The Gathering Storm
We began our homeschooling journey amid the greatest storms of our lives. Keeping our faith and our sanity was not always easy, but as a family we overcame the obstacles to become more self reliant and cohesive.
After spending the entirety of our daughter’s nearly six years of life researching and deliberating on homeschooling, we finally took the plunge and decided to embark on this educational journey for the 2010-2011 school year. We were shocked to discover that we were expecting again after battling infertility for years before conceiving our second child. It seemed overwhelming to begin something as big as homeschooling with a 15 month old and a new baby coming in November when I was already also helping to care for my disabled mother who was battling stage 4 brain cancer, but we still felt blessed and believed that God would see us through.
Then in late spring, life took a turn we never could have expected. Our unborn daughter died from an infection that led to a lengthy recovery for me. After two weeks of doctor prescribed bed rest, I was just beginning to get back on my feet physically, but was still a mess emotionally. I was awoken the next morning by both of my phones ringing alternately and text messages coming in between. My sister was frantically trying to reach me. Our father was in the emergency room, dying from sepsis from a botched prostate biopsy.
Life became something I did, but didn’t understand nor remember.
We opened our school year, as planned, at the end of August and I began the dance of balancing home life, homeschool, and being a part time, but fully responsible, caregiver for my mother.
Our homeschooling life was never the smooth, picture perfect situation that gets featured in the best of homeschooling books. Everything about it was difficult. However, it was all we knew, and we realized just how much we were capable of accomplishing when we kept our hearts close to God and followed where He led.
Here are some of those lessons, that we learned in the hardest way, but that made us not only better Christians,but a better family and homeschool.
When it feels like the sky is falling
I have to admit that there were dark periods where I did not know how to pray. I remember forcing myself to get to Mass each week and pray rote prayers throughout my day, even though I was numb inside and began to doubt everything I knew and believed.
Despite the struggle and dryness, we continued on our journey because it was what God was calling us to do. When one of us couldn’t keep the light of faith burning at home, the other pitched in and prayed harder. Our treasures were in Heaven, along with our much loved, but lost daughter, and we had to keep on the narrow path to make it to both.
As my dose of sanity, I plunged deeper into my weekly Bible Study. We also joined a Teams of Our Lady group for monthly couple study time. Adding more to our already very full plate may seem counter intuitive, but it was through these faith filled commitments, that were also sacrifices, that we were nourished and our faith grew when it could have been disappearing.
When we were faced with tough decisions, the kinds that no one is prepared to make and to which there seems no easy solution, we had an inner peace amid the chaos from our commitment to these faith filled activities, including Mass, family prayer, and monthly adoration, that kept our eyes focused on the LORD and our true home.
Using stress to bring you together instead of tear you apart
The stress was incredible. It was truly like a physical force pulling at our bodies and emotions. My support system had collapsed, my siblings and our families sole purpose was to care for my mother while all raising very young children. (There were more family challenges and tragedies that seemed to happen one right after another, but are not something I am at liberty to share) I felt alone and abandoned. My parents were supposed to be there to be grandparents. They were supposed to be a phone call away and always happy to help. Isn’t that why my siblings and I had stayed close to home, because we wanted their help and guidance?
To say that the overwhelming adversity had an effect on my marriage and parenting is an understatement. However, through our church family and close, Catholic friends we learned how to stay together when everything was pulling us apart. It was not always easy, but we took the lemons and made lemonade to nourish our home life. My family as I knew it may have been crumbling, but we had a new family, our domestic church, our precious vocation of marriage and children that was not only our hope for the future, but our top priority.
I have seen how tragedy and trouble can tear families apart, I have been to the darkest moments, and this really is my best advice, use the momentum of the stress to push you together, or it will rip you to pieces. When it all becomes too much, find some quiet time with your spouse to pray or cry or even just rest in each other’s arms. Together you can overcome more than you ever realize. God has given you a special grace through the sacrament of marriage. He will give you all the grace and guidance you need to raise your children. Your Father in Heaven is your ultimate parent and grandparent, as a couple, turn to Him. When one of you is unable to pray, be willing to admit it, and pray together or have your spouse pray for you.
Homeschooling through tears:
Keeping life normal when grief is overwhelming and your heart just isn’t in it.
In the years that followed, we kept on the homeschool path and added another, wonderful, miracle child to our home. When our sweet baby boy was just a few weeks old, five years after the original diagnosis, my mother was re-diagnosed with brain cancer that had spread to several parts of her brain. I felt like once again, life was coming apart at the seams, just as school was set to begin. We made the difficult decision to place her on hospice care, but continued our valiant efforts to let her stay in her own home, instead of a hospital or nursing facility.
On top of my original care duties, I became the liaison for hospice, which was a daily job of phone calls and decisions. After 15 months of this, on Christmas night 2014 in my parents’ home, I was at my mother’s side as she breathed her last and we sent her on through love and prayer. Homeschooling through challenges was something I knew, but the intense grief was not something I was prepared to deal with. To add to that, my grandmother and my best friend, whom I had also helped care for in my mother’s inability to do so, passed away at my side just four and a half months later on my father’s fifth anniversary.
Getting Lost in Routine
When I had lost my father and daughter, I grieved but was too busy to truly deal with it properly. Suddenly, I was grieving all of these losses at once. My faith was stronger and my resourcefulness to keep going had grown exponentially. However, homeschooling was harder than ever because my heart just wasn’t in it. I wanted to do it, but felt I had nothing to offer and battled a daily struggle against despair.
Routine was my friend. We stuck with our daily activities, lessons, and goals. I pared down the extras and stuck to the basics (reading, handwriting, mathematics, and religion) for days or weeks that doing “it all” was more than I could handle. We slowed everything down and took time off from the “have to”s to do some more “want to”s. Our life was once again turned upside down and we needed to readjust.
I can’t say that the 2014-2015 school year was an award winning one. We finished our work, for the most part, and all learned something, but I realized that working through the grief as a family was our main task and curriculum for much of that year. Now, a year and a half later, with another great, miracle baby on the way, and a new school year set to begin, our life has settled into a new normal, once again. Best of all, the lessons we learned while schooling and praying through adversity will last long past graduation and have given us a deep, abiding faith and family cohesiveness that can’t be taught in any book.
Have you homeschooled through a difficult time?