Updated: Mar 15, 2019
All my life I tended to swing back and forth with my spiritual practices. I grew up in the typical dysfunctional Catholic family that tried to look functional. We attended church in spurts and made all of our sacraments. After my dad died the parish priest “counseled” us with alcohol and marijuana. Gradually he only asked to counsel my brothers who he tried to convince to become priests. No amount of drugs or beer were convincing my teenage brothers to give up girls so the free counseling sessions ended.
I swore off organized religion for almost 20 years then. I found my beliefs in science, within and on Oprah. When Marianne Williamson came to my town to be a minister in the 90’s I religiously attended Renaissance Unity or as Norm called it “The Church of What’s Happening Now”. We were exposed to diversity and many religions there. Buddhist, Judaism, Hinduism, Baptists, drum circles, Tibetan bowl meditations and they had a powerful gospel choir. It still gives me chills remembering Kem, Thornetta, and the Brock twins belt out spirituals and Michael Jackson tunes. I totally get the -- “They took us to CHUCH!” Expression. When Marianne left, the kids and I went to a mega-church that catered to blue jean wearing disillusioned Christians.
Both churches had pastors who were “real” people with real stories speaking their truth. The ministers admitted their past and current shortcomings. The practicality of it all drew me in. I always felt better coming out of church and I felt like a good mom exposing my kids to Jesus and others. And both of these churches served me in conveying comforting gospel songs and passages. I totally see how praying and reading the Bible daily changes your life.
But it was Mary, not Marianne, who significantly changed Norm.
Norm could be a dick. I told him that. Many times. “You’re such a dick!” Yes, this is how some middle school teachers speak at their homes. We save it all up to unleash on our family once in a while. Sorry family. I love you. (My mom called me yesterday questioning me about including this strong word in my book but then ended the conversation with, "Yeah, your dad could be a dick, too.")
Norm knew it. Kevyn, the psychic, even told me that last October. “Your husband was a dick. He came from a long line of dicks.” I tried to argue with him saying Papa, his dad, was not a dick. He just responded, “Well, he used to be.”
We were “separated” for three years. By separated, I mean I slept on the couch and barely spoke to him. I don’t advise that. I just knew the logistics of going through a divorce, moving the kids away from the only neighborhood they ever knew, moving all our crap and knowing I’d probably do what my mom did after the first time she filed for divorce. I’d rip up the papers as soon as Norm broke down in front of me.
He took a chance at reconciliation and made reservations at the St. James hotel in Chicago for our 20th anniversary. “I’ll get two beds or two rooms.” I knew he was too cheap to go for option number two. “Come on. We’ll shop and eat good.”
So we reconciled. I left the couch and we lived unhappily for a few more years until I had had enough. I snapped at the Notre Dame baseball tournament.
Michael and Norm had a lot in common. To keep peace in the house things needed to go their way. Sam and I had to follow along and do what the other guys wanted. Sam hated going to these tournaments all summer. He and the girls hated baseball. The other half of the family was obsessed with it. We’d watch Mike play in 3-5 games a day then go sit around with the other baseball families and discuss the plays all evening while watching a Tiger game. We’d go back to the hotel and calculate Mike’s stats.
Sam was thirteen and he loved the movie Rudy. It was a true story about a boy who had a learning disability and wanted to go to Notre Dame University and play football. I loved it too and showed it to my students once a year. Sam wanted to walk around the campus. Mike did not. Mike used to get pretty much everything he wanted so Norm said no to the campus tour. I blew up. Even though the team was doing great and Mike was probably going to pitch in a championship game I declared that Sam and I were leaving to go home. I also was done done done with everything. It got ugly and Norm knew I meant it this time.
He followed Sam and me to the university campus. He begged me to go to a church service on the Catholic campus with him. God had to be there in those big ornate beautiful gothic gilded topped buildings. I could not deny a crying man a date to church but I did not want to open the doors of the cathedral to come ten minutes late to service. Five o’clock mass had already begun. The very large thick doors were closed.
When we debated disturbing the mass a plainly robed priest walked up to us and asked if he could help. We told him how we wanted to go to mass but it had already started. “Follow me. I’ll take you to the crypt.” Norm and I looked at each other. Like dead people crypt?
It was in a basement. A small chapel with many candles in ruby red glass votives lit and a few people praying in old wooden pews. A beautiful statue of the Blessed Mother was in the front and a row of wooden boxes along a back counter. Each box had about a dozen or so various colored rosaries you could buy for $13 each on the honor system. Of course mr. cheap guy had no money on him and asked me, with watery eyes, if I’d buy him one. I had to shake my head and grin. I knew him. If I wasn’t there he might be tempted to steal a rosary. So I bought him one. He wanted black.
He took the little cheat sheet and stuck both in his pocket. He convinced me to stick it out and stay at the tournament. I woke the next morning to him sitting at the hotel room desk mumbling the decades of the rosary. Prior to that I rarely saw him pray except for Michael to win the big game. But from that day on, Norm said the rosary almost every morning and evening. He’d set his alarm for 3:30am so he’d have time to pray and swim at the gym before getting to work by 5:45am. For five years he used that same rosary. Gracie’s old boyfriend bought him a beautiful rosewood one from the Vatican gift shop. It was blessed by the pope. Norm hung that one on his truck’s rear view mirror and then in the red Dodge Journey. Now it’s in my orange Equinox. He only used the crystal black one to pray. It was pooled next to his laptop at the Brooklyn airbnb. It’s the one that was in his hands at the funeral home and now hangs in my purple maple tree next to the rusted woodpecker I found on Etsy.
He changed after that weekend. I believe Mary intervened. The mean man I was married to for 23 years became kind. There was way less kicking him under the table at dinner parties. He danced more, gave more, laughed, smiled and hugged more.
I still had Norm’s funeral at a church even though he rarely went. I continued going sporadically that first year. Sometimes anxiety kept me from wanting to be around people and occasionally still does. I’m not saying I’ve sworn off organized religion indefinitely. I loved how my churches ministered to underprivileged people and save lives through all their services, groups, and recovery programs. But to be honest, it was other practices that helped me survive my first year without Norm. “Spirit” outside of organized religion saved me and led me in a totally different direction.