Tom & Patty’s Story:
Our little family was thrown for a loop when our daughter at nineteen announced her decision to seriously discern religious life. Just as with most things for married couples even when having the same goals and beliefs, we settled into two different approaches to processing the news of our daughter’s desire to become a consecrated religious; and enter the convent.
While I received the news more as an announcement, Lauren’s mom had been made aware of her online search for communities to visit some time before. I tend to process problems or hurdles by putting a plan in place, executing the plan, and reaching a solution. This however was nothing like that; there was no plan, or obvious solution. I would say I did take a more rational and direct approach trying to figure out what this decision meant and how it would affect our family and me. In the end I came to the conclusion it was about acceptance, by this I mean, I needed to come to grasp with her decision on my own terms. My acceptance was and still is unconditional love and support of her decision.
Patty had a different approach, focusing on the blessings of Lauren’s decision and denying the personal sacrifices that it entailed. She does not recommend this approach, because as she found out, no one has the power to avoid grief, or the stages of the grieving process. This approach merely delayed and intensified the process of grieving and complicated her relationship with Lauren, especially during visits. In the future Patty is counting on God’s grace to recognize and accept sorrowful emotions as they occur.
Lauren had often expressed her desire to become a mother with plenty of children. The fact is, the dream of being grandparents ended with her decision, and continues to be a topic of emotion, grief, and discussion for the two of us. We are now attending the weddings of many of Lauren’s peers that has us confronting, and revisiting this topic. Her cousins, and friends are also now starting families, this asks both Sr. M. Gemma and us to trust in God’s plan. While not a biological mother, it is so beautiful to see Sr. M. Gemma become a spiritual mother to a classmate, fellow sister, or patient.
It’s not just in times of special occasion but the living of the everyday life that brings to the surface that your child is no longer present and accessible. So it’s important to understand and appreciate how this affects the other parent. For us, there are many different sensitivities that can take an emotional toll, and the support of the other spouse is essential. Sometimes it is as simple as one of us saying, “I miss Lauren,” and the other just listening. Extra hugs go a long way!
We also share in the absolute joy of our upcoming visits long before the actual day. Reuniting with our daughter is heavenly, and becomes a focal point of our calendar. We take the opportunity on our visits to include family traditions, favorite meals, outdoor games, and activities. It is important for each of us to maintain and grow our personal relationship with each other. We have incorporated spending one-on-one time into each visit, which has become a highlight for both Sr. M. Gemma and us.
Especially the first few years, saying goodbye after a visit was extremely hard. In some ways it feels like giving up your child all over again. We found it helpful to know that the next day or so can be difficult and to be gentle with yourself and your spouse. Maybe add something special to your day, or plan an easier day, if your schedule allows.
The fact that our daughter will never be home for major holidays is very difficult, with the first year certainly being the worst. For us, Christmas and the weeks surrounding it are the hardest because of all of the family functions coupled with the fact that even distant family members usually make it home for some portion of the holiday. We have found joy in keeping some of our old traditions while looking for new ones to add to the mix.
It is important to us that our son and Sr. M. Gemma maintain and grow their relationship since he also experiences separation as a result of her decision. We encourage them to take private time during our weekend, and home visits so they can just be siblings. We also have sacrificed some of our phone calls, or letters so she can share a special situation or event with just her brother.
The joy of getting mail, when we receive it, or when Sr. M. Gemma receives it on the other end is a reason to rejoice. Nothing lights up our day quite the way of opening the mailbox and finding a letter from Sr. M. Gemma. We always save it for when both of us can sit side by side and read it together. Since the earliest days, Sr. M. Gemma’s mom has been transposing her letters to be sent out via an email distribution list to family and friends. Sr. M. Gemma’s letter via email allows others a meaningful look inside her life. One of the greatest gifts to others through this process has been the comments about how her letters have aided them on their spiritual journey.
We have found that our growth in love and acceptance of Sr. M. Gemma’s life, her community and our integration, is partially the result of adopting some elements of the religious way of life. When our visit takes us to one of the convents we have had the opportunity to join the sisters in communal prayer (Liturgy of the Hours), mass and the sacraments. Sr. M. Gemma’s community highlights Feast Days as a special celebration, which we now recognize by sending personal cards. As an act of poverty the sisters make cards for family and friends instead of store bought. We have also adopted the practice of making cards for many of these special occasions. This has been a great activity in our home challenging our creativity. This is also an intimate connection that deepens our affection, and relationship to the card recipient.
So even though we started this journey with doubt and wounded hearts, through loving and supporting Lauren and her acceptance of God’s call, today we are more blessed than we could have ever imagined.