Lois Berenyi writes candidly

January 12, 2012 at 10:36 pm (Commentary, de Berigny, Lois Berenyi, Mary Dithlefsen)

This is written by Lois Berenyi. She has done a lot of research on Mary Dithlefsen, her great aunt, who married Victor de Berigny in 1895. Victor was my mother’s uncle, and Victor and Mary were the parents of Charles de Berigny, who was killed during the First World War. See: 


Hi David

I found your post interesting as it relates to faith and belief (not necessarily the same thing in my mind). I don’t know if my remarks are relevant to your blog but if you think they are I don’t mind if they are posted.

For background I went to the Baptist church as a young person. My mother’s family had been Catholic until the nuns beat my mother as a child for being late to school and the family suddenly became Episcopalians. My mother’s mother had gone to San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake on a Catholic mission. Mary’s mother had gone to Japan on a Protestant mission and then she converted to Christian Science and upset a lot of apple carts according to family history.

My husband is a fallen Catholic. Neither one of us attends any church nor do my children. I now live in the land of religious intolerance although there is a Baptist church on every corner.

I didn’t pay much attention when I first moved here 8 years ago (from New Jersey to North Carolina) because in the north people didn’t tend to wear their religion on their sleeve and we had many ethnic groups and many religions and the Protestants were conservative and quiet. To my recollection I don’t recall strangers asking me what church I belonged to. The only things that stand out in my mind from that time 50 years ago is that if the Catholic kids came to our youth group they had to confess they were in a Baptist church and one girl with a “reputation” felt her behavior was o.k. because she could confess to the priest.

Lately because of local influences and our national political dialogue I’ve been thinking about the subject a lot. For starters a lot of the Southern Baptists I’ve met (or been forced to meet in supermarkets, post offices etc. where I’m asked if I am a Christian!) do not think Catholics are Christians. We don’t have a large Jewish population so don’t know what they think about them but they are worried about getting a Mormon president. The hypocrisy on display would be amusing if it was not frightening.

We are bombarded with religious quotes on the side of plumber’s trucks, a bible open on the desk of a prominent businessman rightfully accused of fraud and so on. Our presidential candidates being Republicans (keep government out of our business) have no qualms about government in our bedrooms. Taken to the extreme we could have our own version of the Taliban.

Personally I think everyone is entitled to their own faith and beliefs from which they gain solace. I do not believe they have the right to impose their beliefs as the only valid and authentic one. I worked for a veterinarian who believed as the Native Americans did that God was in the earth, trees and clouds. I know people here who play golf on Sunday and feel that is where God is. In fact on a funny note one of our more vocal Born Agains designed our golf course and openly declares without irony or any other inflection that God told him where to put the bunkers and teeboxes. God also tells him where the deer are hiding when he hunts. I had a house painter once I dubbed the Holy Roller who treated me to a sermon on being “Born Again” everytime we met. I learned to avoid him.

My own personal belief is that if there is a God he/she is in all of us. It’s the “spirit” that shows us the right way. If a person doesn’t have it it won’t be found in a building or a temple or the Vatican. The more organized religion gets the more dangerous it is to those to think differently.

I believe in the inherent goodness of people even when they don’t always act that way. I also believe in Evil as well in those who do not have any grace and totally lack the concept of any sort of morality. This sounds “religious” but it doesn’t need a label and a 10% tithe to be authentic.

My own recent experience of basically receiving a death sentence in early 2011 gave me reason to reflect on the subject a lot. In the fall of 2010 a blood test showed that tumor markers had increased after being normal for the 10 years since I had breast cancer in 2001. However scans showed enlarged lymph nodes but no visible tumors. Various biopsies came back suspicious but inconclusive. This went on for 6 months where I received no treatment because they didn’t know what kind of cancer it was. In March a procedure came up with cancer cells on the pancreas and things took a serious turn. I knew the usual survival rate ranged from a couple of months to a year. I had a young optimistic oncologist who refused to tell me what stage I was at or even how bad it was. I had no symptoms, no pain and even in his opinion thought I looked as if I were in my 50’s instead of being 71. (My irreverent thought was I’d be a good-looking corpse). I did start chemo for pancreatic cancer and pretty much thought about whether to continue treatment for a hopeless condition or live more comfortably with what I had. After a couple of months there was slight improvement but I was having a bad reaction to the drug so it was changed to one used for colon cancer. Suddenly I showed great improvement both in the scans and bloodtests but I was having mental problems with being treated at all. I felt ungrateful and finally that drug ran its course when it caused neuropathy (numbness) in my hands and feet. So now I am on an oral pill, in a much better state of mind, and according to latest tests am almost cancer-free or at least in a condition where it will be treated like a chronic disease similar to diabetes.

While contemplating death the one thought that would come to me, usually at night when the reality would creep into my brain, was whether I would meet all those people I’d been researching so intensively. Would I meet my mother and tell her of what I had found, of what she had been looking for…..or would they all be there with her. Strange thoughts but I sometimes think there must be a reason. When my mother was in the hospital with a stroke she kept insisting my father was there (who was dead 20 years) so sometimes I think our connections stay with us.

I never felt Death was final. What a waste of time and material! Our bodies become compost but I think our spirits, both ephemeral and spiritual continue on maybe reappearing in a new descendent (amazing how much Bob is like the grandfather he never met). Likewise the discoveryI made recently about Mary de Berigny, my great aunt, when I received her death certificate from the National Archives. She died in 1949 at the age of 71 of cancer of the right breast. My breast cancer was in same location and I was 71 when I found this out. How long she was sick I do not know. She was a Christian Scientist at the time and probably did not seek whatever mainstream medical treatment was available.

And, David, as noted in your blog… In the unlikely event you predecease me do let me know if your relatives are there. I still have some questions.



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