The following reflection has been generously shared with us by Michelle Borysko. It was originally written and shared by Michelle at her parish on Good Friday 2018. Michelle is from Saskatoon and currently lives with her husband Greg and their children in Texas. It is a touching and beautiful reminder of God’s power to sustain us and draw us closer to Him in the most difficult of circumstances. In this month of devotion to the Mother of God it is a particular reminder of how we are called to imitate the faithfulness of Mary despite the fact that like her we might question or mourn when we encounter suffering in our lives and even devastating trials and loss. Thank you Michelle for sharing your love story with us! You are an inspiration. DPL
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus say his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. (John 19:26-27).
There are many ways that we as Catholics picture Mary. One of these ways is relating to her as the magnificant Blessed Mother, the Queen of Heaven, the Mother of Jesus, and the one who is praying for us in heaven. The other way, which I would like to reflect upon and can relate to, is the young woman who was chosen by God to be the mother of Jesus. At the age of fourteen or fifteen, Mary had a special encounter with the Angel Gabriel, and was told that she would conceive and bear a son. He would be named Jesus. Her first expressions of confusion and what God wanted for her started with this conversation. She asked the angel, “How can this be, since I am still a virgin?” This moment was a definite turning point in her life that she could not have predicted nor asked to be gifted with. All she could do was ask “Why me?” and pray for guidance. No one that she knew personally had been given such a task. How was she going to handle this? She just had to “trust”.
I was born in Saskatoon to a Catholic family. At 12 years old, I became the organist for our church and continued as a director for the next 13 years. I married Greg, who is also a Catholic and was involved in his church as well.
After being married for 6 years, my husband, Greg, had the opportunity to become a director in his company. At the time we had no children and were living in Canada. In order to become the director, we had to move to the US and live in Dallas. I am a pharmacist and knew I could find a job anywhere. After a long discussion, we decided to accept the job offer and “have an adventure”. We had to trust in God that he would guide us down the right path, not knowing what was ahead of us. So, in 2006, we moved down to Dallas, and I was 8 months pregnant with our first child, Matthew. Two years later, we were told that we would be having a set of twins. My husband’s job was going well, and I was working on getting my US pharmacist license.
On September 13, 2008, when I was 34 weeks pregnant, my water broke and we were blessed with two beautiful daughters, Kathryn and Lesya. They were both on the small side and so they each had to stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for a couple of days before we could bring them home. Lesya was bigger than Kathryn. She was able to come home after a week. Kathryn, was the smaller twin, and had to stay for 5 more days. On the night that we brought Kathryn home from the hospital, Greg and I were feeding the girls in the middle of the night. Lesya did not want to eat for Greg out of a bottle. He was extremely concerned about it. We tried several bottles, and even breast feeding, but she was not interested in any of it. Greg thought that something was wrong and that we should call the hospital. The pediatrician had told me that it was ok if the girls wanted to miss a feeding. With the twins, we were trying to keep them on the same schedule. Therefore, I was not concerned at all. Because of Greg’s insistence, I ended up calling the neonatal intensive care nurses, and then my pediatrician to find out what to do. They said that if you had any concerns, just bring them back to the hospital. My mom was staying with us, so Greg and I packed up Lesya and took her back to the Baylor hospital where she was born. We left Kathryn and Matthew at home with my mom. The following events changed our lives forever. When Lesya was first assessed in the emergency, her oxygen sat was 85%. It should be 95 or higher. The ER physician was not a pediatrician but knew that something was wrong. He told us that either Lesya had a heart defect and needed to be life flighted to Dallas or was septic and had to be sent to Cook Children’s in Fort Worth. He asked us “what did we want to do?” Just like Mary was confused at the moment that Gabriel appeared to her, so was I when the doctor asked “what did we want to do?”. All I could keep saying and thinking was “What are you talking about? She only missed a feeding. This is not real”. In those next few moments, I called our trusted pediatrician for his opinion, and he said he would be right there. The best place for Lesya was to send her upstairs to neonatal intensive care, where they had the best team of specialists around. They knew Lesya already and were the best people to make the decision. The next several hours were critical. They ran several tests and scans on Lesya and found out that she had suffered several strokes, her brain was swelling, her oxygen sat was 85%, and her body was septic. However, they were not sure of the cause. To be complete and thorough they started her on several strong antibiotics, intubated her, and had her in isolation. The doctors told Greg and I that she may not make it through the night. We baptized her in the hospital and stayed by her side. We also had reached out to our family for prayers. Several prayer chains were created and several different faiths became involved – Catholic, Lutheran, Jewish, Orthodox, United… The doctors also wanted us to bring in Kathryn to have her examined. After several weeks in the hospital, we found out that Lesya had late phase Group B Strep meningitis. Kathryn was not affected. The medications cleared up the meningitis, but Lesya’s whole being had changed. She had seizures, hydrocephalus, and was possibly going to be developmentally delayed because of the brain damage.
