US Catholic Faith in Real Life

These holy days

Online Editor | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

By guest blogger Lisa Calderone-Stewart

It’s Holy Week.

Last year was the holiest Holy Week of my life, when I never even went to church. I spent it with my mom, who was in a hospice – The Center for Hope in New Jersey.

Yet, we didn’t do anything “holy.”  We watched the cooking channel (since my mom could always understand the plot). We looked at family pictures. Sometimes I needed to tell her who the people were. Sometimes she had to tell me.

She repeated stories I had heard a hundred times, but I cherished the fact that she could retell them. Sometimes we ate. Sometimes I got to feed her.

Sometimes she made comments that didn’t make any sense at all. Or she’d ask questions about events that didn’t happen.

I wrote Easter cards to friends and family. I asked her about each person, and sometimes she told me something I could write about. Other times, she just smiled. So I wrote, “Mentioning your name today made my mom smile.”

Sometimes we “worked” on a jigsaw puzzle. Although she used to be a whiz at puzzles, she no longer grasped the concept. She moved pieces around, randomly, since that was what everyone else seemed to be doing.

All week, I was completely unaware of anything in the news. Most people there couldn’t name the U.S. president or say what day or month it was. It just made the place holier. It emphasized the one and only goal of every minute, every day: spending time with the person you love, the person who is dying.

So it didn’t matter if we never finished a jigsaw puzzle. It mattered that we were there together, and that she knew she was loved.

Hospice weeks were especially holy for me because I lived a two-hour plane ride away. I came for one week every month or so. And for that time I had no other agenda. I didn’t have to hurry home to get anything done, or answer phone messages or e-mails. I just let it all go. It’s so easy to be patient when you have nothing else to do.

When my mom first arrived at the hospice, we were one of the “fun families” who spent a lot of time in the living room, telling stories and jokes, making noise and laughter. We’d take over the dining room with our meal decorations, paper plates and tablecloths. We did that for Mother’s Day, and for Easter, too.

Other families went quietly to their loved one’s rooms.

Eventually, we became one of those families. We watched the other residents go from walker to wheel chair to bed. And then it was Mom’s turn to do the same.

Sometimes she had an empty expression on her face. She wasn’t sure who we were, but somehow she knew we loved her. So even in her confusion, she accepted that love and seemed to love us back.

I never told her that I, too, had developed cancer. She wouldn’t have understood. But being with her was comforting. It was nice to see how it’s done, how it happens. How everyone in the family keeps loving and keeps caring, even when there seems to be nothing recognizable left to care about or to love. Witnessing that has made me less afraid of my own future.

I’m still at the “walker” stage. “Wheel chair” and “bed” will be coming... perhaps sooner than we think.

Less than a year after my mom passed away, my family will need to go through that whole difficult process all over again – with me.

What is it that makes us love someone so much, even when she barely recognizes who we are anymore? Why would anyone love me that much?

This is probably my last Holy Week…

But somehow, I still believe there will be plenty of holy days and holy weeks in the near future.

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."

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.