The Death of Me; The Life of Us #catholicfiction

copyright Ellen Hrkach

I wrote “The Death of Me; The Life of Us,” short fiction, for Image and Likeness: Literary Reflections on the Theology of the Body, available on Amazon.  Special thanks to Erin McCole Cupp and Dena Hunt for editing assistance.  Below is an excerpt:

“Sarah, you’re too young to read the death notices,” my mother always said.  But here I sat at the college library, eyes focused on the obituary section of the newspaper — yes, I still preferred to read an actual newspaper rather than digital.

I also attended funerals of people I barely knew. In the years following my sister’s death, I found strange comfort in learning how other people faced the death of a loved one.

What does death look like?  It’s a polished maple casket lowered into the ground, people in black clothes with somber faces, a granite headstone with a name etched on it.

What does death sound like? It’s a priest speaking in monotone. People sobbing. Moaning. Sometimes it sounds like the silence of this quiet library.

What is grief?  It’s a space in your heart reserved for those you love who have died and can no longer return that love.   It’s an emptiness, a hollow at the base of your throat that rises up and catches when you think of the person you love who is now gone.

What is guilt? It’s the realization that it is my fault that the person I love most is now dead. It’s the dark, rigid rock that holds a conscience captive and continues to torture my soul nine years later.

The blur of the van slamming into her unexpecting body is an image that is burned into my memory.  So is the screeching of the brakes and the thud of the van striking her. I was only nine years old that hot and muggy August day. But it was the end of my childhood.

***

“Let’s play tag,” I said to my six-year-old sister, Rosie.

“No!  Wanna go back inside. It’s too hot out.”  Her blond hair hung in wet strips, and her clothes were damp from running back and forth through the sprinkler.

“Come on.  We’ll play tag, then we can run through the sprinkler again.”  I touched her shoulder. “You’re it,” then I ran across our neighbor’s lawn.  I wasn’t paying attention. I just didn’t want her to catch me, so I ran as fast as I could and ran into the street. I had made it to the other side when I heard screeching. I turned just in time to see the van slam into her small body. The man behind the wheel, bigger than Dad, got out and stood over my sister’s body, his mouth open. Then he covered his face with his hands and began to weep.

I couldn’t move, nor could I take my eyes from her.  Rosie lay on the road, her white Danskin shirt now streaked in bright red-orange.  Blood covered her head like a cap, her body twisted like a rag doll. I stared, wide-eyed, unable to move as hope welled up within me when I saw her body twitch.  All of a sudden, she was still.

It was quiet, the humming of the neighborhood air conditioners and the man’s deep crying played like the background noise of a TV show. I heard a scream. I looked up to see my mother racing across the lawn and into the street.  Bellowed sobs consumed her as she scooped up Rosie’s little body.  Drops of liquid trickled from my sister’s bottom, creating a dotted trail on the black road as she carried my sister onto our lawn.

Mom collapsed, Rosie’s blood smearing her shirt, hands and face.  She screamed over and over again, “No!”

I’m not sure how much time passed, but I stayed in the same spot in the street.  I wasn’t able to move, so I stared at the wetness on the black street, one tiny sandal in the midst of it all.

Only moments before, Rosie was a happy girl who loved everything about life.  Now she was gone. And it was my fault.

The squeal of sirens echoed in the distance and became louder until I couldn’t hear anymore — it was too much for me to think, to hear.  My eyes continued to stare, but everything became a cloud of colors moving in front of me.  Flashing lights. Badged, uniformed shirts in shades of blue. A black and yellow stretcher. The shadows inside the back of an ambulance.

I felt someone’s arms around me and the mumble of words. I blinked and glanced upward. It was Mrs. Grayson, our next door neighbor.  “Sarah, did you see what happened?” My mouth was open, but nothing would come out.

Finally I was able to speak, but all that came out was: “It’s my fault.”

***

In the ensuing weeks and months after Rosie’s death, I couldn’t talk about her or her death.  I couldn’t even say the words “Rosie’s death.” At the viewing and funeral, I kept my head down as relatives and friends passed by. I couldn’t talk to anyone about anything. I could hear mournful sounds coming from my parents’ bedroom every night for weeks.

School and life became a fog as one month blended into the next.  I stayed away from Mom as much as I could. She wouldn’t want the person responsible for Rosie’s death to talk to her.

