US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Easter season comes with stories

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Family stories told at the holidays increase in meaning as death nears.

Guest blog by Lisa Calderone-Stewart

I remember an Easter morning in Montgomery, Alabama. We were trying to put up a makeshift "outdoor gathering space," with a parachute and poles, since our church didn't have any place for people to stay and chat.

It was so windy that we were forced to give up. Later during Mass, we found out that a tornado was threatening to touch down. We could hear the winds, and see the ushers looking out the back doors, ready to warn us if it came our way. In the meantime, we just kept praying the Mass. What better place could there be during a tornado? The plans was that if the tornado came toward us, the ushers were going to give the priest a sign, so he could tell everyone to get under the pews. It never touched down, but it made a great story!

I remember an Easter vigil in Saginaw, Michigan. Somehow a cloth caught fire from the paschal candle and it started to spread. It was quickly put out by using pitchers of water from the baptismal pool. An obviously shaken Bishop Ken Untener, still huffing and puffing into the microphone from the ordeal, announced something like this to the assembly: "We just extinguished the Easter fire with the Baptismal waters, and theologically, I'm not even sure what that means!"

I remember an Easter morning when my brothers and I were children; we all found cute little stuffed animals in our Easter baskets. My oldest brother and I received bunnies, my younger brothers got a duck and a chick. We named them right away and continued to play with them until our parents woke up.

Barbara, my youngest niece, loves to hear family stories like this--especially ones about her dad when he was young, and about herself. It's easy to start the stories going. We just say something like, "Do you remember the Easter when...?" and everyone seems to have a memory to share.

The last few years, when I was well enough to travel to New Jersey a lot, I usually stayed in Barbara's room, which used to be my room, and every night before we fell asleep, we had this ritual, a simple version of the Ignatian "daily examen."

We would talk about our favorite part of the day--the things we were most proud of, the things we enjoyed the most.

Then we would talk about the "worst" part of the day--either the things that made us the most sad (like noticing how Grandma looked weaker at the hospice) or the things we weren't very proud of  and wished we could do over (often things we ended up apologizing for).

Then we would talk about where we thought God was. I was always so surprised to hear all the times Barbara found God in the "worst" parts of the day.

Then, when that serious conversation was over, she would almost always say, "Now tell me a funny family story." And I would try to remember a funny story about her dad and me growing up, or a story about her when she was younger.

When Bernadette (her older sister) graduated from eighth grade, I gave her a topaz ring that my mother had given me when I graduated from eighth grade. Topaz is the birthstone for the month of November; my mom (Bernadette's grandmother) was born on November 2 and Bernadette was born on November 5. So that was the perfect birthday present for Bernadette.

Barbara whispered to me, "When I graduate, will you give me something that has a good family story about it?" I promised I would.

When Barbara was really young--maybe four or five--my mom had picked me up from the airport for a long weekend visit and told me this story while Barbara sat in her car seat listening:

"Yesterday, Barbara came with me when I drove over to Uncle David's house. Barbara asked me, ‘Grandma, why are we picking up Uncle David?' and I told her, ‘Because Uncle David's car died.' And she told me, ‘Grandma, cars don't die. People die.' Isn't that amazing?" And we both laughed.

Immediately, Barbara spoke up from the back seat. "Aunt Lisa! Did you know about the time Grandma and I went to pick up Uncle David? I asked Grandma, ‘Why are we picking up Uncle David?' and she said, ‘Because Uncle David's car died.' And I said, ‘Grandma, cars don't die. People die.' Do you remember that?"

Her grandma and I laughed again. She laughed, too.

I said, "Yes, Barbara! I do remember that story!"

She said, "Aunt Lisa, tell me that story."

Even though I was still laughing, I managed to tell her the whole story all over again!

When I finished, she put her head back, smiled and sighed, and said, "I remember that!"

How many times have our children and grandchildren asked us to tell them family stories--even the ones they have heard over and over again? I think it's one of the best things families can do together!

You might say I'm dying to tell all the family stories I can remember!

Guest blogger Lisa Calderone-Stewart is the director of Tomorrow's Present and an author and speaker on youth leadership. She was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. For more on her story, see "The dying wish of a youth ministry pioneer." You can also read Lisa's personal blog Dying to Know You Better.

Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.