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The Day ‘Old Pup’ Saved My Big Sister’s Life

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When I was a kid, growing up on a farm in northern Iowa, we had a plump, white and shades of brown English shepherd dog named “Pup” — later called “Old Pup” when she started getting on in years.

She was a gentle and helpful beloved family pet who herded the cattle, barked to warn us when strangers and visitors came on our property, gave us many litters of frolicking puppies, and was an eager and devoted companion to my siblings and me. I’ll never forget the day “hero” made it on the list of Old Pup’s virtues.

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Cathy at age 15.

At one time or another, most of the five Hadacek kids helped our dad with the morning and evening milking of 10 to 12 cows. The summer of 1979, 15-year-old Cathy typically assisted with the 6:30 a.m. milking.

As usual, our dad had hurried off to his job in town — he worked as a road engineer for the Iowa Department of Transportation — while Cathy remained in the milk house cleaning the equipment. Knowing that one of the valves on the milker was plugged, my sister headed to the air compressor that was kept in a shed up the hill from the barn to blow the blockage out.

Cathy, always free-spirited, flung off her shoes and trapesed barefooted to the shed, walking across grass wet from morning dew.

Mom was making breakfast

Mom was in the house — located about 30 feet from the shed where Cathy had started up the air compressor — washing my dad’s breakfast dishes and making breakfast for the rest of the kids, who were still sleeping. Humming and going about her morning tasks, the sound of a squealing pig could be heard, but she thought nothing of this commonplace farmyard noise.

Prayers to Mary

When Cathy walked barefooted into the shed, she flipped on the switch to the air compressor —unaware that there was an electrical short in the unit — and instantly the force of electricity coursed through her young frame throwing her onto the concrete floor. Thinking that she would surely die, she prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary to save her.

No one knows exactly how long my sister lay on the concrete with electricity vibrating through her body, draining the life from her. I can imagine time slowed down for her. Cathy recalls the excruciating pain she felt and seeing Old Pup come bounding into the building.

Hero

With a yelp, Old Pup pounced on the air compressor’s cord with enough force to pull the plug out of the socket, freeing Cathy from the grip of the electrical current. Then Old Pup ran over to Cathy, whimpering and licking her to see if she was OK. Somehow, my sister found the strength to get up off the floor to find mom.

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Old Pup II with our little brother, Michael.

Nearly 11 years old at the time, I remember being awakened by loud wailing. I raced out of bed into the living room to see what on earth was the matter. Seared on my memory is the vision of Cathy collapsed on our floor. Her body wracked with sobs as she tried to tell us what had happened to her, and the voice of our mom saying, “I thought it was a pig squealing!” as she realized that, but for Old Pup, it could have been her eldest daughter’s last cry.

Lasting impact

What I witnessed made me forever extra careful when dealing with electricity — no wet hands or feet. I could — and still can — imagine the pain Cathy felt because I had, more than once, experienced the bite of the electric fence as it grazed my back when I failed to duck low enough to avoid a shock. I was aware what my big sister experienced was much more painful.

Ever since Cathy’s brush with death, I have often contemplated and marveled at the mysterious ways in which God works — that he even uses four-footed friends as instruments to aid us. I am sure that God had and has a special role for my sister. I like to think one reason is for me. Since our parent’s death — mom in 2011 and dad in 2014 — she has remained my strongest and most faithful link to my childhood family.

As for Old Pup, she died years later and was so missed that we named our second English shepherd — you guessed it — “Pup.” Curious, I looked up information about the English shepherd breed on DogBreedInfo.com. They are known as, “[E]nergetic, intelligent, very active, agile, courageous and gritty. Fearless for its purpose.”

© 2018, Lori Hadacek Chaplin, CatholicDigest.com Everyday Miracles

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Drowned Toddler Makes Full Recovery

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On May 22, 2017, Joy Loboda celebrated her second birthday and is swimming in the pool that nearly took her life on December 29th, 2016. Read her story and a recent update posted on NCR on 6-19-17.

Drowned Toddler Is Making Miraculous Recovery

image9-2After falling into a pool, little Joy Loboda did not have a heartbeat for some 20-30 minutes. She should not be alive today, but she is.

Matt and Kristin Loboda, from Tampa, Florida, and their five young children were visiting family in Phoenix, Arizona. On Dec. 29, 2016, Matt suddenly noticed that his 19-month-old daughter, Joy, was missing. She had been with them just before that. “In my heart, I knew something was terribly wrong. So, I ran down to the Koi pond on the property. I ran around it four times looking between the shadows and fish for Joy. Momentarily I was relieved. But, [then] I heard the Holy Spirit tell me to run to the pool,” writes Matt on his Facebook page.

When Joy disappeared, Matt hadn’t considered the possibility that she was in the fence-encircled pool. He sprinted there, and the sight he saw was enough to make any parent’s blood run cold: there was Joy’s little, lifeless body floating on top of the water. Matt leaped over the five-foot fence and dove into the water, bringing Joy out of the pool, so he and his brother-in-law could perform CPR while they were waiting for the ambulance.

“As I breathed into Joy, I prayed that my breath would be the breath of God into her,” says

Matt, a graduate of the Franciscan University of Steubenville. “In between breaths I

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Kristen, Joy’s mother, feels some relief and hope as Joy continues to improve.

begged for the Ruha of God to enter her. Her lips were blue, and her beautiful blue eyes were wide open. I could see her pupils shrinking at an alarming rate. Then I started to pray in between breathes in the words of Jesus, ‘Talitha Koum,’ which means ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise.’ I knew we needed a miracle because I could actually feel her slipping away.”

