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Something Had to Be Done – Starting from Scratch

Seriously?  Isn’t this where it all began??

I have battled weight my entire life.  I was a chubby baby – some babies look like the Gerber baby.  In pictures I’ve seen, I look like the Michelin tire man.  I was fat through elementary school.  By 8th grade, I was tired of kids making fun of me (Oh yes, dear children, we had bullies back in the day before bullying was big business), and crash dieted myself thinner.  I ate nothing.  No, that’s not a typo.  I skipped breakfast and lunch every day, in favor of sweetened iced tea.  For dinner, I ate as little as possible, and some more iced tea.  Some nights, I ate saltine crackers in place of dinner.  I got thin.  But, of course, that whole eating thing crept back into vogue, and I got heavy again.

My first “get real” diet was with Jim.  Planning to get married, I hoped to be a size 12 instead of a size 18, and he and I both joined NutriSystem.  We lost weight, we felt healthy, and while I was a size 12 in real people clothes, I still had a size 18 wedding gown 🙁  It was discouraging, but we were both in peak shape.

Well, until I got pregnant.

I battled again – after Brighid; after Eilis; and even after Granuaile.  I never got back to the size 12 I wanted to be, but instead got up to a size 26.  Well, I think 26, because I bought only stretchy things – mostly size 3X.  I was bigger than Jim.  With so many people promoting weight loss surgery, I jumped right on the bandwagon.

I have touted weight loss surgery as a great thing for me.  It was.  I’ve had complications, to be sure, but I am so grateful to have lost 150 pounds.  I do not think I will ever see a size 26 again, but I have fallen off the wagon.  I have gone from a low of a size 10 back up to a size 14/16, and it’s scary.

We have gotten into bad habits.  With school work, night classes, and overall busy, pizza seems like a good idea at least a couple of nights a week.  And come on, who eats one slice of pizza?  Even gastrically altered, I can eat at least two.  And if it doesn’t get put away right away, I can go back for a third later on.

I have to get back to the gym, when life settles down in two weeks.  And I am going to.  But my diet needs to improve.  Portion control needs to be a priority again.  Eating to live, not living to eat needs to be the focus.

So here we are, back at the beginning.  I am trying 30 days of NutriSystem to see if it can help get me back to where I belong.

Pray with me.  It’s going to be a bumpy ride.


This is me today; me at my lowest; and two pictures of me at my highest.

The Time to Say Goodbye

Almost eight years ago, my dad made the decision to discontinue treatment for his many medical issues, stop dialysis, and enter hospice to bravely face the final steps on his journey Home.  I remember so vividly the night that Ann called, letting me know that my dad was being transferred to hospice, and I remember sitting with him, crying, begging, wanting him to continue the fight.  It was selfish.  I probably knew that then, but I had a brand new baby, two other great daughters I wanted him to see grow up, and I certainly didn’t want the pain of losing him.

But hospice did more than just offer my father comfort in his final days.  Hospice made me look at my father from a whole different perspective.  All of his brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, came from throughout the country to spend time with him.  Friends from his many years at Philadelphia Electric stopped by.  Men he knew from the Knights of Columbus, women from Church, friends he’d had for many years all came to see him, have one last laugh with him, and tell me what a wonderful man he was.

I knew that.  But I knew it on a daughter’s terms.  Your dad always looks like a knight in shining armor when you’re a little girl, but my dad’s shine never dulled in my eyes.  But to sit there, listening to people talk and reminisce about times they had spent with him was eye opening.  He was loved.  His friendship was cherished.  He lived a life many people envy – one where he was surrounded by good friends, family who loved him, and with as much laughter as he could pack in.

Today, as my friend Jennifer goes through this with her mom, I am reminded of the pain I felt every day that my father was dying.  But with these eyes that have been wiped free of the many tears that flowed, I can see beyond the process of dying and focus on the joy of his living.  It was a wonderful life – not without its hurdles, not without pain; but when it had been lived to the very last breath, it was a life worth celebrating.  I hope Jennifer and her family will be able to do the same.

How Long Does It Take For a Heart to Heal?

On March 9th, 2013, I realized my sister Bean had been dead for 10 years.  The odd thing about that?  She died on March 7th, so I was two days late in making this realization.

It didn’t occur to me until just a week or so ago, during a phone call with my sister Meg, that none of us – not me, not my mom, and not Megan – talked about Bean on the anniversary of the day she died.  It had become an annual tradition.  Megan and I always called my mom on March 7th, and then my mom always connected the calls so we could all talk to each other.  I think we called Mommy to make sure she was okay, and I feel like she made sure we talked to each other so that the sadness could be overshadowed by the sarcasm and humor that always prevails in our phone conversations.

But why didn’t we all call each other on March 7th this year?

I’m busy.  In school full time, raising my family, sprinkling pixie dust – it all takes a lot of time.  Megan works long days and has had mountains piled on her plate.  My mom is finally feeling well, getting around, doing some shopping, making up for time she lost while she was sick.  Any of those things could have contributed to the missing phone calls.

Or maybe, finally, we have healed.

There will always be pain, especially when I think about the things she didn’t get to see or do – or my kids she never got to know.  But there isn’t crying.  When I think of Bean, there is joy – that we got to do so much with her when she was here, and that we all benefited in this life from knowing her.  There are more stories of good times and happy occasions than there are memories of the circumstances of March 7th, 2003.

