Tuesday, December 25, 2012

I had to write a 2012 Christmas letter after all

Dear friends,

I apologize for not sending out Christmas cards this year. First of all, it wouldn’t be fair to be fundraising high and low in order to finally bring Maximilian and Philip home and then incur avoidable printing and mailing costs by sending out personalized greeting cards as I love to do. Anyway, independently of any other considerations, focusing on the cheer would not be the appropriate thing to do. This is an extremely difficult Christmas for us because of my Mom.

She was a saint all her life and we have no doubts that the Gates of Heaven opened wide to greet her—but we miss her so very much!!! She was the most devoted mother and grandmother anyone could have wished for. Actually, I must admit that quite often, far from being grateful, I kept on reproaching her that she had always taken too much care of me. After she was diagnosed with CHF (congestive heart failure) last March, I used to tell her that she had never let go of me—and that, by the same token, I wouldn’t let go of her. But in the end I had to. In the end, we all had to let go of her hand as her mortal heart heavily took its last breath and her soul was taken up by God’s angels to the infinity where the saints belong.

This picture and the ones that follow were taken on March 3, 2012, in our backyard.

Look how she was looking at Nicholas!

Catherine kising her Grandma in hospital. She was taken to hospital by an ambulance only four days after that Sunday when we had taken the above family pictures.

It was Catherine’s idea not to let go of her hand for one single second, day and night, during the entire time of her final week on this earth. Catherine, Gerard, and Warren were with her much more than I was. No matter how very much I loved her and always will, I was too busy writing her bio for the internet. I was too busy taking notes for the book I intend to write. That was not what my Mom ever cared about, though. All her life she truly went by Jesus’ command that “when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” Matthew 6:3. All her life she went by all of Jesus’ commands to love, give, share, turn the other cheek, and reach out to anyone in need or distress. Unfortunately, I am not like her. I do care about human praise—I do need human praise. I do care about prestige. I like to see my name in print. I like the feeling of a microphone in my hand. Although, following my family's teachings, I'm careful about other people's feelings, I like to brag. I don't brag about myself because I don't feel there is too much to brag about me--but I do brag about my family . . . and I'm sure all my readers very well know about that. So I did for her not what she really wanted, but what I would have wanted to be done for me. I posted on my blog. I posted on FB. I wrote my notes—even though that meant spending less time with her during those precious last days and last hours. Now I so very much wish I could give one more hug.

Catherine had been just promoted to lead therapist at the agency where she works with children with special needs—and she does have a very special place in her heart for special kids. Yet, she even risked her postion by taking off that full last week in August even though that should have been her very first wek in her new supervisory capacity. All she wanted was to be by her Grandma’s side day and night, to be with her 24/7, to ease her pain and make sure she would not be alone one single second during her last days on this mortal soil.

It was thanks to my Mom, E. Nydia Soracco-Godone, that in a four-year-period I went from being a mother of three to now being a mother of eight through international adoption, first from Haiti and then from Bulgaria. She was a retired professor of literature, but having never worked in U.S., Medicare would have charged her a sizable monthly premium for coverage—which she could have afforded . . . or she could have paid out of pocket for the knee replacement and cataracts surgeries that would have saved her mobility and eyesight. She could have spent her last six years on this earth in a much more active, comfortable manner—but even after finding herself almost blind and in a wheelchair, she never had any regrets. That was a sacrifice that only a true saint could have made—and now that saint was called by the Lord to join Him in Heaven.

From being a mother of three (my three bio ones) . . .
with lots of prayers said together (and my Mom's sacrifice, and Catherine's help) I became a mother of five,

. . . and with still more prayers and more sacrifice I arrived to be a mother of six,

. . . and since October 23 of this year I'm already a mother of eight.

When she was 34 years old, with no weapon other than her valiant heart, my Mom intervened to prevent the kidnapping of a seven-year-old child. She faced the kidnapper’s knife and put her life on the line to save that little boy. Due to my Mother's determination and a vehicle sent by God to apprach out of the blue, that man with bloodshot eyes and a depraved look ran away, the child’s family showed up soon after, and the story never reached the press. Yet, wherever that child is now, most likely having grown up to become a father and a grandfather today, he owes his life to my Mom.