First Responders

Sergeant Ronald Bryant, a policeman for the Phoenix Police Department, was just pulling out of the police station when he got the urgent call that a baby had fallen into a pool and was unresponsive. Racing to help Joy, he drove right up where Matt was trying to revive her.  “I found Joy surrounded by frantic family and concerned workers. Dad, soaked from the cold pool, was doing a great job with CPR and mom, Kristin, was kneeling, holding Joy’s head in hands and praying like no mother ever wants to pray for their child,” Officer Bryant writes on his Facebook page.

He continues, “I scooped Joy up and ran her out to the front gate, giving her compressions and a couple of breaths as we ran out to meet Fire Paramedics who were almost on the scene. Fire immediately took over and got to work on Joy’s tiny, cold, blue, lifeless body. My heart was broken. I was convinced she had passed.”

With 19 years of service, this was not Sergeant Bryant’s first experience with infant death. Joy’s stiff body spoke volumes to him. “Everything in me said it was too late, and she was gone, but I had to try everything I could,” he said.

Although the paramedics were doing everything they could to save Joy, Matt could feel the cloud of doom that had settled over them.

As the detective drove Matt and Kristin to Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Matt closed his eyes and prayed to God: “‘I know she is your daughter, but she is my daughter too. Now is not the right time.”

Heartbeat

At the emergency room, a doctor came in and informed the Lobodas that the prognosis didn’t look good, but that Joy now had a heartbeat. This news was enough to bolster Matt’s hope. Filled with supernatural confidence, he felt in his heart Joy would make a full recovery and said as much to the doctors.15970758_10158182989555089_312321941_n

Little Joy was put in a medical coma and placed on a ventilator, but by Jan. 7, 2016 she was responsive and breathing on her own. Kristin writes, “She’s in my arms, reached for my face, and said, ‘Mamma.’ Tears are flowing, and my heart is so full. Your prayers have been our strength and brought healing to our baby.”

On Jan. 9, Joy was able to latch on and breastfeed for the first time since the accident, and though she was still experiencing pain, she was doing well enough that doctors transferred her out of pediatric intensive care. On Jan. 10, she broke out into a smile and laughed—a miracle. She is making marked improvements every day.

When Sergeant Bryant learned that Joy was recovering, elated, he stopped by Fire Station 17—the paramedics who had worked to save joy—to tell them she was alive. “They were amazed,” he says.

The Efficacy of Prayers

Fr. Ignatius Mazanowski, F.H.S, Kristin’s brother, told the Register, “Her recovery, in my opinion, is a testament to her parent’s love and care and the thousands of people who have been praying for little Joy.”

It surely is also a testament to the most powerful prayer, the Mass. For the first seven days, Fr. Mazanowski offered Mass at the foot of Joy’s hospital bed, choosing the First Eucharistic Prayer because he wanted to call upon the intercession of the saints for Joy and her parents. “To be honest, at first it was simply something I could do, and it provided a way to pray and offer this whole situation to the Lord. Each day, as I said Mass, I saw Joy get stronger, and her parents become more encouraged. I began to realize, in a way I never did before, how much healing comes through the Mass.”

He continues, “One Mass in particular, on the Feast of the Holy Family, became the means through which my sister Kristin’s heart found healing as I led her through self-forgiveness prayers. As any parents would, she was blaming and condemning herself for Joy’s accident. They lost Joy for three minutes, and Joseph and Mary lost Jesus for three days. Self-forgiveness in such a situation is so important. I believe my sister’s healing is tied to Joy’s healing, and for sure, it helped Kristin to be in a better place to help Joy heal.”

Joy’s Miracle Offers Encouragement

When miracles happen, we know that God is near and watching over us, but it makes me wonder why some prayers go unanswered? “All I know is that, in my experience, miracles happen for two reasons,” replies Fr. Mazanowski. “First, God wants to reveal His love to that person, and second, He wants others to come to faith and to come to know Him as a result of the miracle. In Joy’s case, I know God loves her, her parents, and our family very much, and I am grateful He has chosen to restore her to health. I also know from the many people who have contacted us that God is, in fact, bringing people back to the Church and back into relationship with Him as they receive encouragement through following the story of Joy’s miraculous recovery and her parents’ deep faith.”

Copyright ©2017, Lori Hadacek Chaplin. This article was first published on January 12th, 2017 for the The National Catholic Register.

A GoFundMe page has been set up for the Lobodas at https://www.gofundme.com/prayforjoyloboda.

Read update: An Update on the Drowned Toddler Who Made a Miraculous

An Open Letter to a Woman Considering an Abortion

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An Open Letter to a Woman Considering an Abortion

Dear Scared,

When the home pregnancy test was positive, I was numb with disbelief. Surely another test would yield a different result. Again, I peered into that prophetic window hoping that the pink would not come, but the lines materialized, taunting me to deny them. I needed to find help, so I looked in the yellow pages and I saw that downtown Minneapolis had a Birthright crisis pregnancy center. On the drive to Birthright, I recall idling at a stoplight

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A Kiss for Baby Anne (no. 3), 1897 – Mary Cassatt

shaking and sick with the fear that was consuming me. I was terrified of the unknown; I particularly feared how my deeply religious parents would react to my news and the prospect of raising a baby alone. Only hours before I discovered I was pregnant, my boyfriend of 16 months had told me through a rush of guilty tears that he didn’t want to be with me anymore. I felt betrayed because he had promised me marriage.

Waiting at that stoplight, I had a moment where, for the first time in my life, I could empathize with a woman who would choose abortion; I understood the sheer terror one could feel about being found out. I felt the full weight of the realization that I was now responsible for a small person who would be completely reliant on me even though I was unprepared for this kind of commitment. But I ask you to ask yourself, “How can a decision to abort your baby based on fear or shame be a good one?”

