Wednesday, December 28, 2005

A year to remember

Published December 28, 2005

At the end of every year, J.D. and I look back on the events of the previous year and we marvel at how much has happened in such a short amount of time. Some years are happier than others. Obviously, when we’ve celebrated the birth of our kids, took major trips or had huge family reunions, these were red letter years. This year was no exception, with it’s mixed bag of joys and sorrows.

Every New Year’s Eve, we celebrate the birthday of our son, Conor. Three days later his sister, Birdy (as we affectionately call her) celebrates her birthday. Noni shares her birthday in January with Elvis, and Pop Pop’s birthday is at the end of January. We seemed to sail through these dates and we had a lot of fun in the process. February started an early Lent and we made it to the end of March for a very nice Easter Sunday celebration.

The week after Easter, my oldest, Shannon had surgery on her knee and subsequently became very ill with a septic infection that required a second surgery and an extensive hospitalization and home recovery. While we were in the hospital, we met a very special little baby who was born three months premature, who had a host of medical problems that threatened her life every day. Her name was Maryjane. I wrote a column about her last year. She was a baby who lived, beyond any expectation of the team of physicians working with her. Shannon was discharged from the hospital after two weeks and we kept in touch with her parents. Her mother was especially valiant in caring for her at home and at the hospital over the last 8 months.

Pop had his surgery in November and I’ve been writing about his hospitalization over the last two months. I’m writing this column from the hospital as we continue to monitor his progress towards a complete recovery. This is my wish for 2006. That Pop will walk again. That he will be home at the end of the January, in time for his birthday, celebrating with us the victory he had over death which seemingly loomed over him in November.

Maryjane went to heaven on December 18. We kept vigil with her the night before her death. We sang “Silent Night” and prayed the rosary with her large extended family. Conor held her for 20 minutes after she passed away and when I asked him if he was OK, he said “Mom it’s a privilege to hold a saint”. We were able to have a huge formal burial Mass for her family. Fifteen altar boys processed up the aisle of the church, after Fr. Deprey crowned her little head with a wreath of white flowers. The full schola and choir sang the Mass of the 4th Sunday of Advent, the same Mass which was sung on the morning she died. It was one of the most bittersweet experiences we’ve ever had. Maryjane looked beautiful in her white baptismal gown, like a little queen who was ready to be in heaven for her first birthday which was December 26. Her procession to St. Mary’s cemetery was like unto the highest dignitary. She deserved it. I have made a new friend in her mother, Michelle. I am proud of her and admire her strength and courage.

One thing about the end of a particularly troubling year is that it has to come to an end on December 31. We promised Conor we would take him out to do something fun for his 12th birthday, and then out for steak dinner. There will always be a party somewhere on his birthday as long as he lives. It’s befitting that he was born on New Year’s Eve because he is fun loving and full of life.

I am proud of J.D. and our children. They held down the fort over the last two months when I was taking care of Pop Pop. My daughters picked up the pieces at home, decorating the house and putting up the tree, while I was at the hospital with my Dad. Shannon and Birdy took over the duties I had with cleaning and cooking - running the household like little mothers themselves.

At the end of a particularly trying year, I am thankful for a loving husband, who after eighteen years, is still my very best friend. I am thankful for friends who pray, and help you when you’re out of sorts with life. 2006 is going to be a New Year. Full of optimisim, I can’t wait for it to arrive. On behalf of my family, have a very happy, blessed and safe New Year! I'll be seeing you on the other side.

Tammy Maher is a resident of El Dorado Hills and a bi-weekly columnist for the Mt. Democrat. You can reach her at

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Christmas blessings are in giving

Published December 15, 2005

Advent is the time in our family when we prepare for Christmas by doing simple things. We clean the house, decorate the house for the holidays, bake and give gifts. Some gifts are not returnable…some are only received in the giving.
This advent we are waiting not only for the Feast of Christmas, but we are waiting for Pop Pop (my dad), to come home from the hospital. He’s been seriously ill over the last two months following surgery on his aorta and the subsequent complications from the procedure.
Pop Pop’s room at the rehabilitation hospital is lined with get well wishes from friends, a small altar and a poster from the grandkids that they made when he was in the intensive care unit. Every day we monitor his progress toward recovery. As we wait for signs of hope, we try to cheer him and those around him as it gets closer to Christmas.
Last week, we received unexpected good news. Specifically, his kidneys have fully recovered. This was a Christmas miracle, as we had been told that the renal failure he suffered was permanent and that Pop Pop would be on dialysis every other day for the rest of his life. So many people had prayed for him, we are left speechlessly thankful. As we enter the last two weeks before Christmas, we are eagerly anticipating bringing him home for Christmas Day. He still is unable to walk, but we are hopeful that with all of us there to assist him, he will be able to relax and enjoy the day with all the family.
When someone you loves is hurting, there are times of extreme stress and anxiety. It’s the prayers and well wishes of friends that has lifted us up and sustained us. Like footprints in the sand, these consolations and graces that have come from others are what carried us in the storm of this part of our lives, and we are hardly aware of it.

