Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut
Sunday, August 20, 2017

M. Regina Cram

I picked up my younger children after school, then proceeded to the middle school to retrieve my oldest. Together, we drove to a nondescript building in a neighboring town. Once inside, we were directed to a room where the din of voices overflowed into the hallway. When we entered the room, however, the voices abruptly silenced. Every head turned to gawk at us.

What had I done to shock these people?

I had brought children to a wake.

Fortunately, the deceased’s family was delighted that their loved one was being visited by children. My friends, however, were appalled. They were convinced that the sight of an open casket would give my children nightmares. It might scar them for life.

I reminded these friends that wakes were once routinely held in homes. Our parents and grandparents grew up understanding that death is part of life, that dying is part of living. Surely this is a healthier approach than sequestering death in the shadows, as if we can keep it at bay.

I attended my first wake when I was 7 or 8 years old. The deceased was an elderly friend of my mother’s. Since I had never met the woman, I was able to process the sights and sounds and smells of the funeral home without being assaulted by grief.

When a high school classmate of mine died a few years later, I was glad his was not my first wake. Unfortunately, the same was not true for my friends. One by one, teens arrived at the funeral home, and one by one they gasped when they saw our friend’s body laid out in an open casket. No one had told them what a wake entails. My mother quickly realized how unprepared these kids were, so she stationed herself at the entrance of the funeral home in order to intercept arriving teens. Walking alongside each one toward the parlor, my mother explained what they would be seeing inside. She was a godsend.

My husband Peter did not grow up attending wakes or funerals. He went to his first memorial service as an adult when the death of a business colleague made it impossible to avoid. This gradually eased him into funerals and even burials. But he could not bring himself to attend a wake. He thought they were ghoulish.

We’d been married about 10 years when Peter’s grandmother died, and, in keeping with his family’s wishes, we were asked to not bring our young children to the services. We respected the family’s request, but it meant Peter was alone in his grief. It also isolated the extended family from the sweet consolation of small children.

A few years later when my grandmother died, my entire extended family attended Nanny’s wake, funeral and burial. This included 10 great-grandchildren ranging in age from 9 months to 9 years. There were plenty of adults in attendance to help if a child became noisy, and the children’s presence helped soften our grief. I’ll never forget seeing my mother holding our chubby 9-month-old baby throughout my grandmother’s funeral. That baby gave such solace to my mother during a time of loss.

Needless to say, the children asked a lot of questions, which we answered as best we could. They listened to our words, but more so, they absorbed our attitude: death is a natural part of life and should not be feared. In fact, it should be celebrated.

Death is, after all, a personal invitation to spend eternity in paradise with God.

Regina Cram is a writer, speaker and author. She and her husband live in Glastonbury and have four children and seven grandchildren.

cram musings web

Some years ago, a lively dinnertime conversation about the priesthood led to a discussion about what makes for a really good priest. Here, edited for teenage slang, kindergartner lisp and excited rants, is what emerged.

How to make a great priest

— Pray without ceasing. The effectiveness of your priesthood rests upon your intimacy with God.

— Get away regularly for vacations and retreats. It’s one of the best investments you can make in your priesthood.

— Shave before Mass (13-year-old).

— Tithe. It’s easier to live on nine-tenths of your income than it is to live on ten-tenths.

— Don’t be discouraged by uninspiring priests around you. Like marriage, your priesthood does not have to be monotonous. God did not design mediocrity. We did.

— Doing God’s work creates fertile ground for selfishness, so go to confession often.

— A priest should try to do a good homily that is interesting, with stuff we’d want to hear about and that we don’t already know about (six-year-old. Yeah, 6.)

— Tell the story of your call to the priesthood frequently. This will remind you why you said “yes” to God, which, in turn, will keep daily annoyances in perspective.

— Practice forgiveness. The more you practice, the better you get.

— Exercise. You’ll feel better, live longer and be able to have seconds on dessert.

— Be thankful for what you have (8-year-old).

— Don’t get caught up in power plays. If submission is appropriate, submit. If speaking your mind in love is called for, do so. God wants priests to be beacons of light in a desperate world; don’t jeopardize this for the sake of pride.

— Keep your face clean (8-year-old).

— Laugh a lot. It’s good for the blood pressure, increases longevity and it’s one of God's best gifts to his people.

— Don’t sweat the small stuff. Save your energy for matters of eternal significance.

— In a typical day, you’re called upon to console the bereaved, work wizardry with finances and bring peace to contentious meetings, while simultaneously fielding complaints about everything from a priest’s foreign accent to the temperature in the church. Only someone very holy can navigate these waters with joy, so ask God to make you holy, whatever the cost.

— Spend time with your friends. It puts you in a good mood. Priests need other people to tell their troubles to and share their joy. People need other people (11-year-old).

— Most lay people think you have no problems and can be in two places at once. Debunk these myths. The truth is good for everyone.

— Always have children in your life. Their faith is refreshing and they keep us humble. Children are God’s way of saying that the world should go on.

— Take a day off every week, whether you can afford the time or not. The 8-year-old explained it best: “God doesn’t like cranky priests.”