At Birthright, I met the loveliest, soft-spoken woman named Bernadette; her Irish brogue calmed me. Tearfully, I told her that I thought I was pregnant and I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t afford to have a baby. I was barely supporting myself waiting tables and working at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and I had no health insurance. She asked if I wanted to take another pregnancy test.

I did.

I smile to think of it now; I was so much in denial that I was sure this time the test would say that I was not pregnant.

One of the smartest things that I did was go to a crisis pregnancy center as soon as I thought I was pregnant. I had so many questions. I had heard that it cost thousands of dollars to deliver a baby, and money was a big concern for me because my roommate was moving out to get married, and I would have to find a less expensive apartment. All of my concerns about having a baby poured out of me and Bernadette calmed me by having the answers. She explained to me how I could have my prenatal care and delivery through Catholic Charities. She said not to worry about finding an apartment; there were families that took in pregnant moms, and she would make the arrangements. We talked about my own family and about telling my parents. I told her that I was waiting until I could go home to Iowa to tell them face-to-face. She advised me not to wait to call them.

I understand that telling your parents is weighing on your mind; you’re wondering and imagining how they will take the news. The fact that I was 25-years-old did not make breaking the pregnancy to them any easier. I was especially close to my mom, and I dreaded hurting and disappointing her. When I called to tell her, she was furious with me; she felt betrayed because she had thought I was the kind of young woman that would save myself for marriage.

Mom’s disappointment and coldness cut me like a knife. My phone would ring, but I

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Lori with baby Ella, 6-month old.

wouldn’t answer it because I knew it was she. A wedge had been driven between us, and it was extremely painful for me. I tell you about this painful rift because I don’t want to soft-pedal this difficult task of telling your parents. I want you to know that sometimes mothers and fathers need time to digest this life-changing news. You see, part of the anger she felt against me was because she felt shut out. In our phone conversion, I had told her that I wouldn’t be coming home because I didn’t want to be a constant reminder of how big of a disappointment I was. Once I came to my senses and I realized that I could not raise a baby without her help, it didn’t take long for our relationship to mend.

Another difficult aspect of my pregnancy was the knowledge that I was bringing my baby into the world without a father. I longed for my boyfriend to come to me—for him to tell me he wanted to marry me. I still loved him, and I deeply desired us to be a family. Even so, I wanted him only if he came to me of his own free will. He stayed away, and I taught my heart to move on without him. Maturity has taught me that it was for the better that we did not marry.

She arrived as the first snowflakes of winter danced to the earth, swirling up the inaugural blizzard of November. I named her Ella Philomena; Ella, after my maternal great-grandmother, and Philomena, because it meant full of light—a name that represented what my daughter was bringing to my life. While the world slept, I fumbled to figure out how to be a mother to Ella. Before Ella, my experience of love had been superficial—more lust than love. Now I was discovering that true love is intertwined with sacrifice, but it is also real and rewarding.

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Lori and six-year-old Ella.

Because of Ella, I left my life in the city so I could be near my parents for support. I missed my job and my old life terribly, but all I had to do was look at her sweet face to know that she was the best thing that ever happened to me. In choosing to raise Ella, a whole chain of events was set off that made my life develop into something much more wonderful than it had been. I had long had a rocky relationship with my father. The day I called him at his office to tell him I was pregnant, he surprised me; I had expected him to be furious with me. Instead, he was compassionate. That phone call was the salve that began the healing of a long-open wound that had prevented me from loving my father as he deserved. Before that day, I had doubted his love for me.

For five years, Ella and I lived with my parents and two younger brothers. You might cringe at the thought of an adult returning home to live with her family. Yes, it was humbling, but it also was a time that I cherish like no other. Unlike my teen years, this period of living with my parents was peaceful. I got to know them more deeply and understand them more fully. In return, they loved Ella like she was their own child.

Something else I want to tell you is that an unplanned pregnancy, like a planned pregnancy, brings a woman incredible inner strength. I never realized how strong I was physically and mentally before my daughter came along. might cringe at the thought of an adult returning home to live with her family. Yes, it was humbling, but it also was a time that I cherish like no other. Unlike my teen years, this period of living with my parents was peaceful. I got to know them more deeply and understand them more fully. In return, they loved Ella like she was their own child.

Having my daughter also made me strive to be a better person. I had graduated from art school, but I was floundering without a set career path. Ella’s existence was the catalyst for a series of events that made me realize my vocation as a writer.chaplin-9200edit

Unexpectedly, choosing to have Ella brought me another grace—true friendship. Since childhood, I had longed for a kindred spirit. I would mourn the loss of friends who would come and go in my life. I sometimes wondered what was wrong with me that I could not maintain friendships. I often felt a deep and sorrowful loneliness. After Ella came into my life, I have never felt lonely. God not only gave me a baby but also gifted me with a best friend who understands me like no other person.

If I could have glimpsed 22 years into the future while sitting at that stoplight sick and trembling with fear, I would have seen a visage of a young woman who resembled me. I would have seen a girl who loved to laugh and spend time with her mother—a daughter who would be a rock during her mother’s most vulnerable times—her steadfast friend and companion. I would not have been afraid. I tell you that your fear will also pass, and by giving your baby life, new and unexpected doors will open.

Twelve years ago I married a wonderful man. Ella now has three siblings to love her.

A plea from Ella:
If my mom had not had the courage to weather this trial, I would not be alive today. I would not have known her love and dedication—the comfort of her embrace. I would never have known my two brothers and sister. I would have never felt the unconditional love of my grandparents.

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Ella, 23, taken the day before she graduated from college, May 2018.

