Saturday, June 25, 2016

TRUE Death with Dignity

My brother-in-law is dying.

His poor body has been ravaged by a particularly unforgiving form of cancer called mesothelioma, with which he was diagnosed almost exactly a year ago.  Fifty years after exposure to asbestos while doing chimney work as a young man, this terrible disease struck him like a thunderbolt, just as he and my sister-in-law (my husband's older sister and "Irish twin") had begun the process of fulfilling their dream of starting a craft brewery in an old stone Army barracks that dates back to the Civil War.

In spite of all he's been through this past year, this dream became a reality a couple of months ago, and the historical building he and my sister-in-law lovingly transformed into a brewery/sports bar/tasting room/event center/restaurant/B&B has opened for business and has been wildly successful, breathing new life into the hometown where my husband's family has deep roots, going back several generations.

There is nothing more that can be done for my brother-in-law medically now, other than palliative care.  Surgery and chemo and trips back and forth to Boston to receive the most cutting-edge treatments from the foremost experts on the disease did not produce the hoped-for and prayed-for miracle, and he has come home to die.  He is surrounded by people who love him dearly and upon whom he must depend more and more every day to help him with even the simplest of tasks.

This man has always been exceptionally strong, a warrior, a rock for so many people--both personally and professionally.  It has to be hard--not just hard, but truly humbling--to depend on others for everything now, but this guy makes it look easy.  No one who has been privileged to observe the manner in which my brother-in-law handled the news of his diagnosis a year ago, how he endured the harrowing and painful treatments and recoveries in the past months, or how he has exhibited such tremendous heroism as he walks his own personal way of the Cross on the road home to his Father, will ever forget what they have witnessed.  He is showing us the way to die, the way to have a holy death; and it is a lesson I believe I for one badly needed.

Last night, my husband and I attended a party in one of the brewery's event rooms, and I got talking to my old high school biology teacher (who has a special place in her heart for the class of 1976, as we were her first real teaching job after she got her degree).  I mentioned that I was so awed and inspired by the dignity with which my brother-in-law is facing the end of his life.  He is uncomplaining and serene, appreciative of every little thing his loved ones do for him and thanking them profusely.  He is dealing with his own helplessness with such acceptance and grace, it's a wonder to behold.

"I don't like that word, 'dignity,'" she said.  "It has a different connotation now."  And she's right: the pro-euthanasia crowd has hijacked that particular term and made it mean something different to many folks.  There are some who would look at this man who is suffering in a way that no one should have to suffer (yes, but who is surrounded by so much love, who still has the capacity to give and receive love and find an incredible amount of joy in that, whose dying days have profoundly changed and improved the lives of everyone around him) and say that to give him a dignified death,  his pain should be ended at once.  It would be more merciful, they would argue.

But I would argue differently.

I started out this post by saying that my brother-in-law is dying.  Scratch that; what I should have said is that my brother-in-law is becoming a saint, right before our very eyes.

The first thing this man said when handed the worst news of his life was, "I want to become a Catholic before I die."  Let that sink in for a minute.

Raised a Lutheran, he was inspired (not pressured, but inspired) by my sister-in-law to convert.  He has been attending Mass for years, even going alone when my sister-in-law and he happened to be apart.  But the official process of entering the Church had not been completed.  Well, I am happy to report that last week, a priest at the parish my husband and his family always attended baptized him a Catholic, and he was able to receive First Holy Communion.  If this had happened even a few days after it did, he might not have been able to swallow the Host.  God is so good!

My brother-in-law is, as my husband says, giving the rest of us a clinic on how to die a holy death.  He is facing the end of his earthly life with courage, grace, and deep faith.  He is graciously allowing his loved ones to give of themselves unconditionally to keep him as comfortable as possible (a privilege which is in fact a tremendous gift that those who never get to witness a truly dignified death completely miss out on).  He is not bitter or resentful, despite his suffering.  He loves life, even now; but he is not afraid to die.  This, I believe, is what death with dignity is really all about.

I realize that it is not our place to automatically canonize our loved ones, no matter how saintly they might seem, when they pass from this life; we are instructed to pray for them unceasingly, for no one but God can know the state of any individual's immortal soul.

But I can't help but feel as if I am watching the making of a saint.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Just a Little Something to Brighten Your Monday

Okay, folks, in case you needed something to make you smile today, now that the weekend is is a picture of my adorable but sometimes naughty 20-month-old grandson G-Man, which my daughter-in-law Preciosa posted on Facebook recently with this caption: "Where he hides after hitting his sister. ‪#‎guiltatitsfinest‬ ‪#‎toughbigbrotherlove." 
Is that priceless or what?  (Are you smiling yet?)

One of the main reasons I love Facebook so much (and can't break away, no matter how many times I convince myself that I ought to try) is that I get to see cute or amusing (or both!) pictures of my grandchildren on there almost daily.

And then as an added bonus, I can scroll through the comment streams underneath those pictures and enjoy the hilarious observations of my sons (and their cousins and friends).  Here is what my youngest son had to say about the above photo of that lovable, guilt-ridden little stinker: "The ole' Ostrich maneuver. His form's a little sloppy but he'll get there."

