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9. The Everyday Valleys


Debt Valley.


Since I’ve been single this is the valley I’ve often been plunged into, always beyond my control.  I’m not a credit card user or frivolous spender.  It’s circumstances which send me down into this valley, struggling all the time to get out of it.  While raising my children as a widow, I’ve often been put with collection agencies because of illness, surgeries, and accidents of my kids and myself.  The medical bills piled up.  After my children were grown, Debt Valley continued due to medical retirement, increasing costs of prescriptions and medical insurance, and the general cost of living.

Financial difficulties bring me down, get me frustrated.  I like to work and pay my bills, and when I can’t, I feel tense and helpless.  In 1987 I filed bankruptcy although I fought against doing so.  By the time I gathered up all my bills and went to see an attorney, humiliated and embarrassed, he assured me there was no need to feel that way.  He went through the bills and concluded I had done the best I could while raising a large family, and encouraged me to give myself a new start by filing the bankruptcy.  I was starting a new job and could begin anew without all the debt baggage I had been carrying around.  I had a hard time accepting this idea, but I had no choice.  I filed for bankruptcy.

My neck and shoulders had been bothering me, on and off, for many years.  I accepted a job as an office manager where I wouldn’t have to use the typewriter or computer all the time, because I was suspecting that’s what was causing the pain.  However, the new job did require lots of typing once I was there, and the pain in my neck caused terrible headaches.  My physician sent me for physical therapy and prescribed medicine for the problems.  It kept getting worse, and I was forced out of work with the disability of herniated disks in my neck.  It was devastating.  I felt totally useless.  My children were grown and out on their own, and I didn’t want to sit home alone.  For a few months I spent most of my time seeking relief from pain.

One day I decided that this medical retirement might just be a time to do more praying.  I started giving more of myself to prayer and helping at daily mass.  Then I was asked to be a Proclaimer and Eucharistic Minister as well as Sacristan.  I tried to perform these ministries prayerfully.  Gradually I entered into participating in other ministries:  RCIA Team where I accompanied and helped to instruct those who were considering coming into the church, The Baptism Team where I became a Pastoral Visitor to parents who were requesting baptism for their infants and young children, Befriender Ministry where I trained to be a visitor to those in need of someone to listen compassionately, a Server to the Presider at daily mass, and a liturgical assistant at funeral services.  I felt called into these ministries, and successful in making good use of the time provided by my disability.  I received a monthly disability check from my last employer, and a Social Security check as a disabled widow.  For over ten years I found happiness by volunteering in those ministries, an hour or so at a time.

When I was first widowed, I had been led into a school of radiological technology where I planned to graduate as an x-ray technician and continue training in radiological therapy.  I was accepted into the oncology department at our local hospital and at the community college 60 miles away where I would attend classes.  I had to decline all of this because I needed to go out to work to take care of all my children.  It was disappointing after the first year to have to leave it all, but I knew I had to bring in more money and could not do it in that program.  That was over 20 years ago.

Now, while disabled and volunteering in various church programs, I was invited and accepted into training in a hospital program to learn how to be a Spiritual Care Visitor.  I studied for a year in the program, during which time I was asked if I would like to be part of something new to be tried at the hospital.  I was asked if I would be comfortable sitting in the waiting room of Oncology Radiation where outpatients came daily for cancer treatment.

Over 20 years had passed since I left the radiology school, and here I was in the radiology department ministering to cancer patients.  It has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life!  I spend two hours per week in a room with people who have been devastated by the disease, listening, talking, praying, and just being with them.  Cancer has been part of my life, and I think it helps me to understand what happens to individuals, spouses, children, and friends when the disease invades lives.  I believe we find hope together in that waiting room.

While doing all my volunteer ministries, my income was suddenly cut in half on my 65th birthday because the employer’s commitment to compensate me was complete.  As my birthday was approaching I began to panic, as did my children.  What would happen to me?  How could I survive on half the income?  The children have families and responsibilities and can’t really take care of me.  In all honesty, I don’t feel at all ready for that anyway!  So I decided to get a job.  Maybe God would lead me to work that I could handle without stressing my past injuries.  I typed up a resume for myself and it looked pretty good. I had written and published a book, sold articles and poetry, and held good jobs in the past.  I included all my volunteer experience from the past 10 years.  I emailed resumes and sent them in the mail.  No response came.  I kept doing that, but got no response at all.  The kids were getting nervous, but they were generously helping me pay bills as much as possible.

As the months went by with no response, it got scary.  I had to constantly remind God that I was trusting and patient.  I did that many times each day so God would understand how trusting and patient I was.  God kept responding by renewing my trust and patience.  On and on we went, God and me, through this trying period.  My pastor and friends became more involved, trying to find me a job.  My chaplain friend at the hospital prayed intense and faithful prayers for me to be led to “the perfect job.”  As the perfect job didn’t appear, the kids kept digging into their pockets to pay co-payments for my prescriptions and help with my rent.  This was very humiliating! I don’t like needing help.  It’s so much easier for me to be helping others.  I was not even getting any interviews.  I began to have the feeling that if I got an interview, I would get hired.  Months kept going by with no job.

After eight months I got a phone call from a friend who had heard about a job, which she thought I might like to consider.  I called the place she told me to and requested an application.  When I received it, the job sounded too good to be true!  The position was with a local non-profit organization associated with the hospital, and requiring the skills and experience that I had acquired in all my volunteer work.  I applied for the position of Coordinator of The Spiritual Companioning Program, a part-time position with adequate pay.  I applied and was granted an interview.  I enjoyed the women I interviewed with, and the next morning I was offered the job.

I absolutely love this job!  I find Spiritual Companions to volunteer their time with a low-income elder who has requested one.  I interview the senior citizen and then find a volunteer who might be interested, and bring them together.  I recruit, give workshops, hold meetings, and keep records and statistics for a wonderful staff, serving incredible seniors.  I’m privileged to witness the transformation, which takes place when the older people have someone visiting them.  Together they increase their spirituality…….and mine.

Pat Montesano and volunteer
Maureen McGrain,SET Director and Dr. Larry Smith

Pat Montesano with volunteer ^


SET Director Maureen McGrain and volunteer Doctor Larry Smith >

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