Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher


ruthie and claire.jpg
That’s a photo of my sister Ruthie Leming and her daughter Claire in the hospital this morning, shortly after we brought the girls in to see their mother. I think the look on Claire’s face upon being reunited with her Mama after a long night speaks more eloquently than I can about the love in that family. Later in the morning, Dr. Tim’s wife Laura came down and worked with the girls to make posters for their mom. Tonight everybody is at home, and resting. I’d texted my cousin Melanie to ask her to change Ruthie’s sheets on the off chance she got to come home tonight. Melanie rounded up the cousins and they did a spectacular job cleaning the entire place. Ruthie was so touched and grateful to come home just now to a sparkling-clean house. She will resume radiation therapy Monday on an outpatient basis. She’s just so very, very grateful to be in her own home tonight, and in her own bed, with her family around her.
She’s tired, but her spirits are high. Dr. Tim Lindsey told her that this weekend should be for her and her family to do things together, and to have as much fun as they can as a family, because she’s about to get very sick from the radiation, which will be followed by chemotherapy. So they will be cocooning for the next few days, and are looking forward to having this time alone together, just their family.
Hannah and I drove to New Orleans this afternoon to pray for Ruthie at the Shrine of the Bl. Father F.X. Seelos. We had a late lunch on magazine street at the po-boy joint Ignatius. I explained to her where the name comes from. “Oooh, I’d like to read that,” she said. Music to my ears! Somewhere in heaven, my Uncle Murphy, who gave me “A Confederacy of Dunces” as a teenager, is lifting his glass and smiling.
UPDATE: I find I keep coming back to this entry myself to contemplate the look on Claire’s face. She is 10, and though she’s been told what her mother and their family is facing, she really has no idea what they’re about to endure. I think of that look of pure adoration and tranquillity, as a moment out of time — Claire is plainly oblivious to the conversation going on around her — as tragic in that respect (the last moment of innocence before the ravages of cancer therapy strike). But more hopefully, I look at her face as an icon of a daughter’s love for her mother, and of a purity and timelessness that nothing, not even suffering unto death, can tarnish or break. Whether she knows it or not, that little girl sees with her heart into eternity, and to a time and place beyond the valley of the shadow of death, where there will be no more suffering, and in which we will all be together again, our broken bodies restored and our fractured bonds with others made whole, united in and sustained by unlimited love. This beatific image is an icon to which all of us in this family are going to need to return again and again in the days to come — and maybe even for the rest of our lives.
If you’re just coming to the story of my sister Ruthie’s fight with cancer, you might want to see these links from earlier this week, in the order they first appeared:
1. My sister has cancer
2. The theology of illness
3. Hospital in Baton Rouge
4. When prayer seems futile
5. Our beautiful, horrible cancer day
6. Andy Crouch’s three last things
I also strongly encourage you to read the comboxes, for several reasons. One, to see how good my sister is through the prism of the comments her friends, neighbors and colleagues have been leaving, talking about her and her kindness to them (I think in particular of the friend who remembered the time they were running a race, and she fell, and my sister stopped running to pick her up and to encourage her); two, to see the character of the people of this community who have rallied to the Leming family’s side; and finally, to see the character of the people who follow this blog, and who don’t even know my family, but who are praying for Ruthie. It’s really something else, all of it, and such an encouragement to us all, I think.

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posted February 19, 2010 at 8:53 pm

I’ve read “Confederacy” twice, and it’s truly unique. If there’s anything that can cheer your niece up, this book would be it.

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posted February 19, 2010 at 9:00 pm

Good to know that Ruthie is home and spending time with her family.
Continuing to pray for Ruthie and all of your family.