— Expect seasons of your priesthood, just like seasons of life. If you go through a dry patch, even one that lasts a long time, don’t despair. If God can breathe new life into us, he can do the same for your priesthood.

— God called you by name into the priesthood, and you are an incredible gift to us. If you ever forget, read this again.

— The 11-year-old’s sage advice sums it up: “Spend a lot of time with Jesus. Make sure to pray every day. That’s what makes a great priest.”

M. Regina Cram is a writer, speaker and author. She and her husband live in Glastonbury and have four children and seven grandchildren.

 

cram column US Navy 050314 N 6665R 022 A Project HOPE(U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Jeffery Russell/Wikimedia Commons Public domain)They had been married for 21 years and were the parents of four boys. Their marriage had had its ups and downs, but doesn't every marriage? From the outside looking in, the marriage looked pretty good.

Unbeknownst to friends and colleagues, the husband — I’ll call him Bob — had become a heavy drinker in recent years. He traveled a lot for work, and the wife — I’ll call her Sally — was not entirely sure of his faithfulness. Still, Bob was a good provider and she had been crazy about him since the day they’d met at a college mixer. His gentle way calmed her hyperactivity. Her extroversion drew him out of his shell.

Over the years, the marriage quietly unraveled until conflict erupted on a blustery night in October. Awkward and uneasy at the dinner table, Bob finally cleared his throat, announced that he was leaving Sally and headed upstairs to pack. An hour later, he was gone.

Sally was stunned. He wasn’t serious, was he? Surely they could repair their problems. How could she manage? They had a mortgage and two kids in college.

A month later, Bob filed for divorce. Sally was a devout Catholic and wanted no part of divorce. She fought him about it and begged him to join her in marriage counseling, but Bob would not be dissuaded. A few months after he left, Bob moved in with his girlfriend. Bob and Sally’s youngest son started to act out in school. Creditors began calling.

The early months of the separation were a nightmare, as Sally grappled with her new reality. In a million years, she’d never pictured herself as a divorcee. She’d envisioned being married to the same man for 60 years. Instead, she was a 47-year-old woman with no husband and virtually no work experience.

About six months into the separation, Sally enrolled in a program for displaced women who were returning to the workforce. Many of the women were dealing with the same mix of anger, confusion and fear that blanketed Sally. Alongside these hurting women, Sally learned business skills and she began planning a future. After multiple internships, Sally settled into a job that she enjoyed. Her income was modest, but it covered the mortgage, if just barely.

Two years after the ordeal began, Sally officially became a divorced woman. She had a hard time saying the word.

Over the years, Sally had become friendly with numerous political and religious refugees. Most knew little about navigating American life. All were lonely and had minimal contact outside their immigrant communities. After the divorce, Sally poured herself into these people in need. She began lunchtime prayer with a Muslim woman. She assisted a Russian Jew in obtaining a driver’s license. She cared for the small daughter of a Syrian physician who was trying, unsuccessfully, to obtain a license to practice medicine in America. She housed a South American child and his mother who were in this country so he could undergo life-saving heart surgery.

Sunday dinner became Sally’s favorite time of the week. A typical gathering around her dining room table included a quirky assortment of lonely people who reveled in home-cooked food, lively discussion and the offer of friendship.

Many years later, after an annulment had been granted, Sally married a wonderful Catholic widower, and they enjoyed nearly 10 years together before his death. Sally later observed that becoming divorced was far more painful than becoming widowed. In the aftermath of each, however, Sally soothed her pain by reaching out to others.

M. Regina Cram is a writer, speaker and author. She and her husband live in Glastonbury and have four children and seven grandchildren.

 

cram parent child beach web

The call came years ago on a raw afternoon in early spring.

The woman on the other end of the phone introduced herself as a writer. She explained that Parenting magazine had hired her to write a story about how to prevent spoiled children, and she wanted to interview me on the topic. She’d been given my name through a convoluted series of contacts, none of whom had ever met me or my children. How did she know my kids weren’t spoiled?

The interview was fascinating. The writer presented me with eight specific scenarios involving children who were not getting what they wanted. I had to describe how I would handle each situation. The writer planned to conduct similar interviews with parents and experts around the country.

Months later, the November issue of Parenting landed in my mailbox. Turning quickly to page 78, I discovered that the entire article revolved around six people who were listed as national experts on how to avoid spoiled children. I was one of the six.

Seriously? A national expert? My professional background was with IBM. In college, I was a cafeteria ticket puncher; in the summer, I stuffed mail-order steak knives into envelopes. In what universe did this qualify me as an expert?

Friends and family had a good laugh about the magazine article. Then we returned to everyday life.

One morning a year or two later, the magazine article came to mind as I picked up my easygoing 4-year-old from nursery school. Victoria greeted me with her sweet hug and kiss, then ran off to play. I asked her to get her jacket.

She looked up with those soft brown eyes and declared, “No.”

I know this sounds crazy, but this had never happened. Victoria was always so compliant. I called to her again, and again she said no. I was stunned. I’d dealt with plenty of defiance from my other children, but this was new territory for Victoria.

