Let Winter Go

Purple crocus peeking through snow
Death…so familiar yet completely unknown
Black flower
Photo by Antonio Grosz

Hurricanes, wild fires, tsunamis, even today’s prevailing enemy, the COVID-19 virus, I witness these disasters striking human persons all over the world. I shudder for them and just as quickly sense enormous relief that my home still stands, that my body and spirit remain healthy. But there is another less settling feeling   hiding beneath the relief, the one that’s always there. At some unknown moment, death will come to me. That same awful reality that first shook my world when my best friend died when we were only nine years old is one I can never escape.

For this reason that Spring has always been my favorite season. As our days grow gradually warmer and longer, sunshine also pours forth from the earth that lay gray-brown and dull for so very many weeks. Yellow daffodils appear at almost every doorstep. Forsythia burst like fireworks from the banks of the Willamette River. Even on cloudy days, I take to wearing my sunglasses again.

the wisdom of spring
Field of daffadils
Photo by Marian Kroell

Spring is my mentor. Time, she says, to let go of what has already died.  Just as we need to clear away the dried-out leaves of last years flowers, I need to clear my hours of that which deadens my soul.

In the spring of 1967, a court order forced me to return a foster child in my supervision to her biological family just before her adoption. It devasted me that none of the arguments I had mounted against this travesty of justice held sway. Tradition won out over reason. Just as the spring rains washed away the last of the dirty Chicago snow, they also washed away my desire to continue working toward change I seemed helpless to initiate.

wilted and gone
Lone flower in woods
Photo by Matthew Smith

For three years I poured my heart and soul into helping neglected and abused children find care, love and nourishing in new homes. I worked with them and their new parents as children with damaged spirits slowly adjusted to the kind of childhood, I had taken for granted as had most of my friends. The children did not learn to trust easily. The parents were not always able to cope with the challenges. Sometimes the new families fell apart at the seams. But when it worked, when children and parents bonded into a new family unit, every bit of effort paid off. Still, the cases that fell through took their toll on my psyche a little at a time. And almost every week brought another abandoned, abused or neglected child into my caseload. The never-ending cycle made me feel like a hamster in a cage, and I was just one social worker in one agency out of hundreds.

Soon after I began working at Cook County Department of Child and Family Services, I married my college sweetheart Jay Ward. For two of those years we had been hoping for a baby, but I remained infertile for reasons without a discernible medical cause.  In what might have been reaching for straws, the gynecologist speculated that my work stress might be causing my infertility.

every end is also a beginning

At first, I considered his advice unacceptable, a too easy answer to a question

Puplre daisies
Photo by Annie Spratt

he couldn’t answer. But once uttered, it could not be unsaid. It was one of many straws on the camel’s back. I just didn’t feel it yet. When Vicki Reagan disappeared immediately after I brought her back to her biological family, it was the last straw. I couldn’t carry my load any longer. This work I loved, work that I had believed was a perfect fit for my skills and my sense of self, could no longer sustain me.

If an older version of me needed to die, who would take her place? Not a daffodil, I didn’t burst into bloom where planted as soon as the snows washed away. Rather like a daisy, a seed scattered on the wind, drifting, randomly landing without real intent, I would flower briefly in different editions over the next few years. It would not be until I became a mother that I once again discovered a passion that could sustain me over many seasons.


Mother, toddler, flower field
Photo by Lieanna Mikah


Some things happen for a reason,
Others just come with the season.”
Ana Claudia Antunes, The Tao of Physical and Spiritual

Was there a time you felt your life was suspended between an ending and an unknown beginning? I’d love to hear about that.

Many Ways to Arrange a Marriage

Road between Autumn Trees
Once Upon a Thanksgiving

Arranged marriages are not the norm in modern Western society.  Yet, there can be times when either with full intent and by accident, a parent can help “arrange” a marriage for his or her child. My mother-in-law, Mary Brophy Ward by a simple act of kindness, inadvertently nudged her son into a deeply committed relationship with me much more quickly than had been his intention.

In early November 1962, Jay and I had just resumed dating. We had met the year before on a blind date, but nothing had sparked between us. Jay thought I was the kind of girl he hoped to marry someday, but he was a long way from such a serious undertaking. As for me, I was in the midst of falling deeply in love with another guy to whom I would become engaged within a few months.