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posted February 19, 2010 at 9:35 pm

Hi Sir. My name is Amanda. I am sorry to hear about the news and I have been praying for your sister to be healed by Almighty Jesus.
I found some information online about something called Ellagic acid. A natural therapy. I actually ordered some vitamins with this stuff in it for myself. If you are interested in getting some, I am willing to give them to you for her. I just wanted to say that. I wish I could do more.
Love and Prayers,

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posted February 19, 2010 at 9:43 pm

I’m glad you found Father Seelos, Rod. He is a powerful intercessor. My wife had her very own Father Seelos miracle. Here’s her story: At 38 she had a stroke. Things were touch and go for a few days and we really didn’t know if she was going to make it. She lost all movement in her right side, lost her ability to speak, and had a seizure while having an MRI. It was a scary time, but she had a good doctor who figured out the correct course of treatment and her symptoms began to resolve somewhat. She got her speech back for the most part but her right side remained mostly paralyzed. The doctor told us that she would have a fairly long rehab ahead of her and that she might not ever be able to play piano like she once did. She started therapy while still in the hospital (we were there for a total of 16 days) and then one day a little over a week into the ordeal a great Jesuit priest and friend of ours, Father Tom Stahel, came to visit my wife in the hospital. He brought with him a first class relic of Father Seelos that belonged to another great Jesuit priest, Father Harry Tompson. (Father Tompson married my wife and I, but was deceased by this time.) The next morning, I took the relic and put it around my wife’s neck. I then left the hospital to pick up my two young sons from their aunt’s house. Not twenty minutes later, I get a call on my cell phone from my sister-in-law who was at the hospital. She tells me that my wife can move her right side again. She was watching mass on the television in the hospital room and as the priest gave the blessing at the end of mass she instinctively raised her right hand to make the sign of the cross. Then she realized what she had done. She got up out of the bed and went over and commenced to play a small keyboard that my brother-in-law had brought to the hospital room. The paralysis on the right side had completely resolved itself.
So that’s her miracle and as I’m sure you know now, Father Seelos is credited with many others. My wife volunteers at the shrine and often goes to pray with people in situations such as your sister’s. I can’t speak for my wife or the other volunteers at the shrine, but if you email me I’ll bet someone would go pray with your sister and her family.

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Rod Dreher

posted February 19, 2010 at 10:02 pm

Horatius, that’s so encouraging to hear. I brought a first-class relic of Father Seelos back with me and gave it to Ruthie this evening.

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penny reinhart johnson

posted February 19, 2010 at 10:34 pm

rod, i want you to know i am praying for ruthie, but i also want you to know that reading your words hit me so hard . because of the love you put in it touched me so much that , i havent spoken to my sister in months over a really trival thing now as i look at it and today i went and seen her and her new granbbaby, but seeing this made me really think about what if this was my baby sister. thank you and god bless all of your family,

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courtney Guidry

posted February 19, 2010 at 10:36 pm

HI Rod,
I’m so glad that you made it to the Shrine today. It is such a special place. I know you were well taken care of! Please call me if you need anything further regarding a blesser, etc. from the Shrine. I volunteer with the above gentleman’s wife, and we pray together from time to time with people who have various needs. God bless you all! Continuing to pray.

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posted February 19, 2010 at 10:44 pm

Rod, my wife and I have been praying for you and your sister and her family. Our hearts go out to you.

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Lord Karth

posted February 19, 2010 at 10:46 pm

So your sister is home ? May that be considered a positive sign.
My House shall continue to pray for Ruth, and for all of House Dreher.
Now, Mr. Dreher—do yourself and your family a singular service, and go get some sleep and some exercise. You’ll not do anyone any good if you turn yourself into a husk over this.
Your servant,
Lord Karth

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Rod Dreher

posted February 19, 2010 at 10:52 pm

Thanks for those kind words, Penny, and I’m so glad to hear that you’ve reconciled with your sister.
Lord Karth, Ruthie’s home, which is good news in the sense that she feels better at home, but the cancer is no better, of course. Now that the lung that partially collapsed because of the biopsy the other day is healing well, her doctors felt it was okay for her to be resting at home. They wanted her to have a good weekend with her husband and girls before the treatment gets grueling. Which it will as soon as next week.

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Caroline Nina in DC

posted February 19, 2010 at 10:54 pm

Thank you again for this ongoing testimony of love. Remember that so many of us are praying for and with you.