I'm pretty sure I L'ed, OL, when I read that one.

I guess G-Man has no other option but to hide his face in shame when he gets rough with his sweet 4-month-old baby sister, because Princesa is just a precious little bundle of joy, an angel.  Take a gander at her beautiful face.

And she's always, always this happy.

Okay, if you're reading this, you are definitely smiling now.  How could you not be?  So this blog post has served its purpose, and I'll sign off here.  Because Grammy's got a suitcase to pack, so that she can catch an early flight tomorrow morning and head out to the Midwest for a visit with four of G-Man and Princesa's older cousins.

Have a great week, dear readers.  And keep on smiling!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Reviewers Wanted for a New Catholic Novel

My writer friend Anne Faye, a Catholic blogger and novelist, published her second novel, Sunflowers in a Hurricane, less than a week ago.   (Her first novel was titled The Rose Ring, for which I wrote this review.)  I was privileged to receive a pre-publication copy of Sunflowers in a Hurricane and serve as a beta reader for Faye, in exchange for feedback and an honest review.  I enjoyed the book enormously, and gladly wrote a five-star review for Amazon.  And I was surprised and delighted when she asked me if she could include a quote from my review on the front cover of the book!  Wow, what an honor!

Would you, too, like the opportunity to read this wholesome and heart-warming novel?  Anne Faye is offering a free copy in exchange for an honest review.  Here is a June 10 post from her blog:

Reviewers Wanted for Sunflowers in a Hurricane

Would you like to read a free copy of the new Catholic Fiction Sunflowers in a Hurricane in exchange for your honest review on your blog, Amazon, and/or Goodreads? Please send an email to I'm happy to send you a .pdf, Kindle version, or hard copy.

Thank you!

"Sunflowers in a Hurricane is a wholesome and inspiring novel, one that I highly recommend for teens and adults alike." - Laura Pearl, author of Finding Grace and Erin's Ring

George Ferguson, an elderly gentleman, still misses his beloved wife who died in childbirth many years before. Cheryl Callahan is an angry single mother who left her home and her faith after high school and never looked back. Her teenage daughter Ruth chafes under her mother’s rules and resents having to travel from Ohio to Massachusetts to bury a grandmother she didn’t even know.

When Cheryl and Ruth move next door to George, the older man and young girl form an unlikely friendship as all three are forced to face the past in order to create a new future.

I'm always happy to help out fellow Catholic authors, who are writing fiction that is nothing like the usual fifty shades of secular humanism you'll find on the shelves of most bookstores and instead entertains while also giving glory to God!  I wish Anne Faye much success with her work.

Friday, June 3, 2016

An Open Book: Modern Fiction Can Leave Me Sort of...Meh

I recently finished a novel that I had been dying to read for quite some time, Kate Alcott's The Daring Ladies of Lowell
Here's a Booklist blurb about it:

Alcott (The Dressmaker, 2012) chooses another working-class girl as the heroine of her second historical novel. To Alice Barrow, a job at a textile mill in 1832 Lowell, Massachusetts, represents both an escape from her rural roots and a chance to forge an independent future. Although the hours are long and the work arduous, she enjoys the companionship of the mill girls and the opportunity to take advantage of the intellectual subculture of Lowell, including the mill’s literary magazine and lectures at the Lyceum. Alice’s common sense and intelligence attract the attention of Samuel Fiske, the mill owner’s son, who invites her to act as an emissary for her coworkers at a meeting with his family. However, when Alice’s best friend is found hanged, her burgeoning relationship with Samuel is threatened as his family withholds crucial evidence during the investigation. Set against an authentically detailed mill-town backdrop, this novel interweaves the ­industrial ­revolution, feminism, and workers’ rights into an engrossing narrative with a love story at its core. --Margaret Flanagan

The Daring Ladies of Lowell was published in 2014: the same year that I was working on my second novel, Erin's Ring--the same year that Erin's Ring was also published.
When I was writing that book (and also during the years I spent writing my first novel, Finding Grace), I rarely read the fiction works of others, fearing that it would cause me to lose my focus/lose my confidence through unhealthy comparisons/worry that readers would think I'd hijacked the ideas of other authors, if there were any similarities (no matter how slight).  I was especially afraid to read this novel of Alcott's, since Erin's Ring tells a similar story about New England mill girls in the early 1800's.  In fact, my Irish mill girls in Dover, NH participate in a workplace strike in 1828; that "turnout" really happened, and it was the first time women had ever done anything like it in the US.  The Cocheco mill strike in Dover actually preceded the Lowell, MA strike that is showcased in Alcott's novel by four years (although the Lowell strike is much more famous and well-documented).

