Tag Archives: grief

Lamentation

Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you when you were young;
I will set up an everlasting covenant with you,
that you may remember and be covered with confusion,
and that you may be utterly silenced for shame
when I pardon you for all you have done, says the Lord GOD.
—Ezekiel 16:60–63

Matthias_Grünewald_-_Lamentation_of_Christ_(detail)_-_WGA10787
Matthias Grünewald, Lamentation of Christ (detail) / PD-US

This reading from Ezekiel reminds me of a recent video from Fr. Robert Barron, which is definitely worth a watch: Bishop Barron on Ezekiel and the Sex Abuse Crisis. Ezekiel wrote of the corruption within the holy city of Jerusalem and its cleansing through avengers from the North. Today, the “holy city” of the Church has fallen into corruption, and it too needs to be cleansed, to endure the painful siege of repentance. God will not abandon His covenant with us. But if we are to be cleansed, we must allow Him to show us the weight of our sin; we must be willing to feel our shame and sorrow.

It has been sobering to read reports of the horrific abuse that has occurred within the Church and the deep corruption that kept it hidden for years. As American Catholics, we are mourning over these unthinkable crimes and trying to figure out how we can possibly move forward through this mess.

The Gospel reading prior to this spoke of forgiveness, which may seem untimely at the moment. The Gospel asks us to forgive, but often we don’t understand the meaning of true forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean making excuses for the person who wronged you or brushing it under the rug. That’s not forgiveness; it’s denial. True forgiveness must acknowledge the sin and yet refuse to feed it. A person who forgives renounces any claim toward revenge and resists the tendency to harbor resentment. It is a daily decision, and it is not an easy one. But it is the only way that we can stop the cycle of sin and open our hearts to mercy. A truly forgiving heart is not indifferent to injustice; it is all the more deeply hurt by it, since it refuses to dehumanize either the victim or the perpetrator. It sees the tragedy of an innocent life altered irrevocably; it sees those individuals who used their God-given will for evil. And it resolves to do better.

I am reminded of the story of St. Maria Goretti and her murderer/attempted rapist, Alessandro Serenelli. Now, this is not a typical story—we should not go around assuming that all murderers and rapists will be reformed by our prayers and can be later welcomed into our families. But it is in fact what happened in the case of Alessandro Serenelli, incredible though it may seem. Though Alessandro was bitterly unrepentant for the first few years after Maria’s death, he experienced a profound conversion of heart after experiencing a vision of Maria in which she forgave him. He was moved to weep for his sins for the first time, and he began the process of true repentance. Due to Maria’s miraculous intercession (again, possible only through the grace of God and not by human means), he was completely reformed and eventually became an adopted son of Maria’s mother.

While Alessandro clung to his pride and callously denied his guilt, the seeds of sin and evil continued to fester within him. Only when he realized the depth of his sin and entered into a living purgatory of shame and regret was his heart opened to receive God’s mercy. This step was crucial: acknowledgment of wrongdoing, grief over what has been tainted and destroyed, ownership of one’s sinfulness. Unless we confront the realities of our sins and face our deepest wounds, we will never be able to receive healing. And Alessandro’s revelation of guilt—and thus his pathway to forgiveness—was made possible because of Maria’s purity and steadfast prayer.

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Alvar Cawén, Pietà / PD-US

As faithful Catholics who are shocked, saddened, and heartbroken over the recent scandals within the heart of our Church, we are called to step up and be the solution, to challenge the Church to rise up to her sacred calling. Now is the time for prayer and fasting. We will expect from the Church a higher standard, and we will start by being saints. The purification of the Church will begin with the purification of our own souls, by a deep desire for holiness and purity throughout every aspect of our lives. Jesus and Mary weep alongside us at these crimes. I’ve been encouraged by the discussion among young, faithful Catholics of the many ways in which we can carry this out, and I’ve compiled a list of resources here.

I stay with the Church because her teachings proclaim the dignity of the human person, even as some of those who represent her have trampled upon human dignity through objectification and abuse. I pray that we allow the light of truth to overcome the darkness, so that everything hidden will be exposed to the light. The truth of our own dignity and worth—and indeed that of our children—must prevail against the shadows.

Originally published at Frassati Reflections.

Grieving as worship.