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Sam Daniel Rachal

posted February 19, 2010 at 11:24 pm

Hey Rod. I have been keeping up with Ruthie through our moms. I have not seen you since I was a little girl and I am sorry that this is what brings me to you again. Ruthie is a remarkable person that has touched many lives. She is an icon of faith and selflessness among our small community. You never see her without a smile as the picture you posted today clearly shows. I am here ,always, if any of you need me. I wish I could do more but I will continue to pray. I hope that you and Mrs. Dot and Mr. Ray and of course Ruthie, Mike and the girls, find comfort and strength in the Lord in the days to come.
God Bless you all.
Sam Daniel Rachal

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posted February 20, 2010 at 12:17 am

I could not hold back the tears upon seeing the photo, but it was the body language and the worship for her mother in the eyes of Claire that did it to me. Being a daughter and having raised two, I know well the dynamics of the mother-daughter relationship. Claire looks to be the age where the conflict starts, but reality just knocked her into a place few daughters of that age go – fast forward beyond her years and hard backward to the days when Mommy was the most beautiful woman on earth and represented all that was safe in the world.
Sometimes even now, my girls, 20 and 39, will put their heads on my shoulder and lean against me, and I feel the same love and warmth going both ways as when they were little. I saw that feeling pass in that photo, and I got to see how love between daughter and mother appears from the outside looking in.

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Elizabeth K.

posted February 20, 2010 at 12:24 am

Dear Rod, I am also a mother of three daughters, and I am praying hard for your sister and for all of you. Thank you for witnessing to all that you are experiencing; your sister’s strength is wondrous to behold. God bless you and yours. I will continue to hold you all in prayer.

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Myke Rosenthal-English

posted February 20, 2010 at 6:57 am

Prayers will be offered for your sister today at the Shrine of blessed Francis Xavier seelos here in Füssen;Germany.His birthplace.We will also light a candle for you all

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posted February 20, 2010 at 8:35 am

Rod, your sister and her daughter are both so beautiful. Light shines from this picture. We are all blessed by that light.

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posted February 20, 2010 at 9:57 am

Just want to add my prayers to the others as well as my thanks to you for letting us in on what is obviously a very difficult and emotional time in the life of your family.
And prayers for you as you try to handle this plus your recent move and new job. You must be feeling more than overwhelmed right now.

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posted February 20, 2010 at 10:06 am

I prayed for you and your sister throughout our Presanctified Liturgy last night. Normally these days I would be assisting the priest in the altar: I have been invited to do so since December when I volunteered to help there after our first big snow when almost no one else was at church. (Note: our church uses altar men rather than altar boys) But last night I sat apart, to pray silently.
Sometimes I think February ought be renamed as Maluary, there has alays been so much bad news and illness in this month, for me and everyone I know. It has been a year for me today since my step-mother’s very sudden death. And 34 years since my own mother’s cancer diagnosis (last Monday in February, 1976– I remember that though I was not yet nine). I can imagine, no, remember, what your sister’s children now face, and I so wish I could reach out and help.
Follow Lord Karth’s suggestion and get plenty of rest, Rod. See, here is a wonder: he and I agree totally for once.

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Mary Alice

posted February 20, 2010 at 11:06 am

As a mom, that picture resonates in my heart. Yesterday my two sons, ages 8 and 11, went to the Adoration Chapel and offered an hour of prayer for your sister and her family. All my children are praying as well. In fact, my kids are focussing on Ruthie’s kids, as they are concerned that her children must be frightened.
Praying the peace and healing of Christ through the entire family, Rod.

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posted February 20, 2010 at 11:34 am

Rod, Your messages here are so beautifully written and inspirational beyond words. I have met Ruthie only once, at my daughter’s birthday party (she and Rebekah are classmates and friends), and since that time remarked to myself many times how lovely she was; warm, caring, so friendly and kind. All of this before her illness put things in a different perspective. When Laura mentioned that Rebekah was at her house on Tuesday, I immediately went on about how much I just loved her mom. Then she told me the news of her illness and it just hit me so hard. I have shed many tears, both of sadness for the family but also for the beauty of this community and the outpouring of love and support that has been shown for the Lemings. We are new to St. Francisville but I think we have found a very special place here. Thank you for sharing this journey with us and know that so many of us are praying for Ruthie and for you and all of the family. God bless.