Maximilian, 10, and Philip, 7, officially became Godone-Maresca's on October 23, 2012, when the Bulgarian court granted their adoptions. I’m traveling on January 5, 2013, to pick them up, and will return with them on January 12.  After all she gave of herself for their brothers and them to come home, my Mom won’t be here at the time of their homecoming—but we do know that she will be rejoicing with us from Above. Shortly before her passage to Eternity she would keep on telling me that she could not be of much further help here—that when she arrived Up There she would be able to help much more .. . as if she had not done more than enough already!

She passed away in the same way in which she had lived all her life: thinking about us, with total self-abnegation, with total disregard of her own self. One of her last questions before losing consciousness was whether I might need her to sign anything—because, once again, even while dying, amidst her pain, her shortness of breath, and her unbearable thirst, she was only thinking about me, about us, about how to help a little more.

Just only one week before the time she would pass my Mom would still call me on her cell phone in the middle of the night—not in order to ask me for anything that she might need, but to make sure I had not fallen asleep on my computer chair and had not smashed my head on the floor.  Her whole physique was rapidly declining and progrressively closing down. She was having trouble breathing and her thirst was unbearable--and yet could not drink any liquids in order to prevent any further fluid accumulation in her chest. Nevertheless, she was still calling me--only to make sure I was safe.  How many times in my life had I complained that I was an adult already, that she should sleep and stop checking upon me? She never resented my complaints--and there she was, still looking after her "little girl" during her final days on this earth.

One night in November, about two and a half months after her passing, I did what I do on an almost daily basis I went to sleep immediately after supper and got up shortly after midnight in order to go to my computer. I put some water to boil for a hot mocha cappuccino, went back to my computer chair--and fell sound asleep. At exactly 4:17 a.m. Thomas came into the dining room to wake me up. I asked him if he was cold. He wasn’t. I asked him if he had had a nightmare. He hadn’t. He had dreamt with Grandma instead. For a moment he buried his head against my shoulder with some tears, and then in a second he rushed to the kitchen, only to come back immediately to tell me that the he had not touched anything, but the stove was on and the kettle looked all black. I instantly remembered: the water I had put to boil!!! Apparently it had just finished the evaporation process. The kettle was empty and was getting black, but was not entirely blackened yet. In our family Thomas is the one who has the lightest sleep of all—and he was the one whom my Mom had awakened in the middle of the night for him to wake me up—just on time to save the house with everyone and everything in it . . . even the kettle! She could no longer call me on her cell phone—but she was still watching over me as I was trying to get something done on my computer during the night.

I know that was not a coincidence—the same as I know it had not been a coincidence when in 2008 my Dad, who had passed away in 1993, had told me in a dream he had gone to Haiti as the only way to bring Thomas and Nicholas home—and the uncalled for problem that the U.S. Consulate in Port-au-Prince had created for us for no valid reason got miraculously resolved from morning to night—or, actually, I should say from the night to the next morning. The local representative I had contacted was honest enough to admit that he had not had a chance to call the consulate yet. The problem had been resolved without any internvention from anyone--I mean, without any intervention from any political or legal channel from this earth.

Let’s go back to 2012, this year so full of hope, of tears, of grief, of anxiety, of heartbreak--and yet of fulfillment amidst pain as well. Let's go back to this year when I should be just focusing on the pure joy of having two new sons but still start sobbing at the slightest word, song, or thought about my Mom. For the very first since I was born, there was no panettone at our Christmas table this year. The panettone is a very old Italian tradition that my Mom and all my family always loved and always kept. Actually, as she always did and continues doing, this was a little detail in which my Mom helped me one more time:  she provided me with an elegant excuse for the absence of panettone this year . . . a much less humiliating excuse than an extremely tight budget.

