Wednesday, April 12, 2017

About the Moment of Death

Death is not scary.  The actual moment of death really is no different from falling asleep, even though that's not what we're supposed to tell kids about death, as it may confuse them about the permanency of death.  And yet... for believers, death really isn't permanent at all, is it?  It's a birth into eternal life. 
Three weeks ago, we had to euthenize our dog.  That day marked the end of a 9 year era for us as "pet parents".  Our dog, Bigosia, got very sick very quickly, and we didn't have much time to process what was happening or what we ought to do.  The day we had her xrays done to confirm a large growth that had been interfering with her eating and breathing, we knew that one way or another, we had to make a decision quickly, within the week.  We couldn't make her suffer any longer.

All four of us were there with her as she passed onto the other side.  I remember petting her on the bridge of her nose, softly encouraging her to lay down, saying "get comfortable, baby".  She was calm.  Just that, she was calm.  No deep penetrating looks trying to tell me something.  No trying to remove herself from the situation.  She was calm.  Peaceful.  Weather she knew her pain was about to be gone for good, I don't know.  But she certainly didn't fear dying.  And she seemed no different to me after the vet confirmed that her heart had stopped beating and she was "gone".  I was so used to seeing her just lying around, keeping to herself.  I'd approach her and pet her at my leisure, and she often wouldn't stir, so this was no different.  

Five years ago, I approach another loved one's deceased body - my best friend Rachel, at her viewing.  It was four days after she died, so I suppose her body had been embalmed.  I noticed several things as I stood over her open casket to say my last goodbye.  One - they really caked on her makeup! Two - she had her hair straight and cut, a newer style to the one I preferred, the one I always image her with - long and curly.  Three - she was not in that casket.  Standing over Rachel's body, I remember realizing that my best friend was being housed in that body, transported in it, but she was not bound to it.  On some gut level, I knew that what made her Rachel was that je ne sais quoi that could only be described as "that which animated her body" - her spirit, her soul.  That realization gave me closure, even though her death was unexpected.

I wasn't present at the exact moment of my great-grandmother's death, but I was there just minutes before, and minutes after.  I had just stepped into the bathroom to wash my hair when she died.  I was drying my hair when I heard my grandmother talking to her mom and, upon not getting a response, starting to wail.  I knew even before she reached the bathroom door to tell me that Babcia Bronia had passed on.  I remember being very calm about it.  Sad, but calm.  Earlier in the day, I watched my great-grandmother as she lay on her bed in the large kitchen, where she had been living to ease getting to and from the one bathroom in the house.  She was on her back, and she was stretching out her arms above her, with a gentle grin on her face.  She was clearly reaching towards something - or someone - that only she could see.  As soon as I knew she had died, I knew that she had known she was dying.  Not in the prolonged illness, my time is approaching kind of way, but in the "that's my name, gotta go!" kind of way.  She was a devoted Catholic, and she died on the 8th of September, Mary's birthday.  So we suspect that she was reaching out to the birthday girl, ehem, Queen of Heaven, thrilled to have been called home on such a day.

In the hour or so following her death, before the funeral home people came to take her body, I helped my grandmother and grandfather dress her in the funeral clothes Babcia Bronia had picked out for herself ahead of time.  Before she died, her daughter/my grandmother had shown me the neatly folded outfit in her dresser.  Babcia Bronia had packed for a trip, essentially!  She packed light - she only wanted to wear a black dress with white ruffles.  She knew she didn't need anything else.  Anyway, the three of us liften her into a seating position to take off her nightgown and put on her funeral dress.  I will never forget the shock I felt when she sat up.  A gaspy noise came out of her mouth.  For a split second, I thought she was back!  Later I'd learn that it's normal for the last remnants of air to escape from the body after death, thereby making sounds.  In fact, when we were preparing for our beloved dog Bigosia's "big moment", the vet also mentioned the possibility of some unexpected - well, she actually mentioned liquids coming out, but luckily no such thing happened.

And so I'm back to my original observation.  Death itself is nothing to fear.  Instead, it's all the trauma that often leads up to death that can be scary, painful, and confusing.  And of course, the loss and grief that is felt by the loved ones left behind is the other unpleasant aspect of death.  But the actual moment of death?  Nah, that's just a transition.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Happy homecoming anniversary, Fernando!

(photos forthcoming)

A year ago, we had our fourth and last embryo transfer.  First transfer of two blastocysts on the 11th anniversary of daddy and I meeting, resulted in a week-long pregnancy followed by a chemical loss.  Second transfer of two blastocysts, about four months later, resulted in a "BFN" - big fat negative (pregnancy test). Third transfer of two blastocysts from a second batch resulted in our miracle 3 year old daughter, your genetic sister Maya. And our last transfer was also planned for two blastocysts, but only one survived the thaw.  That last little embryo was you Fernandito!