But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” — 1 Thes 4:13

A friend of mine, I’ll call her Grace, recently posted online describing a bout of profound grief. Grace’s mother passed away a few years ago and she still gets hit with moments of overwhelming grief. In this particular moment, she had had a dream about her mother — one of those dreams that feels very real. She woke up and, realizing that it was just a dream, sunk into a sadness that took her breath away. In her post, she blamed Satan for taunting her. Grace is a deeply convicted Christian who lives each day with the purpose of drawing closer to God. She has a passion for her faith that just leaves me in awe. In her post, she said that she felt that the more she strives to grow closer to God, the more she feels Satan goes after her. And this was just one more of his dirty tricks.

I think a lot about death. Not in a morbid or pessimistic way, I just think about the reality of it. I’ve felt for a long time that death is the single greatest challenge to our faith. We talk about it and even sing about it. We have all the sayings to make us feel better about it (“She’s in a better place!”, “Don’t you know there will be a party in Heaven when he gets there!”, “I can’t wait to walk on those streets of gold!”). The reality, though, is that most of us are terrified of dying, and we can’t wrap our heads, or hearts, around it when someone we love dies. We just don’t know what to do with it. Death is very much an inescapable part of our human experience.

Know this:  Death was not part of the original Plan. God didn’t want it this way. We did this. And we’re stuck with it.

But — and this is huge — death isn’t the end! Again, we know this and we say it out loud. But truly knowing it in the depth of our being… well, that’s probably the most difficult thing on Earth to do.

The Raising of Lazarus, Carl Bloch (1870)
The Raising of Lazarus, Carl Bloch (1870)

Something you should know about me — and you’ll see this the more you get to know me through my writing — is that I sometimes have an unconventional way of seeing things in the Gospels. Take, for example, the story of Lazarus. John 11:35 is such a familiar verse: “Jesus wept“. Every homily or sermon I’ve ever heard on this passage explains Jesus’ weeping as a moment where we see the humanity of Jesus: It’s in His grief for His friend that He is brought to tears.  Well, I just don’t buy it. If you read the passage leading up to it, you see Jesus, over and over, explaining that Lazarus isn’t gone for good, that this is all happening to show the glory of God — just wait! But the crowd, over and over, is convinced that this is the end for Lazarus — that he is… gone. And then, Jesus weeps. I think He weeps because He sees the profound stronghold death has on people. That they (we) are so deeply convinced that it is the absolute end. And not even He can change their minds. The crowd grieves without hope.

But, we, as St. Paul says, do “not grieve as others who have no hope.” Our grief acknowledges the loss, but, with faith, gives rise to hope. Years ago, I heard something beautiful about mourning. (I have searched for the source, but cannot find it. Perhaps the Holy Spirit has assimilated several ideas into this one in my head!) I will do my best to paraphrase it here:

When someone we love dies, something deep in our soul resonates that this is not how things were meant to be. We know, deep in the recesses of our being, that death was not supposed to be a part of life. We’re agitated by it. So much so, that we ache. But something else in our soul reminds us that death is not the end — that there is life beyond what we can see. And even more hopeful — we know that, one day, death will no longer be a part of it. Our longing for that day is such that we ache for that as well! And so, we grieve and mourn, knowing that this wasn’t part of the plan, and that one day it will be removed from our experience. And to the extent that we find that hope, when we mourn, we worship!

I called Grace and we talked for quite a while. I told her that I didn’t think Satan was taunting her. (I really don’t like to give him credit for anything that’s not his to take.) No, I believe that the closer Grace gets to God, the more deeply she feels the separation, the more she desires that day when all brokenness will be gone, the more she hates death and the distance it causes her to feel between her and her mother. To put it another way — she aches for God. I don’t think that’s a Satan thing — I think that’s a God thing!

So, perhaps you, too, find yourself feeling the deep loss of someone you love who has passed away.  Grieve! Let yourself mourn. But do so with hope! Hope that one day the original Plan will be restored! And know that your mourning is, in a very real sense, worship of the One who longs for us to live with Him in eternity!

___

Image: PD-US

 

A Vicarious Grief Observed

On the recent Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, my priest-uncle-spiritual-director, Father Jim, suddenly lost his brother Allan. Father Jim was abroad teaching a short course in Canon Law when Uncle Allan had a massive myocardiac infarction.

I have never met Uncle Allan, since he lived far from Metro Manila. But Father Jim said he had a lot of friends and touched a lot of people’s lives. I believe this to be true assuming that Uncle Allan were every bit like his brother. He and Father Jim were born successively. They grew up sharing rooms in their parents’ house and, later on, in their grandparents’ place when they went to college. Uncle Allan eventually became a medical doctor, got married, and had five children, all of whom are now either doctors or medical students. When Father Jim became a celibate member of Opus Dei and eventually a priest, Uncle Allan filled in his elder brother’s role of taking care of their parents.