So it does happen.  Time does heal all wounds, even those of the heart.

It just takes ten years.

Frances M. (Bean) Bilbrough


Suddenly on March 7 2003. Age 37.
Beloved daughter of Anna and Bob Holak of Medford NJ and John and Ann Bilbrough of Laurel Springs NJ. Dear sister of Anna Skamarakas (Jim) Megan Holak (Brett) Kathleen Flaherty (Paul) and Danny Orbanus (Angela). Loving aunt to Brighid and Eilis Jonathon and Michael Danny and Christian. Bean is also survived by her grandmother Caroline Holak and many aunts uncles cousins and many dear friends.
She was a 1984 graduate of Shawnee High School.
Relatives and friends are invited to visit with the family Tuesday eve from 7 to 9pm and Wednesday morning from 8:15 to 9:15am at GARDNER FUNERAL HOME RUNNEMEDE 126 S. Black Horse Pike Runnemede. Funeral Mass 10am Wednesday morning Annunciation BVM Church Bellmawr. Interment private at the request of the family. In lieu of flowers donations may be made to the Annunciation Regional School 605 W. Browning Rd. Bellmawr NJ 08031 of which Bean was a volunteer. Expressions of sympathy may be e-mailed to Condolences@GardnerFuneralHome.com

An Open Letter to the Most Reverend Dennis Sullivan

Dear Bishop Sullivan:

There is nothing more important in the life of a Catholic second grader than First Holy Communion.  It is a very grown up step on their path to fully understanding just how much it means in their lives to know Jesus and to embrace our faith.  They spend months in preparation, including nervously heading into the confessional for the first time, memorizing prayers, and feeling the excitement of their big day.

Saturday, May the 4th, was a beautiful day.  God showed his love for the day and these children with brilliant sunshine and perfect springtime temperatures.  Our church quickly filled with parents and grandparents; aunts and uncles; friends and neighbors – all waiting to witness the walk of faith our tiny ones would make.

My daughter, Granuaile Frances, was among the children receiving the sacrament at St. Rita’s parish in Bellmawr.  She anxiously recited prayers over and over to make sure she knew them, even as her hair was pinned and her shoes buckled.  She was reading the presentation of gratitude to our parish priest, and she practiced her reading, practiced blessing herself, and even practiced bowing her head without knocking off her veil.

As we arrived at church, we deposited our children into the capable hands of Sister Miriam, who has been their spiritual mentor through every minute of this journey.  She welcomed them excitedly, organized them behind the scenes, and prepared them for their big moment.  The rest of us began gathering inside the church, with people bubbling over with excitement.  Just in my family alone, we had family in from Virginia and Florida, and guests who drove from various parts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and we were excited to come together as a Catholic community, to welcome our children into the next phase of their Catholic journey.

Then we were shushed.  You know – where someone who is older than you or who has authority over you points their finger to their lips and yells, “SHHHHHHHHHHHH!!”  Multiple times.  No talking.  Despite the fact that there was still 15 minutes before Mass, we were told we couldn’t speak in the church.

The children were beautiful, bundles of excited and anxious energy, and Mass was going beautifully.  Father gave a lovely, brief homily, directed towards the children, which almost moved me to tears in it’s beauty and simplicity.  And then he turned his chair away from the children to speak with the adults.  What followed was a nasty, bitter, vitriolic tirade, where he scolded us for being responsible for the closing of the church and the inevitable imprisonment of our children, who are obviously going to get involved in drugs and other illegal behavior because of their lack of good Catholic parenting.  He spoke for nearly 30 minutes, chastising the adults, frightening the children, and alienating non-Catholic members of the people who congregated.

But he wasn’t done.  The children made their sacrament, Mass had ended, and he recessed down the center aisle to the back of the church.  He greeted and congratulated each child as they recessed out behind him, then he disappeared.  He did not make himself available for parents to thank him, children to have photos taken with him, or even to greet guests. Talk about a missed opportunity to make a good impression.

But wait, there’s more.

As the children giddily showed off their new certificates, bursting with joy from what they just experienced, parents began to congratulate their kids, thank Sister Miriam and the other CCD volunteers, and families wanted photos in front of the beautifully decorated altar.  Then the shushing began again.  Only this time, it wasn’t just shushing.  Father was yelling at us over the church’s PA system, telling us we were in a church and conducting ourselves improperly.  He told us all to get out if we couldn’t be respectful, reprimanding us for taking photos in the church and being gleeful and happy for our children.

And if this had been my first experience – as a mom to a first communicant, or as a guest in a Catholic church – I would have been completely turned off to the church and the process of celebrating a sacrament.  Having Father yell into the PA system about how disrespectful we were was in complete contrast to my two older daughters’ celebrations, where they were welcomed onto the altar by the priests to have photos taken, to enjoy their celebration, and to appreciate the joy that filled their hearts.  We were chased out of this church by the priest, and no one should ever be made to feel unwelcome in the home of their heavenly Father.

No one was unruly, no one was outrageous, no one was inappropriate.  The atmosphere was celebratory, the children excited, the parents overjoyed.

After watching this priest wobble and sway; after listening to him spit venom during one of the happiest days in the life of a member of the Catholic faith; after being shushed and chastised – it’s time to find a new church.  And I have to pray about keeping it a Catholic one.