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posted February 20, 2010 at 12:08 pm

“I think of that look of pure adoration and tranquillity, as a moment out of time — Claire is plainly oblivious to the conversation going on around her — as tragic in that respect (the last moment of innocence before the ravages of cancer therapy strike). But more hopefully, I look at her face as an icon of a daughter’s love for her mother, and of a purity and timelessness that nothing, not even suffering unto death, can tarnish or break. Whether she knows it or not, that little girl sees with her heart into eternity, and to a time and place beyond the valley of the shadow of death, where there will be no more suffering, and in which we will all be together again, our broken bodies restored and our fractured bonds with others made whole, united in and sustained by unlimited love.”
Geeze Rod, that brought tears to my eyes. You are so right. Love has conquered all, already. That is the Hope that is in us, and it is the only Hope that won’t fail us in the end.

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posted February 20, 2010 at 12:13 pm

Truly a beautiful photo. My thoughts and prayers will be with your sister and her family as she begins her radiation and chemo. If I may, I’d like to offer some advice from the perspective of someone who was a caretaker for a twin sister during her battle with what proved to be terminal cancer. She briefly underwent radiation, which fortunately didn’t affect her much. Chemo of the type she received for her cancer (metastatic melanoma from a mole on her back in which the cancer had spread to her lungs and liver) was tough on her, however. If your sister is lucky, she will win her battle. I have no more ability to predict the outcome than anyone else here has.
One thing her family should keep an eye on is ability to discuss with doctors what the options are. She may need some advocacy in that regard. Here’s why. One week before she died, my sister’s doctors found that her cancer just had spread to her brain. There was no sign of that outwardly. A week before she died, she was alert and absorbed in reading and in touch with her office at the National Archives right up to that point. After a brief hospitalization for lung related issues, she was released on a Thursday with instructions to report for outpatient radiation therapy for the newly discovered brain cancer on Monday. The next day, on Friday at home, her condition deteriorated suddenly. She had trouble getting enough oxygen into her lungs and started mostly trying to doze (hard to do). As sometimes happens with people approaching death, she largely kept her eyes closed, even when sitting up and talking to me. On Monday, the day I was supposed to find a way to take her out of the house and go for newly prescribed radiation treatment, her condition at home was so bad even with an oxygen tank (“I can’t breathe”) that I had to call 911 and have her transported. She died that evening at Virginia Hospital Center.
In retrospect, we needed hospice care intervention but had no idea the end would be so sudden. And looking back, there seemed little point for the doctors to prescribe radiation on Monday, an appointment she was unable to keep as she died that day. She worried needlessly after being released from the hospital about how she could keep that appointment. The doctors misjudged how long she had to live. They told her the previous week they thought she had a matter of weeks, perhaps another month or two. Instead, she only had a few days left. She died December 16, 2002, at the age of 51, right before Christmas, her favorite time of year. I had decorated her room at home as she no longer could come downstairs to see the fresh cut tree she normally would have put up.
I apologize for offering so wrenching and sobering account but in my view it illustrates the need to ask questions. Even in this day and age, the doctors cannot always tell what is coming or prepare the patient and family to deal with it best. I always will know that I cared for her as only a loving twin can care for a sister, but I wish she could have been spared some of what happened (as might her and my mother) that last weekend of her life.
May God be with your sister and you and all she loves and who love her.

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Charles Cosimano

posted February 20, 2010 at 12:19 pm

The difference a week makes. Used to be I would look at this blog to see if my blood pressure would go flying through the roof but now I look at it wondering how you and your family are doing.
It may be that this is something that proves that while the internet often brings out the worst in people, it can also bring out the best.
My thoughts are with you all.

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Tricia Stringer

posted February 20, 2010 at 12:38 pm

I am praying for your dear sister’s family.

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lancelot lamar

posted February 20, 2010 at 2:50 pm

What a beautiful photo. God bless that little girl and her mom.
Rachel’s comments above were also beautiful, and I thank her for her honest, beautiful reflections on mother/daughter love.