In May I traveled to Bulgaria to formally visit Maximilian and Philip. Before I had met Maximilian twice in 2010, both on my first and on my second trips for Stephen, and at the time of my second trip I had met Philip as well. That initial bonding deepened during my five-day visit last May 2012. One of the caretakers told me that since I had arrived Maximilian was a much happier boy. On my last visit our good-byes were soaked in tears. Maximilian would not stop crying, and neither would I. He had asked about the process and whether the case had to go in front of a judge. Philip didn’t cry until the last moment—but as the very end of the visit arrived, he ran to me to hug me in tears.

My last visit. Words are not needed.

One very nice anecdote was Maximilian’s reaction to his new name. His first response was to say that he didn’t like it because it was too long. I don’t blame him. Actually, I always liked that name because of St. Maximilian Kolbe, the Martyr of Auschwitz, the Catholic priest who voluntarily surrendered his own life in order to save the life of a Jewish man who had young children.  By asking to be killed in the place of a Jewish fellow prisoner, Fr. Kolbe embodied what the Catholic Church is all about. Yet, when looking for names for all my other sons, both by birth and by adoption, every time I had ended up discarding Maximilian as an option because with a hyphenated family name it is really a little too long. Back in 2010, as soon as we had seen the pictures of those two little boys, unanimously we all had fallen in love—and as soon as I had learned that the original name of the older boy was Illyian I had realized I was meant to have a son named Maximilian after all. Even independently of any other considerations, phonetically the change from Illyian into Maximilian sounded like the perfect one to make. Going back to May 2012, I had told St. Maximilian Kolbe’s story to the interpreter, who out of his own initiative retold it to Illyian. That little boy’s reply deserves to be quoted, “If with that name there was a good man who gave his life for another, then I like the name.”

Because by the time of the court hearing Illyian (that was his official name up to that day) had turned 10 already, he needed to be present in the courtroom. He impressed everyone by how very well he told the judge both his pre- and post-adoption names. He further said that both Philip and he would soon go to live with their new family, and were looking forward to that. When after the hearing the Bulgarian attorney told him she was going to e-mail me and asked him whether there was anything he might want to tell me, Maximilian replied, “Tell mom that I love her.”

Gerard and Warren were confirmed in March, and started college at URI (University of Rhode Island) in the fall. I was literally crying when I dropped off in the mail their letter to Providence College thanking them for their admission offer and yet declining it. I would have wanted a Catholic College for my twin sons . . . but the truth is that I wouldn’t have been able to afford the tuition—and they both insisted that URI would be all right without the additional expense of a private college. The same as their older sister, the twins inherited from my Mom, my Dad, and my grandparents that legacy of total self-abnegation and unlimited giving of themselves.  Since this fall they are full-time college students, commuting from home—and they would skip lunch at school in order to save some monies so as to make things easier for me and have their newest brothers a little sooner. They are as thin as broomsticks, but very tall, active and athletic—and would be almost starving when arriving back from college the evening--but would never even mention that they were not eating . . . until it was time for their first semester to come to an end.

In our backyard, before going to our Parish for Gerard and Warren's Confirmation, March 23, 2012. Please notice how the twins look at their younger brothers--with a pride that is more common in parents than in older siblings.

Bragging momma's note: Don't I have really very handome sons? Look at all of them in their suits . . . well, not at "all" of them, as there are two more handsome boys still waiting in Bulgaria--waiting for only one more week now.

A picture with the Bishop after their Confirmation

Sorry for bragging again, but--aren't they really handsome?

The twins' Confirmation was the first family event that my Mom could not attend. Yet, at that time it didn't seem ppssible that one day we wouldn't hear her voice around the house.

When I had filled out my recommendation for my sons on their Common Apps as their counselor I had written that even though they were only 14 at the time, they had been, and were, unpaid C.N.A.’s, P.T., O.T., and speech pathology assistants, ESL instructors, child care workers, homework couches, and behavior modification specialists for their younger brothers, volunteer technical support staff and graphic design artists for me, and willing problem solvers all over the house. Now that during class time they spend a good part of the day in college I was scared as I much more patently realized how very much I really need them and how very much I always counted upon their help. To make it even worse, now that she was promoted to a supervisory position, Catherine spends more extended time at work than she did before.

