Category Archives: Blessed Mother

Krakow: The Pope and the Holocaust; I Am Proudly & Humbly Connected to Both*

IT MAKES SENSE TO ME

By Larry Peterson

Mom died from leukemia way back in 1961. She had just turned 40 and, at the time, there were no cures, no chemo and no bone-marrow transplants. She was dead within six months of diagnosis.

We lived in the Bronx in a five floor walk-up. Grandma lived up on the fifth floor and we were down on the third.  Grandma gave up her apartment and moved in with us downstairs. I guess it was to help take care of the “little ones”; I was 15, Carolyn was 13, Danny was 11, Bobby was six and Johnny was two). But, it was not a good thing. Grandma hated dad because, for some bizarre reason, she decided he had killed her daughter and let him know it every chance she had.
I have no explanation for this nor will I ever. None of us do. Hey, we were kids, what did we know. Grandma’s grief was so intense that Dad could not handle it. It was just the way it was. Dad solved the problem by avoiding Grandma as much as possible. He just began hanging out in the local saloons which actually gave Grandma a real reason to yell at him.

On March 8, 1963, Grandma had a massive stroke. I saw her standing seemingly twisted in a body spasm and managed to drag her to the bed. I held her in my arms as she summoned the strength to say an Act of Contrition.  Looking me dead in the eye, she slowly slurred each word. Then we said an “Our Father” together. I was crying like a baby and so were my sister and brother, Danny. Dad was in the other room with Bobby and Johnny, waiting for the priest to show up. He was not crying.

When we finished praying she closed her eyes and became comatose. Father Quirk arrived and administered Last Rites. She died a few hours later in the hospital. That moment is etched forever in my brain’s “like it just happened” memory section.

What does Krakow and World Youth day have to do with all of that? Well, the first question that must be asked is, who was Grandma’s husband, our Grandpa? We were kids and had never asked. We never thought about it. That’s what kids do—take things for granted.

But then Mom was gone and Grandma was gone and Dad was drinking heavily. He died two years later. We had never gotten to the point of asking, “Hey, where is Grandpa?” Just like that it was too late. As adults we never found out—until four years ago. And now, with the Pope going to Krakow, Grandpa is in the forefront of my mind.  Krakow was Grandpa’s hometown.

Forced deportation from the Krakow ghetto, 1942   wikipediacommons
Our Mom had a brother, my namesake, Uncle Larry. He had been in the 8th Army Air-Force during World War II and his plane had been shot down on a bombing mission. He survived the war as a POW in the infamous Stalag 17. One time I asked him about his dad. He told me, “He died.” He never said another word.  That was that. Then we grew up, our folks were gone, and we lost contact as we began our own individual lives.

About four years ago I received a message on Facebook (kudos to Facebook) by none other than my long lost cousin, Vicki, Uncle Larry’s oldest. She had been on a “quest” and located me. Like dominoes perfectly colliding, my sister and brothers and cousins all reconnected. Now, to the point of this essay.

What follows may seem implausible but it is true and we have the documentation to confirm it. Vicki had been wondering about the missing Grandpa too. Her dad told her the same thing he had told me. Now he was gone. But she never stopped wondering and began a journey into the world of genealogy.  Lo and behold, she unraveled the mystery of the missing Grandpa.

Our grandma was an immigrant from Austria. A devout Catholic who never missed Mass, she married a man by the name of Isidore Schul. This was our grandfather. He was a Hebrew man from Krakow. Our maternal grandfather was Jewish. Shocker of shockers, the immigration papers and naturalization papers all confirm this. He made it to America in 1907.

We cannot understa
nd how these two unlikely people connected, got married and had two children, one of them our own mother. But it was so and that mystery will never be unraveled. We dubbed our long, lost, mysterious grandfather, Grandpa Irv. He and grandma split up when Mom and Uncle Larry were young children. Grandpa Irv died in the Bronx in 1965. We will never know more than I revealed here.

But here is the thing. Cradle Catholics, we are also 25% Jewish. Grandpa Irv was the only one of his family to get to America. His parent’s names were Simon and Regina Schul. Simon and Regina are our great-grandparents. We do not know if they died in the Holocaust or before it began but apparently, from what Vicki discovered, Grandpa Irv’s siblings did. Probably in Ravensbruck but it might have been Auschwitz.

