Monsignor Daniel Sullivan RIP

I have truly come to the conclusion that there are no coincidences in our lives … people, things, and stories are thrown in our lives for a reason.  I’m just not sure what to do with any of this.

Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church is one of my two “home” parishes, and is having a three-day retreat, Monday night, last night, and ending tonight led by Daniel Sullivan.  Very popular as a writer, retreat leader and mission speaker, we’ve been waiting for four years for our turn to hear Monsignor Sullivan.  He told 1200 parishioners Monday that he was booked until 2017.

Monsignor Sullivan is indeed quite a riveting speaker, very engaging and animated, with a love for his priesthood and faith that I was very drawn to.  I spoke with him after he was introduced at Mass on Sunday, and we agreed to meet on Wednesday morning, my day off.  I was to speak with him after the Monday talk to confirm and set up a definite time.  Although I did attend Monday’s talk, he was deluged afterward, and so I called him at the Crown Plaza on Tuesday and we decided on 9am in the pool courtyard overlooking the ocean.

I arrived early, and jotted down some notes about my life, Cullen, and the Camino.  By 9:05, he still hadn’t come down, so I had the front desk ring his room.  Seconds later a fire truck, ambulance, and 2 police card screeched to a halt under the canopy, just feet away.  The EMTs ran past and to the elevator.  When I asked the concierge if they were going to Father Sullivan’s room, she just looked at me like a deer in the headlights so I told her with urgency that if so, I needed to call Fr. Tony immediately.  I made that call, but Fr. Tony had already been contacted by the police, and was there with Bill Gent a few minutes later.

Monsignor Daniel Sullivan died in his room last night, just hours before our meeting.  I certainly have a sense of loss, as do the tens of thousands of faithful he has ministered to and would have ministered to in the next decade, but I had really just met him, so mine is not the grief others must feel.  This is just another piece of a puzzle i call “my life.”  I just have no idea where to put it.

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Consumed

Yeah, I suppose I am consumed at times, most of the time in fact.  OK, all the time.  Sharon says I’m obsessive about everything I do.  Well, she IS always right.  Seriously.  So although I do seem to be consumed all the time, it’s not always with grief.  At least I don’t think I am.

This Camino thing will be really, really physically demanding.  I mean, I AM 53 years old, and it will be pretty rough.  And I’ve never even hiked before, unless you count boy scouts or walking through the woods to the cliff dive place a couple of years ago with Emily in Hawaii.  So I bought all the right (I hope) gear, and started hiking with my 28# backpack a couple of times a week.  Ok it’s like everyday, but just for a short walk before anyone wakes up.  Well maybe more than a short walk, cause I walk from like 5:15 to about 7:00, but really that only like 6 or 7 miles every day.  Does that sound obsessive?  A little, I suppose, but I gotta get prepared for 18-25 miles each day, and I’m a long way from being in the shape I need to be in. And frankly, the “short walks” are kicking my butt!  I am so sore, and not just pulled muscles and strained ligaments and sprained tendons, but my joints themselves are showing me a frustrating amount of intolerance to this kind of activity.  I remember some arthritic changes in both knees and both hips in the XRays we took about 10 years ago when Cullen and I took Tae Kwan Do and I had a bit of a run in with my aging shell.

I do notice that  the training doesn’t look so compulsive now that Sharon is walking with me when she can doesn’t have to be at work early and if I instead do an afternoon trek.  Kind of kicking her younger body too!

Really though, I am.  I can never just buy something.  I am driven to research for hours.  Heaven forbid not getting the best product for the best price.  Buying socks takes hours; a phone weeks; a car takes months.  Seriously.

Maybe a little ADD too, but that’s a different blog post.

She is right though, I am compulsive, and consumed.  Since I discovered we were mortal, me specifically, I’ve been consumed with exploring faith, religion, God, death, and finally, living.  Not really sure when that happened, but probably when the girl down the street from me named Kim Inman died from Leukemia when we were like 12.  That’s the first death I really remember.  She was someone I knew, a part of MY world, a 12 year old’s reality.  She was there, my playmate, then almost instantly, was gone.  Of course then there was Nana, Papu, Grandma, Grandpa, and Dante.  And then Daddy.  Lots of things there I wish I had done and said, and not done and not said.  And lessons learned – good ones, bot what to do, and unfortunately lots of things not to do.  But that’s another post also.

Also unfortunately some of these lessons came much too late about what not to do.  How to stop generational history from repeating itself…  You know, we become our parents.  But again that’s the other post, but don’t look for it yet, cause its all still in my head.

But yeah, I do obsess about God and the other stuff I mentioned, as well as my perceptions about others’ relationship with God, and their perceptions toward mine; BTW, what the heck?  Why all the vitriol about Catholics?  We don’t worship statues, and think Mary is a God, and where does all this stuff even come from?  Haha, but seriously – we’re not Christians?  We were the ONLY Christians for over a thousand years before Henry got upset that the rules couldn’t be changed so he could get a divorce, and Martin Luther (and probably lots of others) were upset about indulgence abuse and threw out 17 books from the bible that he didn’t like.  They’re inspired for 1500 years, then you decide you knew more than the early Church Fathers?  Guess that’s a different post too.  Don’t look for that one either.

Did I mention I’m a little ADD?

So I am consumed with Cullen’s loss, and no, it’s never gonna be the same again, and the “new normal” grief counselors talk about is bullshit.  No, I’m not always consumed with grief and sadness, but yes, frankly the whole thing sucks, and I do think of Cullen every minute of every day.  But lots of it is good stuff.  Most of it in fact.

