A contemplative monastic nun writing about spirituality, family, relationships, memories, art and craft,
books and more...all from the Boomer Generation perspective and experience.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Christmas Letter 2014

Blessed Christmas Season and Happy New Year to ALL

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Dear Ones,

This is sent with the hope that you and your families and communities are enjoying these special days; that they have enriched your relationships, extended your love and made memories for a lifetime. As I begin to write and look back on this year I am amazed at the amount and variety of events that have transpired; all the challenges, all the joys, all the new experiences (some that I would not trade at all and others that I could have easily done without). Where does the time go and how does life get so complicated?

Late in 2013 we welcomed Matilda Anne Pleva, daughter of Teresa and Andrew, into the world. She appears above back in October with her adoring cousin Nicholas, son of Kim and Jonathan, and now almost 11 years old. Here he is in another picture with his brother Benjamin who just celebrated his 8th birthday. Jonathan and family moved from Waterbury, CT to Chelmsford, MA to which he was transferred as a Boy Scout Council Executive. Theirs is a very busy family.
Now little Matilda has a new cousin who arrived on November 1, 2014, Harrison Cooper Pleva, son of Heidi and Matthew. He is just adorable and I can’t wait to get my hands on him again. Heidi and Matthew also juggle a great deal in their lives with regular jobs and their shop “Art Riot” on John Street in Kingston. Matt’s tour de force this year was painting an outdoor mural (35 x 65ft.) depicting historic Kingston and the Old Dutch Church. Hard on the heels of Harrison’s birth came the installation of another holiday window designed by Matt for the Blue Cashew shop in Rhinebeck.
Teresa and Andrew are about to close on purchase of a house whose history will be a blessing to them. In a few weeks they will moved into 41 Lafayette Avenue, Kingston just 2 blocks from the house in which Andrew grew up and where Matthew and family live now. Everyone really wanted to be near each other and create family for the children. The 1920s vintage house belonged for over 50 years to a couple who were pillars of the church and most generous souls so a loving spirit will surround them there. The house which was very well maintained has an extra bedroom and full bath on the first floor, a wrap-around porch, three 2nd floor bedrooms and a walk-up attic with some finished space and built-in cedar closet. The new life and new homes are answers to prayer and a call to gratitude at the end of this year.
There were challenges too during which the appeal to God was for the gifts of wisdom and compassion. In May my mother who was being treated for pneumonia fell during the night in her assisted living bedroom. She got a bad gash on her head and lay in a pool of blood for a long time. Nothing was broken but she required hospitalization for a week and then nursing home placement to recoup from the fall and the pneumonia. So I searched for a better choice than the 3 other nursing homes she has spent time in during the last 2 years. We settled on Putnam Ridge in Brewster, NY about a 35 minute drive from me and an hour less in travel time then to Tuxedo for my sister living in Connecticut. Rose was still heavily involved in the task of selling my parents’ house. That was accomplished in July.
When my mother went to the nursing home she just wanted to be left alone to sleep and had to be fed at meals. We assured the staff that she was walking independently the day before her fall and would come back to life. By the middle of July she had indeed become herself but all agreed she could no longer live safely in assisted living. So Putnam Ridge has become her permanent home.
No sooner was the decision made than we learned that her brother, my Uncle Joseph Milazzo age 82, had collapsed in a laundromat in Margate, FL near his home. I flew down on July, 26. His condition was very poor and it was clear that he could not live alone any longer. I worked furiously to get necessary legal documents created, organize his papers, put his condo into some order, dispose of a great deal and supervise his care as he went from hospital to nursing home, back to hospital and then back to nursing home in the space of 2 weeks. Since he was too ill to travel on a commercial plane and I was unable to stay in Florida permanently, we decided to fly him to NY via private air ambulance jet and place him in the nursing home with my mother. They enjoyed a loving reunion in mid-August. But his condition continued to deteriorate. Although we knew his condition was poor we were surprised by his sudden death on October 3rd. He now rests in St. John’s Cemetery in Queens where his mother was buried in 1932 when he was just 3 months old. My uncle worked hard all of his life as a master carpet mechanic. He never married; he lived well but not extravagantly. He played the market and later settled into reliable investments. As generous as he was in life he could be as generous in death. At this time both my sister and I are dealing with all the responsibilities which follow upon the deaths of both my uncle my father. We have learned a great deal; everything is very complicated even with the aid of lawyers and accountants.
My mother is being well taken care of but the sight of her in the Memory Wing of the nursing home among patients with similar dementia symptoms and many others so much farther along the way in their gradual total departure from reality is often difficult to bare. I remind myself that her manner indicates that she is nothing but content and feeling safe. She walks with a walker but is getting even slower. She does not remember that her brother was there and she rarely asks about my father. We worry only about falls and pneumonia.
For years I have not traveled too much with exception of trip to Ireland in 2011. This year brought trips to Sioux Falls, SD in January to transfer our sewing business to another community; to Indianapolis, IN for an Association of Contemplative Sisters leadership meeting; to Florida during the summer; and to St. Louis in September for ACS national meeting. While these were all lovely experiences I find air travel very uncomfortable and arduous.
A month before the trip to Florida I had hip surgery to correct some unanticipated problems after hip replacement in 2010 – residual pain from a muscle rubbing against the artificial hip joint and also a bone spur beneath it. Surgery at NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases was a great experience – just a 2 day stay.
Our community continues to live the blessing of sharing a monastery with the Carmelite nuns. In May we moved our three sisters from assisted living in Mt. Vernon, NY to the infirmary (Lourdes Health Care) of the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Wilton CT. Sr. Mary had begun to experience seriously declining health. We supported her through a number of hospitalizations both before and after the move to Wilton. Our much beloved sister passed into the arms of God on December 9. So at this writing, as we decorate for Christmas, we are still processing the loss of our sister. In February, we had supported the Carmelites in their loss of Sr. Michael Ann, a very dear and wise person who was the first prioress of the union of three Carmelite communities which came together here in 1998.