Like her, I know that you can be brave for your baby. The good news is that you do not have to do it alone. There are so many people from Birthright and from the surrounding community that are waiting and willing help you. No problem is insurmountable. My mom and I are living witnesses to this. Love, Ella

Copyright ©2016,  Lori Hadacek Chaplin.

 

The Sacraments Bind Us to God and to Generations of Catholics

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“Tornado Touchdown” by Toni Grote

One night, my four children and I were sitting on the basement stairs in my parent’s home in Forest City, Iowa. Typical of the region, fierce spring winds howled around the house. I had gotten my sleepy little ones up in the wee hours of the morning so we could be near the cellar in case of a tornado. My father was already up. Since he had been diagnosed with blood and bone cancer, he often had wakeful nights. As the six of us sat there listening to the wind shaking the windowpanes, my dad started reminiscing about his first Communion and confirmation. My seven-year-old daughter, Gemma, would be making her first Communion in a couple of weeks, and it must have made him think of his own. I marveled at the story because I never remembered hearing it before.

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My dad, Robert Hadacek, with his rat terrier pups.

My dad recalled how on the way to his first confession in 1946, his parents took him to buy a Rat Terrier puppy for a first Communion gift. Listening to him tell the story, I could imagine my dad as a little six-year-old boy with just his dark head peeping out from a long, oversized dress coat. I could see him choosing that puppy with the black-and-white spots. Dad told us, “It was freezing that day, so I put Peewee in my big pocket to keep her warm, and she went into the confessional with me.” That little puppy wasn’t the end of the story; she made it possible for my dad to do something generous for his parish priest, Monsignor Hradecky.

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St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church after the tornado.

A week before my dad’s confirmation, on June 25, 1951, a devastating tornado hit the small, Czech town of Duncan, Iowa. My dad’s family lived on a farm in rural Duncan. My dad remembered how that tornado had torn through his town and dumped water and mud from a 10-acre pond onto the demolished houses. Still marveling at the memory, he told us how the church, St. Wenceslaus, was destroyed, but the sanctuary was left untouched and the flame from the sanctuary candle continued to burn.

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Young Robert Hadacek’s first Communion picture.

The following Sunday after the tornado hit, Bishop Binz came to confirm my dad and the other children of the parish, and a tent was set up in place of the church. My dad noticed that Monsignor Hradecky wasn’t wearing his biretta with the red pom-pom. (A biretta is three-peaked hat that was worn by the priest during the Latin Mass, and red signified monsignor). Though just a 12-year-old, my dad demonstrated generosity and maturity by taking the money he earned from selling a litter of Peewee’s puppies and buying Monsignor Hradecky a $40 biretta to replace the one lost in the tornado. Hearing his story reminded me how receiving the sacraments bind Catholics past, present, and future together. We came to Iowa thinking that my dad was near his end of his life. We got permission from our parish priest in Idaho to have Gemma’s first Communion at my dad’s church, Our Lady of Ransom Oratory, in Guckeen, Minnesota. This way my dad could be a part of one of the most monumental days in the spiritual life of a Catholic. I am happy to say that though it has been a rocky road for him, he is still with us, and he looking forward to another grandchild’s first Communion this year.

Postscript: My father didn’t make it to see his third granddaughter make her first Communion. He died on March 11th, 2014. He put up a good fight against the cancer, living almost 14 months after the diagnosis. Just days before he died, I read this story to him. He cried tears of joy because I’d written about him; he had seen many articles about my mom, but none about him until now. It’s a good thing I read him the story and showed him the layout before it was published because his copy of Catholic Digest, which included this tale from his youth, arrived in the mail a few days after he died. May God rest his eternal soul. 

© 2014, Lori Hadacek Chaplin. First published in Catholic Digest in Spring of 2014.

My Mother’s Handwriting

Whenever I see my mom’s handwriting, I feel a tearing at my heartpaintings5cwriting_home—a fresh jolt of anguish. She died in October 2011 from cancer, and a piece of me went with her.

My four kids and I have stayed with my dad for several weeks for the past two summers. Coming back is always tinged with sadness because she’s gone. My mom’s personality blankets their home. I hear her voice in my mind reminding me how I should do things as I clean her home, help my eldest daughter bake bread in her kitchen, and preserve summer vegetables from my dad’s garden—the garden my mom spent hours tending when she was healthy. I imagine her saying, “The green beans your dad picked are too big for canning; they won’t taste good.” I tell my dad, but he’s too stubborn to admit I’m right. “Mom wouldn’t can them,” I say to him, shaking my head.

I had had some experience with death, but until I lost my mother I couldn’t fathom the deep sense of loss and helplessness that would enshroud me beginning during the end stage of her illness and then more fully after her death. Mercifully, I don’t feel sad all of the time. Poignant feelings flit in and out of my days whenever something provokes me, such as a dream about her, an urge to call her when something good or not so good has happened, or when I need cooking advice—and especially when I see her handwriting.

I promised my dad that I would go through my mother’s things, so I got busy sorting through Mom’s clothing; throwing away what is old and dividing into piles the clothes to give to her close friends. I didn’t like the idea of strangers wearing her clothes, but the thought of her friends wearing them comforted me.

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This is one of my cherished pieces of my mom’s handwriting. When she was a young girl she drew this picture in her mother’s Searchlight cookbook and signed it.

I tried to sort through her desk and the laundry baskets containing piles of newspapers, magazines, mail, and papers. The last eight months of her life she wasn’t able to do any housework. She spent most of her time in a rocking chair or lying on the the couch. It seems that everywhere I turned was a list or an address written in her neat cursive. Looking at her distinguishable penmanship made me feel like she’s close by. It felt like she had only just jotted down one of her lists and had left it to go into another room. For a few seconds, I pretended this was true, but the reality that she was never coming back left me feeling empty and lonely.