Anyhoo--long story short, the similarities in content made me afraid to delve into The Daring Ladies of Lowell until I was far removed from Erin's Ring.  But recently, I finally downloaded it onto my Kindle and read it.  And although it is a fairly interesting story, and there's really nothing to complain about as far as the author's command of the English language, it just left me sort of...meh [imagine a slight shoulder shrug here].  It didn't grab me.  The characters were somewhat likable, but never seemed real enough to me to make me care about them deeply.  I didn't find myself thinking about this story long after I had finished it, the way I often do when I turn the last page of a book that's so good I can hardly bear to see it end.

I always know a best-loved book when I'm sure that I will re-read it again sometime in the future, just for the sheer joy that the author's words have given me--it doesn't matter if I know what's going to happen and how the story will end, not if the book is just that good.  And in this humble reader's opinion, this one just isn't.

One beef I had with this book is that most (not all, but most) of the mill girls seem to be against religion, which I find to be sort of unbelievable for that time in history.  (For this time in history, sure.  I mean, show me a novel set in the present that has characters who are Catholic and not portrayed as priest pedophiles or thoroughly unlikable holier-than-thou types, and I'll show you...a book that might be better than 99% of what's being put out by the big publishing houses, but will probably never get seen by the readers who might be both entertained and edified by it.)  I was also sort of annoyed by the fact that the suspected murderer of one of the Lowell mill girls was a tent revivalist preacher, because I thought it played into the whole stereotype of "people who appear to be very holy Christians are really the worst people around."  But then I remembered that the details of the murder investigation had actually come from a real-life case, and even the name of the preacher who was accused of killing the girl he'd gotten in the "family way" was historically accurate.  So I simmered down about that and tried to focus on the good aspects of the story.

And there are definitely some very positive things about The Daring Ladies of Lowell.  I am grateful that there are no inappropriate scenes of passion and intimacy.  The would-be lovers, Samuel (the rich son of the mill owner) and Alice (the feisty mill girl from the other side of the tracks) never engage in anything more risqué than a hug or a kiss.  For that, at least, I admire Alcott.  It must be difficult to become a commercially successful author nowadays without bowing to the gods of secular humanism.  So much of modern fiction seems intent on titillating and shocking readers, but this is actually a rather sweet and chaste romantic tale. Also, the mystery involving the murder of Lovey, Alice's dear friend, is fast-paced and does keep you guessing. That being said, I'm not exactly sure why this book left me sort of unaffected.  But it did.

However, if you're a fan of historical novels, you could certainly do a lot worse than this well-researched bestseller.  That doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement, does it?   But I would be lying if I said this was one of my favorite books of all time.  Maybe it's that the whole Kindle experience doesn't stack up to holding a book in my hands and turning its pages.  If I ever read the paperback version of this novel and have a different assessment, I'll let you know.

Right now, I am reading a paperback copy of a debut novel by Iona Grey, called Letters to the Lost.
Oh my word, that cover!  If a book could be judged solely by its cover, this one would be a home-run hit.  I just adore this image.  It screams, "Vintage style!"  "WWII-era!"  "Hand-written love letters, between star-crossed lovers!"  All things that I am drawn to like a moth to a flame.

 Here's the delicious-sounding synopsis from Amazon:

An accomplished novel from a talented writer, Letters to the Lost is a stunning, emotional love story. Iona Grey's prose is warm, evocative, and immediately engaging; her characters become so real you can't bear to let them go.

I promised to love you forever, in a time when I didn't know if I'd live to see the start of another week. Now it looks like forever is finally running out. I never stopped loving you. I tried, for the sake of my own sanity, but I never even got close, and I never stopped hoping either.

Late on a frozen February evening, a young woman is running through the streets of London. Having fled from her abusive boyfriend and with nowhere to go, Jess stumbles onto a forgotten lane where a small, clearly unlived in old house offers her best chance of shelter for the night. The next morning, a mysterious letter arrives and when she can't help but open it, she finds herself drawn inexorably into the story of two lovers from another time.

In London 1942, Stella meets Dan, a US airman, quite by accident, but there is no denying the impossible, unstoppable attraction that draws them together. Dan is a B-17 pilot flying his bomber into Europe from a British airbase; his odds of survival are one in five. In the midst of such uncertainty, the one thing they hold onto is the letters they write to each other. Fate is unkind and they are separated by decades and continents. In the present, Jess becomes determined to find out what happened to them. Her hope—inspired by a love so powerful it spans a lifetime—will lead her to find a startling redemption in her own life in this powerfully moving novel.

I'm not far enough into this book yet to endorse it; for all I know, it will disappoint me or just leave me feeling meh once again.  But some of the passages I've read thus far are making me fall in love with Grey's prose.  When the new mother-in-law who disapproves of her gives Stella a compliment that is not really a compliment at all, "Stella remembered the roses in Lillian's garden in Dorking, which were as stiff and immaculate as she was, and realized the compliment was as barbed as their stems."  To me, that's just beautiful.  I wish I could write like that.

I'll let you know next time if the story lives up to its promise, if its message turns out to be as beautiful as that metaphor.  But for now, you can head on over to the June An Open Book link-up to see if there are any not-so-meh titles you might want to check out!
(P.S., Carolyn's link-up is on now, too!)