These are gifts that cannot be returned and they are priceless. Even strangers are blessings to us, as they wish you well when they pass us in the halls of the hospital. Some of the most beautiful conversations I’ve had over the last two months have been with people I hardly know.

This Christmas, be assured of my thanks to all the Mountain Democrat readers who wrote me to tell me your own stories and to wish me well as we help my father recover and come home to us. There are many people in the hospitals around our area that need our prayers and support. It means a lot when visitors stop by convalescent and retirement homes, or go by the hospital to see patients who don’ have regular visitors. Whether you make get well cards, sing carols, or bring a small pet into these "halls of respite" to cheer the elderly and the sick, the most important gift you bring is the gift of your time and yourself. Hospitals appreciate visitors who donate books, games, toys, movies and CD’s. You’ll want to contact your local hospital auxiliary or Child Life Coordinator to see how you can help.

On St. Nicholas Day, December 6, my son, Conor, delivered a flower to every patient in his Pop Pop’s hospital to let them know he was thinking of them and praying for them. Many of the people were touched to see a child care about them just by stopping in to say hello. This is a wonderful lesson for children at this time of the year when so much is about receiving. There is a school of suffering that can only be learned at the bedside of the weak, and the lonely. If you have the opportunity to share your time even if only briefly this holiday season, stop by your local hospital and say hello. You will be surprised at the blessing you will be this Christmas to someone who needs some Christmas cheer. "And a Child shall lead them".

From my family to yours, have a very Blessed and Merry Christmas!

Tammy Maher is a resident of El Dorado Hills and a biweekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her by email at family

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Switching into low gear

Published December 2005

Driving up the Bass Lake grade every day, I see trucks and trailers veering into the right lane and shifting down to make it up the hill. Admittedly, impatient as I am at times, I pass and get to where I need to be to make my exit. “Must be a bummer”, I mutter to myself, “to switch to low gear just to make it to the top of the hill…must make for a long haul and a boring ride”.

Such is Life, like the Bass Lake grade at rush hour. Some days you are safely in the fast lane, passing the cars on the side of the road who are disabled, shifting gears to make it up the hill, or simply taking it easy. Nothing gets in your way, and the cruising speed is comfortable. The fast lane will get you to your next appointment quicker, home in time for dinner without a care in the world. It’s especially great when my car has all the kids and I get the ‘carpool lane’. There is something victorious about the carpool lane. I try to make sure I have an extra passenger in the car every time just for the thrill of it.

Carpool lane days are carefree and busy. My life was swimming along in the carpool lane before November 3. As many of you know, my dad had surgery that day. I’ve been writing about how complicated it was, and the aftermath all month long in this newspaper. A physician took me aside a couple days ago and explained how Dad’s poor outcome fell into the less than 1% range of terrible outcomes for the kind of surgery he had. “It’s such a shame”, he said. Yeah. It sure is.

We had high expectations for Thanksgiving but seemingly, life dealt us a series of flat tires and disappointments as my Dad had one setback after another in the hospital. My sisters sent their husbands and children to their in-laws for Thanksgiving because we didn’t want the children to suffer the angst of what we were dealing with every day.

After spending the last month at the hospital, most of it in ICU with Daddy, I made reservations for my mom, sisters and I to go out to dinner for Thanksgiving at a fancy expensive restaurant. We had spent the last month in the hospital cafeteria where we knew the menu before it was posted. Mystery meat, soup surprise, and cottage cheese only go so far. The cafeteria people knew us by our first names and already had my chicken salad on rye with dill pickles made for me before I showed up at the counter. We were on a first name basis with the lift team – the only thing we couldn’t do was move in ourselves, although there were days when we could have used some medical attention.

The four of us sat down to a really lovely dinner after what has seemed like endless hours and days pacing hospital floors. “This is really nice” complimented my mother. We ordered our drinks and looked at each other. “I’d like to propose a toast”, I choked up immediately. “Here’s to Dad, and his recovery. But most of all here’s to you. I never knew what it meant to be a family, or how much I really loved you guys…but we are going to make it and Dad’s going to make it, one way or another because we all love each other”. We all started shedding tears. Then we had the most fantastic meal, along with perfect wine pairings…when I returned that night to the hospital, I spent the night with my Dad. He stayed up most of the night. He ate his dinner at 3:30 AM. I asked him if he was thankful on Thanksgiving. “Yes. I am happy to be alive”. Relieved to hear him talking through his ‘cloudiness’, I said, “I’m happy about that too, Daddy. It’s going to a long haul…but we’re shifting into low gear. OK?”

The fast lane takes you away from your relationships with your family because of the demands of every day life. When the days come, when tragedy strikes, illness hits unexpectedly and disappointments abound, sometimes you need to switch into low gear for the long haul up the hill. I’m not sure where this road I’m on is going to lead or how long it will take to get there. I pray we get to the top in the next few months, that there are few flat tires along the way, and that Faith will sustain us along the way.

Tammy Maher is a resident of El Dorado Hills and bi-weekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her at