Getting back to Mary — For the next 33 years Mary’s relationship with her son was full of ups and downs. It was definitely extra special but also human. She loved her son unconditionally, even though she knew he had a special purpose on this earth. She disciplined him, taught him all that she knew, comforted him when he was sad or sick, and cared for him as a mother would. He was her son – she gave birth to him.
Mary’s confusion about what God had chosen for her to do increased once Jesus started his public ministry. At the age of 12, Jesus does not come home with his family, but ends up not telling his parents and stays behind to preach in the Temple. The anger, worry and agony Mary must have felt to know that Jesus had snuck away. The miracles that Mary witnessed also must have been moments of “awe” for her. Here, she was the mother of this extraordinary person. Jesus introduced her to many new things – new people, new ways of thinking, new ways of doing things. All along the way, she must have been leary but realized she just needed to “trust”.
Just like Mary’s life had changed, my world and life had changed forever. I was the only one in my very, very large family or I knew of that had a special needs child. Even though people said they could try and understand, they really couldn’t. Greg and I were on our own path with our family. This is where our faith was tested and we had to learn to “trust” – God, the many doctors, her therapists, her teachers, each other – to know what was best for Lesya. Right from 6 weeks old, Lesya was put into 2 sessions of speech, physical and occupational therapy each week. Because of all of her complications, she had several specialists – eyes, ears, neurology for her seizures and brain growth, neurosurgeons for her shunt that was placed in her brain at 4 months old because of her hydrocephalus, rehabilitation, pediatrician, infectious disease, specialists who made her leg braces, put lifts on her shoes, those who helped with the special chairs, standers, bikes, walkers, she needed. She also wore a helmet to reshape her head after getting out of the hospital as a baby. For the next 5 and ½ years, our lives were hectic. When we moved to Houston, Lesya’s seizure activity surfaced again. Neurologists put her on anti-seizure medications to control her seizures. She would have grand mal seizures when her body was fighting an infection of some kind. We had the medication to treat the seizure but often ended up at Texas Childrens Hospital downtown learning that she had an ear infection, urinary tract infection, or other “bug” that her body was fighting. Lesya had a voice that you could clearly hear, but she was not able to speak. Therefore, we never really knew when she was “hurting” because she could not tell us like a normal child. By having a child with special needs, we learnt about the many organizations that exist to help people with disabilities. For example, the Texas Childrens Sugar Land therapy clinic became our second home and family. The wonderful therapists helped to teach Lesya how to sit up, roll over, army crawl, walk, push herself in her wheelchair, ride a bike, make sounds, identify foods, colors, shapes, answer yes/no questions with an ipad, say “I love you” with sign language, begin to hold a pencil and many other daily activities. We also learned about Early Childhood Intervention for children under 3 and PPCD (Preschool Program for Children with Disabilities) for kids ages 3 to 5. We also became involved with Easter Seals, and the long process of Medicaid. Lesya also taught her siblings, now Matthew, Kathryn and her younger brother, Jonathan, that people with disabilities were beautiful special people that could do great things when given the chance. They were also people you could argue or fight with as well. As a family, we learned different ways to travel, go out to places, and how to adapt to life. Lesya’s disability never stopped us from doing anything. We learned new things as a family.
Now, after such a complicated life, imagine Mary during those last 3 days. She has a wonderful meal with the disciples and Jesus in the upper room where everything appears great. Then, shortly after, her son is cruelly taken from her by the authorities and condemned to death. She has to watch as he is brutally scorned, carries the cross to Golgotha while in such pain, and then is nailed to the cross. In front of everyone he, hangs there suffering uncontrollable pain and knows that death is near. Yet, he reaches out to his mother, whom he loves deeply, and makes sure that she is taken care of. Jesus says, “Woman, behold your Son” and then turns to the disciple and says “Behold your mother”. In this passage, Jesus is making sure that Mary is taken care of even after he is gone. He lets her know that even though she is going through such excruciating pain as a mother in losing her son, that there is family around her that she needs to continue to care for. Also with the help of the disciples, she has to continue Jesus’ work here on earth. Mary’s job is not done.
