Author Archives: Nancy Scannell

No Even Though

This morning’s journal prompt was a stress check -in.

I wrote: I am happy, healthy, and out-of-town with Tim. I feel calm and at peace  … even though all hell is breaking loose with one of our kids.

“Even though” – what is that?

“All hell?” – toughen up Nance. 

“Even though” is life. 

Five years ago, incapable of verbalization, I told my mom that one of our adult kids had run away. She asked, “What did you say?” I gave it another go and found a few words. A few minutes later, she asked, “What’s new?” With a smidge more articulation, I told her again. A few minutes later, she inquired, “What new?” Stronger yet, I repeated the sentence. By the fifth round, I was no longer weeping. 

God works in mysterious ways . . . even through dementia. 

On another visit, I gave another update. My mom advised, “Don’t think about it. It’s not that hard.” Plain and simple. Humph. This was inconceivable to me as my loss seeped through my pores and permeated my soul. I could not get a grip.  

I cried for three years. I questioned the meaning of life, the purpose of living, the myth of the big happy family. Stark days were warmed by my other children and friends who pulled me into the light.   

Ghostbusters’ theme song took on significant meaning – “Who you gonna call?”

I called, and most family members and friends shared their flames. Loved ones phoned me, and I’d be amazed that I had light to share in their time of need. Some checked on me. Some sensed when I was going down under. Many miraculously revealed to me my lingering light. Such love made me cry – everything did back then .   

I consulted with professionals, read medical journals, devoured memoirs, and talked way too much about personal stuff. I got the sense that people were pushing acceptance. I fought that battle and am grateful to have lost.

I went to daily mass. Gospels about demons rocked my world. Where were these miracles today?

“Be not afraid.” 

“Peace be with you.”

“I will not forsake you.”

Mantras are miraculous.   

This spring, Richard Rhor’s Falling Upward course emphasizes daily meditation – “Be still and know that I am.”

I did not want to be still. I wanted some fixing. And I wanted it fast in times of panic.

There is no fixing. There is no even though. There is just what is.

I am not alone. None of us are. We all have suffering. 

Grief, confusion, and loss don’t have to take center stage. I stay with the lengthy monologues. I let them play out. Then I sing with the chorus. And I get back in the dance. 

All hell is not breaking loose. It is not new. It has always been around. And it always will be.

And God and goodness prevail, in you and in me and in everyone, and in everything (Richard Rhor’s The Universal Christ). Even in people with differing realities. 

We get to live Grace loud and clear . . .  even when expressing it is hard. When I can’t find my voice, I seek the lesson, the love . . . in the sensation. There is no shame in big feelings.  

In every moment, “God comes to you disguised as your life.” – Paula D’Arcy (from Richard Rhor’s Falling Upward)

You Spot It – You Got It

Jim Dethmer, author, coach and founder of The Conscious Leadership Group, says when something about someone bothers you, that something is probably within you. “You spot it – you got it.” After participating in a dozen of Dethmer’s online lectures, I still could not get past the judgment or unease or anger or intolerance of some people’s behaviors. 

I first came across this concept in 2010 when Brendan gave me Meditations from the Mat: Daily Reflections on the Path of Yoga by Katherine Kenison and Rolf Gates. One of the offerings said that if there’s something you find irritating about a yoga instructor, the behavior is probably one that you don’t like about you.

For years, when I notice that something about somebody really bugs me, I have tried to identify what is happening within me and to reconcile it, to be loving. No go. I still judged: good – bad, like – dislike.

And I wanted to get past this. I want to be all loving, good, kind, joyful. Not liking is not part of my long-term plan.  

I took courses which introduced non-dualism taught by Cythina Bourgeaut, Richard Rhor, James Finley, Thich Nat Hahn, and Father Thomas Keating. Hahn and Keating are monks, Buddhist and Catholic. I am no monk. 

Richard Rhor often quotes Duns Scotis’ beautiful perspective on “thisness,” being with what is. I can grasp thisness, especially in the realm of the Serenity Prayer. The older I get, the more I know there is very little I can control. Thank God for God. I can trust in what is, and I can be where I am without bolting into future perils. 

Ram Das’ Be Here Now is quite the hippy masterpiece on staying in the present. The repeated mantra of being with what is grounds me.

In her Ted Talk, “The Power of Vulnerability,” Brene Brown relays her first interaction with her therapist and says to her, “It’s really bad, isn’t it?” And the therapist replies, “It’s neither good nor bad. It just is.” And Brown says, “This is gonna suck.”