Each day I seem to be playing catch up with the list of things to do; paper work and phone calls for family matters, secretarial work for the community, household chores, managing our various sites on the internet (see links below), writing for blogs and other publications, knitting for our on-line shop and for the new babies in my life. But distractions abound and other things come along to take precedence. I try to visit my mother once a week. When I can I find time to do the writing I am drawn to – opinion or memoire pieces that I publish to my blog, an essay for our Order’s international publication, and lately meaningful obituaries.
So often I find myself moving into default mode and thinking I should call Dad and Mom about some article I have seen that would interest them; share a story about the new ones in the family; tell them about something wonderful I found among my uncle’s things; ask for a recipe or practical advice; or seek philosophical discussion of the fate of our world. Then I face the fact that none of this is possible any longer. I have passed into the mode of being the one who receives those calls from my own children who want to share an achievement, recount the vagaries of the home buying experience these days, tell of a child’s new stage of development, or ask about advisable treatment for childhood illness. All very gratifying, but also reminding of years passing all too quickly. Another reminder came in the death of my father’s best friend, Vito Capuco of Annapolis, MD in September. They met at City College in 1948. As I moved among his dear family and their many friends at wake and funeral the memories came in almost overwhelming waves.
I look forward to the year 2015 which will include some travel, time to do some things pushed aside for too long. It will include celebration of our Sr. Lydia’s 50th jubilee of vows; Jonathan running in the Boston Marathon in a fundraising effort on behalf of a charity which emerged from the Newtown tragedy; Teresa and Andrew moving into their new home.
Have been praying for all of you throughout  the Advent Season, our Christmas Novena and these days of the solemn feast of the Incarnation. I am drawn particularly to the needs of long married couples experiencing the challenges of ageing, the suffering of refugees and those enduring violence of any kind, as well as the fate of our planet.
Thank you for the gift you are to me and for the continuing relationship which is only blessing. Best wishes to you and yours for the coming year. Stay in touch. It means so much.

May God bless us all.    
With the assurance of prayers and with much love,

Community Website and Blog
Community Facebook Page:
Monastery On-Line Shop:
Shop Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/RedNunsRoberie

Friday, December 19, 2014

Well Done Good and Faithful Servant

Obituary Tribute to
Sister Mary McCaffrey

1927 - 2014

“I have found heaven on earth, since heaven
 is God, and God is in my soul. My mission
 in heaven will be to draw souls, helping
them to go out of themselves to cling to God.”
Elizabeth of the Trinity, OCD

Sister Mary Teresa McCaffrey of the Redemptoristine community residing in the Monastery of the Incarnation, Beacon, NY, died on December 9, 2014 at Lourdes Health Care Center,  infirmary of the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Wilton, CT at the age of 87 years following a lengthy illness. Sister Mary was the first of four children born to Teresa Alice Taylor and Daniel Joseph McCaffrey on October 6, 1927 in Brooklyn, NY. She is survived by her brothers Daniel and Gerard (Barbara) and a sister Kathleen (John Janny), twelve nieces and nephews, their fifteen children and eight nuns who shared vowed life with her in the Order of the Most Holy Redeemer.

