If you woke this Easter morning, with the old familiar feeling that your life is never going to get any better, then think again.
My mom used to say that if March came in like a lion, it would leave like a lamb. Spending the better part of March in the hospital with my daughter, I was hoping for a little quiet time at Easter.
But instead, we began Holy Week at NYU meeting with my daughter’s neurosurgeon to remove the staples that crowned her precious head from this last round of surgeries. An increase in seizures, headaches and lethargy prompted her doctor to do an MRI of the brain. The scans revealed a significant change over the past two weeks; one of the malformations in her temporal lobe is hemorrhaging, causing swelling in the brain. The news wasn’t surprising, but it was more than a little discouraging, as I felt like we were taking two steps forward and three steps back. Because there is no cure for these cerebral cavernous malformations (CCMs) and because I am quite adept at monitoring my daughter’s very special needs, she was sent home for pain management and careful observation. So began this week we call “Holy.”
At times like this my adrenalin kicks in and my brain functions in warp speed. That adrenalin kick lasted a full 24 hours, but eventually I crashed. I ran to St. Isidore’s daily Mass begging God to help me find my way to Easter. After Communion, in the silence of that beautiful Church, I heard the Lord promise me: “I will send you many Simons to help you carry the cross this Holy Week.” Simon of Cyrene was credited for getting pulled out of the crowds to help Jesus carry His cross to Calvary. I knew two things from that story: God would provide, and I needed to ask for help.
Over the next few days, many Simons came my way: my husband, my eldest son and daughter helped with the dogs, shopping and taking turns caring for Johanna. A friend came and cleaned my house as I brought Johanna to start the IV therapy. God made good on His word and I was able to focus on helping Johanna’s brain heal.
Holy Thursday was a tough day. Johanna had multiple seizures and lethargy that concerned me. Through study and experience, I have learned that Johanna needs more sleep when her brain is injured by hemorrhages and swelling. But it is often a fine line between recovery and a situation which requires immediate medical intervention. Thankfully around dinnertime, Johanna woke up brighter. I breathed a sigh of relief. Knowing Holy Thursday services would be too much for her, my husband stayed home so I could attend.
I slid into the pew at St. John’s just as the melody of the “Gloria” rang the close of the Lenten season and the beginning of the high Holy Days. The beautiful Mass and the washing of the feet concluded with Eucharistic adoration in the chapel behind the altar. I knelt down in that chapel, as people filed in and out with a holy respect. I heard the invitation; “Come and watch with Me this night. Travel from church to church to visit with Me for a while.” I knew this night was being celebrated in all the Catholic churches on the North Fork, so I took that invitation literally and began my pilgrimage, stopping first at St. Isidore’s and then to other churches on the North Fork. I sang as I drove, happy to escape the trials of life on this mystical adventure with my Savior. In each of the churches, there were beautiful altars of candles and flowers. As I knelt before the altars, I remembered Jesus’ promise to be with me always. I returned home refreshed and renewed and Johanna slept peacefully through the night.
When I woke Good Friday morning, these words from scripture flooded my thoughts, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen” (Luke 24:4-6)!
“Oh good,” I thought to myself. “I’ve had quite enough of Good Friday. Let’s just move right on to Easter.”
The weather supported my mom’s lion/lamb idiom and spring finally arrived Good Friday morning. Amidst the smell, sights and sounds of spring, I sat on my sunny front porch. In between sips of coffee, I began to reflect on the resurrection scripture I received. Just then Johanna came out to the porch to join me. She was very bright and smiling, in her pajamas. I decided to ask my resident saint what she thought of my early morning musing. She reminded me that Jesus told us to pick up our cross and follow him. That means we have to move, even with our cross, and follow Jesus to the joy of resurrection! Johanna pointed to the sky as she smiled. Then she climbed in my lap and began to sing one of our favorite songs, “Blessings” by Laura Story. We rocked on the sunny porch in our pajamas, singing at the top of our lungs about how God’s blessings come through rain drops and healing comes through tears and how all the trials of our life is God’s mercy in disguise.
We moved through Good Friday with the grace of that morning praise. Friends visited, even in the midst of blood work and IV infusions. Then we made our way to the Shrine of Our Lady of the Island for the outdoor Stations of the Cross. We have made this pilgrimage every Good Friday, since our children were babies. Johanna’s morning luster gave way to the increasing pressure in her brain as she faded by 3pm. She slept in the wheelchair as we walked the Stations of the Cross. That was just fine with me, because, even though her body was afflicted by this physical struggle, Johanna gave me the hope of Easter on Good Friday morning. As we walked the Stations, those words of resurrection came to my mind; “Why seek the living here among the dead. He is not here; He is risen!”
Appearances can be deceiving. The cross seems to remind us of endless suffering, as do my daughter’s unending struggles. But the truth is that we have to look beyond the cross and move to experience the joy of the resurrection. If we keep running to the empty tomb and spend our days wandering around graveyards of fear, resentment, and grief, then we will miss the Easter joy of Resurrection!
If you woke this Easter morning, with the old familiar feeling that your life is never going to get any better, then think again. Remember the tomb is empty and Christ is raised! And if that thought is too distant to wake you from your slumber, then think of my little girl singing in her pajamas on my sunny porch. Recall all the blessings in your life and sing a chorus of Hallelujah! Why seek the living among the dead? New life and Easter joy is here! Christ is risen! Hallelujah!
Eileen Benthal has a B.A. in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is a writer, speaker and wellness coach at 40DaysToFocus.com and NOFO Wellness Center. She works with clients locally and around the U.S. who are excited about balancing their health in body, mind and spirit.
Eileen and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Their youngest, 16-year-old Johanna, is a teenager with special needs. Eileen can be reached at email@example.com and facebook.com/40DaysToFocus.