A Surprise Wedding Present

As most of you know, my daughter Marie died by suicide in 2009. I believe in an all merciful God who loves my daughter even more than I ever could. I trust in Him and I know that my Marie is with Him.

However, I knew that our whole family and especially Marie’s little sister Joy would especially miss her when Joy was planning her wedding this year.

I don’t usually pray for something personal except for help with more wisdom, patience, etc. but  Joy and Marie were especially close and Joy had been Marie’s maid of honor in 2005. The two of them even lived together for the last few months of Marie’s life.

When Joy was younger, the three of us would often talk about Joy’s possible future wedding  and Marie would tease Joy about probably becoming a” bridezilla”. Marie promised that she would personally keep her little sister in line if that happened.

So I knew that there could be a shadow over Joy’s happiness at her wedding and I prayed for a sign that Marie was at peace.

However, I was totally stunned when, the week before Joy’s wedding, a package came from Kentucky with a carefully wrapped, thirty year old letter inside. The package was from  Marie’s older but then close friend Stephanie who had moved away in 1983.

Stephanie wrote that she just happened to find a letter Marie had written to her at age 7 and had to send it to me. The letter was even typewritten! Who knew that Marie could figure out a typewriter?

The letter contained a lot of spelling mistakes but it was hilarious to read Marie’s description of her life at age 7. Marie even wrote down each family member’s age which told us how old she was at the time. (See photo: Marie’s letter at age 7 to Stephanie)

Marie wrote about how her older brother was nice and mean sometimes. Marie also wrote about her little sister Joy and how she ate a “dede” bug. All I could do was smile.

What a wonderful wedding present for Joy and all of us!  At the wedding, we all felt that Marie was there and celebrating with us.

As my late mother often used to say, “God is good!”

Here is the proof:

Joy and Chris wedding pic favorite

Joy and Chris May 21, 2016


“If We are Blessed with Children…”

Joy and Chris were married May 21, 2016. Joy is my daughter and both families were thrilled when Chris proposed. The ceremony was solemnly and beautifully performed at Immaculate Conception Church in Dardenne Prairie, Mo. where they will live. The wedding reception was great fun and went off without a hitch.

But one of the most moving times for me first came at Joy’s bridal shower. Chris was videotaped answering questions like “What do you like most about Joy?” for a bridal shower game played by the guests. Points were given for every right answer Chris and Joy predicted the other would say.

One question was “How many children do you want?” Chris answered “If we are blessed with children, we will take them one at a time.”

That answer caused a stir among the young women at the shower. One remarked that you could tell that Joy and Chris went to Natural Family Planning classes during the Pre-Cana preparation for their marriage.

Actually, they did and they learned about fertility awareness to naturally achieve or postpone pregnancy. Such classes are also available to people of any religion or none at all through groups like the Couple-to-Couple League. There are even fertility awareness methods to find the causes and treat infertility through Naprotechnology.

It is common today to hear newlywed couples talk about not necessarily having children at all or postponing off having children indefinitely for various reasons like finishing school, achieving financial stability or establishing careers. It is as if children are an just another option rather than a blessing.

With the myriad of glossy contraceptive commercials, free contraceptives under Obamacare promoted as “reproductive health” and sex ed courses in schools focused on how to avoid pregnancy and STDs, it is not surprising that many of today’s young adults also often view sex as recreation or “tryouts” rather than a physical/emotional union that can produce children.

Joy and Chris are also very health conscious. That is another big reason they were attracted to Natural Family Planning. They have seen the damage caused by abortion, the risks of hormonal contraception, single parents who are struggling,  and couples coping with infertility. They take marriage and childbearing seriously.

But best of all, they also see their adorable nieces and nephews and friends’ children growing up with loving, committed parents who are wonderful role models. This another reason they are excited by the prospect of parenthood.

Life is a challenge with many surprises and marriage requires a lot but I salute Joy and Chris for trying to make a great start!







Mass Shootings and Mental Illness

The rash of recent mass shootings is alarming, especially the most recent mass shooting in San Bernardino following so quickly after the Colorado Planned Parenthood one. Now, people are not only talking about mental illness as in the Planned Parenthood shooting but also the existence of evil as in the apparent terrorist attack in San Bernardino.

Can mental illness and evil be totally separate issues? I confess I don’t know the answer to this.

But I do know that our mental health system needs vast improvement from my own personal experiences.

My first husband and the father of my children was a brilliant, caring psychiatrist whose articles were published in medical journals. When I left bedside nursing to start our family, we had a plan for me to eventually join his private practice to specifically support the families of his patients. We both believed that families were ideally the best support system for people with mental illness and we hoped that such a plan would lead to better outcomes and help keep families together. Communication was key.

