Thursday, June 29, 2006

Cecilia Roberts Leslie, RIP

I'm back in South Carolina, at least temporarily. My mother, Cecilia Roberts Leslie, passed from this life today at about 6: 45 AM. My sister-in-law and a very conscientious nurse's aide were with her. They said her passing was very peaceful. There was no pain, no struggle. My brother Allen called everyone else and we gathered at the house a few minutes later. We said goodbye, wept, prayed, and comforted each other as best we could. My brother Bill and I decided it would be best if we went back to my house and prepared ourselves for the memorial service on Monday.

I don't have the words to say much more about it right now. At Allen's request, I've written an obituary for the newspapers, but those few lines of stiff, formal language don't do justice to the wonderful woman who was--and is--my Mom. As the days and weeks go by, no doubt I will be blogging more about her. For now I can only offer this prayer:

Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon her. Amen.

Rest in peace, Mom. I love you.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Wait Continues

I am still in North Carolina. Mom appears to be weakening almost daily. Monday morning, my brother's pastor came over yesterday to give her the Anointing of the Sick and a general absolution. He did his best to put everyone at ease, telling lots of funny and comforting stories. I could see Mom smiling while he was here. She enjoyed that.

Almost as soon as Father Jim left, however, Mom began complaining of more pain, and we decided it was time to arrange for her to get stronger pain medicine and more of it. My brother Allen became somewhat frustrated because he had trouble making contact with the doctor and hospice workers to authorize the change. The most wrenching part of this for all of us is to see Mom in pain and be able to do so little about it. Once the new medicine arrived, however, it seemed Mom was able to relax more and get some extended deeper sleep that she desperately needed. The hospice nurse came and evaluated her, and alerted us all that her breathing was becoming shallower and more irregular. According to the hospice folks, this is usually a sign of approaching death, but it's impossible to say exactly when that will come. Last night before my brother Bill and I went back to the motel, I sat with her for a few minutes, and even I noticed the irregular breathing pattern.

I am torn. Of course I want to be with Mom, but it's so emotionally demanding that I can only be in the room for a few minutes at a time. Today I said the Tessera, the set of prayers associated with the Legion of Mary, and the Divine Mercy Chaplet while I was with her. We all have to take frequent breaks and draw strength from simply being together and doing normal family stuff such as reading and watching TV. Last night as we gathered for dinner after a long day, we found ourselves talking about what a great cook Mom was and how she loved to bring the family together for a great meal. Even when she can't be with us physically, Mom is still in our hearts.

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.

Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us

Sunday, June 25, 2006


I am live blogging from North Carolina where we are waiting ... for what?

My mother is gravely ill with cancer and a broken rib. I think we're very close to the end now. My brother Allen called me early Friday morning and said, "If you want to see Mom, you had better come sooner rather than later." My brother Bill and I arrived Saturday afternoon. All of my other brothers and sisters and their respective spouses are here too.

Mom is shockingly pale and frail--downright gaunt, with sunken eyes. She needs help to roll over, and barely has the energy to talk when she's awake. When I arrived, she was dozing in a new recliner chair because it's difficult for her to lie completely flat in bed and be comfortable. Allen has engaged a nurse's assistant to sit with her during the late night and early morning so that he and his wife Nita can get some sleep. They are exhausted. During the night, the nurse's assistant moved Mom to the bed, and she's been resting there intermittently ever since. We've been taking turns visiting her and tending to her needs as best we can.

I have never seen Christlike love in action so powerfully as I have in the last 24 hours or so. My brothers and sisters have to give Mom water from a sippy cup, and when she feels like eating, we spoon feed her cream of wheat, pureed peaches, and the occasional cup of chicken broth. They do it with such incredible tenderness! It's a small--wholly inadequate--way we can say thank you for the millions of times Mom cared for us with equal tenderness over the years when we were sick.

Yet even the in-laws and the newest members of our family that don't have that long history with Mom recognize what an extraordinary woman she is and love her for it. Yesterday, Mom was complaining of itchy and dry skin. My sister-in-law Carla, the newest member of our family, gently and tenderly rubbed on some lotion so that Mom could feel better. I was so touched by that! I sat and quietly said the Rosary while she slept earlier this afternoon. There is little I can do physically for Mom because of my disability, and it makes me feel guilty, but she told me she's glad I'm here.

Even though she's so ill, she's still Mom, with a wry sense of humor and a never-ending concern for her kids. A couple of nights ago the nurse's assistant recognized that Mom needed a catheter and demanded that a nurse come out in the wee hours of the morning to put one in. We started talking about how important it is to demand what you need when you're sick. I said, "You don't get extra points for being a hero." She said, "You don't even get extra points for being polite." She could still give a lopsided smile when somebody told a joke.

