Mammogram Memories

Tomorrow is the big day.   As a child years a measured by birthdays.  As a woman over 40, years are measured by mammograms.

I am one of those whose family history leaves me wondering every year– Is this my year?  Thankfully, so far though the radiologists have been challenged and I’ve been called back, every year the tests have come out clear.

I’ve talked with other women who’ve also lost their mothers to breast cancer at young ages.  We share the common fear of the mammogram.  Some are so frightened that they’ve actually passed out in the exam room!  The women that I know recognize the mammogram as their weapon against their greater fear, cancer.  So, we buckle down and force ourselves in for the annual boob squish and pray.

I am reminded though how lucky I am at this time of year.  My mom got sick when I was about six or seven.  She died when I was twelve.  I have few memories of her being sick over those six years.  I remember her wigs, her prosthesis, and the scarves she wore when she didn’t want to wear a wig.

I had the good fortune to learn about beauty and strength from a woman who left one of her breasts on the nightstand and was usually bald around the house.  I remember, as a little girl, playing in my parents bedroom.  The prosthesis held a certain fascination.  The other thing that I loved was her perfume.  I still have that old bottle.  It’s empty now.  It’s been that way for years. But I can just twist the cap a little and still smell the woman she turned into every Sunday morning.

I sometimes wish I had that prosthesis, a sort of reminder of the woman she was all the rest of the time, the one who taught me to be strong, to recognize the internal nature of beauty, to care for myself, and to care for those around me as well.  Ah well, the perfume bottle will do and remind me to be thankful for time with her and because of her.


Remembering What’s Important

Image result for St. Coletta School

I remember, as a little girl, watching “Facts of Life” on television.  I always wanted to be one of those really lucky, smart kids who got to go to a boarding school.  It seemed so special, almost magical to have that kind of freedom.  It’s funny looking back at it now.  My older brother actually went to a boarding school, St. Lawrence Seminary,  and I visited him quite often as a young child.  I saw his boarding school first hand often.

I also saw St. Coletta’s.  I was thinking of it today, remembering how I loved to visit St. Coletta’s, how I was really kind of jealous of the people that I met there, how I wanted to live there in that wonderland.  I had no idea, as a young child, that the people who I met at St. Coletta’s had severe developmental disabilities.  I just thought they were happy and having fun.  Maybe they were.

St. Coletta’s is a special place in my memory because of a special woman who left the world this morning.  Sr. Phillip was my aunt.  She did laundry and care giving for residents of the school.

There are many of us in the world who hold that title “I grew up Catholic.”  It seems a lot of us hold an anger about that experience especially about the nuns and priests in our lives.  I don’t.  I don’t hold the same beliefs I did when I was younger, but I look back at some of the believers who’ve taught and guided me and I am inspired.

Sr. Phillip was one of those.  I remember her hands, scarred from years of work.  Her smile and twinkling eyes, her walk that really was just like a penguin.  Her hips and legs had to have caused her great pain.  For the last several years she depended on an oxygen tank.  But, she never complained.  She was truly happy.  So often we’re running from here to there acquiring stuff, seeking accomplishments, trying so hard to be greater than we are and falling short, disappointing ourselves and just being lost.

Sr. Phillip just smiled and laughed and enjoyed the people she was with.  She lived over 90 years.  I knew her half that time.  I don’t remember ever seeing her angry for more than a moment.  I think back now and know that she spent decades of her life working and living with individuals facing huge challenges in their lives.  She lived with a vow of poverty.  She also lived within a loving community, with a faith that meant a great deal to her, as a part of a family that she loved.  She had it all.

I thank her for reminding me what’s important.