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Mom holding me when I was three days old.

It was because of that emptiness and loneliness that I started to go to daily Mass. Something told me that this was the path of healing for me, and it has been. It is in taking Holy Communion that I feel closest to her. Like seeing her handwriting, receiving Communion makes me feel her presence keenly, but instead of feeling empty inside the Precious Body fills me up and comforts me that someday the divide will be lifted.

Postscript: Mom has been gone four years. I still miss her everyday, but it’s thoughts of my dad, who died March 11th, 2014, that fill my mourning cup. Maybe it’s the passing of time that has eased my mourning for my mom or maybe it’s because it’s too difficult to grieve more than one person at a time. Daily Mass continues to be my balm of healing.

©2014, Lori Hadacek Chaplin. This article was first published in Catholic Digest in May of 2014.

You Love the Child with the Birth Defect More—Not Less

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Our baby, Max, has been wearing a helmet since he was a six-month-old. When he was born, his head looked perfectly normal. However, by the time he was six-weeks-old, I’d wonder out loud to my family about its peculiar shape. There was an odd ridge at the back of his skull, which wasn’t perfectly round.

Since Max’s head was growing at a good rate, his doctor said there was probably nothing to worry about. I wanted to believe him, so I stopped worrying. At my baby’s five month checkup, I was shocked when he referred me to a plastic surgeon. At the top of the referral form I saw the diagnosis Craniosynostosis (a birth defect that causes one or more sutures on a baby’s head to close earlier than normal). I felt sick to my stomach, but I clung to the thought that he had to be wrong.

He wasn’t.

The CTC scan confirmed that our baby did have Craniosynostosis. His was a rare form which caused the Lambdoid sutures in the back of his head to close prematurely. He needed surgery, and would have to wear a helmet to shape and protect his head.

During the month we waited for Max’s surgery, we lived under a cloud of disquiet. The surgery was potentially dangerous. Our hearts ached to know that this could possibly be our last days with our baby. We put our trust in God and His Blessed Mother and asked everyone we knew to pray for Max.

Before we gave our son to the surgeons,  my husband and I were trying to memorize every one of his features. Our hearts felt heavy with grief—as if they were filled with lead. We were handing over our baby to the doctors for surgery on his skull, not knowing for sure if they were going to bring him back alive.

Max, six-month-old, right after surgery,  in May 2011.

Max, six-month-old, right after surgery, in May 2011.

After a successful surgery, we had the next hurdle to face—the shaping helmet. I cried when he initially started wearing his helmet. It was heavy and sat close to his eyes. When I looked at him, all I could think was my baby has a bowling ball for a head—a “bowling ball” that he was required to wear 23-hours a day. Nursing him felt cumbersome and uncomfortable. I yearned to have his soft head lying against my breast, not this cold, hard plastic.

A few weeks after getting his helmet, Max tugged on the telephone cord and the phone fell from the desk and bounced off his head. He didn’t even look fazed by the impact. This was my dawning—a sort of an apple hitting Sir Isaac Newton in the head moment—that Max’s helmet was going to be a blessing for him.

I was correct. My mischievous Maxi was always falling and bumping his noggin. The day he rolled off the pew in front of me in Mass I was mortified that I let him get away from me, but I was also grateful that he had a helmet to protect his head. After Mass, I joked with the concerned older lady who witnessed Max fall: “My baby wears a helmet to protect him from his mother’s foolishness.”

Max just turned one-years-old.

Max just turned one-years-old.

More than once, I have marveled at how Max’s birth defect was an unsuspected blessing for our family. I have learned from this experience that it is just as natural and easy to love a child who has a birth defect as it is to love a healthy child. Whereas first his helmet seemed a curse, I came to see that it was God’s way of protecting our baby. 

(Postscript: Max just turned three-years-old. He wore his helmet for six months. Except for the long scar hidden beneath his dark, blonde hair no one would guess what he has endured. He’s a resilient and joyful child with a zest for life.)

©Copyright 2013, Lori Hadacek Chaplin. This story was excerpted from an article called Blessings in Disguise, published in Catholic Digest, May 2013. http://www.catholicdigest.com

 


Easy as pie

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While watching my 17-year-old daughter, Ella, deftly roll out pie crusts recently, I noticed that her hands look just like her grandmother’s. “You have my mother’s hands,” I told her. “That must be why you make such good pies!”

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My mom, Sharon Hadacek (1941-2011), was renowned for her baking skills. Ella spent many hours of her childhood in Grandma Sharon’s homey kitchen, standing at her elbow, watching her bake. When Ella turned 12, my mom actively began to pass on her expertise to her. She had given up on her own two daughters—who had arguably grown into decent cooks —but lacked the patience to fuss with baking.

Love in every bite

My mom had comedic disdain for processed food, and store-bought crust was at the top of her list of worst foods. She wondered why anyone would want to serve crust that resembled cardboard in taste and texture when it was so easy to make flavorful, flaky piecrust made not by machines but by loving hands.

Making food was my mother’s love language. She did not talk about love; I never recall her ever saying the words, “I love you” to me, but she was a very loving woman. She showed her family her love by baking goodies, simmering hearty soups, and cooking entrées, using the fresh fruits and vegetables she grew in her prolific garden.

Mom taught Ella not to be afraid of making piecrust—or any recipe for that matter. When it came to baking and cooking, Mom was fearless. She threw herself into the task and wasn’t worried about failure. She’d say matter-of-factly, “Even if it’s not perfect, it will get eaten!” And it always did. She taught Ella not to give up, because most cooking has a learning curve that, once mastered, is easily remembered.

