Sunday, February 28, 2016

57 years ago, Eileen Suiter wrote this for us




Eileen Suiter* would have been 102 years old today. She was born on February 28, 1914, and died nearly 36 years ago, on July 15, 1980. I never met her in life, and yet I know her profoundly. Catholics, you will also instantly recognize Eileen and that familiar, eternal bond that springs from a shared faith. 

This charming wife and mother from 1950s South Dakota is about to tell you her story of great tragedy, presumption, and pride, and how, by finally ceding control and trusting God, she learned to accept and even bless her immense and seemingly unbearable crosses. She wrote this piece with the intent that it be published -- and today it finally has been. Happy Birthday, lovely lady!


His Ways are Wondrous

 by Eileen Mannion Suiter
c. October, 1958


My husband and I will be married twelve years in a few weeks during which time we have had eight children of whom we are raising five. We have had the consummate nerve at various times to question God’s dictates, but He has not made us wait for eternity to mark the wisdom of His ways.  We are humble in the face of His immense generosity to us and overwhelmingly sorry for people who try to out-smart His knowledge.

My husband was born in a rural village of the West which he described to me as a cross-roads town. Having been born in New York City and raised in Chicago, I assumed it was very small, perhaps 10,000 people or so. But the quality of his honesty was not strained, then or ever. My first visit disclosed an abandoned hotel, a combination post office and general store, a gas station, and a Protestant church occupying the four corners and comprising the town. Rolling farm and ranch lands hid the homes of folks who used these facilities.

My husband had been taught a rigid code of personal integrity within the framework of his Protestant religion with one glaring exception—an innate animosity to anything Catholic. We cannot now figure out the reason for this. It was just generally assumed throughout the area that Catholics aimed to take over the country one day and had arsenals concealed here and there on Catholic property against such a contingency. This, however, was just one of the Catholic failings, and many of the other accusations annoyed me far more than the charge of treason.

When we met in Chicago during his Navy days, it did not appear like a promising relationship since my mother and father (God rest their souls) had been born in Ireland and we children had been raised accordingly. Anyone raised in a genuine Irish home can appreciate how all-encompassing is Catholicity. My parents were the type who spoke in their soft sweet voices of hiding the priest in the kitchen in Ireland while the children summoned the neighbors to hear Mass on an improvised altar by the light of a turf fire.

Religiously speaking—and what other way is there to speak—we did not for long talk the same language. The enforced separation of the war, however, made us resort to the written word. One writes with more consideration than one speaks. One shakes off the momentary displeasure of an opposing view and gives a measured reply. I was smug in my Catholic complacency and he was seeped in a bog of erroneous impressions concerning it. But God had plans for us. My husband-to-be talked with many Navy chaplains and gained an understanding of his obligations should we marry, but it was left for our family friend, a forthright, blunt speaking priest, to be God’s instrument in my husband’s conversion.

Father Smith (we’ll call him) is a belligerent Irishman of complete charm who brooks no nonsense about religion. He did not have a velvet touch and I knew the fur would fly on any subject of Catholicity between him and my future husband. Though I loved Father Smith myself, I was once again proved wrong as I so often am. Their personal liking for each other was instantaneous but the fur did indeed fly—sometimes far into the night—with my husband’s objections, questions, queries, doubts falling like towers before the explosions of Catholic logic.

Father Smith gave him a laughing, merry tour of the Church basement on the day of his acceptance into Catholicity, as that he might check for himself the quality of the hidden arsenals, while Father chuckled mightily and made snide remarks.

Just before our first anniversary, our daughter Maureen was born, and 13 months later our son James arrived, and forgetting the lessons of the past I settled into a worse complacency than ever before. I had the world by the tail. Perfection had been achieved. I loved and respected my husband with very good reason to do so, and I had a beautiful daughter and a lovely son. My cup was full—my life complete. It didn’t occur to me to wonder if I had Heaven by the tail too.

So God gave me a well-deserved jolt and I rebelled bitterly.

The night my son was 27 days old, angel wings brushed past me in the night, and when I rose to see what caused it, I found my son was dead.

For a few wild hours I didn’t believe in God. No good God would treat me so. I have no idea why I thought God should treat me with kid gloves, but such was the depth of my presumption.

Then it occurred to me that if there was no God, my boy was as well dead at 27 days as at 127 years, and cold reason returned to leaven my grief.