 

Camino de Santiago

After returning home from FSU with Cullen on April 27, 2012, he stayed with us that weekend before leaving to study in China. Cullen went to Mass with us at HNJ, then expressed a desire to stay late for a Eucharistic Adoration service that Fr. Tony was having, with music by Sarah Kroger.  Cullen remarked that she sang “like an angel.”  Afterward we all returned home.

Cullen always wanted me to stay up late and watch a movie, and I typically declined because I was up very early the next day for work.  Agreeing this time to do so, we proceeded to dig through DVDs, looking, of course, for Napoleon Dynamite.  I remarked that it was too bad we had just returned a movie the rest of us had watched earlier in the week, because when we were watching it I remembered thinking that I knew he would enjoy it.  Anyway, Noah thought that although it hadn’t been available as an instant download that perhaps it would be now that we had watched it – I was skeptical, but upon checking – there it was – “The Way.”

Emilio Estevez directs his father Martin Sheen in this story of a man’s “final journey” with his son, discovering what he had meant when he said, “You don’t choose a life Dad, you live one.”  This is the story of walking “The Way of Saint James,”   with a few glimpses of the pilgrim’s experience as they walk the 500 mile “Camino de Santiago.”  The journey climaxes as the group enters the Cathedral of Santiago, each surrendering the burdens that they have attempted to carry alone.

After the movie ended, the two of us sat together in silence, until the music and credits ended.  I started to engage, “Well … ”  Cullen interrupted, “Of course I’ll walk it with you, but I gotta finish my master’s degree, so we’ll do it in two years.  We agreed and hugged goodnight.

I’ve read many reviews of the movie, and heard lots of people comment on it.  No one understands the depth of the message and foreboding for us.  Watching that movie was the last thing I was to do with my son.  He left me the next day, and I would only see his beautiful face once more; in a box rolling into the Chinese crematory.

I leave on my 500 mile, 30 day Camino de Santiago on April 16, 2013.

Real Time

Ok, so I didn’t really write that last post in November; it kinda looks that way because that’s when I opened a WordPress account, and I edited my welcome comment without paying any attention to the date.  Not my first mistake, but this is my first quote:

“I make more mistakes than anyone I know.”

I really, truly do, and I have no memory whatsoever, but that will be a notable quote for later.

So this is my first blog in “real time.”

My days off used to be spent building stuff.  Or breaking stuff.  Or actually crossing stuff of my “to do” list.  Now this idle time is spent rewriting “to do” lists and “sorting and organizing.”  This really means going through stacks of stuff I’ll now never be able to throw away, and pictures of him.  And of all the kids when they were younger, which always includes pictures of him.  And albums, and notes, and letters … and wow, here’s one from him … and missing Mom and Daddy, and him.  And so many regrets of things I said, and didn’t say, and things I did, and wish I had done.  And I drown in this river of desolation, as I sink into the couch holding that picture of us against my chest, weeping again.  I wonder how I can take another breath, how I can get out of bed every morning.  Why am I not still in this fetal position, frozen with anguish all day long?

How?  I think it’s because my God holds me up.  The poem of two footprints comes to mind.  The prayers of my family and friends have lifted me for these last 9 months.  I’ve spent so much time “working” on this grief thing, I feel like I should counsel others – so many books read, and hours in prayer, and retreat.  Discussions with my Spiritual Counsel – Numerous priests, my spiritual director, friends that are ministers, and friends.  I know the right answers.  And I truly do get really strange and exciting feelings often when I pray, and when I walk, and sometimes when I’m not expecting it at all.  Feelings of warmth, cool breezes from nowhere, a tingling chill when I have some thought or image that just seems to appear into my mind at unexpected, but very relevant times.  So, yes I do know the very real touch of the Holy Spirit.

But for some crazy reason I have so many doubts.  Maybe I feel I’m not worthy of such a divine intervention holding me in His embrace.  Doubts?  Sure, like: did I just make all that up?  Is it really that I just want so much for God to be embracing me and strengthening me that I imagine it?  That my strength really comes from the fact that I MUST get out of bed every morning.  Bills to pay.  Life does go on, for the rest of us.  I have four other children who look to me for strength, so despair and equivocation is not an option.

And maybe I’m just so horribly afraid that my faith, that I think is so strong, really is a lie.  That my faith, that I can argue apologetics for hours why it is so true and real, and the God who is so true and so real, may in fact not be.  I’m told that St Ignatius of Loyola (the founder of the Jesuits) called these dark times, periods of desolation, and that all the greats have them.  He did.  St. Augustine did.  Mother Theresa did. Pope JP2 did.  Why should I be any different or any better.  I guess that’s why its called faith.  It wouldn’t be my faith if in fact I had seen the face of God.  Or if my dearest son tapped me on the shoulder right now and told me that he was fine, and better than fine, and in Heaven and with Mom and Daddy, and that all that I had told him for 19 years was really true.  But he in fact hasn’t.  And so I do continue in faith, and hope, and love.  For my family, and my parents, and my son, and the God that I do so desperately want to be embracing them all right now.

So, ok. This must sound really depressing.  But it’s not.  It’s just my life right now.  I find much strength and consolation from something, and I have such a deeper perspective, and depth of love and empathy than I ever knew existed before.  It is very real, and it comes from somewhere.

I won’t go on and on in this blog about Cullen.  That will be a different blog.  This one is just really mine,  although it does include him, and mainly him right now.  It really will be about my journey here, my life, my camino.  More about that later also – my Camino.