Mom never once blamed me, not with words, anyway. She tried to get me to talk to a grief counselor, but I refused.  All I did was wake up, go through the motions of each day, and sleep. Every night I wished that I would have a dream about Rosie. The only dream I ever had was a nightmare replaying the moment the van hit her. She was on the road, her eyes open, her small voice saying, “I don’t want to play tag.”  I wished I could tell her one more time I loved her. I wished I could tell her that I was sorry.

If I hadn’t asked her to play tag, if we hadn’t been outside, if I hadn’t run across the street…if, if, if.  I should have protected her.  I shouldn’t have led her into the street. It should’ve been me who was struck by that van.

I didn’t — wouldn’t — cry, either.  Every time a sob crept up the back of my throat, I shoved it back down again.  I had no right to cry.  I had no right to talk.  I had no right to live.  It was my fault.

We weren’t much of a praying family, but I did believe in God. I tried to pray many times.  How could God let her die?  Why didn’t He save her?  Why didn’t He stop me from playing tag with her?  Why didn’t He stop me from running across the street? I was angry at the birds for continuing to sing, and mad at the whole world that moved along as if Rosie had never been a part of it.  Eventually, I saw that life was continuing for my parents and brothers. How could the world just continue when my world had ended?

 ***

“Is anybody sitting here?”

I didn’t even look up at the guy asking.

I was having lunch at the library. My preference would’ve been for him to leave me alone, but I shrugged. I soon would learn that Jack was persistent to the point of being annoying.

“I’m Jack.” He held out his hand to me.

“Sarah,” I whispered. “Be quiet. We’re in a library.”  I shook his hand and he sat down beside me. That’s when I finally looked at him.  He was a pleasant enough looking boy: blond, wavy California hair, blue eyes, broad shoulders.

“Whatcha reading?” he asked, keeping his voice soft.

I answered but kept reading. “The Funeral Practices of the Ancient Egyptians.”

I looked up just in time to see his eyebrows lift.

Every Wednesday after that, he was there at that same table at the college library. Sometimes he would offer to share a muffin or other snack. Most of the time I sat there, quiet, reading. He kept the topic of conversation superficial: the weather, current events, sports.

“Our baseball team is going to the semi-finals.”

“Oh?”

He nodded.  “I play second base.”

“That’s nice.”

“There’s a game at the college baseball field next Wednesday, so I won’t be able to meet you here.”

“Okay.”

His eyes widened. “Hey, why don’t you come and watch?”

I was never a big fan of sports, but the way he looked at me, so expectant, I surprised even myself, saying, “Sure, okay.”

I went to the semi-finals and watched the game. Jack actually hit a home run, and I found myself cheering with the rest of the spectators. But his team lost.  I waited for him after the game.

“A home run.  Wow.”

“Well, we lost, but we did our best.”  He hesitated.  “Want to go grab a bite to eat?”

I scowled.  “I thought we were just friends.”

“Can’t two friends grab a pizza?”

“I suppose.”

There was still a part of me that wanted him to leave me alone; I hadn’t really had any friends since Rosie died.  The way I saw it, I didn’t deserve friends.

Jack and I continued seeing each other on Wednesdays. He always did most of the talking, though. I learned that he had three older sisters and that he was attending college (majoring in microbiology) on a baseball scholarship. He liked pizza and hiking. He was an amateur photographer.   We eventually began texting.

My mother pestered me about my “new friend, Jack.”

“He’s just a friend, Mom.”

“Oh,” she responded, her eyes lowering in disappointment.

To read the rest of the story, click here to purchase Image and Likeness on Amazon.

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Gospel Reflection – Feast of St. Teresa of Calcutta

Today’s Gospel: Luke 4:31-37

In today’s Gospel of Luke, Jesus speaks with authority and rebukes a demon to come out of a man. This made people fearful, but they were also amazed. “What word is this, for with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits and they go out?” It’s not surprising that Jesus became famous because of this incident.

Jesus had already gained many followers. People heard and saw what a powerful and passionate speaker Jesus was. Since Jesus is the Word, and since the Word is God, He spoke with authority, and people listened.

The Word of God is alive in the Catholic Church’s teachings: Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium (teaching authority of the Church). What do we do when we hear the Word of God? Do we listen with humility? Or do we ignore and follow our own desires?

What can we do to follow the Word of God more closely? We can pray. We can fast for others and for ourselves. We can participate in the frequent reception of the sacraments. We can read Scripture. We can recite the Holy Rosary.

