December is one month I begin on tiptoe. As an oblate, I’ve often thought there might be something I could learn here.
December is the month I birthed two children—one at the beginning of the month and one a couple days before Christmas. During these pregnancies, I thought about Mary’s pregnancy. I’d find myself with morning sickness and wonder if Mary had morning sickness, too. I received a gift of handmade booties from the monastery and hoped Mary received something from her friends, too. Each birth was different. I imagined Mary without drugs, a spinal, or anything else but one of the midwives saying, “Push.” And, when it was time, I pushed.
In December, Sam was a gift of the Incarnation. I literally fell into his life one summer, and that winter he gave me a whole tree of mistletoe and kissed me for the first time. What a delirious moment! I felt like 16 again. His birthday followed on the 28th, and we laughed when my attempt at souffle bombed.
The day after Christmas I was married to Bill, and life spilled out in colors of joy and expectation and hope and promise. Little did I know on my wedding day that some 25 years later with seven children, that blessed marriage would end in divorce on the same day.
Christmas Eve 2004, Bill long gone, Sam was with me when Jackie died.
Last year was the most beautiful Christmas ever in North Carolina. I fully expected something similar this year, but knowing we could never repeat the sacred moments we shared last year, I still looked forward to something special. Luckily, I beat the storm out of Nashville by just a few hours. I landed in Charlotte with great expectation only to be flattened on the tarmac.
My sweet, youngest and dearest brother died. Now, just Mary Jane and I were left…the oldest and youngest in a family of four siblings. How could that be that our brothers died before us?
As I think about Roger, I remember him as a six-year-old from the orphanage, singing “O Holy Night” in front of a bank in St. Cloud. His beautiful boy soprano voice always comes to me with snow. I was sure he was destined for the opera. Yes, he was used. He was the poster child for the orphanage when it came to fundraising. Then, his voice cracked when he was 12, and that was the end of it. He thought he was a failure and because those in charge didn’t have much training in those days, they let him believe it.
Roger, like me, found loving mothers through our Benedictine teachers. His favorite were Sisters Marcellinus and Myrtle. I have no idea what these women did for him, but he loved them. Sister Marcellinus told the kids they should get to know the saints. Roger was seven. He memorized all…I do mean ALL the saints and their feast days from Butler’s Lives of the Saints. He could spell the names of saints he couldn’t pronounce. I’m pretty sure he had a photographic memory, or how else could he do it except he wanted to please S. Marcellinus? I do remember her telling me what he had done and being blown away that a child that young could accomplish that kind of feat.
S. Myrtle had him a little older, but she allowed for his passion about sports, and when the other kids had to write a book report, she let him report on the sports page in the St. Cloud Times. I asked him many times to come and visit S. Myrtle, but his excuse was he had to do something to make her proud.
Roger was a kind, gentle soul. He was too young to really know Daddy when Daddy was killed by a drunk driver, but it kept him from ever drinking anything with alcohol. He was hurt by Vietnam and hurt by the orphanage as we all were…but, for him, it lingered well into adulthood. “Why did mother do that to us?” he would ask. I couldn’t answer because I didn’t know myself. So, we loved one another as brother and sister and talked almost every week. I am so glad we talked—just the day before he died.
Some things take a lot of learning. Benedict has been telling me for decades to “think daily about death.” Perhaps if I had taken that seriously I might have been better prepared.
Pat Pickett, OblSB
Photo: From Pat’s family photos: Five-year-old Patty with newborn Roger