As if all of this situation with Mom weren't bad enough, I've been hobbled for the past couple of weeks by a nasty intestinal something-or-other. Yesterday, I was feeling particularly vile. The first words she said to me today were a question about how I was doing. When I told her I was feeling better, she said, "I'm so glad." She worries about her daughter-in-law Nita, who worries about her. Always a Mom!

We are simply waiting for whatever happens next.

Mary, help of Christians and help of the sick, pray for us.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

I Am Not Worthy!

I have been given an honor I did not expect.

K T Cat, Maximum Leader of the Feline Theocracy, has graciously granted me the title Holy Scribe of the Feline Theocracy. You are too generous, O Feline One! May you be free of hairballs forever! Jacob the Syrian Hamster, faithful beadle of the Theocracy, was particularly impressed with the tribute I wrote to my Dad. What can I say? I merely wrote from my heart. I will strive to be a faithful servant of the Maximum Leader, although it may be difficult for me to scratch behind her ears since I am in South Carolina and she is in San Diego.

Update on my Mom

Thanks to all of you who have been praying regarding my Mom, Cecilia (Cele for short), and her battle with cancer. Here's an update. I'm afraid the news isn't good. She had her PET scan last Sunday. The cancer is in her lungs and lymph nodes. The oncologist is estimating that without chemo, she has perhaps six months to live. If she takes chemo, she could add two or three months, but that's about it. As if that weren't bad enough, she's got other health problems--osteoporosis, stress fractures, chronic back pain, muscle spasms, and deteriorating vision, to name a few--that would make chemotherapy even more difficult than it normally is. She hasn't made any decision yet, but my brothers and sisters tell me she's leaning toward taking no treatment because chemo would be an awful lot of discomfort for very little benefit. The kids will do everything we can to make her remaining time as comfortable as possible and will spend as much time with her as we can. One of my brothers and I are going up to visit her next weekend.

I am holding up fairly well by leaning on family and friends here in town and in other places that I stay in touch with by telephone. I'm very blessed to be part of a close-knit family. When there's a crisis like this, we rally and support each other. I must confess I'm having a hard time praying about this because I don't know what to pray for. I don't want my mother to die, but I don't want her to linger and suffer needlessly, and I don't want to oppose God's will. Please pray for Mom and for the whole family.


Thursday, June 08, 2006

Comments! We Get Comments!

Well, goshdarmit, it looks like somebody reads this li'l ol' blog after all!

I e-mailed Rod Bennett to tell him how much I was enjoying his series on C. S. Lewis and pulp fiction and invited him to visit this blog. Rod graciously responded that he had already seen my blog.

Janjan left a comment thanking me for mentioning her blog and adding her to the blogroll, and another wishing me luck in my fiction writing endeavors.

Finally, I must make a correction and express my thanks for the merciful benevolence of K. T. Cat, Maximum Leader of the Feline Theocracy. In my mention of The Scratching Post blog, I erroneously identified Glenn Reynolds as the human member of the triumvirate that runs TSP. The human left a comment informing me that he is not Glenn Reynolds and adding that he wishes to remain an anonymous servant of The Maximum Leader. Many thanks for your charity in not rebuking me further for my error, O Feline One. I am not worthy. May you have catnip, fresh milk, and balls of yarn forever!

It's nice to be noticed. I feel almost famous. Are my 15 minutes up yet, Mr. Warhol?

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Fiction Is a Necessity

I've been thinking about writing again.

Not just blogging--but writing fiction, too. Life seems a mite drab these days: Get up, go to work, come home, look at stack of unpaid bills, ignore unpaid bills if possible, mourn deceased father, worry about elderly mother, regret mistakes and missed opportunities, especially in relationships. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

There's nothing like the death of one parent, the illness of the other, and your own physical problems to make you think about your own mortality and the fact that none of us knows how long we have on this earth. I don't want to spend my whole life slogging through stuff I don't want to do and miss out on some of the things I do want to do. I realize life can't be a 24/7/365 thrill ride, and that we all have to carry our crosses, but I would really like something to get excited about in my life--something that adds color and challenge, and a feeling of having created and accomplished something good. Something that makes me get up out of bed and say, "Wow! Today I get to . . . (fill in the blank)." Writing may be that something. I have notes and drafts for several unfinished fiction projects on my hard drive--mostly of a comic booky, pulpy, science fictiony, type nature. I, the holder of a Master's in English, with a specialization in Renaissance Lit., have to confess: I love pulp, or at least I used to. Somewhere along the line I lost interest and it became much less important. Perhaps I overdosed on it and provoked a reaction. Can I pick it back up again? I don't know.