Sister Mary first entered religious life in 1947 in the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood, Long Island. After professing vows in 1949 as Sr. Teresa Miriam she was placed in charge of large classes of little boys in the parish schools of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and St. Mary, Mother of Jesus in Brooklyn.  During 12 years with the Josephites she obtained a BA degree from St. John’s University.
Responding to a call within a call, she entered the contemplative monastic order of the Redemptoristine Nuns, located in Esopus, NY, in 1959. In humble obedience and with great courage she became a novice for the second time joining a young community creating a new monastic foundation on the grounds of Mt. St. Alphonsus Redemptorist Major Seminary.  There she professed Solemn Vows in 1961 as Sr. Mary Teresa of the Holy Family.
By middle age Sr. Mary was enduring ever increasing physical infirmity. Yet she remained faithful in devotion to God, her contemplative vocation and personal devotion to the Holy Eucharist. Always available to her community, she served as Council Secretary for numerous terms, presided over the monastery library and gave willing ear and wise guidance to many new members. The lay associates of the monastery also benefitted from her direction. On behalf of many friends and benefactors she exercised the apostolate of the pen in generous correspondence. Sr. Mary rejoiced in her experience of over 70 years association with the Redemptorist Congregation; as a child in their parish, a teacher in their schools, and as neighbor to their seminary in Esopus. She influenced many young boys considering the priesthood and later became friend, confidant, informal spiritual director or prayer partner to many Redemptorist priests and brothers. Throughout her life she was a golden thread woven into the fabric of her family where she remained a source of unity and wisdom and a model of faith and prayer. 
Funeral arrangements are under the direction of the Halvey Funeral Home  (www.halveyfh.com). The community will receive visitors at the Monastery of the Incarnation, 89 Hiddenbrooke Drive, Beacon NY on Monday, December 15 from 2 to 4 pm and from 7 to 8:30pm. A Vigil Service will begin at 7:30pm. Mass of the Resurrection will be offered on Tuesday, December 16 at 11:00am in the Monastery chapel. Burial will be at Mt. St. Alphonsus Cemetery (grounds of The Mount Academy) Route 9W, Esopus, NY at 2:30pm. In lieu of flowers it is suggested that donations be made to Lourdes Health Care Center, 345 Belden Hill Rd., Wilton, CT 06897 in support of their compassionate care for senior sisters.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Make Friends with a Cane

"Please, do make friends with a cane."
Around the age of 55 my knees began to give me trouble. That did not fly with my profession as librarian and teacher in middle school. Two arthroscopic knee surgeries (roto-rooter jobs cleaning out debris cause by osteoarthritis) bought me a bit more time. In the process I made friends with a cane. By the age of 61 the friendship served me well while recuperating from double knee replacement surgery. I am happy for this friendship, especially when I see disasters waiting to happen all around me.
On November 2 and 3 the New York Times ran two articles on fall risk for the elderly: "Bracing for the Falls of an Aging Nation" and "A Tiny Stumble, a Life Upended" both by Katie Hafner". These are worth reading and sharing with older friends and family. Denial reigns. The statistical risks are frightening; the complications from falls are innumerable. Yet, as the articles report, safety measures like life alert pendants, canes and walkers are resisted, often to disastrous end. When my mother, already in dementia, was 88 I told her she really needed to use a cane. Her response, "Oh no, I don't want to look like an old lady." I told her, "You already are an old lady!" When walking aides are introduced after dementia sets in it is difficult to master the habit of using them. Not habituated to reaching for her walker, my mother rose one night in assisted living to use the bathroom. Just standing beside her bed she lost her balance, fell and gashed her head on the bedside table. She lay on the floor  for hours bleeding profusely. Although no bone was broken and the gash required only 6 stitches she remained in the hospital for 5 days, required time in a nursing home and is now a permanent resident there. There is something to be said for getting used to using a cane or walker while you can still master the process.
This message may seem a bit premature for me and my peers but not so. We may not need one all the time but can certainly use the assistance of a cane when conditions are treacherous - hiking in the woods, long tourist walks in unknown territory, icy conditions.
It pays to have one handy, have it sized correctly and know how to use it properly. At the age of 64 a tall healthy male friend of mine slipped on ice outdoors. He was not found for half an hour. He had dislocated his shoulder, damaged his knee and done terrible nerve damage. Two surgeries later after nine months in a nursing facility, living on narcotic painkillers and completely separated from his normal life of independent travel and teaching all over the world he is finally getting his life back. But his body will never be the same.
So pick out something useful but elegant. Keep it handy. Don't be too afraid or too proud, or like my mother too vain to use it. And know that people are very nice to those using a cane. This is especially true while traveling by air which has become an almost intolerably uncomfortable process. Ultimately it can be your best friend.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

