Les Femmes Wallflower to Wildflower:
Madeline’s Story

By: Lindy Rackiewicz

Editor’s note: After 35 million babies sacrificed on the altar of abortion, we stand on the brink of mass euthanasia. The baby-boomers are reaching retirement age threatening to overwhelm the health care system. Requests for assisted suicide in Oregon doubled last year. Nurses in hospitals tell of deliberate overdoses given to sick patients unbeknownst to them or their families. Those defined in “persistent vegetative state” are starved and dehydrated to death. What can we do to fight this evil? Love the helpless in our own families, those who give us nothing in the world’s eyes, but offer us opportunities to become saints. Remember, if we don’t fight for them, who will fight for us?

Madeline’s story is about family – a story of faith, of joy, and of suffering. But mostly it’s a story of love and of the lessons she taught me, her daughter-in-law, a convert from a confused, feminist, professional college upbringing in a society that condemns women for “just being moms” staying home to raise the kids.

Christened Mary Magdalena Anastasio, Madeline grew up in an Italian Catholic immigrant family in New Haven, Connecticut. Her father ran a candy store. She was the second oldest of four children one of whom, Faith, was mildly retarded. It was amazing to me as a convert to see how Faith, despite her retardation, was guided in learning her catechism, a sign of the family’s deep devotion to God.

Madeline dreamed of becoming a pilot like Amelia Earhart. Instead she grew up, married Vincent Rackiewicz, and stayed home as a mother and homemaker. She raised four children who gave her 15 grandchildren and several great grandchildren. After her parents died, Madeline and her husband Vinnie welcomed Faith, who lived in a group home, for holidays and kept her treasures for her.

A staunch Catholic, Madeline dug in her heels after Vatican II to preserve the faith for her four children despite ridicule, harassment and derision for “holding fast” to the Tridentine Mass and Rosary. While my husband, David, was a student at the University of Notre Dame, his mother, a wise woman ahead of her times, warned him about the bizarre changes on Catholic campuses. Because of her prayers and example David clung to his faith and has been devoted to the Latin Mass for thirty years.

I remember many visits to Madeline’s house. When she wasn’t canning her husbands’ garden produce (he was the “Tomato Man” of Lordship, CT) she would cheerfully join her children and grandchildren walking two blocks to the beach on Long Island Sound despite her arthritic knees. I was intrigued by the deep faith that helped her persevere in a difficult marriage. She taught me about “offering up,” and her patient acceptance of sufferings brought her fallen-away Catholic husband back to the Church before he died on May 2nd last year, the feast of St. Athanasius.

Madeline is almost 85 now. About ten years ago she developed Alzheimer’s Disease. She hardly recognizes anyone including Lorraine and Randy Rackiewicz, her family caregivers. But she continues to bring joy with her smiles and chuckles. Since Lorraine could never have children, Madeline, the mother, has become the doted upon “child.” Lorraine loves to dress her in festive colors for holidays when she goes to the senior center. Madeline would probably be appalled at some of the colorful outfits; she tended to be a wallflower who dressed plainly. Now she’s a wildflower delighting the most somber individuals around her.

Lorraine has been encouraged to photo document Madeline’s outfits and gaily-decorated wheelchair that brighten the lives of employees, patients, and families in senior care. Lorraine hopes to assemble a colorful book based on research she did before taking Madeline into her home three years ago to help other families through these difficult and often monotonous years.

The planes still fly over the beach and marshlands into Bridgeport Airport near Madeline and Vinnie’s old home. They remind me of Madeline and her dreams, of her ordinary life, but extraordinary faith. The house is empty awaiting cleanup to be rented or sold to pay for Madeline’s care. Each child, in-law, and grandchild has fond memories of visits there. God has a purpose for all of us. If the souls around us don’t teach us patience, perhaps they teach us to count our blessings. I’ll always remember the example Madeline gave me of what it means to be a Catholic mother. Madeline, we love you. Thank-you for everything.

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