My Aunt Aggie recommended I read Richard Rhor’s Just This, and the tiny text was my companion at my mother’s hospice bedside along with Rhor’s Jesus’ Alternative Plan: The Sermon on the Mount. 

Countless resources remind us to stay with what is. Don’t judge (Jesus says this umpteen times in the Gospels). But the stirring continues, the unrest, the desire to understand. Saint Francis said, “Oh Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand.” 

I want to understand what is going on when I sense impatience, irritability, dislike. I am not trying to be a saint. I’m trying to figure this out.   

Then I read Holly Whittaker’s Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol. Whittaker’s book attacks patriarchal systems and Big Alcohol. I plowed through it, and then I got to Chapter 13: “Hell is Other People.”

The chapter begins with words from Cynthia Occelli (I have no idea who she is):

“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.”

My synapses fired to the idea that a grain of wheat has to fall and die in order to bear fruit (John 12:24).

All of this stuff is connected, somehow. 

Whittaker quotes, “There’s something about that guy I don’t like about myself” (Unknown source).  

She describes interactions with a colleague who does not like her, and she tries everything to change this. She works it. She digs deeper and deeper into her need to be liked, her dislike of this guy, and his dislike of her. She wants to be a good Christian. She’s sober and has come a long way on her journey, and she cannot figure out this obstacle to inner peace. (Whittaker swears like a truck driver, and her booze-driven behavior is beyond. Just sayin’ in case you pick it up.)

Then she has the revelation that in wanting to be accepted and liked by this guy and in wanting to like him, she was “denying [her] humanity. . . . He was a mirror of the parts of me I couldn’t stand. In other words, he was my shadow, embodied. The shadow – a concept in Jungian psychology – represents the things present in ourselves that we disassociate from because we deem them bad, ugly, dark, or inadequate. . . . The more we judge others, the more likely we are judging our own shadows” (271).  

“The answer was to use the things I saw in him as unlovable and intolerable as a blueprint for how to love and forgive myself. . . . It helped me to see that the things I can’t stand about other people are little nuggets of treasure in plain sight” (272).

Most of us have learned that when faced with someone who is difficult and challenging, we are given the opportunity to learn and grow. There’s a saying that “comfort and growth don’t sit in the same room.” People can be tough. That’s life. But when I’m triggered, I am curious about what is happening. I have not thought of it as being frustrated with something I see in me – annoying tendencies – or behaviors I wish I could adopt but feel restricted by who knows what.  

Stay with me. I’m quoting a lot. I know. But Whittaker really nailed it for me, and maybe this will mean something to you. Or maybe I’m completely wacky. 

“When we condemn a behavior in someone else – and recognize that it is simply a reflection of us – we empower ourselves to make peace with what we find unacceptable in ourselves; to remember we are not made only of good parts, that we are all of it, and therefore we must try to love all of it – in ourselves and each other. . . . When we recognize ourselves in others, we discover our capacity to truly love and be loved.” 

You spot it, you got it, now love it. I can’t change others. I can change me. Thank God.

Big stuff. Big insights. Big love. 

It’s hard to love others when you don’t love yourself or when you’re irritated with yourself. Maybe when Jesus said to take the log out of your own eye before you make a big deal about the sliver in someone else’s, he was inviting us to love the log. 

Productivity is Overrated

I just subscribed to Fabulous, a productivity habit tracking app. 

I want to be somebody else. I want to be productive and accomplished. 

I went through the initial steps on the app created by brilliant folks at Duke University. The first big milestone to conquer – based on the scholars’ recommendations – is to drink water. 

I clicked that I drank water – I got a flash of fabulous on my screen. 

When I scrolled for more positive behaviors (like writing daily), a warning popped up: 

Slow down! Don’t push it. Research indicates doing too much too soon does not work. 

I had already had my mug of hot lemon water – a new tidbit I started this week because I read that it is good for your liver, so clicking done felt like cheating. 

With impatience, I wondered, “Where in this app am I going to get the big shove to organize the dozens of chapters of Let Me Tell You: Lessons in Love and Life based on What Not to Do?”

Next, Fabulous asked about exercise. My book does not exist because I exercise. It is my thing and has been for forty years. Working out is my procrastination preference. I get on the Peloton (or do some other heart-pumping movement) 350/356 days a year. And I’m game for a walk anytime. 