I could thus imagine how close Father Jim and Allan were, and how painful it was for Father Jim to lose his brother. Actually, it was painful for me to see Father Jim – who has always consoled and cheered me up in my own low moments and who usually has more than enough zest for life to go around – feeling his brother’s absence.

On the one hand, I was impressed by Father Jim’s example of Christian hope. He derived consolation from the news that his brother died right after receiving the Last Sacraments, and from that wonderful truth called the “communion of saints”, by which we can pray for and to our deceased loved ones even after they are gone. He posted on Facebook, “St. Josemaria, who we both call Our Father since we both belong to Opus Dei, taught us his children that we never say goodbye, but “Till we meet again”. Till we meet again, my dear brother!”

On the other hand, Father Jim also admitted that while he had intellectually come to terms with his brother’s death, he felt the void that it created.

Indeed, given that each person is unique and irreplaceable, death can only create a void for those left behind. That void is felt not only by the deceased’s immediate friends and relatives, but also by those who, like me, witness a loved one cope with someone else’s death.

How does one console someone else who has just suffered an irreplaceable loss? What do I tell him who has always been the one consoling me, who has always been the one encouraging me to keep the faith?

At these moments, one fumbles for the right words, because it feels as if “condolence” does not adequately express the desire to alleviate a fellow human being’s inner pain. Then, one senses that no eloquent expression of sympathy can stop another person’s pain from recurring, much less bring the dead back to life.

Then, the question comes: why did God let me see and feel someone else’s suffering but leave me helpless to remedy it?

Perhaps, by making me witness another person’s grief at losing a loved one, God was teaching me how much we need one another, how important each and every other human being is. It is God’s way of teaching me to be more attentive to others – something that my introverted and independent self needs to be reminded of every now and then.

Perhaps, God was reminding me that priests, too, are vulnerable human beings, that while we look up to them for our own edification, they too need others to support them in their weaknesses. Indeed, Father Jim recounted how much he was helped by two brother priests who flew all the way to keep him company, by friends who fixed his flight arrangements to his hometown for the wake and the funeral.

Perhaps, by leaving me unable to do more for Father Jim than say a few consoling words, God was reminding me that many times, all that suffering people need from us is “with-ness”, that we accompany them in their sorrow.

In any event, one lesson I learned was to humbly admit and accept my helplessness, do what I can, and trust God to heal the broken-hearted in the best way He can, in His own time.

We know that the desire to alleviate other people’s sufferings pleases God a lot. Isn’t comforting the sorrowful one of the spiritual works of mercy? But sometimes, we feel that our efforts to console the sorrowful are futile.

God allows this to happen to purify our desires. He ensures that our desire to console the sorrowful be more than an exercise in self-affirmation whereby we delight in our ability to make others smile at us. He reminds us that He alone can heal all wounds. He reminds us not to underestimate His empathy for the broken-hearted, He having been heartbroken Himself.

I often wonder if prayers for the suffering actually help them. By placing me in a situation where all I can offer are prayers, God was telling me, “Trust me to heal him. Trust that I will heal the pain of my faithful servant.”

So I prayed, and when I prayed, I felt I, too, was being healed.

Mary, Mercy, and Me

I used to be jealous of Mary.

Not because she has the fullness of grace and I don’t. Not because she has the immense privilege of knowing Jesus in His human form, living while He lived. Not because she is closer to God than anyone ever. Not because she has the perfection of virtue.

I was jealous of Mary because she only had to be separated from her loved one, Jesus, for three days.

My mother died extremely unexpectedly when I was 22, and even if I only live to be as old as my mother was when she died (58), that’s still 36 years I will live without her. Mary only had to wait three days for the Resurrection! For the complete fulfillment of promises and the assurance of salvation and unity! I have to wait years.

My mother never was able to meet my husband, as he and I didn’t meet until she had been gone for three years. She will never know her grandchildren. I’m sure there’s a host of other things about me and my life that my mother will never know or experience. And that wounds me. Yet there was not one thing that Mary did or experienced that Jesus was not present for. It’s just not fair.

Seven Sorrows

Ironically, I had always had a great devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows; I always felt close to her sorrowing heart, understood by her, and held closely to her heart. So after my mother died, I did the only thing I really knew how to do—I ran into the arms of Our Lady. At first, though, my relationship with her was strained as I began to question, “What do you know of sorrows? You who only had to sorrow for a little while until her tears were turned into joy? I do not have the fullness of grace and yet I am being asked to carry a load longer than you had to! I am being asked to sorrow in a way that you have no experience in!”