All Souls' Day Reflection

A Gift of Presence
for the Digital Age
Reflection presented at
All Soul's Day Prayer Service Concert
St. Joseph's Church, Kingston, NY

We have so much in common today. We have all come to remember and celebrate those who have gone before us. Although we come in different stages of grief, with different flavors of remembering, our interior questions are probably quite similar. “How can I handle this? Where do I go from here?” The fortunate among us may have had a wise soul or a spiritual guide offering a willing ear. These treasures, like my spiritual director, share our sorrow and tears. They remind us that Jesus who wept at the death of his friend Lazarus is a companion in our sadness and grief. But then my spiritual director, as all good directors should do, asked the big questions. “And what is God saying to you in all of this? What opportunity is God asking you to find in your grief?”
          Bereavement is an experience of the loss of a presence in our lives; a presence that may have been influential, someone involved in our lives, available and responsive. However, it is also possible that we are grieving not only the loss of a person but also regretting the opportunities we missed to enhance our relationship with that person while still alive.
          Since we experience so keenly now the absence of a presence in our lives; since we may regret lost opportunities to be present, to be in meaningful relationship with the one who is gone; could it be that our loving God is inviting us to a new awareness of the quality of our own presence in the lives of others? Can this invitation be translated into a quality of presence that makes us better listeners, more generous with our time, more compassionate in response, and much less the masterful know it all problem-solver?
          Jesus was generous with his presence, so generous that he had time to see, really see people, even to seeing into their hearts. While in the midst of crowds he was attentive and he noticed. He noticed the tax collector Matthew bent over his coins. He noticed Zachaeus who had scrambled up a tree to get a better view. In both he saw a generosity of heart invisible to others. He felt the hand of the sick woman touch his cloak in the press of the crowd; stopped his forward momentum and took the time to praise her faith and provide the cure she sought. And when an unnamed woman approached him during a feast at Bethany he accepted her gestures of devotion even when others objected. He allowed her to anoint his body with fragrant perfume and with his words memorialized forever the depth of her love.
Speaking of feasts – the Gospels indicate that Jesus liked dinning with his friends. He liked to linger at table, hearing their questions and responding to them with homey yet instructive stories. His presence was gift.
          As Christians we are asked to imitate Jesus in all things. In our sense of loss is a seed, the seed for growth in Jesus’ quality of attentiveness to others. It is an invitation to grow into a more radical form of personal availability, of listening, of presence than has been our ordinary habit. This is a contemplative attitude toward relationship. It is a Jesus attitude. It also happens to be a very timely antidote to an explosion of communication without depth or feeling experienced this digital age. We find ourselves participating in a frenzy of communication. I am as guilty as anyone – busily at work as webmaster, Facebook page organizer, blog poster, e-mail user and most recently trying to master the I-Phone.  I would not give them up. These digital tools can be used to spread the Gospel Word, to work more efficiently, to just keep in touch. But texts, e-mail, tweets, blogs and Instagrams cannot provide an arm around the shoulder, a listening ear, a gift of quality time in family or with friends. Digital communication does not allow for reading the expression on a face, the tremor in the voice, or the body language that speaks in silence. This is the very quality of the one on one human presence, face to face, in the now that we miss in grief for our loved one and what we may wishing we had offered in the past.
          Consider the invitation that God may have wrapped up in your loss. Consider the invitation to a more loving quality of attention, awareness, and availability in all of your daily interactions. These may come at the kitchen table, in the line at the supermarket, at the next soccer game, or when all you hear is the sound of the TV and everyone’s head is bent over one device or another. It is a very timely appeal in our current technological age. This is the stuff of which our spiritual lives are made. Our response may be the finest tribute we offer in memory of our loved one, the quality of whose presence made such a difference in our life.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Halloween Remembered