Walking is my ticket to fake productivity. Ah, I should write. I think I’ll go for a walk and think about it. Poof! Time to get on a Zoom call. Where did the time go? 

I journal often, and according to Fabulous, this fulfills my creativity goal. Why don’t I feel, well, fabulous?  

This week, I also started meditating for five LONG minutes a few times a day. Today was easier. Maybe day four is the deal maker in feeling at one with myself and the universe.

After feasting on chocolate Easter bunnies and Swedish fish, I quit sugar three days ago. 

Fabulous warns I’m headed for failure. Better to commit to one thing at a time.  

Screw that. I want time to speed up and be the new me, the productive lady (yes, lady) who lives in the house on the hill who daily seeks and spews inspiration. 

Fabulous says – hold your horses.

I say – my stable is full.

The app prevents me from advancing to the deep stuff – like being really . . .  I’m not sure … but it is something big that makes a difference – that helps others know they are not alone in their fear, heartache, and sense of inadequecy and failure. I want others to embrace that life is so worth it, so quirky, to fascinating, so God-filled. I want to share the perspective that mistakes are God’s way of pointing us to happier paths.   

I think if I hurry up and adopt a bunch of productive, life-enhancing habits, I will create a new me. And then I’m curious about the outcome. I want it to be next month, so I can see a different Nancy in the mirror. Time feels sluggish.

And then, suddenly, I am grateful in the peace of the present. Tick slowly, clock. This is enough, this moment. I’m blessed.

And my “butt is in the chair” as Anne Lamott says about writing.  

And being right here is all I got, Fabulous or not. 

Ironic, isn’t it?

Mom’s Eulogy Feb. 9, 2023

Mom’s Eulogy Feb. 9, 2023

Thank you for coming today. Thank you to our sister Eileen for managing our mom’s care at Mercy Circle for the last five years and to the caregivers who provided our mother with joy and comfort.

Thank you, Mom, for raising ten uniquely created children.  We know we caused many sleepless nights. 

We grew up, Ma. And two of us passed away leaving you in despair. Over time, you regained your humor and wit, perhaps to lighten the lives of the nuns at Mercy Circle who could never know such pain.

I think back to 114th and Artesian. Somehow, my mom made it so we never felt crowded in that red brick cape cod. 

She was feisty, strong and firm. She’d rearrange the furniture, move the piano, and switch up the kitchen items in efforts towards newness.  

My dad coped well until one day, he couldn’t find the spoons. 

She was strong-willed and particular. She did things in a certain way – no shortcuts.  No baked potatoes in our house. Only mashed. 

My mom subtly defied my dad’s WWII Navy ways. She’d toss a whole milk carton into the garbage. My dad tsk’d, sorted and stacked.     

Efficient, he was.

Doing her own thing, she was.

In golf, to speed up putting, my dad would say, “That’s a gimme.” She’d say, “Frank, I want to hear the ball clunk in the cup.”

My parents loved Wally Phillips, the Chicago Bears, Columbo and being 100% Irish. 

My mom was incredibly generous, especially to Girls Scouts. She hoarded Thin Mints in her bedroom closet. 

She loved the daily newspaper, Mike Royko and the obituaries. Pre-dawn, we’d hear, “Frank, guess who died?”

And my parents went to wake after wake.  They made quite a pair with their bright blue eyes and fair, eventually white, hair. My mom was beautiful. 

My parents ran a tight ship, and we learned about courtesy, kindness and the Kennedy’s. We had a bronze bust of JFK in our living room. 

Together, they kept us in line, figuratively and literally. My mom was 61 when our dad died in 1988. She told us not to leave the line during the two-night wake. She said, “People are coming to see you. They better be able to find you.”

She never wanted to put anybody out. 

She would like the simplicity of this morning. She was uncomfortable with extravagance. 

A surefire way to upset her was to spend money on her. 

My mom loves St. Cajetan. She marked her territory here with a donation toward a pew plaque. Nobody was going to sit in her seat. After she moved to her townhome, she returned for 7am mass on Sundays. Then she’d stop at Eileen’s to go to the bathroom on the way home. It’s a long drive to Oak Lawn.

My mom was part of MaryJane Murphy’s Misericordia  Candy Days troop who stood at traffic lights armed with Tootsie Rolls and cans for the kids.  

She was a fun Grandma.  She loved cut-throat games of Bingo and Rummy Kub with our kids. She never let them win. She played fair and square.  