One of the important bits of wisdom my mom conveyed to Ella was not to get too caught up in worrying that the pie wouldn’t look professional. People are more likely to prefer a pie that doesn’t look perfect, because it looks homemade—and any homemade dessert is superior. It’s also important to note that, as the crust bakes, many irregularities in shape will literally melt away.

Grandma’s Basic Pie Crust

Mom taught Ella that the key to making piecrust is that all of the ingredients—even the bowl and rolling pin—should be chilled. If everything is cold, the dough will be easier to handle.

1/2 cup of refrigerated, unsalted butter

1 cup of flour (chilled, in the freezer)

3-5 tablespoons of ice water

1/2 teaspoon of salt


Pulsate the butter and the flour in food processor until the butter forms pea-sized beads. Transfer to bowl and place in the freezer to cool. After approximately ten minutes, remove the mixture and add water, one tablespoon at time, until it is moistened and forms a rough ball. It is helpful to move dough that has already been moistened to the opposite side of the bowl. This prevents the dough from being over-worked.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 15 minutes for easier handling. This also gives the dough more time to develop the gluten that will hold it together. Divide dough into two balls and roll them out in a circular motion on a floured surface, flipping often to prevent sticking. Makes one 9-inch piecrust.

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Ella’s Sweet and Tangy Cherry-Cranberry Pie

This pie recipe, created by Ella, gives traditional cherry pie a new dimension with the addition of tangy cranberries and two kinds of cherries. If you prefer a not-too-sweet pie with a bit of zing, use the smallest amount of sugar called for.

1 can of red tart cherries in water

1 can of Bing cherries in syrup

1 cup of fresh or frozen cranberries

3/4 to 1 cup of sugar (depending on tartness preference)

2 1/2 tablespoons of cornstarch

2 unbaked 9-inch piecrusts

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Drain juice from cherries and combine with cranberries, sugar, and cornstarch. Roll out piecrust, flipping periodically to prevent sticking. Pour half of the mixture over rolled-out piecrust that has been placed in pie plate. Place top rolled-out crust over cherries and pinch top and bottom crust together. Score six small slits into the crust with a sharp knife so the crust doesn’t bubble up. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until golden brown. Makes one 9-inch pie.

©Copyright 2012, Lori Hadacek Chaplin with Ella Hadacek. Excerpted with permission from Catholic Digest’s November 2012 issue. http://www.catholicdigest.com/

Sometimes God’s Obvious

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It seems fitting to me that I launch a blog as All Hallows’ Eve and All Saints’ Day approach. I have always been drawn to praying for the dead, and after my mother’s death, I have felt compelled to pray for the dying. Other than getting a few thoughts out there, I think that this will be a good way to compile my body of writing.

Something unexpected happened when my mother was dying, which made me realize how much heaven and the souls in Purgatory want us to pray for the dying and the dead.

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Those last few days before Mom died, our family would take turns watching her through the night. Two nights before she died, my eldest daughter, Ella, said she would take the first turn. Since my mom had a good collection of religious books, I told Ella to go up and find something to read. She went upstairs and in the dark grabbed a random book.

When she got downstairs into the light, she looked at the title. Overwhelmed with emotion, she showed me that she had blindly chosen Venerable Mother Mary Potter Devotion’s for the Dyingthat title had been sitting on a bookshelf amongst at least 100 books. We felt the Lord’s presence in our home so keenly. Since then I have answered a call to pray daily for the dying and the souls in Purgatory.

 
 

What the Dying Can Teach Us

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Ria Munk On Her Deathbed-1

Ria Munk On Her Deathbed

I couldn’t bear to look at her—or to look away. I watched her, wondering how long she could suffer like this and still evade death. My 69-year-old mother was dying from breast cancer that had spread to her bones and major organs. Watching her on her deathbed, struggling for breath, I realized (and am still coming to understand) that her suffering had meaning.

My mom and I were very close. She was my best friend. Before I moved from Iowa to Idaho two years ago, we saw each other almost every day. After I left, we talked several times a week on the phone. Last July, the summer before she died, I went back to Iowa to care for her for a month. I saw that things were dire; she was a mere skeleton resting day and night on the couch. She had a lot of back pain, so I would rub her back before she fell asleep. Afterwards I would lie staring at the darkness into the wee hours, thinking about the numerous lumps protruding from her body. I was particularly disturbed by the growing golf ball-sized one on the back of her head. My heart ached for her, and I was consumed with worry.

Somehow, I still had hope that she would live—God might grant us a miracle. I felt optimistic that she would live through the year, so my family and I returned to our home in Idaho in August. We had plans to come back to Iowa for Christmas.

Facing reality

A month later, during one of our phone calls, I realized she would be leaving us sooner than I had expected. But I had no idea how much sooner. In the past, no matter what her health problems were, Mom had sounded deceptively strong on the phone. When I heard her sound normal, I could convince myself that everything was actually okay. But now I could hear the weakness of her body in her voice, and I could no longer deny reality. My four children and I flew home again.

On the morning we returned to Iowa, my two young children were sitting on my mom’s bed while the three of them had a good time doodling (Mom was an excellent artist). I was prepared to stay and take care of their grandma for months. Her frail body was attached to an oxygen machine, but she was in good spirits. Whenever she needed us, she would ring a bell. More than once, she talked about the possibility of getting better. She still had hope. I wouldn’t have believed she was only seven days away from her departure from this life to the eternal one.

