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Tag Archive: Illness

Good Riddance, 2011

Posted: Saturday, December 31, 2011 (8:03 pm), by John W Gillis


This year sucked. It began with my little sister’s funeral, and ended with a malaise lingering on from my mother’s funeral.

For my sister, Mary, death came quickly, and then it came slowly. She was very busy living a vibrant life, when she was suddenly smitten with a terminal cancer. Then she spent a year and a half dying. She tried to keep up the appearances of optimism, but everyone around her knew how the dance was going to end; we just didn’t know quite when. When it came, death came slowly, bleeding her life away as her ministering aunt and other loved ones waited in vigil for the end, which came in the third watch of the night after Christmas Day. She was 49, and left no children to carry her line forward on the Earth.

For my mother, Edna, death came slowly, and then it came quickly. Dying at 79, she had lived a good and full life, touching the lives of many, and leaving a legacy of kindness that, pray God, will redound to her name for generations, even when she herself is forgotten. Having been born with a collapsed lung, her breathing organ was never quite right, and she’d been living with a progressive case of acute Pulmonary Fibrosis for some time, before she up and died on us. Of course, we knew it was coming sooner or later, and she had gotten “old” recently, but still it seemed to come almost out of the blue. True, she had given us a scare the day before, and the family spent Sunday afternoon in the emergency room, wondering if she’d perhaps had a stroke, but she seemed fine by afternoon, had checked out OK medically, and was sent home in the evening. On Monday morning, she died. Just like that. It was October 3rd, the original feast day of St Therese of Lisieux, the saint credited by the family with saving Mom’s life as a newborn, and whose name she was thus given in tribute.

Whatever else may have happened this year seems almost lost in the shadows of these two bookends of death & grief. I’ve looked upon the sorrowful , resigned faces of yet a couple more friends who have had their verdicts of terminal cancer pronounced to them. I’ve watched dozens of co-workers jettisoned from their source of material well-being, as the business world atrophies under corporate & government mismanagement and corruption. I’ve seen the U.S. government run up a debt of unprecedented magnitude – one poised to crush the commonweal of my children and their peers – for the sake of a filched political placidity, while the ruling party successfully smeared the opposition as extremist and non-cooperative for the sin of (futilely) demanding a roadmap to fiscal sanity as the price for complicity in the mortgaging of the futures of those we have a moral duty to protect & defend. Shameful.

As for myself, I can’t get out of my own way: I had targeted early December for completion of my prerequisite course work at Franciscan University, but have been scuffling badly since mid-October, and don’t even know how to get back on track at this point.

On the bright side, this was the year that Joyce leveraged her imposed unemployment into an opportunity to pursue her long-time desire to get into professional dog grooming. The Boston Bruins are suddenly the best hockey team in the world for the first time since I could sing alto, and last spring they gave us one of the greatest hockey games I’ve ever seen (Game 7 of the Conference Finals against Tampa Bay).

Furthermore, as of yet at least, no crowd of self-entitled, self-righteous, unemployed ne’er-do-wells have converged to “occupy” my backyard, demanding that I succor them by paying off their insane student loans for stupidly bloated college tuitions I could never afford for either myself or my own kids (we found other ways to achieve what we needed to achieve). That’s a plus. And I still have my own job; my kids are all healthy and safe; we’re coming up on a leap-year – which means a “real” anniversary for Joyce and I on Feb 29th; Congress reversed the moronic ban on incandescent light bulbs; and Rick Santorum actually appears to have an outside shot at winning the Iowa caucuses, putting the only candidate I actually like from the Republican field in a position to at least temporarily receive some media attention before the big-money candidates get around to burying him under a torrent of glitzy drivel (OK, I also really like and admire Michelle Bachmann, but I’m afraid she would be almost as out-of-her-league in that job as Obama is, speaking of torrents of glitzy drivel from big-money candidates…).

And, lastly, the garage ceiling light bulb is still burning faithfully, almost 40 years after being installed. Yes, the very same light bulb that greeted my mother and father the first time they illuminated their new garage with electricity in June of 1972 continues to shine its light every time I flip the switch. To me, it’s become a symbol of faithfulness and perseverance, and it reminds me unfailingly of my dad. Would that we all could be relied upon so faithfully, as that bulb, to shine forth the light entrusted to us for the sake of others’ seeing their way in the world! I dread the day that bulb blows; I pray it’s not in 2012.

Happy New Year, planet Earth. Choose carefully; choose well. Peace, from here.

Mary, My Sister

Posted: Tuesday, December 28, 2010 (12:18 am), by John W Gillis


My sister Mary passed away about 48 hours ago, succumbing to the ravages of bodily dissolution after 18 months of battling illness. She had steadfastly insisted that her tribulations remain private and discreet during her sickness, but since there will be obituaries published within the next couple days, I hardly see the point now in maintaining a public silence.

Still, the details are nobody’s business, as strange as that sentiment may sound in the age of Facebook and Twitter. It seems that everything is supposed to be everyone else’s business these days, and in real-time, no less. I think Mary taught those who love her a few important things during the last months and days of her life, and the enduring importance of – and necessary place for – privacy is surely one of them.

Another one of them is the clear demarcation between despair and charitableness. Mary could perhaps have been accused of living in denial at times, but I suspect she always had a pretty realistic view of what lay ahead. Rather than denial, I suspect her insistence on living as large as possible through it all was a refusal to fall into despair, or to seek pity. She preferred that everyone enjoy themselves, and this was itself a choice to reject the self-centeredness of despair for a charitableness toward everyone within her orbit. It becomes ever clearer to me why the Eastern Fathers speak of despondency as sin.

Finally, I think we all learned a thing or two about determination, and about the futility of trying to predict where and when the spirit blows. Mary was someone who generally got her way; it is amazing to consider that she found a way to continue to do that, even when she was too weak to whisper.

My little sister, may God give your soul peaceful rest, and call you forth to the resurrection of the just, on the day of the great and final judgment.

Love,

John