Why pulp? Why not higher brow literature? I've written some of that too over the years. I think for now I would just like to try to write something fun. Fun to write and fun to read. No moral, no message, no deeper meaning other than the victory of good over evil, which might be the theme of all great literature. I want to see the hero save the world and get the girl. I think all literature, even if it deals with serious issues, arises out of a need to imagine, to create, to pretend, to play. I want to play, at least for a little while. Pulpy, comic booky, science fictiony type stuff appeals to me, I suppose, because it brings that desire to play and the desire to see good triumph over evil down to their most basic and obvious level. It's hard to take Superman seriously as a work of literature, but it's easy for a nerdy guy like me to identify with Clark Kent, wish he were Superman, win the love of a girl like Lois Lane and whup a villain like Lex Luthor. As the great Catholic essayist G. K. Chesterton observed:

The simple need for some kind of ideal world in which fictitious persons play an unhampered part is infinitely deeper and older than the rules of good art, and much more important. . . Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity . . The poor--the slaves who really stoop under the burden of life-- have often been mad, scatter-brained, and cruel, but never hopeless. That is a class privilege, like cigars. Their drivelling literature will always be a "blood and thunder" literature, as simple as the thunder of heaven and the blood of men.

I'm not poor, but every once in a while I feel stooped under the burden of life and need some "blood and thunder" to give me hope. Let's go make some blood and thunder!

Blogroll Business

Howdy once again, blogfans, and welcome to the NEW AND IMPROVED "It's All Straw." For your convenience and mine, the blogroll on the left has been alphabetized and expanded for easy access to favorite blogs old and new.

Among my particular new favorites, Rod Bennett over at tremendous trifles has been running a fascinating series of posts on the influence of pulp and science fiction on the writing of C. S. Lewis. (part one, part two, part three, part four) What Rod has discovered may surprise you. Seems ol' "Jack" Lewis was more of a sci-fi geek than we thought. Do check it out. I know I've railed against some really vapid pop culture on this blog in the recent past, but I've always had a soft spot for fantasy, sci-fi, adventure fiction, classic pulp, and their modern day descendants, such as Star Trek and Star Wars.

Once a Chicken, Now a Fish is the story of blogger Janjan's circuitous path from Reform Judaism to Catholicism, told with dry wit, honesty, and style. Her blog With Issue continues the story as she struggles to live out her faith like the rest of us, while looking out on this crazy world we live in. Shalom, and welcome to the Church, Jan!

The blogger known only as Anonymous Teacher Person gives us a glimpse inside her Catholic high school classroom with her blog Scrutinies. Her career as a Teacher Person may be coming to an end, however, as she and her TeacherHusband are moving and mulling the possibility of having more TeacherKids. Prayers and best wishes as they consider what comes next! Blogger Rachel Swenson Balducci tells us what it's like to live, love, and bring up kids Catholic in her male-dominated Testosterhome.

Blogger and author Mike Aquilina instructs us in The Way of the Fathers and explains why the teaching and practice of the earliest Christians are still relevant today. For my money, knowing something about the real history of the early church is a useful and badly needed corrective to all of the nonsense and lies spouted in The Da Vinci Code.

Over at The Scratching Post team bloggers KT Cat, Jacob the Syrian Hamster, and their pet human, Glenn Reynolds, "make the business case for kindness." You'll find conservative political commentary and "World of Good Blogburst" posts which describe various opportunities for community service. The first-person (um, first-animal?) reports on the ever-so-trying life of KT and Jacob are hilarious, but woe to ye who incur the terrible wrath of the mighty Feline Theocracy! Ignore their "catwa" at your peril, unbeliever!

Finally, even though he's been on my blogroll for awhile, I gotta give a shout-out to my former colleague Mark Mossa, S. J. and his blog You Duped Me, Lord. When I last saw him, Mark and I were graduate students in English at the University of South Carolina. Now Mark is a Jesuit "scholastic" or candidate for ordination, scheduled to become a priest in 2008. God bless you, Mark, as you pursue this vocation.

Watch for new and interesting additions to the blogroll as I discover them.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Bad News

It looks like my Mom's cancer is back.

She had one bout of lung cancer in 2002-2003. My Dad died of lung cancer in 2005. She actually got sick before my Dad did, but the doctors caught the cancer in its early stages and it responded well to chemotherapy and radiation. This time it looks as though there are multiple tumors in both lungs and they may be farther along than the first time. I'm getting my information indirectly from my brother, who's getting it from my sister-in-law who got it from the nurse in the oncologist's office. Mom herself is pretty stoic about the whole thing, implying that the doctor's just over-reacting, or that she's just old and ill health is to be expected. We'll have more definitive information after she has a PET scan next weekend. There is still much we don't know. Prayers are requested. My Mom's name is Cecilia, Cele for short.

I am trying not to freak out over the whole thing. It doesn't seem quite real yet. But it is depressing. I just finished writing a remembrance of my Dad, and the thought that I may soon have to write one for my Mom, is disturbing to say the least. I will keep you posted, adding more details as they become available. God's will be done.