Just like with your sister three years earlier, daddy had to wait across the hall while I went in for transfer.  My bladder was bursting and I was certain that I would pee on the doctor, for which I wouldn't have felt bad since he made me drink twice the recommended amount of water and then had me wait on the transfer bed.  I walked on the wild side this time, and secretly took a photo of myself just before transfer.  (What'd you think I was going to say?  I videotaped the transfer?  I wish! Our first two transfers were videotaped, but alas that's irrelevant to you, I guess.)  Luckily this time I wasn't made to lay there for 30 minutes, so I was up and with daddy and Maya in no time.

We had made the whole trip into a family vacation.  We visited my brother and his family, Alex's grandpa and some cousins, aunts and uncles, and we managed a quick day trip to the beach the day before transfer.  I squeezed in an acupuncture session on the morning of the transfer, just in case it would help.  It certainly helped me relax and put me in the right frame of mind, if nothing else.

As we were leaving the hospital after transfer, we had someone take a lovely photo of us - first photo of us as a family of four!  I knew that no matter what, this was the last time I was undergoing any sort of fertility treatment, and all that was left was to find out what the good Lord had in mind for the future of our family.

I'm not sure what to think of the embryo that didn't get transferred.  All of the other embryos we "adopted" were in my body for however brief a moment in time.  I sort of thought of them as little angel companions for each other, especially for my Maya.  But Fernando, you were in there all alone.  So silly how the mind can weave crazy stories out of nothing.

Your batch of four embryos, I called the Franciscans, after the newly elected Pope Francis.  Maya's companion embryo I named Raquelita after my late best friend, Rachel.  We called Maya "Dee or Dino", alternating months during the pregnancy, since we weren't finding out her sex until after birth.  Your would-be companion embryo I named Francis.  We found out you were a boy in mid-pregnancy, at which point we started to think of names.  We had decided not to name you the boy names we had prepared three years earlier when expecting Maya. You were not some fantasy but a real boy, our son, and everything had to be reset.  Until then, you were a "Franciscan" ;)

I'm going to go ahead and put it out there, though I went back and forth about it.... I started to suspect right after your transfer that you may receive a calling to the priesthood.  (Since we're Catholic, this also meant that I suspected you were a boy!)  You see, after your sister was born and we moved to a new state, I became distant in my faith for a long time.  I had all but given up being able to recapture that sense of spirituality going into your embryo transfer.  Literally within days, I felt something spiritual.  I cannot explain what it was, because it wasn't anything concrete.  I just felt God's presence, I guess.  For the first time in years, I felt hope that I may one day truly "be Catholic" again.

I had a terrible first trimester as far as nausea and prenatal depression.  It was so bad that I had to request prescription medication, because the ginger root tea that finally helped when I was pregnant with Maya only made things worse this time!  I was thinking all sorts of nonesense about my lack of worth and I dreaded the idea of being responsible for two small children. I tried to sleep most of the time to avoid facing these thoughts.  But two Sundays in a row, before and after we moved into the house where you were born, the nausea and depression let up, to the point that I felt well enough to pack and move some of our stuff the first time it happened, and to unpack and put some things away the second time it happened.

Because these were Sundays, I again thought this was a sign of a possible religious vocation for you.  Whether or not the Lord calls you to the priesthood or not, He clearly called you to help bring me back to the faith!  I went on a spiritual retreat while pregnant with you, which helped tremendously in edging me in the right direction (namely, towards God).  As I write this, I am in my third week of spiritual direction, and I have started to call Jesus my friend.

In one of your sonograms, you resemble your sister Maya.  It is most uncanny, the lip and chin area in particular.  With Maya, I didn't think she looked anything like her sonos, but with you, wow!  I hope that you and Maya will be very close friends and are able to find comfort in each other's shared journey as donor conceived adoptees.  I have been working on locating your genetic family, in case you or Maya ever want more information about your genetic roots.  The Lord even put in my life a lady at our church who loves doing geneology and who has been working on your genetic family tree for many months.  I was also able to get a little more information from the clinic where your and Maya's embryos were stored, which has been a great joy to me, and I'm hoping it can help us locate your and Maya's three older genetic siblings, if not your donors as well.