We can also do little things in love, as St. Teresa of Calcutta, whose feast we celebrate today, said: “Spread love everywhere you go: first of all in your own home. Give love to your children, to your wife or husband, to a next door neighbor . . . Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting.”

Ponder:

What can I do to follow the Word of God more closely in my day-to-day life?

Pray:

God, help me to do little things with love and to spread kindness wherever I go. Help me to follow the Word of God more closely.

 

Copyright 2017 Ellen Gable Hrkach

Summer Blog Tour – The Three Things Divorced Catholics Need to Know

From the Publisher’s Website: You find yourself in a profoundly painful position: you’re a Catholic, and you’re divorced.

Friends and family probably have lots of opinions and advice. But who do you listen to? You might have searched online or in books for answers, but find the information confusing or unreliable. How can you trust what you’re reading? Or you might be so devastated you’re not sure where to turn.

Now in this short, easy-read booklet, divorced Catholics will learn three important things they need to know now:

1. What the Catholic Church really teaches about divorce

2. How and when divorced Catholics can receive the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. What annulment is, how it works, who needs it, and why it matters

Using the Catechism of the Catholic Church, papal documents, Scripture, and personal stories, author Mary Lou Rosien provides you with facts that can shape your decisions and actions, along with the encouragement and compassion that can only come from someone who has been through it herself.

My review:  This is a short, easy-to-read and very informative book that will help clarify what the Church teaches about divorce. Ideal to give to those who are divorced or comtemplating divorce.

To purchase the paperback book or ebook, go to the publisher’s website here at this link!

 

An Open Book – August 2017 #openbook

Open Book

I’m joining with Carolyn Astfalk and Catholic Mom for An Open Book. There are A LOT of books now on my to-read shelf since I attended the Catholic Writers Conference Live two weeks ago. Here’s just a few of the books that are on my reading shelf:

26 Champions of the Rosary by Fr. Don Calloway

Synopsis: Read this book and learnall about the greatest heroes of the rosary in Church history, prepare yourselfto join their ranks, and respond to the challenges of the present age by taking up the spiritual sword of Heaven: the rosary! Internationally known speaker and author Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC, loves Our Lady and her favorite devotion: the rosary. But he’s not the only one! Throughout the life of the Church, many men and women have become great saints and helped change the course of human history by the power of the rosary. In 26 Champions of the Rosary, Fr. Calloway presents the outstanding heroes whose trusting dependence on Our Lady and her rosary have brought peace and divine help to the world.

My review:  This is a wonderful companion to Fr. Calloway’s previous book, Champions of the Rosary. If you love the Rosary, if you want to promote the Rosary, if you want the world to know how powerful the Rosary is, then share this book!  Excellent.  Highly recommend!

Bonus: Photo with the author!

With Fr. Don Calloway. And with my good friend, Meggie K. Daly, also the author of a Rosary book!

Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, a Living Novena by Marge Fenelon

Synopsis: Our Lady, Undoer of Knots: A Living Novena is a unique guided meditation from veteran Catholic journalist Marge Fenelon, who has created a new devotional practice from this classic novena that is a favorite of Pope Francis.

Since the seventeenth century, Catholics facing seemingly insurmountable obstacles have turned to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots through a special novena–nine days of prayer for divine intervention. Catholic columnist Marge Fenelon resurrects this ancient tradition, also known as the Unfailing Novena, by reflecting on nine sacred sites associated with Pope Francis’s 2014 pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Reflecting on such holy places as Bethlehem, the Mount of Olives, and the Temple Mount, Fenelon helps readers explore the “knots” or impossible situations in their own lives in order to find peace.

My review: Looking forward to reading this!

Divine Mercy for Moms: Sharing the Lessons of St. Faustina by Michele Faehnle and Emily Jaminet

Synopsis: Originating in the early twentieth century, the Divine Mercy devotion of St. Faustina Kowalska is one of the most celebrated of all Catholic devotions. In this, their first book, Catholic bloggers and speakers Michele Faehnle and Emily Jaminet break open the history, practices, and prayers associated with the devotion, guiding busy moms to receive God’s message of Divine Mercy and pass it on to others through their words, deeds, and prayers.