I walked over to her, picked her up, carried her to the coat hooks, plopped her down and instructed her to grab her jacket. She refused. I insisted. She refused. And then, to my astonishment, she hurled herself to the floor, kicked her little hands and feet and began wailing. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

By this time, a small crowd had gathered. Normally, when a recalcitrant child throws a public tantrum, other parents offer sympathy. Not this time. The parents who gathered were actually cheering — enthusiastically. “I’m so glad your child isn’t perfect!” one mother laughed. “It makes me feel so much better!”

In the end, a teacher “helped” Victoria get her coat.

Victoria did not have another tantrum for five years.

Her tantrum reminded me of another story. Years ago, there was an elementary school in California located on a busy street. For safety, the playground was surrounded by a tall fence. A group of parents petitioned the school board to remove the fence, however, claiming that it limited their children’s freedom and creativity. Astoundingly, the board complied.

An immediate change occurred at recess: the children began huddling in the center of the playground because they were frightened by the traffic. The fence hadn’t shackled their freedom; it had given them the freedom to play.

The fence was reinstalled and the children again played freely.

And thus it is with discipline. Boundaries and discipline do not limit a child; they keep the child safe and give tangible evidence of how deeply the child is loved.

The day will come when I must give an account for my life. I hope I can say that I loved my children unconditionally, trained them in holiness and led them into a relationship with God. If I can say these things, perhaps I will have become an expert.

M. REGINA CRAM is a writer, speaker and author. She and her husband live in Glastonbury and have four children and seven grandchildren.

cram angel statueYOUR LIFE, PARENTING

Childish prayers

A child’s prayer is the ultimate in sweetness, isn’t it? Yeah, right. Like the time my 3-year-old prayed for her baby sister to move in with the neighbors, preferably for a very long time. Years ago when I misplaced my wedding ring, my young son confidently prayed to find it, then whispered his back-up plan. “That’s OK, Mama. You get married again, get another ring.”

Our children have asked God to make the tooth fairy less forgetful, turn the green beans into chocolate and send all mosquitoes to Rhode Island. Five-year-old Meredith once thanked God for the baby’s slimy belly button, and asked him to make sure there are no frogs in heaven. Skip prayed for quadruplet brothers. We drew the line when one nameless child asked God if he could please make the teacher sick for the rest of the school year.

Children’s prayers are not always sweet, or even kind, but they are genuine pleas from kids who understand that God cares about the details of their lives.

Let me tell you about one such plea.

As a young mom, I had a pen pal named Rosemary in Philadelphia. Rosemary wrote hilarious letters about her family’s escapades, giving me much-needed respite from my daily routine.

Shortly before we began corresponding, Rosemary and her husband John applied to adopt a baby from Peru. They had recently visited that country, where they’d fallen in love with a 5-month-old baby boy. Returning to Philadelphia, they completed the necessary paperwork to adopt him — or so they thought. Months later, they returned to South America to bring the baby home, but the Peruvian government refused to release the child. Heartbroken, John and Rosemary again returned to the States, leaving the baby in a Peruvian orphanage. In their hearts, this child was already their son. They had named him Anthony.

Our children prayed fervently for Anthony, and each update from Rosemary propelled them to pray still more. “Please, God,” the children would plead, “please bring Baby Anthony home so he can be with his family.”

We began praying in March. April came and went, then May. Around the first of June, John and Rosemary were told to expect Anthony by midsummer, but June and July passed and Anthony was still in Peru. In August, they marked Anthony’s first birthday from thousands of miles away.

And still we prayed. “Why doesn’t God bring Baby Anthony home so he can be with his family?” my 4-year-old asked often. I didn’t know. I could only assure her that God loved Baby Anthony even more than we did.

The weather turned cool. September passed, then October. “Don’t you think God will bring him home for Thanksgiving?” my 6-year-old asked.

But on Thanksgiving Day, we were still praying for Baby Anthony to come home.

The morning after Thanksgiving, I strolled to the mailbox, where I found a letter in Rosemary’s distinctive handwriting. I ripped open the envelope and read, “He’s home. Baby Anthony is home.”

I could not see the rest of the words through my tears. I flew into the house shouting, “He’s here! He’s here! He’s here!” The children dropped what they were doing and gathered around to read about John and Rosemary’s final trip to Peru. This time, they brought home their cherished little boy.

Our prayers that evening brimmed with joy. “Thank you for bringing Baby Anthony home to be with his family!” the children prayed. The 7-year-old blurted out, “Hey! Anthony was home for Thanksgiving! We just didn’t know it yet.”

Anthony’s story has a happy ending, but sometimes God’s plan does not match our own. Sometimes God tells us, “No, my child, I can’t give you what you want because I love you so much.” It’s not easy explaining this to a child. It’s not easy understanding it ourselves.

But prayer is so much more than asking for things; prayer fosters a relationship with God. And so, generation after generation, we bring our children to prayer, often assisted by grandparents, godparents and caregivers. Together, we teach our children to trust their Heavenly Father whose love is everlasting, whether he gives us what we want or not.

M. REGINA CRAM is a writer, speaker and author. She and her husband live in Glastonbury and have four children and seven grandchildren.