So Fernando, thank you for showing me that just when I thought my heart couldn't possibly grow to accomodate loving another child as much as I love Maya, you proved me wrong!  My heart has been cloned, and each of you have their own mommy-heart in my chest.  I don't know how else to describe it.  I love you, and I'm so very happy that you're here and we're all together as a family now!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Affirmative Ten Commandments

I don't know about you, but I always find it easier to apply affirmative directives instead of negative ones.  For one thing, when we hear "don't do X", we still hear the forbidden "X", and subconsciously we nonetheless focus on that which we are supposed to be avoiding.  Also, abstaining from doing something is not the same as doing the opposite.

When it comes to the 10 Commandments, I've always thought that perhaps linguistics is where Moses went wrong.  (I know, it'd be way too easy if all it took for world peace is to change the focus of how the 10 Commandments are written.)  At any rate, I've decided to give it a try myself, so that when I'm going over them in preparation for the sacrament of reconciliation, for instance, I'm better challenged to grow in character instead of just checking off all the ways I'm not failing God!

So without further ado, here are the 10 Commandments, as I understand them, that go beyond just what not to do, and instead note what we are to do instead.

1. Remember Who made you; therefore worship God alone, prioritizing Him above all else.  (Two ways to do this follow.)
2. When you speak about God, do so with respect.
3. Every week, set aside time to honor God.
4. Honor our parents as God's co-creators; know your place and hence be humble.
5. Safeguard life; be a steward of it.
6. Be chaste.
7. Share what you have with others.
8. Be honest and trustworthy.
9. Be modest.
10. Be content with what you've got.

A bit of commentary on the above.  The first three commandments I think are self-explanatory, as they already appear in the affirmative on the original templates.  The only observation I've made here is that commandments 2 & 3 are examples of 1.

The fourth commandment is also in the affirmative, but I've always found it confusing how to apply it to my life as an adult child of my parents.  I think when looking at my parents in the grand scheme of things, I'm reminded of my place in the pecking order, which should lead to an attitude of humility in life in general.

The fifth commandment I found a bit passe.  I mean, don't murder, really?  I would think in this day and age, this sort of goes without saying.  People of course ignore it, but not because they're confused about whether they should or shouldn't take life.  I am always tempted to skim right over this one as I do my examination of conscience, bc of course I haven't killed anyone.  But when looked at through a life-affirming lense, ah, now I'm a lot more challenged.  Do I build people up or shut them down? And what about other creatures of God?  I do not give life, not to animals or plants, and not to people (even my own children); I merely assist at best.  So it should go without saying that I can't take that life.  But do I look the other way when others take life into their own hands?  Or do I stand on the side of God, trying to safeguard it?

The sixth and ninth commandments always confused me because I didn't understand why there needed to be two commandments that essentially say the same thing.  Do not commit adultery, and do not covet your neighbor's wife (or husband, though if you want to be a literalist, us women appear to be getting a free pass on this one ;) ).  I get that one is physical action and the other is thought, but is that really sufficient enough difference?  But when looked at as what we ought to be doing instead - being chaste and modest, all of a sudden I understand the difference.  Chastity has to do with our actions when it comes to our sexuality.  We are to keep sexual intimacy inside the marriage covenant.  That is the definition of chastity.  So if we're not married, no sex.  If we are married, sex only with our spouse.  Easy enough.  But then modesty is a lot more nuanced.  It's in our dress, our demeanor, in our sense of humor, our entertainment, our words.  Do we tempt others towards unchastity by our immodesty?  Or do we do our part to safeguard marital sexuality?

The seventh and tenth commandments also gave me trouble over the years.  Again, I thought they were saying the same thing.  Don't steal, and don't covet.  Instead, go beyond merely not taking what doesn't belong to you (because sometimes this is actually up for debate), and share whatever you do have.   That way, there's no question that you're not stealing because your focus is on how you can share what you have instead of how others ought to share with you.  And then there's the coveting. That leads to envy, jealousy, and all around a nasty selfish attitude, as you think about all the things you don't have instead of counting your blessings.  Instead, be content, ie. count your blessings!

Finally, the eight commandment has to do with honesty, and here too I think we can grow so much more if we live our lives focusing on integrity and authenticity instead of just not telling any lies.  We lie with much more than our words.  Omissions can be lies.  Disingeniousness can be lies.  The way we present ourselves in life can be a lie - putting on a facade to try to impress others.  There's no truth in that.  But we can still glaze over this commandment and say we don't technically tell any lies, so we're all good.  No, we're not.  That's just not good enough.  Be honest and trustworthy.  There's the goal of this commandment.

So I plan on looking to this version of the 10 commandments from now on as I try to improve as a human being.  Maybe it can help someone else as well.