A few days later, she allowed me to see her cancerous breast for the first time, because the hospice nurse requested that I learn how to dress her wound. Before then, Mom had never wanted me to see it. She was a private person, and she’d wanted to keep me from being sickened by the sight of what her breast had become in the end stages of cancer. When the nurse lifted her gown, I was not disgusted. Instead, my whole being wept at the sight of the gruesome wound that made her breast unrecognizable. I wept for the months my mother had suffered from such a wound without consolation from any of her family.

The clarity suffering brings

I knew she had cancer, but it wasn’t until the last week of her life that I truly understood the extent and the duration of her sufferings. Those days were the longest of my life. Mom’s condition deteriorated quickly, and I was caring for her as if she were an infant. She knew she was going to die, but she couldn’t accept it. She was afraid; I could see that she was suffering in mind and body.

Watching her misery was torture for all of her family. My father, my siblings, and my eldest daughter, Ella, and I would sit with her day and night. She was afraid to be alone, and we were afraid to leave her alone—lest she die alone. She was no longer drinking liquids and her breathing was labored. As if in a trance, I would hold my own breath, counting the number of seconds that she stopped breathing before she’d begin again. This helpless woman didn’t resemble the mother I used to know.

My mom had been an attractive woman, and both physically and emotionally strong. She rarely cried before she had cancer. I often marveled at her physical strength. She was robust up until a year and a half before she died. She did everything: she had a huge garden, cooked everything from scratch, and took care of the yard and home. And she still found time to help her children. She was renowned for her delicious homemade bread, and in the year before we moved to Idaho, I fondly recall her delivering fresh baked bread to me at 9:00 p.m. so that my kids could enjoy a bedtime snack. Only weeks before she died, my eldest brother found her trying to make him some lunch, slowly pushing her walker around the kitchen. She could barely take care of herself, but she was still trying to cook for him.

Watching her die made me contemplate my own death. It made me objectively take stock of my life; it allowed me to clearly put my life in perspective. I could see that nothing mattered as much as the people around me—that I had spent too much time worrying about trivial things and material affairs. It also reminded me that I needed to be praying daily for the dying. “[I]f you would do an act that would endear you to your Lord, pray for the dying, suffer for the dying, work for the dying! Today they need your prayers; tomorrow will be too late,” exclaims Venerable Mother Mary Potter (1847’1913) in her invaluable book called Devotion for the Dying.

I can hardly think of the dying without also recalling the souls in purgatory. I have always felt drawn to the devotion of praying for the suffering souls. Mom told me several times in her lifetime that she wanted her family and friends to pray for her when she died, and not to assume she was in heaven. “We must say many prayers for the souls of the faithful departed, for one must be so pure to enter heaven” (Saint John Vianney).

On the afternoon of her death, Mom’s eyes suddenly flew open around 3:00 p.m., the time when Christ died and thus the hour of Divine Mercy. I knew instantly, by their far-off, vacant look, that these were my last moments with her. I’m still haunted by those eyes. She looked as if she were seeing both all and nothing simultaneously. Within minutes, each of my four siblings, my eldest daughter, my father, and I were gathered around her bed, fervently praying the Rosary. We finished and started the Divine Mercy Chaplet when Mom took her last belabored breath. Dad, remembering an old Czech tradition passed down by his ancestors, opened the door to the outside to free her soul. The door slammed shut, and I released my mother’s hand. Never again would I touch it in this life. And I so much wanted to make sure I would deserve to hold it close in the next life.

The graces of God’s timing

At first glance, one may think that Sharon Hadacek’s prolonged agony was meaningless, but I can see now that if her life had been ended before God’s time, then we would have been denied God’s gifts—His graces. Before, there had been division amongst us. Our family had experienced growing pains with three marriages in two years’ time and 11 grandbabies in seven years.

Mom’s death resulted in fences—figurative and literal—being torn down. The morning after she died, my father removed the tall fence that had been erected to block access to a driveway that connected his property to my brother’s. That fence was symbolic of all that was wrong in our family. I wish that this could have happened without her illness and death, but I’m not sure that it would have. “At the hour of your death, you will see that you have saved more souls by your illness than by all the good works you might have accomplished in health” (Saint John Vianney).

Mom’s suffering and death served to call her spouse, her children and their spouses, and her grandchildren closer to the Lord and to each other. Her end of life was beautiful and holy to us—even in the midst of our grief. As C.S. Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

©Copyright 2012, Lori Hadacek Chaplin. This article first appeared in Celebrate Life Magazine http://www.clmagazine.org/article/index/id/MTEzMzU/

A Prayer for the Dying

Most merciful Jesus, Lover of souls, I pray Thee, by the agony of Thy most sacred heart and by the sorrows of Thine immaculate mother, to wash in Thy most precious blood the sinners of the world who are now in their agony and who will die today. Heart of Jesus, once in agony, have mercy on the dying. Amen.

Praying for the Dead: Duty and Privilege

After my mother died in October 2011 from cancer, I threw myself into cleaning her home. The last six months of her illness she hadn’t able to do any housework. As I cleaned in every corner, I contemplated the afterlife, wondering whether she was in heaven or purgatory and weighing her many virtues compared to her faults. Engrossed in organizing and dusting, I would unexpectedly happen upon books on purgatory, and each time I felt jarred — wondering if it was a coincidence or message.

My mom had a strong devotion to the holy souls and prayed for them often. Even before she became ill, she would tell us to make sure that the priest who buried her did not eulogize about her saintliness. She was brought up to believe that Catholics had a duty to pray for the dead, and not only was it our obligation; it was our privilege.

