Tom McLaughlin

A former history teacher, Tom is a columnist who lives in Lovell, Maine. His column is published in Maine and New Hampshire newspapers and on numerous web sites. Email: tomthemick@gmail.com

Monday, June 29, 2015

Long Time To Pass


Carrying Ryan in his backpack
I now belong to an exclusive club no one wants to join: parents who have lost a child. “I cannot imagine how you must feel,” say other parents not in the club. Neither could I before it happened but I knew it would be awful, and it is.
What happened wasn’t my worst fear, but close. I feared our son might die alone, and he didn’t. He lingered in the ICU for nine days. During the first five he was in and out of consciousness, knew all his loved ones were with him and had the Last Rites. There’s nothing for me to fear anymore, but sadness and grief have taken fear’s place. Those two will be with me, and my family, a long time I think.
I don’t know which is worse but fear had become familiar. Addiction is a terrible thing, debilitating for the addict, but also for his family and for everyone else who loves him. It’s a progressive disease and a fatal result was inevitable unless he could stop, and he couldn’t. Ten years ago I joined a 12-step group for families of alcoholics and it helped me cope, helped me live with the fear and anxiety. The program reduced but didn’t eliminate those two crippling emotions. Now there are two more with which to wrestle.
With his hamster

We buried our son’s body last week but I know his spirit survives, and I will see him again when my own body finally gives out. That knowledge is a comfort, and will it ultimately trump both sadness and grief. He passed peacefully, even if life offered little peace during his last years. He has eternal peace now. I know that, but sometimes I forget and have to remind myself that he’s in a better place.

Our family was open about what caused Ryan’s death. All of us contributed to his eulogy which my wife bravely read at his funeral mass with me standing beside her. Having done three eulogies in one year, the last being one for my brother at which I got very choked up and could barely get through, I didn’t think myself capable of doing one for my own son. While we were both thinking of whom to ask, my wife declared she was going to deliver it. I told her that morning I believed I could find the strength to do it, but she said no, I want to, and she did. We were all proud of her.

As a columnist for twenty-two years, editors have tried to influence me to write more about this or that, but I’ve always written about what was most on my mind any given week — except my son’s addiction. Very often that was what I thought most about, but I’ve never written about it until now. Readers of the newspapers in which this column runs know my son died because his obituary appeared in their pages, but other readers around the country don’t know. Hence, this piece. 
My wife and I are helping each other through this ordeal and I’m grateful to have her. Our children and our grandchildren help too. While we were sitting next to our son’s coffin tearfully listening to the priest’s homily, our four-year-old granddaughter, Lila, came into our pew to hold our hands and console us. She helped enormously. When days later I thanked her, she said: “Friends are supposed to help each other.”
Before Ryan died, we had been at the hospital more than a week consulting with doctors and other specialists. Most of another week was taken up with funeral arrangements. People in our church community and friends in the wider community were sympathetic and solicitous. Everyone in our immediate family gathered pictures to display at the reception in our church hall following the burial. Assembled pictures of Ryan were both endearing the heartbreaking to look at. People hugging me and expressing their condolences triggered more tears. It’s going to take a long time to wring them all out but, as my wife the therapist says, “If you can let it flow, you can let it go.” And that’s the goal, isn’t it? I have to let him go.
I’ve had some practice with that. I’ve had to let go of my obsession with his addiction. My program teaches the “Three Cs”: You didn’t cause it. You can’t control it. You can’t cure it. I had to love and support my son as he struggled for all those years. Thirteen times he went into treatment. He had stretches of sobriety lasting several months, but always slipped back. He was much harder on himself than we ever were on him, and now his struggles are over.
Knowing I won’t be able to talk with him anymore this side of heaven makes me miss him desperately. It’s going to be a while before that longing diminishes to bearable levels, but with God’s help, I’ll make it. When it gets hard I have to consider all the good things in my life, and there are many.

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Friday, June 12, 2015

Becoming Boatless

Think I’m going to sell our boat this summer. It’s tied up to a slip at the Kezar Lake Marina and this may be the last season. Even though I’m semi-retired, I simply don’t use it enough to justify the cost of maintaining it. There’s nothing like going out there with a book and drifting along on one of Kezar’s three bays on a hot, humid day. If I get too hot while reading, I put the book down, jump in the lake, then climb back up the ladder to towel off and go back to reading. My wife likes to sit in a tube tied to the back. We’ll miss it, but she agrees. It’s time to think about selling.
Mine is small one top center with blue cover
One of my clients wants me to exercise his boat once or twice a week, so I’m out on that one more often than my own. I know, it’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it. Kezar is a lovely lake as everyone in western Maine knows. There’s a lot less boat traffic since Stephen King bought the old camping area on West Lovell Road and closed it down. That’s nice for some of us who like the quiet, but not so nice for fishing guides and others who lost business. Can’t please everybody.
Middle Bay Kezar Lake
My first experience floating in something was when my childhood friend Philip and I salvaged a steel tub used by a neighbor for mixing cement. When school got out in June, we dragged it through the woods to a swamp and used scraps of boards to paddle out on the small stretch of open water. We tried to catch painted turtles sunning themselves on logs but they’d see us coming, slip into the water, and swim down into the mud. We’d watch where they hid and lean down and pull up a handful of muck with a turtle in it. We were about ten, I think. Then some older boys used the tub for target practice and shot it full of .22 caliber holes. No more boating for us.
Then there was a raft the older boys constructed on a nearby pond by nailing a few boards onto a couple of logs. Our mothers told us never to go out on it. When we did and someone saw us, we were subjected to blackmail lest they tell. My next craft was a canoe I had for years as an adult. I’d fish with the children and paddle down the Saco with my wife. When the children were old enough, I’d strap it on the truck so my wife and I could slip away for some alone time alone exploring smaller ponds.
When the kids starting leaving the nest about twenty years ago, we splurged on an old, fourteen-foot Corson with a forty-horse Mercury outboard. It was very cheap to run and we’d trailer it around exploring area lakes. Mostly though, we went out on Kezar and noticed there were lots of Corsons tied up at docks. They’re simple boats — fiberglass hull, a windshield and seats — and very light.