While I felt betrayed in this, I didn’t at the time realize that I had already unlocked the mystery through my questions. I had all the answers I needed if only I would look more closely.

Mary has the fullness of grace. Far from making any sorrows or burdens easier to bear, it makes them more weighty because she has the gifts to understand these trials more deeply and feel them more heavily upon her heart and soul. Where I only catch glimpses, she sees fully. In this way, the three days she was separated from Jesus may have felt like 30! Or even longer. And so, my relationship with Mary began to mend as she asked to once again hold me close to her Sorrowful Heart and I allowed her to.

As it is the Year of Mercy, I have started to read more about God’s mercy, try to understand it better, try to live in it more deeply. I realize now that perhaps being asked to be separated from my mother for a longer period of (earthly) time is a mercy, too. Perhaps it is a mercy to be given the time to grow in virtue and understanding, since I am not imbued with the fullness of grace from birth, instead of having to shoulder the burden of total understanding from the get-go. Mercy is a funny thing; it is both love and justice—justice in what we are due and justice in what we owe. Mercy, in my case, means the Lord gives me glimpses and deepens those glimpses as I go until I am prepared to receive the fullness of understanding and grace (in heaven), rather than letting loose the shock of the fullness upon me when I will not be able to receive or bear it. But it will take me longer. Though the path may look dark, crooked, and sometimes as though it travels in the completely wrong direction, God knows the way that will bring me to the fullness of grace and understanding (and He knows the way that will bring you there, too).

I’m not jealous of Mary anymore. I’m not relieved either, though. Sorrowing and suffering are an intimate part of the Catholic Christian life, and we are only exempt if we do not wish to be united with Christ (which would, in itself, bring eternal suffering—how poetically ironic). But I once again take solace in the Sorrowful Heart of Mary, as I finally understand that she does know exactly what I bear, what I go through, what I long for—and she knows it even better than I do. The years of absence may be long, but eternity is infinite.

Ralph’s Mom

Recently my son and I were at the grocery store. He was wearing a Thomas the Tank Engine shirt and was playing with the cart as we waited in line at the deli counter. He turned the cart in a circle and then smiled up at me and the woman ahead of me.

 

 

“Is that Thomas on your shirt? Do you like Thomas?” the woman asked with a big smile on her face.

She looked kind and James smiled back at her.

Since James doesn’t speak much I spoke instead. “Do you have a little boy?”

“Yes,” she said with a smile.

And then quick as snap the expression on her face changed. The brightness went away and she said, “I did.” Her whole face frowned and she said, “He died last year. He was twenty-five.” Her eyes brimmed with tears.

I wasn’t embarrassed but felt a deep urge to love her and her son in that moment. Good Lord, I hope that I did.

“I’m so sorry. What was his name?”

“Ralph. He loved Thomas and Pokemon and all that stuff.” She wiped her eyes and apologized for crying.

“No, no. Don’t apologize. You should share him with people. Let me give you a hug.” And we hugged for a long moment, right in front of the cold cuts.

She touched her chest as tears rolled down her cheeks and said, “I treasure him,” as if to say she treasured all the memories of her little boy in her heart. She kept those things, her little boy playing with trains and loving Pokemon and despite the tears she was happy to have those memories.

Even in that moment I felt so appreciative that she would share something so precious with me. Before I could say anything her crab salad was ready. She quickly brushed away her tears, grabbed her food, thanked the delicatessen, and pushed her cart away. I think she suddenly felt embarrassed and I wanted to tell her not to be. I wanted to tell her I’d pray for her son and her. I wanted to thank her for telling me about Ralph.

I didn’t get the chance, but please honor Ralph and his mom with me. Please remember his soul in your prayers and please ask God to bless his mom, who loves and misses him so much.

 

Eternal rest grant unto Ralph, O Lord. 

May perpetual light shine upon him.

May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

The Story of You: A Letter to My Unborn Child

Thursday – January 8, 2009
My hands were shaking; my whole body trembled as I watched the home pregnancy test, now sitting on the counter on account of my shaky hands, turn positive. Pregnant? Really? I holler for your Dad to come to the bedroom. He cried he was so happy. You see, you were planned, we just didn’t expect you. We had tried for quite a while, but never were we blessed with actually becoming pregnant.