Dante and Beatrice by John William Waterhouse

Dante and Beatrice by John William Waterhouse

Straight-to-Heaven-for-All Illusion

Dutch psychologist Gerard van den Aardweg, author of Hungry Souls: Supernatural Visits, Messages and Warnings From Purgatory (Tan, 2009), thinks Catholics today have a general disinterest in the “Four Last Things” — death, judgment, heaven and hell. “We are children of our age of superficiality and lust of ease,” Van den Aardweg told me. “Many Catholics live on the surface of things and are not really waked up by their spiritual shepherds from their wishful dreams, such as ‘everyone goes straight to heaven.’ They have few moral qualms about whether their lifestyle is incompatible with the will of God and with their Catholic faith.”

Van den Aardweg added, “There’s a deceptive, arrogant mentality predominant in the Christian and Catholic world, which ‘loves an exclusively cheerful religion.’ As Blessed John Henry Newman already foresaw in the 19th century: Sin would come to be seen as merely a fault or human weakness, Christians would think God’s mercy condones everything, and ‘punishment’ and ‘penance’ would be considered medieval ideas.”

Modern Catholics, compared to my mom who grew up pre-Vatican II, may be less informed about the Church’s teaching on purgatory and the needs of the holy souls.

Susan Tassone, author of numerous books on purgatory, commented, “Purgatory hasn’t been promoted by a segment of the clergy, who, post-Vatican II, found it embarrassing. Purgatory and praying for the holy souls was not fashionable in some seminaries in the ’60s, ’70s and into the ’80s. Thankfully, the tide is turning.”

She continued, “Also, the catechetical materials used were insufficient. Therefore, young people were not properly instructed about the faith, the saints, sin, grace, heaven, hell and purgatory.”

Father Arnold Miller, priest at Our Lady of the Valley in Caldwell, Idaho, contributed this to the discussion: “I think that priests today avoid preaching on purgatory because afterwards people often write an email saying that they’re sure their deceased loved one is in heaven. All of us are weeds and wheat; when one dies whom we love, we can often see only the wheat.”

Paying Our Debts

The word “justice” appears in the Douay-Rheims Catholic Bible 371 times. This indicates that God, who values justice, will expect each of us to pay our debts after death if we haven’t paid for them fully on earth.

Colin Donovan, vice president for theology for EWTN, told me this about purgatory: “It is a place where debts that were within our power to have paid before getting to the Judge (at death), but which weren’t paid, are repaired. Christ paid the impossible debt — the eternal punishment due to repentant mortal sin — but to the extent that we are able, we must settle our lesser debts on the way to the Judge, Christ, or be imprisoned until they are paid. That is purgatory.”

In the chapter “Reproaches Which the Souls in Purgatory Make to People in the World” of her Treatise on Purgatory, St. Catherine of Genoa wrote, “You have all taken shelter beneath hope in God’s mercy, which is, you say, very great, but you see not that this great goodness of God will judge you for having gone against the will of so good a Lord. His goodness should constrain you to do all his will, not give you hope in ill-doing; for his justice cannot fail, but in one way or another must need be fully satisfied.”

The beauty in all of this is that the soul understands the need for perfection in order to be in the Lord’s presence. In Tassone’s latest book, Prayers, Promises and Devotions for the Holy Souls in Purgatory (OSV, 2012), she includes quotes from saints, popes and one from Anglican author and apologist C.S. Lewis that stands out. “‘Our souls demand purgatory, don’t they?” Lewis asks. “Would it not break the heart if God said to us, ‘It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here, and no one will upbraid you with these things nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy’? Should we not reply, ‘With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleaned first.’ ‘It may hurt, you know.’ — ‘Even so, sir.’”

Ultimate Act of Mercy

The souls in purgatory need our prayers and personal sacrifices because they can no longer gain merit for themselves. It is our duty as the living, the Church Militant, to pray for the Church Suffering, the souls in purgatory, so that their debts may be paid and they may join the Church Triumphant in heaven. “Our charity and gratitude not only demand that we pray for them, but our faith requires our prayers to help them reach their eternal reward. It’s also in our own personal interest, since one day we may expect others to help us in the same way,” Tassone said.

Van den Aardweg added, “They [souls in purgatory] afford the opportunity to practice a kind of charity that is very meritorious in God’s eyes.”

Praying, almsgiving, offering Masses and mortifications for the souls are the ultimate acts of charity because we are helping to deliver the powerless from unimaginable suffering. “They experience an intense physical burning. Most of this burning is caused by an excruciating craving for God, since the soul is deeply wounded by God’s love for him/her when it caught a glimpse of him at his personal judgment just after death,” said Van den Aardweg.

“The soul in purgatory, however, suffers peacefully, without a shadow of complaining, profoundly thankful for God’s mercy and full of hope. St. Francis of Sales thinks it even experiences ineffable joys which flow from its love of God. At the same time, its severe ‘physical’ and emotional pains continue unimaginably nevertheless.”

No Prayers Are Wasted

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Our prayer for them is capable of not only helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective” (958). Tassone added this: “They are concerned about our salvation; their prayers help us to recognize our faults, so we can understand the malice of sin. They have tremendous resolve in assisting us to become holy and go directly to heaven.”

Finally, if a loved one is already in heaven, our prayers are not wasted. “Attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas is the term ‘accidental glory,’ which means that no prayer is ever wasted with God,” Tassone said. “If the soul is in heaven, it receives an increase in its intimacy of God’s love and an increase in its own intercessory power.”

I pray for the repose of my mother’s soul every day — and for all of the holy souls, especially in November, the month dedicated to the holy souls. I feel like it is the last and most important deed a daughter can do for her mother.

© Copyright 2012, Lori Hadacek Chaplin. This article first appeared in the National Catholic Register : http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/praying-for-the-dead-duty-and-privilege/#ixzz2jApjShlL