However, while our children were still small, my husband started slowly succumbing to severe mental illness himself despite treatment. I was frantic to help but at that time in the 1980s and even without the current HIPPA privacy rules, I was unable to get much information about his condition or how to help him from his psychiatrist even when there were multiple hospitalizations.

As his condition deteriorated, I was told by his psychiatrist that there was nothing I could do or not do to help the situation and that he was handling the situation. Then he told me that I should consider divorce for the sake of our children.

Since I believe in the sanctity of the marriage vows, especially the part about “in sickness and in health”, I soldiered on and got second and even third opinions for my husband. Nothing helped very much and I was still shut out from comprehensive discussion of treatment plans.

My husband finally abandoned our family and I reluctantly had to file for divorce. However, I still wanted to help him.

My now ex-husband eventually went on total disability for mental illness but since mental institutions were closed decades before for “less restrictive” measures, he became homeless and eventually shuffled from one assisted living facility to another until his death in 2014.

When our oldest daughter started using drugs at 14, I ran into many of the same problems with the mental health community. Even though she was a minor, she had the right to  “confidential health services”. This came about because it is thought that minors will be more likely to seek help from a doctor if confidentiality-even from parents- is assured in matters like sex and drugs. Unfortunately, as in my case, that meant that I could be mostly kept in the dark when it came to helping my child. I could pay for rehab but I couldn’t get much information or direction about helping my daughter. I contacted mental health organizations and tried to research support groups on my own with mixed results. My daughter died by suicide using an assisted suicide technique in 2009 when she was 30 years old.

We now have “mental health parity” under Obamacare which was intended to make mental health care better by increasing coverage. However, a recent Washington Post op-ed titled “The problem with Obamacare’s mental-health ‘parity’ measure”  shows how difficult it can still be for family or friends to get help for someone with a mental illness.

Mass shootings get our attention about gun control and terrorism issues but the mental health care crisis goes on. We need to do a better job and I still believe that mental health care must try to include and help the whole family for better long-term outcomes.

Pope: ‘By No Means Excommunicated,’ but Divorce and Remarriage Contradicts the Sacrament

In an 8/5/2015 article in the National Catholic Register titled “‘By No Means Excommunicated,’ but Divorce and Remarriage Contradicts the Sacrament”, statements by Pope Francis have set off a firestorm of controversy once again in Church circles. Some fear that Church teaching on marriage will be changed or watered down.

As the article states:

Echoing his predecessors on the need to care for divorced-and-remarried persons, Pope Francis said Christians should help these persons integrate into the community, rather than treating them as though they are excommunicated.

“The Church well knows that such a situation contradicts the Christian sacrament,” the Pope said in his Aug. 5 general audience in St. Peter’s Square. Nonetheless, he added, the Church should always approach such situations with a “mother’s heart; a heart, which, animated by the Holy Spirit, seeks always the good and the salvation of the person.”
“It is important that they experience the Church as a mother attentive to all, always disposed to listen in encounters,” he added.
The community is to welcome persons who have divorced and entered into new unions, the Pope said, so that “they may live and develop their adherence to Christ and the Church with prayer, listening to God’s word, frequenting the liturgy, the Christian education of their children, charity, service to the poor and a commitment to justice and peace.”

As someone who has experienced the trauma of divorce personally, I do believe that priests and the parish communities could be much more supportive to the parent and, especially, any children involved.
After my divorce, I met many Catholic divorced women who, whether or not they remarried, felt isolated from the rest of their parish and some even erroneously believed that they could not receive Communion even when they had not remarried. Sadly, every one of these women reported receiving little or no emotional or spiritual support from their parish priest even though some had reached out to their priest before the divorce. Many even left the Church, often for a more welcoming Christian church.
This is a situation that can be helped by sensitivity and deliberate outreach from priests and parish members. I assume that is what Pope Francis was talking about when he emphasized the need for a welcoming presence for people and their children dealing with divorce-even those who have remarried without an annulment.
I do support the annulment requirement based on Church teaching about the sacrament of marriage. Even though the annulment process can be painful at times, the questionnaires and personal interactions with the priests and people helping with the process can result in new insights, understanding and even a sense of closure and forgiveness.
I was granted an annulment from my first marriage years ago and long before I unexpectedly remarried 20 years after my divorce. I feel the annulment process was overall a positive experience and enabled me to marry my wonderful husband Kevin with no reservations. I certainly would not have remarried without the annulment.

I do recommend exploring an annulment after divorce, especially when a remarriage is being contemplated. An “Annulment FAQs” page can be found on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Those Catholics who remarried without an annulment should not assume that they have no recourse. I strongly encourage them to contact a Church authority for guidance.