Sunday, April 24, 2011


Terri and Deb warned us.  The last few weeks of  breast reconstruction is the pits.

Mary and I are two fills away from the end.  The skin and muscles in our chests are expanded as tightly as possible, and the discomfort is profound.

"I feel like I could explode," Mary moaned.

I'm particularly fond of the rock hard shelf protruding from my chest.  I could set of glass of water on it.  And a couple of family pictures and a gallon of milk.

I've never felt so attractive.

But we're almost there.  Terri and Deb feel well and look so lovely and natural again that it spurs Mary and me on to the finish.  All week, we've been reminded how fortunate we are.

Last Tuesday, just before the start of Holy Week, my sister Mary lost a good friend and classmate.  Mary Kay Redman was a dark-haired Irish beauty from the Central Catholic class of '82.  Her smile and wide expressive eyes were as big as her heart.

All of us at Central Catholic are mourning.  Scratch very deep, and you discover the invisible chain that links so many of us together in this little close-knit Catholic community.  Mary Kay's nieces and nephews attend Central Catholic, and her oldest sister, the beautiful Sister Mary Margaret McGowan, has ministered for years to the parishioners of St. Leo's Catholic Church in Grand Island.

Mary Kay fought cancer for 15 years.  She never complained - not to her family, her friends or the kids she taught at Kearney High School 40 miles away.

"Get over yourselves!" her students lovingly recall her scolding them whenever they whined about the every day irritations that never really matter.

Just two weeks before she died, she posted one last loving message to all of us on Facebook.  "I'm so lucky to have my family!" she wrote about her husband, children, mother, brothers and sister who so tenderly cared for her around the clock.

I thought about Mary Kay during Holy Week.  Maybe we don't truly appreciate the agony of Holy Thursday and the horrors of Good Friday until we lose someone we love.

Mom died just two days after Easter.  That night, after Harry the Dog's bizarre behavior, sleep was out of the question. 

At six in the morning, I finally rose.  Wrapping a blanket around myself, I quietly crept out the front door to perch on the top step of the porch in the cold April darkness.

"Where are you, Mom?" I whispered into the black silence.

After a time, the sun slowly edged up over the horizon washing the world in dusky gray.  And all at once, a million birds burst out in a jubilant chorus to greet the day.

I was young then.  Before Mom became so ill, I obediently attended Sunday Mass and observed Lent without ever once pondering the great mysteries of Good Friday and Easter.

But when those birds sang out in the pre-dawn hours after my mother died, I felt the power of the Resurrection for the first time in my life.

Mom was safe.  She wasn't sick anymore.  She was someplace bright and shining like the morning sun appearing over the newly budding trees.

Mary Kay's there, too.

It was good to celebrate Easter today.  Kenny and Tommy were home at long last filling our quiet old house with their familiar laughter and perpetual banter.

We celebrated Mass this morning and laughed when Father Todd, meandering through the aisles to sprinkle the congregation with the annual Easter Baptismal blessing, drenched my husband John who was sitting on the aisle.

And later we crowded into my brother Rick's house.  He and his wife Jan grilled brats and burgers while nearly 60 of us sprawled throughout their home and spilled out onto the deck.  The boy cousins engaged in their annual good-natured baskeball tournament, but for the first time the uncles declined to play.  Arthritic knees have finally conquered ego.  And the little ones scattered furiously to scoop up treasures nestled in the grass for their baskets.

We talked and laughed and ate and drank.  It was an Easter afternoon just like a thousand others.  But it was uniquely different, as every one is, in that Rick and Jan greeted a new granddaughter into the world.  Gracelyn Nicole Brown was born on Good Friday.

Life, death and resurrection.

We lost a good friend this week.  She reminds me how lucky my sisters and I are to enjoy this beautiful Easter day with our families and each other.  And when I am tempted to complain about my sore chest, I imagine her fixing me with those big snapping Irish eyes.

"Get over yourself," she'd scold.

Godspeed, Mary Kay. 

And may the birds sing you to Heaven.