For me, personally, I am humbled by this connection. Jesus, the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, their  relatives, St. Ann, St. Joachim, and the apostles etc. were all Jewish. They were also the first Catholics. And today, as I write this, Pope Francis is in Krakow, Grandpa Irv’s hometown. I feel connected to it all and the Holocaust has a whole new meaning for me. It is all part of my heritage. My “own people” were killed there.  SHALOM

*This article also appeared in Aleteia. org on July 28,2016

                                     ©Larry Peterson 2016 All Rights Reserved

I LOVE Christmas—No Matter What

IT MAKES SENSE TO ME

By Larry Peterson
Turkey Day is over and  now the 2015 Christmas odyssey is underway. My personal pilgrimage began  Sunday at 5 AM, as I prepared my wife’s medications for the week. There are fourteen different pills she takes at different times during the day for varied reasons and I do this every week. So, I pour a cup of coffee and spread the pill bottles in a row in front of my still-squinty eyes. I have a pill box with four rows of sevens so I can prepare meds for the entire week. The morning row gets five pills in each box, the noon row gets four, etc. When I am finished there are 112 pills sorted out for the week. I am proud of my system…most of the time.
I finish placing the the last pills in place and reach over to get the coffee. Ah yes, life is always an adventure. That’s right;  I knocked over the coffee.  As I did, I leaned onto the bottom of the pill box and it flipped, ever so gracefully, end over end into the air spraying its newly received contents everywhere. Okay–you get the picture. Pills on the floor, pills on the table floating in coffee (too bad they were not donuts) and me staring, mouth hung open, in disbelief.

 Fortunately, God has blessed me with a self-deprecating sense of humor. I took a breath and began to laugh. Then I created some dialogue for the moment. I raised my hands, looked out across my random pill and coffee display, and announced to no one, “You are such an idiot!” Then I laughed some more and began Round Two of the weekly pill dissemination. That time I succeeded.

No matter, Christmas is my favorite time of the year. I love the ‘reason for the season’ which is the Baby Jesus. I love the awe in the faces of so many children and the extra smiles that come from the wonder and mystery surrounding Santa’s impending visit. I love the cookies and candy and cake and even some of the anxiety and pressure and insanity that mixes in as we move forward. I even love eggnog, fruitcake and pfeffernuesse. I am a hopeless Chrismatist
More than anything, I love thinking about the Holy Family. Have you ever really thought about the Blessed Mother when she was  a young girl about 14 or 15 years old?   She was almost full-term in her pregnancy and was forced  to travel on the back of a donkey for over 80 miles to fulfill the census law. We have  to marvel at  her husband, Joseph,  who must have just loved her so much that he was willing to accept her Baby as his own. He led her and the unborn Child on this journey, protected them with his life and made sure that the Savior of all mankind lived to complete His mission. This was, after all, a very different time culturally. Mary’s alternative could have been death by stoning. Thank you, St. Joseph. Thank you, Mother Mary. Thank you, Jesus.
I will finish this up by telling you I made it to eight o’clock Mass with the wife at my side. What better way to continue the day, especially after the pill and coffee fiasco.  Yes, the Season of Advent is upon us. I have no idea how the rest of this day or the days following will play out. No matter what, it will be OK.  We are on our way to Christmas. For all of you willing to embrace the season, it is a beautiful, wondrous time for family, friends, love, joy and miracles.

In closing, as we continue on this unpredictable and happy odyssey into  Christmas wonderment, I would like to wish you all a beautiful, blessed,  healthy and joy-filled Christmas.  (If I don’t electrocute myself putting up my Christmas lights you may hear from me again before Christmas arrives.) 

“Celebrate the feast of Christmas every day, even every moment in the interior temple of your spirit, remaining like a baby in the bosom of the heavenly Father, where you will be reborn each moment in the Divine Word, Jesus Christ.” 
St. Paul of the Cross   (Catholicquotes.org)
                     ©LarryPeterson 2015                                    Photo courtesy  davidthig.org.uk

Celebrating Our First Alzheimer's Christmas Together; Laughter Allowed

IT  MAKES SENSE TO ME

by Larry Peterson

I guess the first time I realized that something was really wrong was about a year and a half ago. I have a bedroom I turned into an office and I was sitting at the keyboard clicking away. I sensed someone behind me and turned to see my wife, Marty, standing there. She had a strange look on her face. I remember the moment because fear was etched across her face. “Hey,” I said. “What’s the matter?”

Then I noticed she was trembling. I stood up and went over to her and put my hands on her shoulders.  She stammered and sort of whispered, “I don’t know. I think I need your help.”

“Okay, what is it?”

Marty turned and headed down the hall past the living room and into the kitchen. I followed and noticed that she had her “cookie” stuff out. As she had done so many times in the past,  she was about to  make the best, old fashioned, home-made, chocolate-chip cookies I have ever had. Like a child, I said, “Oh, awesome, you’re making cookies. So, how can I help?”

“She sighed and shook her head, She began to cry and, looking at me, said, ” What is all this? I don’t know what it is for?”

