She Called Me “Ort”

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I have written before of the death of my beloved Aunt Cary, but I am thinking about her a lot this Thanksgiving weekend. It was Thanksgiving of 1969 that Cary walked off a ledge in Manhattan and fell to her death. We didn’t learn about it for several days, since she had no identification with her. I came down with Hepatitis A that weekend, courtesy of a contaminated restaurant worker, and was unable to go to Chicago for her funeral.

She was only seventeen when my parents left me in Buffalo with my grandparents for several months while they went West to establish a new life and career.( A whole other story.) That means that it was Cary who took major care of me from 11 months until 14 months. She was there when I learned to walk, and she occasionally came West to visit us.

She always called me “ort.”  I found her chain smoking, insomnia, fast talking and loud laugh a wonderful contrast to my parents. Yes, she was probably bi-polar, but I didn’t have a clue. I loved her without reserve.

By the time I was in college, she was more seriously ill, unable to hold a job, and held for a while in a pre-enlightened Chicago psychiatric hospital. I visited her there on my way to Cambridge, and she looked so wistfully at me saying, “you look so collegiate.” In 1967, she was living in Manhattan, and  I had tea with her in the Russian Tea Room (where the men bring their girlfriends, she confided) when she was living at the Barbizon. That was the last time we saw each other.

So here’s to you Aunt Cary. You were and are a true blessing in my life and I give thanks for you tonight.

Compassion For One Another

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Yesterday in church we had a healing Mass where you could go forward for anointing and prayer for healing. You were invited to bring illness, addiction, despair, affliction and burdens for others to be prayed over. At first only a few went forward. As time passed, however, more and more parishioners got in line. In the end, I imagine 75% of the 300 or so people went to be prayed for and anointed.

It is humbling to realize how many around us are in pain and in need of a healing touch. Once, when I was in college waiting for the MTA train in Harvard Square, I was feeling very sad. I was thinking that everyone around me looked happy and I felt very alone in my pain. Then, unbelievably, the girl next to me jumped in front of the train as it pulled into the station. I ran up the down stairs, back into the light, into the arms of the people I had just left. I simply had no idea that other people might be in despair around me. Since that day, I have never been so presumptuous about how other people are doing.

Still, yesterday’s service was a visceral reminder that most of us are burdened. We need to remember that whenever we interact with another person. Some hide with their pain; some lash out, but we are mostly just trying to move through our lives. No one really “has it all together.”

The Long Struggle to Live

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This sunny photo of me, my dog, the garden and my beloved Aunt Cary obscures the reality that she struggled with what was then called manic-depression, though I didn’t know it. I loved her high energy, her warm love and and kind spirit. By the time I went to college in 1965, Cary was hospitalized in Chicago for a while. There was no treatment for bipolar disorder at the time, and she experienced manic highs and desperate lows. In November of 1969, she jumped off a ledge of a Manhattan hotel room.

This week we learned of the hospitalization of another dear family member, now 39, who has endured the ravages of schizophrenia since she was 18. Medicine contains it somewhat, though the medicine has discouraging side effects. Still, she was suicidal and was again taken into care.

On November 19th our church holds an annual Mass for the families of those who have taken their own lives. We light candles, hear their names read, and weep together for those who lost the struggle to live.

May we be kind to one another. May we recognize the daily struggles around us of people just trying to make it through another challenging day.