make sense? Yes! However, unless we see Christ in those around us we really can’t love properly. Just as my little Anna, brought to mind the image of a ‘silent Jesus’ at his passion, so can you discover his reflection among your friends, colleagues or even strangers. At times you may be on the other side, finding fault and accusing your co-worker. Not to mention those casual gossips over coffee. Unfortunately, we fail to realize that it really is Jesus whom we are accusing... He stands before us just like he stood before Pilate, waiting for the judgment. So we need to tie a knot on our tongues not only to prevent harsh words but also rash judgments. Did you know that Saint Zita had a strange habit of bringing Heaven on Earth when she uncovered the Hidden Jesus in her neighbor? She was never troubled by those who unjustly accused her because for Zita he or she was Jesus in disguise—the same Jesus who had forgiven all her failings. By our own will it is impossible to hold back those words of justification or accusation, but with God’s grace everything is possible. Let us humbly pray, “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.”(Psalms 141:3)
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