In Divine Mercy for Moms, Michele Faehnle and Emily Jaminet of the Columbus Catholic Women’s Conference—one of the largest annual Catholic women’s conferences in the country—draw upon their own experiences to introduce you to St. Faustina and her five essential elements of the Divine Mercy message:

  • The image of the Merciful Jesus
  • The Feast of Divine Mercy
  • The Chaplet of Divine Mercy
  • The House of Mercy
  • Spreading the honor of Divine Mercy

With heartwarming stories and practical advice, this book reveals that mercy is not just a gift to be received in the confessional but a spiritual resource that strengthens those who extend themselves in word, deed, and prayer. Designed for personal or group study, Divine Mercy for Moms celebrates the infinite mercy of God and the role of Mary, the Mother of Mercy, in the lives of all believers.

My review:  On my to-read shelf!  I actually got a signed copy at the Catholic Marketing Network Trade Show and found out that Michele Faehnle is a big “fan” of mine and has read most of my novels!  Cool!!

Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay: How I Reclaimed My Sexuality and Found Peace by Daniel C. Mattson

Synopsis: Daniel Mattson once believed he was gay. Raised in a Christian family, and aware of attractions to other boys at age six, Mattson’s life was marked by constant turmoil between his faith in God and his sexual attractions. Finding the conflict between his sexual desires and the teachings of his church too great, he assumed he was gay, turned his back on God, and began a relationship with another man. Yet freedom and happiness remained elusive until he discovered Christ and his true identity.

In this frank memoir, Mattson chronicles his journey to and from a gay identity, finding peace in his true identity, as a man, made in the image and likeness of God. Part autobiography, part philosophy of life, and part a practical guide in living chastely, the book draws lessons from Mattson’s search for inner freedom and integrity, sharing wisdom from his failures and successes. His lifelong search for happiness and peace comes full circle in his realization that, above all else, what is true about him is that he is a beloved son of God, loved into existence by God, created for happiness in this life and the next. Mattson’s book is for anyone who has ever wondered who he is, why he is here, and, in the face of suffering, where to find joy, happiness, and the peace that surpasses all understanding.

My review: I found this to be a riveting, honest and at times heartwrenching story of a man who has same sex attraction but who aspires to live a chaste life according to the teachings of the Church. After living as a gay man, he eventually found peace in his identity made in the image and likeness of God.  Highly recommend!

Who Am I To Judge: Responding to Relativism with Logic and Love by Dr. Edward Sri

Synopsis: Don’t be so judgmental!”

“Why are Christians so intolerant?”

“Why can’t we just coexist?”

In an age in which preference has replaced morality, many people find it difficult to speak the truth, afraid of the reactions they will receive if they say something is right or wrong. Using engaging stories and personal experience, Edward Sri helps us understand the classical view of morality and equips us to engage relativism, appealing to both the head and the heart. Learn how Catholic morality is all about love, why making a judgment is not judging a person’s soul, and why, in the words of Pope Francis, “relativism wounds people.” Topics include:

• Real Freedom, Real Love

• Sharing truth with compassion

• Why “I disagree” doesn’t mean “I hate you”

My Review: I read this in the airport while waiting through several weather delays.  It made the time go very quickly.  Dr. Sri’s book is not only informational, it also gives practical ways of responding to relativism with logic and love. He’s an entertaining storyteller as well. Highly recommend!

Highlights of the Catholic Writers Conference Live and CMN #cmntradeshow #cwcl2017

Setting up the CWG Booth, the FQP section of the Booth, Tuesday luncheon and socializing

 

Clockwise from top left: CMN Author Event, speaking on 21st Century Indie Publishing, CMN breakfast at the Catholic Mom contributors table, CMN breakfast with Barbara Golder and Meggie Daly

 

Thursday: eating at Culvers (great burgers and coleslaw!) and with my dear friend, Lisa Mladinich (top) and FQP Author and dear friend, Amanda Lauer!

 

Last day at the Friday book signing, with my wonderful minion, Maria, and with FQP authors!

 

With my dear friend, Susan Tassone, AKA “The Purgatory Lady” and we’re color coordinated!

Theology of the Body in a Nutshell – #NFPAwarenessWeek

So why NFP (or Natural Family Planning)? NFP is safe, healthy and effective. Most importantly, it is a morally acceptable way to avoid and achieve pregnancy.

If we look at the four components of God’s love for us (free, total, faithful, fruitful) and compare God’s love to marital love, we can discover how to live the Sacrament of marriage as the ultimate expression of spousal love.

Free: We need to be able love our spouse freely. If we ask for conditions, that’s not love. If we force our spouse to do something, that’s not love. If we cannot say no to our sexual urges, then we are not free.