People get attached to their Corsons. They were made in Madison, Maine by a family of boat-builders by that name. My wife called ours “Baby Boat” and we enjoyed it for years. The previous owner had a place on Kezar and he would contact me periodically to ask how his old boat was doing. When I sold it to my daughter and son-in-law to use at their place on Crescent Lake in Raymond, Maine, I notified him that the old Corson wasn’t on Kezar anymore but would be well taken care of. He thanked me for letting him know. Several years ago we traded up for the 18-foot Stingray we have now. It’s a thirty-year-old inboard/outboard with comfortable seats to stretch out, but we’re not so attached to it as we were to the Corson.
One morning during a run at Bug Light in South Portland last month, I saw some workmen backing their boat down the launch and recognized it as a big Corson. It had their distinct fiberglass top but was twenty feet long. I didn’t know they came that big and I chatted with the owner and two of his friends. All were heading out to work on Peak’s Island.
Launching Corson at Bug Light
Turns out his mother was a Corson and his father was a boatbuilder. His was built in 1973 and he’d customized it. I told him I remembered when the company was up for sale about fifteen years ago for only around $50,000. He acknowledged that but said government imposed new regulations that would have mandated another $200,000 investment for whoever were to buy it, so no deal could be reached.

“So, government regulation destroyed the company then?” I asked.

“You could say that,” he responded as he turned the boat around and headed off.

We still have a couple of kayaks we don't use enough, and they're easier to handle than that old cement-mixing tub I started with. If you're interested in our Stingray, let me know.

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Monday, June 01, 2015

Catechism is Hate Speech?


About three years ago I began wearing a crucifix 24/7. It identifies me as a Christian. Among Christians, it identifies me as a Roman Catholic. Atheists who see it may think me an intellectual lightweight who could just as easily believe in the Tooth Fairy, or that the earth was created six thousand years ago.
Back in 2002 when the homosexual priest scandal broke, I almost left the Catholic church. There are still issues the American Conference of Catholic Bishops champion that make me cringe. Some things Pope Francis says make me uncomfortable too. Nonetheless, to follow the Magisterium (official teachings of the Catholic Church) is to believe abortion kills a human being and homosexuality is “intrinsically disordered.” That puts me on a collision course with the progressive Thought Police who would force me to shut up about what I believe.
Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George, who I’ve quoted in this space before, died a few weeks ago. Five years ago, he said something prophetic: “I’ll die in my bed. My successor will die in prison. His successor will die a martyr. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.” Two years later in 2012, he said he was being “overly dramatic.” Here in 2015, however, rhetoric coming from Democrat and Republican candidates for president in 2016 indicate he was more right than he knew.
The late Cardinal Francis George

He did die in his bed. Will his successor die in prison? That might have been plausible if Pope Francis appointed conservative Cardinal Raymond Burke to take his place after removing him from a key Vatican post. Burke stands his ground, and that’s probably why he didn’t fit in at the Vatican. Instead Pope Francis banished the conservative Burke to Malta and appointed someone more likely to go with the “progressive” flow in Chicago.
Last month, the leading Democrat presidential candidate for 2016 said: “Laws have be backed up with… political will… and deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.” Hillary Clinton was speaking about “reproductive health care,” her favorite euphemism for abortion, but her remarks indicate how far the left may go pushing their social/political agenda. They’re throwing down the gauntlet for conservative Christians — ready to use the power of government to make us change what we believe about the very nature of God and human life. Obamacare mandates to pay for abortion-inducing drugs were only the beginning.
Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio seemed to pick up Hillary’s gauntlet when he said last week that anyone who believes marriage is between one man and one woman is labeled: “a homophobe and a hater. The next step is to argue that the teachings of mainstream Christianity, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is hate speech…”
Marco Rubio

Canada’s Supreme Court ruled two years ago that biblical speech opposing homosexual behavior is a “hate crime.” The Province of Alberta passed its Education Act three years ago under which “homeschoolers and faith-based schools will not be permitted to teach that homosexual acts are sinful as part of their academic program.” How long until such rulings are passed down in the USA?
It’s not as if the Catholic Church in America is conservative. With the exception of Cardinal Burke and a few others, it’s not. I attend mass every Sunday in Maine or New Hampshire, and never in the last ten years have I heard a sermon about abortion. Only once was homosexual “marriage” discussed when Maine’s Bishop Malone urged parishioners to vote against a homosexual “marriage” referendum in 2009. Rather, parish priests seem to go out of their way to avoid those subjects. That’s why I was surprised to hear Pope Francis say: “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods… it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”
Perhaps it’s different in Rome or in Argentina where Pope Francis comes from, but up here in Maine and New Hampshire, they’re not talked about “all the time.” They’re not discussed at all, and silence implies assent. Prior to Francis, we had two conservative popes in Benedict and John Paul II. Although Francis hasn’t tried to modify the Magisterium, he’s signaling a willingness to bend, even cozying up with President Obama on several issues. Leftists who dominate in our mainstream media are predictably thrilled. Out here in the trenches, however, conservative Catholics are dismayed.
What difference does it make?

Some of us feel we have more in common with conservative protestants than with many of our Catholic leaders in the United State, in Europe, and in the Vatican itself.

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