Am reading a very interesting book entitled The Vanishing Neighbor: The Transformation of the American Community by Marc J. Dunkelman, New York: Norton, 2014. This essay speaks of the quality of community that is lacking in many places these days. This Halloween memory is vivid for all who knew the Schultz family in Kingston, NY.
Mr. Shultz

Early every morning, except for the last few months, he walked past my house headed for the bakery and a copy of the New York Times. Rejecting jogging sneakers and shorts, he wore all-purpose leather shoes with khaki work pants and favored the layered look topped by a worn plaid shirt. A rumpled tan fishing hat completed the look of a man prepared for some woodland adventure. His once tall lanky frame now somewhat bent from academic pursuits maintained a steady unaffected stride. He was Mr. Shultz. I never got to know him better than that because he lived a few blocks away. He was just Mr. Shultz whose house my sons and I had visited once a year on each of twenty Halloweens in response to the offer of cider and doughnuts for any trick-or-treater, young or old, who needed a place to catch his breath, hide from ghosts and goblins, or duck barrages of shaving cream.
            Mr. and Mrs. Shultz rearranged the cherry and oak antiques and Chinese porcelains in their living room each All Hallows Eve. After covering half of the room with painters tarps, they placed indestructible wrought iron furniture at the periphery of the protected area and set out long maple benches laden with bowls of doughnuts and cool, refreshing cider. Family and friends gathered to view the costume parade from the intact end of the room while sipping an evening cocktail. Mrs. Shultz ladled out cider. Mr. Shultz extended a warm greeting at the door. The only requirement for visitors was that each sign the guest book where attendance could be verified and compared to statistics kept since 1946. Could that first Halloween open house have been a joyous celebration of long-awaited peace, a welcome to those boys who returned from war along with Mr. Shultz, or a tribute to the memory of past trick-or-treaters who did not come home? I never asked.
            Two days ago, Mrs. Shultz died at the age of seventy-five. A detailed obituary in the daily paper mentioned the Halloween open houses. Its straight forward narrative filled out the character of Mrs. Shultz beyond that of hostess feigning fright at diminutive ghosts and admiring awe for dainty fairies. She had graduated from Vassar, raised four children, founded the Boys’ Club, managed a business, sat on numerous boards, and loved Mr. Shultz for over fifty-three years. It seemed fitting to pay our respects to Mr. Shultz on this occasion out of sync with the annual round but in memory of that Halloween hostess and accomplished woman.
            At Carr’s Funeral home, a daughter greeted us. We explained that we had been Halloween visitors. She replied, “Isn’t it wonderful that the paper included that in the obituary. Of course, my father wrote it.” Turning from another conversation, Mr. Shultz took my hand in immediate recognition and acknowledged my son. “We’ve come in memory of Halloween, “ I said. “Oh, I’m so glad. Wasn’t it great of them to put it in the paper. Did you sign the book?” We nodded. My son said, “I should have written that we came because of Halloween.” “Oh, please do that,” said Mr. Shultz, “we’d love it.” He continued to hold my hand as another daughter approached saying, “I see that Kermit the Frog has arrived.” My son and I marveled at her memory. We chattered in a highly self-conscious struggle to express the heartfelt. Mr. Shultz seemed a little more bent, pale and lost. Our hands had parted as he spoke of not knowing what to do about Halloween. I told him that the obituary was beautiful and that his wife’s achievements had impressed me so. Unexpectedly my eyes filled with tears and my lips quivered a bit as I praised her accomplishments and devotion. Mr. Shultz’s face began to glow, his features becoming more animated. As we said our “good-byes”, he expressed his gratitude for Halloween visitors. I took his hand to shake in parting, a final gesture of sympathy for the loss of his wife. He raised it to his lips and kissed it. With eyes steadfastly focused on mine, he said, “Thank you”, appreciating me for appreciating her.

Hildegard Pleva