JT and James told me she would often pick them up at St Cajetan when they were sick. She’d let them lounge on the couch until about 2:00pm when she’d make them black cows – root beer floats – an upgrade from our warm Ginger Ale.

She was a terrible driver! After trips to the lake, she’d report how many times someone gave her the finger. 

On the beach, she’d wave the grandkids in from the water when the waves hit their knees. She never learned to swim, and she made sure all of us learned at Kennedy Park. 

Every Christmas, she’d bake a cake for the park workers. The custodian, Jim Rego, would say, “Your mom never forgets.” Then he’d tell us to go play in traffic. 

Different times! Super cool, independence-building, play outside times. She lived through the Great Depression and embraced the values of the Greatest Generation. Do what you gotta do. And do it right. And don’t talk about it much.   

My mom was smart. She was a current events junkie. She knew all about the Shoot to Kill order, Chicago Politics, Monica’s blue dress, Blogovitch, and the OJ trial. And her commentary was insightful and intriguing.  

I recently asked about her childhood. “Mom, who was your best friend when you were growing up?”

“Rosemary McNamara.” What did you do together? “Oh, we were poor. We walked to each other’s houses. We were street walkers.” 

My mom spent the last five years in the moment – her final gift to us was pure presence. She’d say she had nothing else to do.  

She rarely referred to herself except that she marveled at her age. She’d day, “I’m old! I’m an old lady!” and laugh. 

Near the end, thinking music might nudge her into accepting eternal life, I played a combo of Edelweiss and funeral songs while I prayed fervently that she would take the big leap. After a round of “Be not Afraid,” she opened one eye, and said, “Don’t go calling the hearse.”

Let that be a lesson to you. Old ladies don’t like nudging. 

My mom, though social, was quiet.

Though oh so funny, did not like the limelight.

Though family-first in her thinking, treated guests like God. 

Though gracious and kind, was never preachy. 

She walked humbly with her God – in her own private way.  

Eileen Brigid Sullivan Neylon ‘twas Herself. 


I get why people go off the grid –


Yes, I have a password app.

Yes, I forget to use it.

Yes, I think I will remember.

Yes, I’m overconfident in the moment.

Yes, I remember phone numbers from 1972.

Yes, I will be patient.

Yes, I will wait for authorization.

No, I will not toss my phone out the window.

Yes, I’m lucky to have a phone.

No, I am not complaining.


Every Christmas, our family does a jigsaw puzzle on the kitchen counter. Each of us approach the task differently. Like Bethy, I insist on first sorting and connecting the outer edges. Katie takes a territory, like Santa’s sack of toys, and tackles it with our grandchildren. We don’t complete the scenes all at once, but eventually, everyone contributes. People step up and step away as appetites fluctuate and conversations meander. This year, we polished off Santa and his sleigh in two days.

After the grandkids left, we started another much more complicated, smaller-pieced puzzle with a water scene from Australia. Brendan, Joe, and Kevin helped, but we didn’t collectively place the last piece as is our tradition. In fact, we barely dented the scenario.

Because of my team effort view of puzzles, I usually pack up unfinished puzzles and give them away. I don’t like redoing puzzle parts.

This year, I left Aussie on the counter.

On Thursday, I spent two hours working on two wooden boats.

I lamented to my friend Laura that I wasted hours on this puzzle when I could have been getting something done.

“You were taking out the garbage,” she replied.

I laughed. I said, “I think I was actually running the garbage disposal.”

According to, jigsaw puzzles are good for our mental health.

I’m going to keep one out year round.

Let Your Life be a Prayer

My mom turns 96 next month. She’s not doing well as she has no appetite, lost nearly ten pounds in a month, is down to 82 pounds, and sleeps – a lot.

She lives at Mercy Circle, a retirement community in Chicago for Mercy nuns, and her life speaks gently and profoundly. She had ten children, lost my dad 34 years ago, and buried two sons. I want so badly to hear stories, to know what her life was like growing up during the Depression, being raised by Irish speaking parents, falling in love with my dad, staying true during WWII, creating lifelong friendships, getting married at twenty. As I sit with her in the dim light of her Baggot Street room, childhood images settle into my mind.

She was always working – for us, always focused on what needed to be done to serve us. Grocery shopping was a half-day undertaking complete with mutliple shopping carts, packed station wagon, and systematic unloading of brown paper bags. Meals were carefully planned, and cooking began around 2:00pm. While we were at school, my mom prepped the house – for us. It was a quiet place.