Couple walking in woods
Photo by Tom the Photographer

My engagement shattered the following June.  After a long, lonely summer, I returned to college and invited Jay to a party on campus. I’d been on his mind. So, it was a welcome call. We began to see each other every weekend, usually to walk from St. Mary’s to Notre Dame and join dozens of other couples dancing to the sound of crooners the Huddle DJ preferred. Cheap, pleasant fun, it was a good, nicely-paced way to get to know each other. We both liked what we discovered.

Meet the Parents

Jay’s parents had tickets for all the Notre Dame football games. Routinely, they drove to South Bend from Chicago, attended the game, met Jay after ND lost (it wasn’t quite the same team in those days), and took him and a bunch of his friends to dinner.

The first week of November, Jay invited me to meet them. His sister Maureen was a freshman at St. Mary’s.  She and her roommate, another Maureen, would be joining us as would Maureen’s parents, who were visiting from Oregon. In those days games always started at noon and ended around three-thirty. So, after the game, we all met in Jay’s small single room in Dillon Hall for soft drinks before going out. We barely fit in the small space, which was already jammed full with a twin bed, desk, desk chair, bookcase, and lounge chair (still one of Jay’s stables). In order for us all to fit, a crowd that had grown to include Jay’s best friend Jack and his former roommate Phil, I sat on top of his desk (oh, to be that slim and nimble again).

Jay’s dad, John Francis Ward, was a member of Mayor Richard Daley’s cabinet and a no-nonsense guy when he was around family (though we had heard he could be quite a cut-up when out with friends). Mr. Ward was perturbed.

Model heart on med book
Photo by Robina Weermeier

Jay had entered Notre Dame three years before as a pre-med major.  By the end of his junior year, he had completed all his pre-med credits – and decided he didn’t want to be a doctor! His senior class roster was filled with Russian Lit and Political Science courses. His dad must have been brooded over this for a few weeks because suddenly in front of everyone he confronted Jay. “Well, son, if you aren’t going to be a doctor, then just what do you plan to do with your life?”

Priest with Chalices
Photo by Shalone Cason

The whole room hushed. Jay turned white. His freckles stood out against his pale skin, and then he gave a slow smile. “I’m going to become a priest,” he said. His timing was unfortunate.  I had a mouthful of Pepsi just sliding down my throat. It caught there.  I choked and sputtered and splattered Maureen who was sitting on the desk chair with a spray of sticky soda.

When I got my breath, I realized all eyes were on me. I could feel the warmth of my blush start on my neck and flush up to the roots of my hair. I switched the focus to Maureen. “I’m so sorry.  Are you okay?  Here I have a hanky.”

A Simple Invitation

As things calmed down, Mrs. Ward came over and engaged me in conversation. Something must be happening between her son and this girl, and she wanted to know just what.  In the conversation, it came out that I wouldn’t be going home for Thanksgiving because the trip to Minnesota was too long for the short break.  She immediately invited me to come and have Thanksgiving with them.

It wasn’t until we were married that I learned that Jay was horrified by his mother’s invitation.  He felt it defined a certain seriousness about our relationship that he had not quite come to accede to yet. But he couldn’t very well take back his mother’s invitation.

Our first Thanksgiving together was beautiful and seemingly uneventful. I came in on the South Shore electric train in the morning, enjoyed a day basking in the warmth of his large family, stuffed myself as people do on Thanksgiving, and took the last train back to South Bend that night.

Thanksgiving meal
Photo by Stephanie McCabe

As low-keyed as that Thanksgiving holiday was on the surface, at the fundamental level it marked a turning point. I spent my first holiday ever with a family not my own, moving a little further into life away from my origins. Jay, for the first time, actually saw me in the midst of his whole family, celebrating with them in their traditional way. And it felt just right.  After that weekend, he knew he could never again imagine “family” without me.

So many times Love’s Lessons have come to me during life’s celebratory seasons.  It seems that the heightened sensitivity to human connection that is integral to the holidays helps to forge new bonds as well as to cement older ones.

Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” Melody Beattie

Tell us about your first Thanksgiving with a significant other.