He is buried in a wild, desolate, wind-swept cemetery atop a high butte overlooking the Missouri River. He was dressed in his Baptismal robe and it was his privilege to be buried on Holy Thursday (March 25, 1948).

Even that day standing there in a raging blizzard grieving for my son, I tried to infringe on God. “It is my fault. There is something I could have done.” You see I still wouldn’t concede God the right to accomplish His will.

But my well laid plans were shattered; I had no son.

Thirteen months later my first reaction was one of disappointment with God because my new baby was a girl. That wasn’t according to plan. Kathleen was supposed to be a boy so the pattern would return to its original perfection. One look into her wide blue eyes and my heart was lost forever. “Ok,” I told God, “you were wise this time. I really do need this extra one because I never saw such sweetness before.”

I thought to myself that we would have a boy next, and, while not exactly arguing with God, I felt sure I could make Him see things my way. I was still trying to boss the show in my heart. I never saw my third daughter, Elizabeth, because she was stillborn.

Once again I usurped God’s prerogatives and took all the responsibility myself. My grief-ridden heart felt that I, and I alone, was the cause of this second disaster. If I hadn’t been so set on a son it never would have happened. If I had done this and not done that she would at least have lived to be baptized. Although I gave lip-service to God, my sense of personal blame accused Him of being a rather vengeful, spiteful God who was taking things out on me. I hope He has forgiven me my vast pride.

Somewhere along the line, though, I began to improve a little. I grew closer to God and began to consider that perhaps He had His Blessed Hand in the pie. I knew my son was in Heaven with nothing on earth to do except pray for us. My daughter was happy to the fullest of her capacity for eternity, whether that be in Limbo, or through God’s unknown mercy, in Heaven. What more could I ask for either of them if they lived for three score and ten?

I won’t tell God what to do anymore—I’ll just go along with His wisdom. This I promised myself.

That’s when we had a perfect set of twins, a boy and a girl. My heart almost broke with gratitude. Why the minute I stopped trying to boss God, He gave me back a boy and a girl, Patrick and Jeanne. Oh the wonder and glory of God’s ways. I think, in deepest reverence, that He sits in Heaven and often laughs at the torments we make for ourselves. As He loves the most because He is love, surely He laughs the most because He made laughter—gentle, tender laughter that knows all things will come right.

But by the same reasoning, how bitter must be His tears. Once again, I rebelled.

I was so busy with my wonderful twins and darling girls that I was reluctant to find myself pregnant again. I hope I will never be so foolish again. Whatever else my sins, and they are plenty and black, I pray to be preserved from trying to boss my life when it’s been proved again and again that God has a special generosity for me and mine.

However would we get along now without this reluctantly-accepted extra boy? Kevin is the joy of our family and so closely aged to the twins as to make them near triplets. At least we found our trouble was RH incompatibility, and it took blood transfusion, oxygen tents, and God’s perfect love to present us with our charming little boy.

Then came the medical warnings, but God had primed us well and we were ready. Another child would very likely not survive or would be handicapped if it did. The variety of handicaps were dreadful, and we were told it was a miracle we had five healthy children as it was. Well we knew it was a miracle all right. It wasn’t too hard to give God His proper authority this time. He’d given us the five we had to raise—good-looking, intelligent, God-fearing children who were a joy to our lives and a blessing to our home. We guessed this time we’d let God make the decision.

Our last child, our beautiful Anastasia, lived only a few hours, which was long enough to ensure her an eternity of delight. What more could anyone ask for their beloved child? She was named from the Remembrance for sinners in the Missal, because although we expect her to remember her parents, make no mistake, we want her to remember we are sinners, too. She’s such a little Saint.

So now we are warned by many, “You were lucky so far, but how dreadful if a child should survive and be handicapped.” Well it hasn’t happened yet. It may never happen and again it might. We think we are being honest with ourselves when we say that we would accept it as one of God’s mysterious blessings—maybe His best one.

I have read of the heroic things the parents of such a child achieve. I read of their special love for such a child. We have five well children. It wouldn’t hurt us to strive to care for a child who was only important because of his immortal soul.

We do not solicit such a situation, because we are frail vessels indeed; but if it should come, we know God will be laughing gently with us. We know that although such an occurrence may be wrapped in the tissue of tragedy, God’s humor will have it chock full of His choicest blessings.