The twins did very well in their first semester as full-time college students. Their final grades will be given out on 12/28--but more than half of their final grades are on already, and they got mostly A's (just one B+ and probably there will be one other B--in the worst of cases, two of those).

Thomas, Nicholas, and Stephen are doing well in school, and are liked by everyone who comes in contact with them. Yet, after the Sandy Hook tragedy in CT I think that most families wonder whether or not they want to still keep their kids in school.

Catherine spends inordinate amounts of time looking for the perfect educational toys for each one of her younger brothers so as to target each specific skill for each one of them. When she is with them, she literally has a magical effect upon them—something I wish I could have but I certainly don’t. I must admit that they behave much better with Catherine and with the twins than with me. They also behave well at school. My main problem is that in Catherine’s eyes what I do for her younger brothers is never enough. There is always something I failed to do. There is always something else I should have done for them. There is always something I left undone. There is always something I could have done for them but didn't that would have helped them more. Yet, I complain, but I shouldn't as it is a blessing that she loves them so very much.

I will close my narration about my family by quoting the responses that at one point during the summer Gerard gave to Stephen’s question regarding whether he (Gerard) could jump rope. No matter how extremely active and athletic he is, his answer was that he couldn’t. Upon Stephen’s surprise at such reply, Gerard modify his answer--but only a little, “Well, yes, I can do it—but not well.”  Although Stephen is neither envious nor jealous at all, Gerard wouldn’t say anything different to a younger brother who will never be able to do it at all.

From a more global perspective, there is something else I should mention here. Although I know about Reece’s Rainbow and belong to its online group for over three years now, I had never imagined how wonderful and how generous all group members could be. The online community went from a Yahoo group through a forum to its current FB activity—but the organization is way much more than that. Reece’s Rainbow is a special needs adoption ministry that looks for loving homes for developmentally and /or physically challenged children from all over the world. I knew they were doing an amazing job in finding families for kids. I knew that many children had a family thanks to them and that many families, including ours, had been able to expand and count more little huge blessings thanks to them as well. Yet, I didn’t really know how very nice and caring the people at Reece’s Rainbow really were. I didn’t know how very much families supported each other in every possible way-- with prayers, with encouragement, with fundraising for one another, and with direct financial help. The cost of international adoption is the most common deterrent without which many more families would adopt. Well, at Reece’s Rainbow adoptive parents pull together and contribute to each other’s fees and expenses in a way that makes it possible for all of them to do it without too much effort for anyone of them. This is something I cannot keep silent. I must say it for the sake of anyone who may read this letter and is not directly related to Reece’s Rainbow right now, but at some point might have had the idea of eventually adopting one day.  I must say it in the hope it will be read by someone who provides spiritual or psychological counseling to others who may be seeking to adopt or may be considering adoption as a future plan. I must say it because there are thousands of children languishing in orphanages who would make wonderful sons and daughters to families that may be willing to count more blessings as their own while also saving one child or more. Let me put  it in clearer words: had I known sooner how much Reece’s Rainbow members can do for each other, my Mom would not have needed to give away so very much. 

Last minute update. I feel humbled  things that Catherine bought for all of us--for her younger brothers as well as for me. Her presents were more than I can list on this already too long letter. Yet, I can summarize them by saying that even though keeping gift at a practical level, she considered every possible need from absolutely everyone--and did much more than she should have done. Because of my Mom's recent passing to Eternity and because of my impending pick-up trip it was not a time for fancy presents--but Catherine came up with, and exceeding, what everyone really needed or could benefit from--including things geared towards my trip and her newest brothers' homecoming.

Now I'm posting different pictures from this year 2012, without including any Christmas photos at this point.  When Maximilian and Philip come home we'll have a second Christmas celeration. They will have that experience without having to wait one full year. By then I'll post all the Christmas and pretend Christmas pix together. We all know that we're supposed to keep the Christmas spirit all year round. So--why not a second little celebration after Maximilian and Philip are home?

Gerard and Warren looking at a Confirmation gift that Catherine had bought for them.

Some heartbreaking photos: my Mom kissing the pictures of Maximilian and Philip. They will always treasure those photos forever. She knew she'd be called before their homecoming.