The woman who had made thousands upon thousands of these cookies over the years had no memory of previously doing what she had done so many times before. She had placed the needed supplies on the counter and went to use the bathroom. When she returned a few minutes later what had been virtually second nature to her had been erased from her mind. It was all gone. She had come back to me for help because she KNEW something was terribly wrong inside her head and this time the sudden, specific memory loss was scaring the hell out of her. She sobbed, “What is happening to me?”

She had been sick with Lymphoma since 2011. She had endured numerous cycles of chemotherapy to fight the disease. Anesthesia required because of surgery in August (needed to repair a broken ankle) and an attack of A-Fib (Atrial Fibrillation) in September exacerbated the cognitive dysfunction. She was officially diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s Disease *on September 28. And now we are approaching our first Christmas together with  Alzheimer’s as our unwanted Christmas guest. Guess what—it is OK. He will not ruin our Christmas. He is welcome to join us. That is because we have started to laugh again, more and more. And we are laughing at the insanity of living in Alzheimerville. And trust me, it can get quite wacky.

I have always had a bit of a “flip attitude”. It probably has helped me get through some tough times. So when Marty goes to the cardiologist and goes to sign in and cannot remember her name she looks at me for help. I smile and say, “Who cares Lucy, they know who you are. Just put down Lucille Ball.”  She starts to laugh and I laugh and I write her name down for her. Not an issue.

The past ten years of her life seem to have literally vanished from her brain. She does not remember us getting married. (We were both widowed and married eight years ago. She has no clue.) So she asks me if we are really married. I show her our marriage license and pictures from our wedding. She is shocked. “I can’t believe it, ” she says. We really ARE married.” Now, every night I say to her, “Okay, we can sleep together tonight. Its not a sin.”  She always laughs at that.

There are so many little, extraordinary things that happen every day. Being asked the same question over and over can become unnerving. I have turned it around where I start by giving her the answer.  For example, she asks me ten times a day, “How do you feel today?”  After  a few times I answer, “Today I feel like seeing you and that makes my day shiny.”  It is a ridiculous answer but she likes it  and I like it too.

I cannot count the things that have been moved to the strangest places. I have found the Parmesan cheese in the towel closet,  unwashed clothes in the dryer. She makes coffee and tells me it is the worst coffee she ever had and I should let her make it. She has hair curlers that keep vanishing. I have found them in the garage, in the refrigerator and under the kitchen sink. We had been searching for them and when I found them in the refrigerator I said loudly, “Here they are.”

She was standing nearby and turned to see me lifting the bag from next to the milk. I quickly asked, “Can  I use these for curly fries?”  I began to laugh and she shook her head and smiled. I gave her a hug opened the freezer door and tossed the curlers in. “They are not frozen enough,” I said.  She began to laugh and so did I and, although shrouded in a dark moment, we laughed our way into the brightness of a new moment.

 Marty has been captured and imprisoned by the most insidious of diseases. It is like a computer virus slowly deleting what is in memory. So far the last ten years are gone. That cursor is still clicking, delete, delete, delete.. The day will come when she will not even know who I am. I will do my best to keep her laughing and smiling as long as I can and as long as she understands why we laugh.

As for me, I must admit, this entire situation has been wearing me down. There is a lot to do as a caregiver. I traveled a similar road with my first wife, Loretta, who died 12 years ago from cancer. She was sick a longtime but she never lost brain function. That is a very difficult thing to deal with 24/7. But you do what you have to do.  If a man and a woman love each other that is the way it should be, HAPPY to be there for each other, “no matter what”. We both took vows before God and man to that effect and, for me, they remain in full force until death.

Our biggest friend in all of this is our Catholic faith. It is there for us through the Holy Mass, through Our Lord Jesus, through Our Blessed Mother and through the examples and intercessions of so many great saints and reinforced every day by prayers from our family and friends.  In fact, I did attend Mass this morning and I had a bit of an ‘epiphany’. I was feeling a bit sorry for myself when I realized I had been given a Christmas gift from God Himself. (If you think I am crazy, I don’t care).

This gift is my ill wife afflicted with a disease that is unstoppable and incurable. She is foremost, God’s child, and now she needs someone to take care of her just as she did years ago when she was a child.  We met at church and were married in church. An unlikely couple, I know that God brought us together. Maybe this is why. Because during the Christmas season of 2014 I realized that besides a wife, HE has given me one of HIS children to care for. I will do my best to make Him proud. I will also do my best to keep us laughing. It is all GOOD.

MERRY CHRISTMAS
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* In case you do not know this, Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia are NOT the same thing. Alzheimer’s is the number one cause of Dementia but there are over 150 different causes.                 &n
bsp;                                                     copyright Larry Peterson 2014