Kelly Ramke Lardin is the author of the children's books Josiah and Julia Go to Church, and Let's Count From 1 to 20 (bilingual counting books in French and Spanish). She holds degrees in French from The University of the South and Tulane University and studied translation at SUNY-Binghamton. She has always enjoyed writing and loves studying languages. She converted to Orthodoxy shortly after marrying her husband, who is also a convert to Orthodoxy. Her journey to the faith was fraught with struggle, but she wouldn't trade it for anything. Together she and her husband are raising their two daughters in the Orthodox faith. This continuing journey still has its moments of struggle but is also a joy. Visit her at kellylardin.com for more information on her books and to read short stories and other writings. She also blogs about her faith, family, and life in Chicago at A Day's Journey. She is available for speaking engagements through the Orthodox Speakers Bureau.
The past year or so has given me many occasions to prove my faith. It has been difficult at times, but I held on. I gave my worries over to God. I asked Him to help me carry these burdens. I held onto the hope that things would improve, and God would help me through. I think many answers to my prayers were “Not just yet.” Eventually, a few “yes” answers came… a sprinkle of good with the bad, enough for me to keep hope alive and inspire my faith. Enough to remind me that things will work out in the end.
Then, a couple of months ago, my mother passed away. I’m still working through her passing and trying to hold onto my faith. What follows are snippets of journaling from after her death. I have no answers, only questions and struggles. I think that’s the state we’re all in, so with this, perhaps we struggle together and somehow find salvation after death.
Friday, August 22, 2014
I’m sitting on a plane flying home to Louisiana. About every five minutes, I cry uncontrollably, take a deep breath, let my body relax, and think of my mother. Then, I cry again.
I, like most people, turn straight to God when things get bad, and I ask for his intervention. I call on Mary to intervene on my behalf with her Son, and I ask the saints to put in a good word for me. I realize that I’m undeserving of our Lord’s attention, but I hope someone up the totem pole might catch His ear and make a persuasive argument on my behalf. After all, I do try to follow His will. I’m the first to admit I often fail, but I try.
Lately, my prayers seem to go unanswered, or at least to be answered, “No,” or “Not right now.” Last night, my mom was admitted to the hospital. Back in May, she was diagnosed with a very rare brain cancer. Her treatments seemed to be going well, but as her radiation treatment ended a couple of weeks ago, she had a seizure and was hospitalized. Her doctors assumed it was just the lowering of her steroids that caused it, and she was sent home. The oncologist wanted her to be as active as she could, to push through the fatigue to help her recovery. In a few weeks, when the swelling in her brain subsided, we were going to see how the tumors had responded to treatment. I was hopeful. I had been praying. The Lord knew I still needed her. She was my ultimate support here on earth.
I planned to visit at Thanksgiving and again for three weeks in December, from my niece’s wedding through Christmas. At the end of our summer visit in June, I told my daughters who didn’t want to leave, “Don’t worry. We’ll come visit again in November. Grandma will be finished with the first round of treatment and may even feel well enough to do more with us.”
I was wrong. I guess the fatigue was too much, and she apparently wasn’t moving as much as she should have. Last night, she returned to the hospital. She had developed a saddle embolism in her lung and several smaller ones as well. Because of the brain tumors, the doctors couldn’t or wouldn’t give her treatment to break up the clots. So, I prayed. Medicine was failing, and I prayed that God would step in and grant me a big miracle. I was not ready to say goodbye to my mother. I needed her to be with us a little longer. I needed to get through this year with her. Truth be told, I was foolishly hoping for a five-year outcome. I wanted to send my kids down for summer visits without me, which they thoroughly loved! Grandma gave them ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner when I wasn’t around. They usually managed to run out for a pre-bedtime milk shake, too.
My family called me late last night to tell me I had to come down. It was worse than expected, they were putting her on a ventilator to give me time to get there. It wasn’t enough, though. I’m currently on the earliest flight out of Chicago, and my dear, flawed, but always loving mother passed away about nine hours ago. God saw fit to tell me “No. No, I will not intervene this time for you. This is how things go. You must all live and die each in her own time.” He did make it quick and, from what I understand, painless. Two of my sisters were there with her at the end. I’m glad someone was. Three of us were en route or about to be. I can’t help but feel guilty that I was not with her more in these last few months, guilty that I couldn’t do more like my sisters did, guilty that I could only call, but that I didn’t the last few weeks because I didn’t want to wear her out. I feel guilty that I didn’t get to say, “I love you” one last time.
So, what do we do when God says, “No.”? What do we do when things don’t go the way we want? If bad gets worse, or nothing improves? Oh, right, we remember the suffering of our Lord. Why should we get a cozier, happier, smoother life than Him?
Monday, September 8, 2014
I went to liturgy this morning for the Nativity of the Theotokos. The church was largely empty, and I stood in the back. Something about celebrating the Mother of God proved too much for me. I cried through most of the liturgy. I didn’t receive communion because I haven’t been able to bring myself to confession. Since mom’s death, I’ve felt a disconnect from her and from God. An emptiness that I can’t fill.
My Catholic family are certain Mom is happy in heaven. A priest offered her last rites just before she passed and said a special prayer that is supposed to allow her to bypass purgatory and go straight to heaven. Given that I don’t believe in purgatory anymore, I don’t feel relieved by those assurances. I try to pray for her, but I’m not sure God is listening. Do I still believe He’s there at all? I think He is, but I don’t think He likes me very much. I’m pretty sure I’ve fallen out of favor.
Mat. Melania stopped me after church to check on me. We laughed about how God tests those He loves. Someone once told her “I wish God would love someone else for awhile.” For my part, I seem to hear over and over that “God doesn’t give us any cross that’s too much for us to bear.” Ha! “Dear God, I think you’ve overestimated my strength. I don’t know if I can carry this cross and keep going with my faith in tact. You might want to take a little of the load off. Please, if You’re listening.”
Back to Today:
I’ve experienced death before and even been shocked by sudden, unexpected deaths. They’ve never shaken my faith in the past. I suppose this one is so hard because of how close I was to my mom.
It was also hard dealing with the funeral arrangements. My mom had prepared all sorts of things, but not these. The only thing she said was, “Spend as little as possible.” So, just a few hours after I arrived home, my entire family went to the funeral home to finalize the burial arrangements. Being from New Orleans makes burials more complex. My parents and grandparents have a shared tomb in the St. Louis #1 Cemetery. The tomb is above ground because the city is below sea level. Because my grandmother died just about eight years ago, we were uncertain that the tomb would be ready for my mom. The funeral director and my family were discussing the possibility of cremating my mom. The Catholic Church now allows it, but to my mind it was still unbearable.
In that unfriendly funeral home office, I did say a little prayer asking God to allow her to be buried. He did answer that one, and my mom was able to be buried. All of the choices that were offered for arrangements seemed so fake and unnatural to me. The calendar on the wall with photographs of “cute” babies in “adorable” poses seemed horribly out of place. The only thing that seemed right to me was that we picked the second cheapest coffin, which was wooden and happened to be the most tasteful.
I had one more funeral shock after the visit to the funeral home. When I was able to look at my mom and say goodbye in the church, I didn’t see my mom before me. Oh, I know it was her, but between the changes caused by the radiation treatment and the embalming in the end, she looked nothing like the woman I knew and loved for so long. All of this got me thinking once again about the subject of natural burial, which I have been researching for some five or so years now. So, say a little prayer for me, and perhaps I shall continue this last thought in another post.
Lord, have mercy on the soul of your handmaiden Sally and grant her rest eternal.
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