Sophia,JoshBrookfieldZoo

Brookfield Zoo Chicago, Sophia & Joshua

Spring 2003

When my first year as a Novice with the Franciscan Community ends, the logical next step in pursuit of vowed membership is that of requesting entry into the Canonical year. During such time, I am required to live in the Common Franciscan Novitiate house in Joliet, Illinois. As a Canonical Novice, I am not to pursue secular academic programs nor take part in the works of charity. Rather, my main concern is to focus on a deepening of prayer life, and an understanding of the Rules and Directives of the Congregation.

Upon reflection, it becomes evident that this would not be a good transition for me. I understand the logic of bonding with a group of like-minded Franciscan Novices. On the other hand, limiting my ability to visit family to a few days that second year is discouraging. The other option offered is for my family to visit me at the Novitiate house anytime. That is easier said than done. I have a family who would miss Mom and Grandma, and vice versa.

Sadly, I pass up the opportunity to go forward. Even so, instead of dropping out of the process, leadership graciously offers an extension of my second year, which I accept. This means staying at the same residence, and living with the same people. Relief is my companion now. A second go-round sounds wonderful.

Family

From the very onset of this thoughtful undertaking, I consider my children’s thoughts and expressed feelings toward vowed life. They know this is not a spur-of-the-moment decision and are pumped up with questions as well as support when I embark. Their visits are very helpful, for all of us, and they enjoy seeing Chicago. However, my adult children admit that more concerns and fears surface the further I go into the process.

My two-year old grandson and four-year old granddaughter (pictured above) love to visit Grandma. On their first visit, they think this is Grandma’s new house because of my donated furniture. Everyone camps out in different locations and my two “families” co-exist. I feel blessed.

The challenge of vowed life (for a mother like me) is that of merging family with community. I love them all. Saint Francis preached equality, inclusivity, and love for all life. I would have a hard time making choices that exclude one over the other when both are good.

Grief

It becomes apparent that my transitional move to Chicago and entrance into the first Novitiate year generates unfinished business in the area of grief. The onset of panic attacks, intense dreams, and escalating emotions that cry for attention are indicators of the need for counseling. As a consequence, I begin the inner investigation of my world more closely with counselor Pat.

At my first appointment, I anticipate we will work well together. An “ah-hah” moment arrives when she names my bevy of emotions as being “sat upon” (by me), and that instead of anger as the main issue to be explored, perhaps it is grief. Yes!

Quickly, I review my life during and after my husband Joe’s lengthy illness and death. The reality of my busyness—in raising our children and in my own spiritual journey—took precedence over examining my grief. However, when my children needed guidance and comfort with their grief, I immediately offered assistance. Moving forward and staying occupied was my way of coping.

Mayo Clinic

As a result of the revelations I receive through counseling and the support from my community regarding my neglected grief, I arrange an eight-day retreat in Rochester, Minnesota. I choose this place for several reasons: Joe and I had a pleasant experience in Rochester and at the Mayo Clinic, even though the diagnosis brought us to our knees; the town is geared towards patients and their families who seek expert medical attention; and, the hospital in which Joe stayed treats all people with dignity and openness.

On my solo return to this marvelous little town, I retrace the steps Joe and I took twenty years ago. Here is where we received the diagnosis that no doctor could claim back home—pancreatic cancer. Here is where we called home to relay the devastating news. Here is where I walked the hospital floors when Joe needed to be alone. And, here is where Joe established acceptance by saying, Why me? Why not me? My tears pour forth like a flood, my body shakes, the grief that I avoided all these years regurgitates. I feel purged of the deep-seated sorrow I avoided all these years.

My retreat offers a surprise invitation, that of writing a book of my life and its challenges with unmet grief. It is a book that has been writing itself through the years and I willingly accept the task. This opportunity falls nicely into my second year of prayerful discernment.

 

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