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Your Name

posted February 20, 2010 at 2:59 pm

Dear Rod, I had the great fortune to teach with Ruthie for 10 years at the middle school. I was so sad to hear the news about your sister…my mind has wandered from thoughts of “it’s not fair” to “why is it always the good people?” Your blog about your sister has helped me put my feelings into perspective. It can’t be about blame or substitution. I watched her strength as she raised three girls and dealt with the stress of Mike’s tours in Iraq. I watched as she treated hundreds of children as she would treat her own — even when lots of times we couldn’t figure out how she mustered the patience. I learned so much from Ruthie during our years together about how to be a good teacher and a good mother…and ironically, from miles away she is continuing to educate me about strength, courage, grace, and spirituality. Ruthie’s very presence in a room makes it seem lighter, happier, and richer…and her presence in my life has had the same effect. The picture you posted of Ruthie and Claire filled me with mixed emotion, but their faces frozen in that moment in time let me know that one thing remains true, she is the epitomy of all that is good and right and lovely and wonderful about the world. Please know that all my prayers, good wishes, and hopes are with you and your wonderful family right now. God bless.

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the stupid Chris

posted February 20, 2010 at 3:05 pm

Great photo! Praying with/for Ruthie and all y’all.

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posted February 20, 2010 at 3:14 pm

Your family is in my prayers as well.
Words cannot convey the depth of my sorrow.
From my Catholic perspective, the key thing here is to cooperate with God’s will. It’s perfectly acceptable to beg him to take this cross from you (Christ Himself gave us that example in the Garden). But at the same time, you must commit yourself to embracing the cross for as long as your given to bear it.
As far as I can tell, that’s the only sane thing to do. Moreover, it’s a tremendously fruitful thing to do.
In the end, all will be well – quite well – egardless of whether that’s something readily discernable to us down here on Earth.

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Scott Walker

posted February 20, 2010 at 3:17 pm

I got teary from contemplating the image of Clare and Ruthie. What a light in the darkness love is! It outlasts even death.
It even allows me and Charles Cosimano to wholly agree about something.
It’s love that moves people from all over the world who do not even know Ruthie to pray for her, or to keep her in their thoughts.
And Lord Karth is right. You can’t give what you ain’t got, so it is necessary for you to take time to rest and recharge.
Lord have mercy on Ruthie and all who know and love her, and on all the rest of us, too.

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posted February 20, 2010 at 10:36 pm

I, too, share a devotion to Bl. Francis Seelos. A dear friend presented me with a first class relic of Fr. Seelos nearly 7 years ago when I was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer. Though not “cured” I am healthy and live a full life with this disorder in a chronic stage. I have two children, now 11 & 12, and that beautiful picture of your dear sister Ruthie with her daughter Claire hit close to home and brought tears to my eyes, yet also joy to my heart. Your term of the beatific vision could not be more appropriate. Prayers, especially through the powerful intercession of Fr. Seelos, are being offered for your whole family from out west. God bless all of you.

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posted February 20, 2010 at 11:18 pm

Oh dear Rod, I am so sorry to learn of your sister’s cancer, and your families plunge into this suffering. From the little I’ve read so far, it seems clear that your dear sister is a remarkable woman, a silent saint, quietly walking among us. This photo of Ruthie and Claire moves me to tear. Claire is exactly Rosie’s age and looks like her. That look of love, the oblivious love, that transcends the moment, is a glimpse of Heaven’s love for us….”you must be like a little child to enter the kingdom of heaven”…and there it is on Claire’s face, exactly what Jesus is talking about.
Ruthie will be in our prayers, the girls and all of your family.
Love Shelley

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Charley Reed and Family

posted February 21, 2010 at 11:40 am

We are praying for Ruthie. Her story being told through you has touched us deeply.

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Grumpy Old Man

posted February 21, 2010 at 12:10 pm

The picture is an icon. A window into heaven.
Tears and prayers for Ruthie, her family, and for you.

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Your Name

posted February 24, 2010 at 7:51 pm

Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismay, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with my
righteous right hand
Isaiah 41:10

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Your Name

posted February 24, 2010 at 10:46 pm

Rod, you all are in our prayers throughout this community. Ruthie is the most selfless person I have ever met. She is but an “Angel” that God loaned to us for just a little while. She was one of the best teachers that my son has ever had, when most wouldn’t take the time to help him, she did. She didn’t care how much more time it would take, she did it anyway. And offered to do more. Our prayers and thoughts are with you all. If there is anything that we can do please let us know. When you say how awesome this family is, I feel that it such an understatement, they are beyond words.

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