Total: The love for our spouse must be total. We can’t say, “Well, I’ll give you everything, honey, except for my fertility.” Total means total. (Re: CCC 1643).

Faithful: Obviously, faithfulness means we must only have intercourse with our spouse and no other. But if we want to be truly faithful to our spouse, we must be faithful in word, action and thought.

Fruitful: Marital relations must be fruitful, open to children, each and every time. That doesn’t mean we will conceive (or want to conceive) a child with every marital embrace. It just means we need to be open.

Birth control, in fact, destroys all four of the essential components (free, total, faithful, fruitful). Birth control violates not only God’s plan in fruitfulness, but it also encourages an “I can’t say no” mentality to sex. When an action, device, medication or operation is purposefully used to remove fertility, a couple cannot give themselves totally, no matter how much they love each other. Contraception says, “I give all of myself to my spouse – except my fertility.”

Natural Family Planning allows a couple to love each other as God loves: freely, totally, faithfully and fruitfully. Couples using NFP chart the wife’s cycle and, if avoiding pregnancy, they abstain in the fertile time. If they are planning a pregnancy, they engage in relations during the fertile time. They are not using devices; they are fully giving of themselves and they are open to children with each and every act of marital relations.

NFP allows us to love our spouse as God loves us: freely, with no reservation, faithfully and open to children. Marriage can be a holy vocation when a couple loves as God loves: freely, totally, faithfully and fruitfully.

Want to live the highest expression of your marital love? Use NFP and be open to life.

For more information about the Theology of the Body:
http://thetheologyofthebody.com

For more information on NFP:
www.ccli.org
www.woomb.org
www.creightonmodel.com

Favorite Marriage Quotes 2017 – #NFPAwarenessWeek

The theme for NFP Awareness Week is It’s Time: Say Yes to God’s Plan for Married Love. Since NFP definitely says yes to God’s plan for married love, and since today is the 38th anniversary of when my husband and I first met, I’d like to share seven of my favorite quotes on marriage.

1. “Intense love does not measure; it just gives.” (Blessed Teresa of Calcutta) This quote so perfectly illustrates the sacrificial love of marriage and, indeed, of any relationship. I see this illustrated every day when my husband goes above and beyond to sacrifice for our family. I try to live this quote: every morning I wake up and think, “What can I do to make my husband’s life easier today?”

2. “Marriage is an act of will that signifies and involves a mutual gift, which unites the spouses and binds them to their eventual souls, with whom they make up a sole family – a domestic church. ” (Saint John Paul II). Love is not merely a feeling; it is a choice. Every day I have an opportunity to choose to love my spouse. Sometimes it isn’t easy, but it’s always worthwhile.

3. “Be not afraid.” (Saint John Paul II) As shown in the photo below, I certainly wasn’t afraid of what the future would hold for us. I was too happy at that moment to think of future difficulties and challenges. I had no idea what the next 35 years would bring. All married couples will face hardships and challenges. But they will also experience great joy to balance any hardships. Of course, couples who enter into a sacramental marriage (and who live their faith) have the additional graces to assist them in handling any challenges and hardships.

4. “The two shall become one.” (Genesis 2:24) There’s no better illustration of our unity and oneness than our children who are the walking “representations of our love.” (cr Saint John Paul II).

 

October 22, 2016
photo courtesy Two Trees Photography

5. “Be fruitful; multiply.” (Genesis 1:28)

6. “How can I ever express the happiness of the marriage that is joined together by the Church strengthened by an offering, sealed by a blessing, announced by angels and ratified by the Father? …How wonderful the bond between two believers with a single hope, a single desire, a single observance, a single service! They are both brethren and both fellow-servants; there is no separation between them in spirit or flesh; in fact they are truly two in one flesh and where the flesh is one, one is the spirit.”(24) Tertullian (cr Familiaris Consortio Saint John Paul II)

I love this quote from Tertullian, who exquisitely describes the spiritual and physical joys of the one flesh experience of Christian marriage.

7. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Romans 4:6) Prayer is such an important part of a sacramental marriage. But having people pray for you is also essential. In that regard, I’d like to share one of my favorite anniversary gifts: a beautiful card that was lovingly made for us by Dominican Novices back in 2012 when we were celebrating our 30th anniversary. Each sister signed her name to one day in May with a note below saying that “In honor of this occasion, we will offer 30 days (plus one) of prayer with a different sister praying for you each day this month.” Wow.

Text and photos copyright 2012/2017 Ellen Gable Hrkach