At night after dinner, the kitchen was lit by the soft glow of the under cabinet light as the dishwasher hummed. Each night, the counter was wiped clean except for my mom’s simple evening snack – saltines and soft butter.

In the solitide of the Artesian Avenue basement, my mother ironed, washed, sorted, whitened, brightened, and starched. She also tossed whatever attire was deamed inappropriate.

On the concrete wall by the ironing board, there was an old black dial phone the size of Maxwell Smart’s shoe that weighed ten pounds. The cord was not a fancy, curly retracting coil – it was a thick black wire with a limited extension of five feet from cement. Occasionally, my mom would chat with friends while somehow juggling the 16-inch wrench-shaped metal receiver in her right with a hefty clothes iron in her left while crisping Catholic-school unifrom blouses, shirts, pants, and pleats. Mostly, she was quiet down there.

She never asked for a better floor or lighting or heat in that dank, dingy space. The cracked green and white linoleum tile, the harsh flourescent bulbs, and the cavernous chill were never mentioned. She putzed down there in the mornings, lights off, with natural light streaming through the narrow foundation windows. It was quiet down there.

My mother’s laundry room provided her a refuge, a place to be by herself doing things for others – namely my siblings, my dad, and me. Her mornings were spent in the solitude of downstairs, the afternoons in the kitchen. It was quiet in there, too.

We grew up, and when I had children, she would say, “Give me that little dress. I’ll get that stain out.” And she did.

Now she doesn’t do laundry, she doesn’t cook, she can’t use a phone, and she doesn’t care if she eats. She takes no medicine except an occasional Tylenol for pain as her legs and hands are cramped beyond extension. She hasn’t walked in a few years, and she spends as much time in bed as possible. She loves to lie down and rest. When I enter her room, it’s quiet in there.

It will not be a blessing for me when she dies. I hope nobody says that to me. If you do, I forgive you in advance. You can’t help but try to help me see the bright side.

My mom is a rock. She asks for little, and she suffers her discomfort quietly with an occasional grunt or groan. She gives thanks gracefully, and she’s funny.

This week, I told her I was going to stay with her until her nap. I said, “I’m going to hang around and make sure they help you get into bed. You are too nice to ask.”

Eyes closed, body slumped in her wheelchair, she whispered, “Boy, have I got you fooled.”

Her gift for self-depracation puts others at ease and creates lightness, wonder and joy. She’s feisty. And her wit preails in the midst of confusion. She’s a living paradox as she appears fragile, yet she exudes strength.

Her bragging rights consist of being the best napper on her floor.

I often pray for God’s will to be done with my mom. The older I get, I realize that’s the only prayer that matters . . . and that works.

My Aunt Aggie asked her this week, “Eileen, do you pray?”

Eyes shut and curled under the covers, my mom replied, “I sleep – same thing.”

Her life is a prayer, and it always has been.

The Measuring Cup

My husband Tim never complains to me. In fact, I have no recollection of him ever saying anything unkind to me. And he makes few requests.

A few weeks ago, he said to me, “Quit moving my stuff.”

Wide-eyed, I looked at him and said, “Okay.”

So, I reigned in my urges to pick up his discarded socks, ipad, notes, charging cords, keys, books . . .. his few personal items. He lives very simply. I fought impulses to tidy his limited sacred space – his nightstand, desk, and dresser.

Over Christmas, we were blessed to have eleven family members stay with us. It was heaven on Earth for me – chatting, cooking, marveling at toy trains, exchanging gifts, snacking, doing puzzles, picking up, playing games, sharing stories – the things families do at Christmas.

Thoughout it all, I periodically searched for my perfectly shaped, 16-once, distinctly lined measuring cup with strategic pouring spot, my kitchen go-to for all recipes.

For four days, in the midst of loading the dishwasher, putting things away, reviewing ingredients, wiping the counter, opening cabinets, I’d think, “Now where did I put that cup? It’s not like me to not put it where it belongs.”

On Christmas Day, as we prepared to visit my mother, my conscientious youngest son Kevin brought his bedsheets to me. I thought to myself, “What a great kid. He’s so good about stripping the bed.” Then he said, “Oh, I just have to get the dishes out of my room.”

As I did a final walk-through before departing, I looked back to see Kevin place five random forms of drinkware on the counter – including that beloved measuring cup.

I’m no longer tempted to move Tim’s stuff.