We went to the doctor a couple hours later so he could confirm that you were in fact there inside me, growing. The nurse congratulated us. There was a part of me that still did not believe you were there. After all, I didn’t feel different. Of course, you were only four and a half weeks old, no bigger than the period that ends this sentence.

Your Dad and I parted ways for the day to go to work. So many women don’t tell anyone they have a baby growing inside them for a few months, just to make sure they are past the “danger zone.” I knew right away I was not one of those women. I couldn’t contain myself. At work I blurted out “I’m pregnant” to a co-worker who teared up with joy for me. She knew we had wanted you for a very long time. Driving home from work I called your Grandma and Granddad to tell them about you. My goodness they were excited! Even though it was only a phone call I could tell they were both crying tears of joy.

I called your uncles later that night to spread the word to your aunts and cousins that you would be arriving mid-September. Your four year old cousin, Joel, was very confident that you were a boy and he couldn’t wait to meet you and play with you! And I couldn’t wait for you to meet your Aunt Holly. She just loves babies! I tell you this because I want you to know how many people love you already.

After a couple days I started to feel this constant motion sickness. I soon realized this is what most people refer to as “morning sickness.” I quickly found a way to keep the sickness under control so I could still be productive at work. I was not sleeping very well for a week or so after we found out you were inside me. I could only sleep for about two to three hours at a time. I suppose it was a combination of excitement to meet you and fears of the unknown.

At one point I started to cry uncontrollably about anything and everything. I was so scared of having you grow inside me, of you being born, that you might not be healthy when you were born. I was also scared of after you were born — of you getting hurt, or of someone hurting your feelings. It pained me so much to think of you being hurt in any way. But your Dad, being the smart guy that he is, realized I was just so tired that he calmed me with his loving hugs and kisses and put me to bed straight away.

I am a very organized person, so I went to work researching birthing classes, La Leche League meetings, and even prenatal yoga classes. I researched and found the best ever stroller and the safest car seat I could find. I already had an appointment set up to tour a birthing center and meet the nurse midwives who would help you in the birthing process. Date nights with your father were consumed with discussions of what to name you when you were born and if I would continue working after you were born. What a joy it was planning and dreaming of what you would look like, what you would become, how God would use you to bring glory to his name.

I was suddenly very aware of my belly. Though you were not big enough yet to make my tummy bigger, some of my pants no longer fit. Every time I turned in my sleep I would awake concerned I might hurt you if I slept on my stomach. I was so excited; I still had a hard time envisioning myself with a big tummy as you grew bigger and bigger. But I have to admit I was very excited for you to grow so people would know by just looking at me that you were in my tummy.

Thursday – January 22, 2009
I awoke early in the morning while it was still dark outside. I noticed the slightest pain, more of a discomfort really, in my lower left abdomen. Yesterday I saw a little pink when I went to the bathroom. I got ready for work and called the doctor, just to make sure everything was alright. Dad came with me. At the end of a long three hour appointment the doctor came into the room where your Dad and I already knew what he had to say. “They couldn’t find the baby,” he said. I cried. Your Dad tried to be strong, but he loved you so much he cried too. The doctor cried with us and prayed with us and for us beseeching God for comfort and grace to deal with the sadness of losing you while still trusting in His ultimate sovereignty.

Friday – January 23, 2009
I never knew I could love someone so much without ever having met them. My heart aches every time I think of you and the fact that you are no longer growing inside me. My eyes are swollen and red from crying so much. Sometimes I think I have run out of tears and then I remember you again. I was so looking forward to meeting you in September. I pray for the graceful patience I will need as I wait to meet you, someday — when Jesus calls me home. But I want you to know, I really want you to know how much you are loved and how much you are missed, not just by me and your Dad, but by so many others. 
Your cousin Joel cried when he heard you went to be with Jesus. And we cry, too, still.

I have learned in my life not to ask God why certain things happen or don’t happen, but I can’t help but wonder. Part of me feels that I should be angry with God. I am not — I trust Him. Although perhaps that is part of the grieving process I haven’t arrived at yet. But I trust that He is big enough to handle my tantrums and yet small enough to hold me in His arms and whisper comfort to my soul. I don’t need to tell you this, you know Him better than I. You are in His presence.

Ah, that was my biggest dream for you – that you would live and dance in the presence of the Almighty and know His love above all others. My dream came true.

I will love you for now and always,

Mom

Thank you to my dear friend Sarah for allowing me to share this very personal story of hers.

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.  May God’s love be felt deeply by all those who have experienced the loss of a child.