On April 1, 2014, I went into Lesya and Kathryn’s room to get the girls up and dressed so I could take Kathryn to preschool, Matthew to grade 2 and get Lesya ready for her day at PPCD. I turned on the lights to their room and found Lesya in the corner of her bed having a grand mal seizure. I immediately called Greg and let him know what was happening. I went to get the Diastat medication to give to her and a phone to call 911. When we came closer to Lesya we found that she was in a pool of vomit and was extremely hot. I tried to cool her down and administered the medication. I had to wait for 5 minutes before I could give her a second dose. During that time my husband called 911. Those were the longest, most excruciating, 5 minutes of my life. While waiting for the paramedics I knew that today was another trip to Texas Children’s. We would find out what the cause of the seizure would be and be able to return home later that day, or so I thought. The day before, on March 31, Lesya was in a good mood, went to school, enjoyed the library, walked in her gait trainer outside chasing her siblings, ate her supper and was upset with me when I put her to bed. She thought it was too early and did not want the light shut off yet. I told her good night, and gave the girls kisses as I normally did. So on April 1st, in the examination room at Texas Children’s, several doctors and nurses worked on Lesya. Her blood pressure was extremely low, her temperature was dangerously high, her sugars were skyrocketing, and she was still seizing. When they were finally able to get her stable after the seizure, they ran a whole bunch of tests and found that her shunt in her brain was working well, but her brain tissue was swelling. After getting things under control at home, my husband joined me at the hospital. We waited patiently in the pediatric Intensive Care Unit where they ran test after test on Lesya to see what they could do to help her. Her brain was swelling and there was nothing that they could do. I stayed with her all night while my husband went home to the other children. I slept by her side and cuddled her when I could. The next morning the doctors came into her room and told me that I should call my husband and have him bring the family in. There was nothing more that they could do for her, except keep her comfortable. Too much damage had taken place in such a short time. I immediately called Greg, and then my parents and siblings in Canada to let them know that Lesya was not going to survive. I also called my cousin, a bishop, to give her the last rites, over the phone. Before I knew it, my world was turned upside down again. Lesya was so small, helpless, and pale lying in that bed covered in tubes and monitors. All I could do was lay next to her, try and cuddle her, and let her know I was with her. She was non responsive. I could not take any of her pain away, nor reverse what was happening. All I could do was pray, and ask, “Why me Lord? Please don’t take my precious child from me. Is this truly what you want of us?” My parents, siblings, and cousin, the Bishop, were able to fly down that night to spend the remaining time with Lesya and say their good byes. We let Lesya’s therapists, teachers, and care givers know what was happening so that they could spend some time with her as well.
On the 3rd day, April 3, at 7:00 p.m. we dressed Lesya in her pajamas, read to her her favorite bedtime stories, said the rosary and prayed with her. After all of this, surrounded by her family, Greg and I asked the doctors to stop the machines and let her pass away on her own. At that time, we grieved uncontrollably but knew that she was being taken into Heaven to be with God.
Just like Jesus lets Mary know that John is her son and is there to care of her after such a devastation, I had my three other children that I had to take care of and carry on for. My job was not done. I was also blessed with giving birth to another son, almost an exact year after Lesya died. It was almost like Lesya had told God that since she was with Him, there was room for another child to be cared for and born into the Borysko family.
Just like Mary, who was chosen by God, we don’t have to be the strongest people, the richest, the smartest academically, the most healthy. We just have to love, want to help others and be willing to “trust” in Him. Our path is not always clear or easy, but we do learn a lot as we travel it, and meet wonderful people along the way.
Just like Mary and John were asked by Jesus to love as a family loves, and to carry on Jesus’ proclamations to other lands, I believe part of my job, is to continue the works of my daughter. Because of her disabilities and need for therapies, special schooling, equipment, financial aid, I learned so much and am able to share so much with my patients, and the people I come in contact with each day about what is out there to help these children in their daily lives.
So, when you ask for the intercessions of the Blessed Mother, you are not only praying to the Queen of Heaven, theMother of God, but also to the simple woman who was chosen by God. A woman who had a difficult life, who knows confusion, who experienced heartache, but who knows what it means to love and love to the fullest.