The Suiter Family, 1954
Top Row: Kathleen (my granddaughter Felicity's other grandma!), Eileen, Maureen, Dale
Bottom Row: Kevin, Jeanne, Patrick


Eileen Mannion Suiter


Epilogue 

Baby Anastasia was born and died in 1957, and this piece was written in 1958. About three years later, Eileen suffered a traumatic brain injury after being struck by a car. She was not expected to survive, but she did, living for many more years. 

Although never really her old self again, Eileen had some good and functioning days, retained her charm and humor, and was even able to return to work for a time. Eventually though, a steady decline in memory and mood took over. There was no real treatment for brain injuries back then, and the medications themselves were often contributors to a patient's lapses or confusion.

She and Dale had no more children after Anastasia, but the last part of her story seems prophetic, as she herself became the handicapped person that she had been willing to accept as a gift to her family. We can apply her words to her own circumstance:
We do not solicit such a situation, because we are frail vessels indeed; but if it should come, we know God will be laughing gently with us. We know that although such an occurrence may be wrapped in the tissue of tragedy, God’s humor will have it chock full of His choicest blessings.

Some of Eileen's children and grandchildren have gone on to adopt children with special needs. The fruit of her love, trust, and acceptance of God's will continues to this day in her family, as it grows. With a grateful heart, I thank her for her beautiful witness of the Catholic faith, which has become a gift to all of us, including her great-granddaughter Felicity, who happens to be my granddaughter.




*Eileen's daughter Kathleen is Felicity's other grandma!




12 comments:

  1. This is a treasure to read! God bless her family!

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  2. Thank you for sharing, Leila! Words of wisdom at any time - and another beautiful legacy to be passed on to your grandbabies!

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  3. Leila, I am so very honored that you published this story on my mother's birthday! I am thrilled, as my mother would be too!

    Eileen's daughter/Felicity's other Grandma,
    Kathleen

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  4. What a blessing to read this! Thank you for sharing it!

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  5. What a treasure. Leila, your opening about "knowing" her is so true. We can immediately recognize a soul that has been there and done that. Just amazing how our faith journeys can wander around and end up at the same place before God.
    It's funny you posted this today. Last evening we enjoyed a night out celebrating Cecilias birthday with a few friends . Hearing a few of these ladies describing their crosses and listening to how they are working through it sounds much like Eileen here. God is the same always. It's us who dance and hide like kids. He knows all of our tricks and hiding spaces and always finds us like a good parent. I love stories about faith blood lines. The communion of Saints , don't leave earth without it.

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  6. Thank you all, and especially Kathleen, for sharing your mother with all of us!

    Chris, I had written and rewritten the intro a hundred times, incorporating our understanding of the Communion of Saints, and how time and space melt away when we encounter the journeys, beliefs, and writings of any and all the devout Catholics, and the Church's saints from the entire span of 2,000 years. We all know each other! Isn't it amazing??? One of the very best things about Catholicism! There is no separation among us in the Mystical Body of Christ.

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    1. I should have added, I scrapped the big intro, because Eileen's words needed to speak for themselves. But she exemplifies what we know. And that is why we know her so well, having never met her. Just like St. Peter and Paul, just like St. Clement, St. Ignatius, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Therese, St. Edith Stein, St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. John Paul II, and on and on and on and on.....

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  7. Beautiful story. As the grandmother of a special needs child, her words of wisdom ring true. I especially love the line that reminds us the most import thing about any of us is our immortal soul. That alone makes every life precious.

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  8. So now we are warned by many, “You were lucky so far, but how dreadful if a child should survive and be handicapped.” Well it hasn’t happened yet. It may never happen and again it might. We think we are being honest with ourselves when we say that we would accept it as one of God’s mysterious blessings—maybe His best one.

    I have read of the heroic things the parents of such a child achieve. I read of their special love for such a child. We have five well children. It wouldn’t hurt us to strive to care for a child who was only important because of his immortal soul





    This part made me cry.

    Eunice

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  9. WOW - what an incredible testimony. I see so much of myself in Eileen's "rebellion."

    Oh Heaven, mercy. What a brave, faithful woman. And that you get to know her daughter (who I see commented above)! How lucky for you!

    I imagine she must be enjoying Eternity with the children she'd seen go before her. And I imagine you will all have a happy reunion someday, Kathleen.

    Oh thank you for sharing this. God bless. <3

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  10. This is so moving--thank you for sharing! What a beautiful woman, inside and out.

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