Thursday, June 17, 2010
Sickness, Confirmation, and My Mother's "Miracle Baby" Story
I called one of my brothers in BC last week for my nephew's (who is also my godson's) confirmation party. I know some people assume Italian=Catholic=Confirmation and only focus on the external celebration of gifts and parties. That is not how I grew up, thanks to my mother that had a spiritual "awakening" when I was seven (that is a little later in the story.) and thanks to Fr.Joe. Myself: I love my Italian heritage and background and all it stands for, but that is not why I go to church. I learnt early on you can have all the fashion or money in the world, but it won't save you. I saw a cool facebook "like" that said "going to church doesn't make you a christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car." HA.
Anyhow, being so far away and etc.etc.etc, we were not able to fly down for a visit to surprise my family, like usual. Instead, I thought about what the role of godparents really is, how much I had prayed for him over the years, and what I wanted to share with my godson about Confirmation. Even though the end of Grade seven means graduation from elementary school and entering the young adult world of high school, it is also entering the young adult world in terms of your own faith and responsibility. Faith is not something you keep on the dustiest shelf of your closet, only opening it to look at when you are sitting in church. It is not hiding behind your parents' "religion", but it is about your relationship with Jesus and the strength of your church family around you and all over the world with every believer in heaven and on earth. I wrote him a long email letter that included how essential faith and going to church is to me and why, especially when you are a young adult.
Anyhow, I had to fit that in, but back to the main story. When I called my brother to say hi, the first thing I heard on the other end was, "Oh my gosh, you're sick again??!!" As I had just had this all on New Year's Day. Anyone that really knows me, knows that when I get the flu (and all the glory that it brings) I get really sick and I am not back to normal for sometimes a month or two. I remember when we were in BC and I worked at VanFire in the office, I was actually sick 3 times in one year.
I was born two months premature at only 3 lbs 5 oz. and had to stay in the hospital for a while till I was allowed to come home for good. I was baptized in the hospital by a priest who is now a bishop (cool) when I was only two days old because they didn't think I was going to make it and he actually named me Maria in honor of Mary's feast day; Dec. 6th. As far back as I can remember, I have always had some kind of health issue to deal with. Being sick from day one and not remembering most of your childhood is just not fun. I was told that I even missed most of Kindergarden, Grade 1 and Grade 2 due to always being sick. My usual sore throat always turns into tonsylitis then laryingitis, my fever gets really high when the flu hits, and only after the fact does it all turn into a cold which turns into bronchitis or worse, plus ear infections. I have always had asthma and allergies to throw into the mix, but some years are pretty good.
All in all, my life could have turned out very different. I could have died at birth, I could have more severe health problems, I could have had mental retardation, I could have lost some organs. I never realized it fully until one detailed science class in high school when I learnt all the things that I should have suffered from and didn't. I finally got why celebrating my birthday was always so super super super special to my mom. You see, it is all explained whenever my mother tells her "Miracle Baby" story to every single person she meets. Ok, not every person...And I will tell it to you now; just because.
After my parents having three boys (the youngest being ten and the oldest being fifteen), I was not really a thought at all? My parents loved their boys like crazy of course, but my mom said she would always have this urge to knit or make something for a girl. Anyhow, life went on like usual in the year 1976. My mom was taking ulcer pills, allergy pills, anti-malaria pills and some shots as they were all set to go to Italy and this was after the huge terrible earthquake that had happened there. Little did she know that what she thought was an ulcer was ME as she didn't know she was even pregnant!!!! She remembers the doctor all of sudden yelling at her for taking all this medication and saying "do you want to kill your baby??!!!"
My mom went home and cried and cried and cried her eyes out. She had always liked going to church and praying, but at this point, she liked the finer things in life a whole lot more. Early on in their marriage, she enjoyed the best things that money could buy: diamonds, gold, trips, clothes, fur coats, endless parties, but nothing could save her now. The only thing she knew to do was to beg God to save her baby. She prayed her heart out for God to just spare me because I was innocent and she didn't know. Somehow, they all made it to Italy (that one last time) and I am even in the family photo they took there! (OK; fine, I am in the womb there only, but I made it to Italy too! and you can see a teeny bump if you look real hard.)
My mom was never sick a day in her life up to that point, but not too long after she gave birth to me she developed rheumatoid arthritis and was bedridden. In those days, they didn't know much about certain things and the doctor just told my mother that you have a crippling disease for the rest of your life. I remember that not only was I always sick, but my mother was too and I remember her always laying on the couch, drugged up but always needing to know where I was and if I was ok. (I guess some things never change; heh.) She couldn't even pick me up alot or play with me or even walk me to school. We had such awesome people in the neighbourhood who babysat me, and my dad and brothers (who were all between ten and fifteen at the time) did most of the caring for me as I grew up. She was on lots of heavy medication then and she lost little chunks of her memory. The big stiff and huge puffy fingers and joints were always normal to me, like they are now.
Back to the when I was seven part...I was always in and out of emergency and missed most of school. I don't know how I never failed a grade and graduated actually. Whenever I got even a slight cold, I became very sick and my mom jokes that firemen and ambulances were my best friends, who came to the rescue many times with the oxygen tanks and other. I remember my dad driving me home from the hospital and taking me to McDonald's. On the surface, I don't think I was scared; I just remember feeling special that I got to wear a breathing mask every time I went to the hospital. Wierd stuff you remember as a kid. And still to this day, I think all that stuff is cool; my husband has to tell me not to play with stuff whenever we are in a hospital room.
Anyhow, thanks to a big conversion from God for my mother, I was dragged to every spiritual thing, parish mission, prayer meeting, and conference known to man. Although I was a natural, as I got older I resented it. But, at that age, when prayers and books and church stuff and stories of the saints were my life, God had his hand on us. My mother threw her medications down the sink drain (she would not advise anyone to do this though) that were turning her into a zombie and that didn't help the progression of the disease. She didn't need painkillers for her joints, and she had a new life and new reason for living. God became real to her as her eyes were opened, and her faith and church life helped her and us through many tough times through the years.
Even though our home life was far from perfect, I shudder to think how it would have been if God hadn't stepped in. Although she struggles on a daily basis with her type of arthritis and its complications, she is always encouraging to others, cheerful, sympathetic, and my own personal counsellor. Just the way she is and her faith shames me sometimes. Her trust in God never wavers and she is an inspiration to our family. I don't know how she could have gotten through the last 6 months without that, because I have never seen it quite so obvious in anyone else. The rhematologist she saw recently even started doing a case study on her as he joked and laughed that he never saw anyone all messed up and barely able to walk straight, but who had no pain and was funny.
And me? All of a sudden I got better and healthier with no explanation from the medical profession and never missed that much school again. I can walk and talk and breathe and for that I have to be thankful. Yes, my immune system is not the best (not finishing off my formative months in the womb), and I still struggle with being sick alot, but there are many miracles in our lives, small and big, and only things that God can explain.
Many times when I was sick, my mom would take me to see her very good, very strong prayer friend. I only know that I would be on asthma inhallers, antibiotics, cough syrups etc. that never seemed to do anything for me. A few minutes of this wonderful spiritual lady putting her hands on my head and chest and Jesus came to the rescue. Just like that, I would walk out of her house completely different. That's the power of God in sickness and in health. Maybe it keeps me close to him whenever I am tempted with pride that I am fine on my own? Whatever his plan is, I am grateful. I have to be. There is no other way.