Some Easter 2012 photos. Catherine took this picture of her brothers in front of our Parish.

With their Easter baskets in our backyard.

Some indoor Easter pix now. Despite the oxygen and despite fully knowing her very poor prognosis, look how very happy she was!

Nicholas loved those monkeys! Catherine had gotten one for each one of them. Please pretend not to see all the stains on the tablecloth. I shouldn't even post this one--but Nicholas' expression is worth letting the stains be seen.
At the Zoo, June 2012

On our way out Warren was carrying a "backpack" named Nicholas--a very tired Nicholas.

My ...th birthday, June 9. Catherine very well knows that I love miniature houses.

And she was also hiding a much bigger surprise for me at her place downstairs. Please notice the poster of Martin Luther King, Jr., that she proudly has on her wall.
At Roger Williams Park, in Providence, summer 2012

Nicholas' 11th birthday, June 12 (or maybe we celebrated it a few days later)

Nicholas' birthday

At a small gated local playground. Nicholas was having the time of his life on the seesaw.

After he fell off it, Gerard went behind him.
The spinning seat is so much fun! look at Thomas!

Look at Stephen now!
When another family invited us to a barbecue, summer 2012

Back at the playground, and on the teeter-totter again. That time Nicholas was determined to do it on his own again, without being held. Warren was on the other side, enjoying himself as well.

Gerard was too busy spinning Stephen around.

Nicholas seemed to be getting ready to take a flight off Warren's shoulders--but Warren would have never let go of him.

The birthday card that we sent to Bulgaria for Maxmilian's 10th birthday, Aug. 2nd, together with a few flat little things.

A photo of my parents on their wedding day displayed at Woodlawn Funeral Home. Now they are together forever and ever--and ever.

There was nothing I could do to ease their pain. Warren with Grandma.

Gerard with Stephen

Thomas' last kiss to Grandma. That time she couldn't kiss him back--at least not in a way that we could see.

Catherine holding Stephen for him to have a chance to kiss Grandma too

At the Mass of Christian Burial at St. Rocco's Catholic Parish in Warwick, RI

The final moment--the most horrible one, the one when I could not hold to my vow to never let go of her the same as she had never let go of me. Her beautiful soul was already with Jesus and His Blessed Mother, and her tired body would rest forever at Swan Point, in Providence. Against what her Grandma would have wanted her to do, Catherine decided to use the monies that she had saved for her last dissertation prep course to buy a plot at the oldest and most traditional cemetery in RI. She would not change her mind. While waiting to speak with a representative at Swan Point, Catherine would tell me, "I don't care how much it is. I'll manage somehow. The other one was a lot less--but this is more Grandma's style." I should have been the one taking care of that--but had to accept Catherine's determination to do it because otherwise it wouldn't have been done at all. Now I must find find the way to help her somehow come up with those monies she so selflessly gave away but will desperately need throughout the spring semester--soon to start.When I had tried to tell her that Grandma wouldn't have wanted her to risk her dissertation by using those monies to buy the plot at Swan Point, Catherine's answer was, "That is precisely why I want to do it."
Stephen ready to go down a slide, with Catherine waiting to catch him at the bottom

Nicholas arriving to the bottom of the slide. Can you keep a secret? The swollen pair of feet going down after him belongs to me.

Trick-or-treating: Catherine, Warren, Nicholas, Stephen, and Thomas. Gerard had a very difficult chemistry exam the next day. Actually, most of all, he didn't feel like trick-or-treating, and neither did Catherine, Warren, or I . . . but we couldn't deprive the smaller ones from that one-night of fun per year.

At Thomas and Nicholas' school when I arrived in order to volunteer at a field trip to a farm. They were even happier than I could have imagined, and kept on telling everyone that I was their mom! Definitely I need to brag about that.

On the hay ride at the farm. Look how very much they love each other!

Lunch time at the farm. Please mind that they're lovingly squeezing my face--I don't have all those wrinkles!

Roasting marshmallows from a safe location

They had a great time feeding the farm animals


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