The Benefits of Writing

Quite a while ago,  I think it might have been Jean who suggested a book to me:  A Path through Loss by Nancy Reeves PhD.   I bought it immediately and started reading it, but life distracted me from getting too far.

The other day I picked it up again and managed to get through the Introduction.  The thing that jumped out at me first was the section:  Benefits of writing where she listed #1:  Writing provides a clear way to see changes, progress, or blocks in your journey.

Funny it should be #1 on her list.  The next time I went to my blog I found an entry from back in December that I hadn’t posted yet because I was still struggling with clarity and the right words.  It had to do with God brings about a greater good.  I knew I’d ranted and written about it before, so I went back and looked and sure enough I must have written like six or eight posts on the subject.  Ah!  A block maybe?

With that little discovery, I decided to tackle the issue, hopefully once and for all by going back to the original source to find where in the Catechism I found the idea that God wouldn’t allow anything to happen where He won’t bring about a greater good.  To my utter surprise and confusion, I couldn’t find the lines I was looking for.  I found similar ideas, but not the words that I’ve been focused on these past three years.

What I was struggling with was the idea that God wouldn’t allow anything to happen where He couldn’t bring about a greater good.   For me the implication was that God would bring about a greater good than Bernadette being here with us and I just couldn’t bring myself to believe that, as previous blog posts will attest to.

What’s interesting is, when I went back to what the Catechism actually says, it says something quite different from what was stuck in my head!!!!!!

[310] But why did God not create a world so perfect that no evil could exist in it? With infinite power God could always create something better. 174 But with infinite wisdom and goodness God freely willed to create a world “in a state of journeying” towards its ultimate perfection. In God’s plan this process of becoming involves the appearance of certain beings and the disappearance of others, the existence of the more perfect alongside the less perfect, both constructive and destructive forces of nature. With physical good there exists also physical evil as long as creation has not reached perfection. 175

[311] Angels and men, as intelligent and free creatures, have to journey toward their ultimate destinies by their free choice and preferential love. They can therefore go astray. Indeed, they have sinned. Thus has moral evil, incommensurably more harmful than physical evil, entered the world. God is in no way, directly or indirectly, the cause of moral evil. 176 He permits it, however, because he respects the freedom of his creatures and, mysteriously, knows how to derive good from it:

     For almighty God. . ., because He is supremely good, would never allow any evil whatsoever to exist in His works if He were not so all-powerful and good as to cause good to emerge from evil itself. 177

[395] The power of Satan is, nonetheless, not infinite. He is only a creature, powerful from the fact that he is pure spirit, but still a creature. He cannot prevent the building up of God’s reign. Although Satan may act in the world out of hatred for God and his kingdom in Christ Jesus, and although his action may cause grave injuries – of a spiritual nature and, indirectly, even of a physical nature- to each man and to society, the action is permitted by divine providence which with strength and gentleness guides human and cosmic history. It is a great mystery that providence should permit diabolical activity, but “we know that in everything God works for good with those who love him.” 275

And there was the ‘block’ though block isn’t nearly strong enough of a word.  Here I was focusing on the word ‘anything’ when the Catechism specifically speaks of ‘evil’.  Evil and anything are two completely different things!!!  Not even close!!

I can totally surrender to the idea that Bernadette’s death was an evil.  That the cancer was a physical evil mentioned above. Even that Satan could have been involved in her death as a means of causing grave injury to us as a family.  What I couldn’t surrender to was that her death was an ‘anything’ God would bring ‘a greater good’ from as if God wasn’t big enough to bring about the greater good without needing her death.  I mean seriously, what kind of a God needs the death of a small child to bring about a good?  If he did, he wouldn’t be God!

I don’t know what I was thinking, I really don’t.  How could I have gotten it so wrong for so long?

The other part that jumped out was that no where in what I quoted from the Catechism did it say ‘a greater good’, it just said ‘to cause good‘.

Therefore, I can finally let this miserable misunderstanding rest in peace, knowing that God isn’t bringing about a greater good than His already incredible blessing of Bernadette in our lives, but that He is going to cause good to emerge from the ‘evil’ of her death; evil being a ‘destructive force of nature’.

I am now ready to be open to whatever good He will cause from the evil of her death.

For the most part I feel extremely foolish to have been struggling with what appears to be a ghost of a saying!  I can’t find it anywhere!  On the other hand, there is an immense sense of relief, reassurance, and gratefulness  that even in all my wrestling with God, He was very patient and blessed me greatly with new glimpses of Himself that I might not have otherwise been open to.  Thank you, Lord!  God is good!!!!

I trust too that He won’t teasingly point out that the truth was right in front of my eyes the whole time.  DEEP SIGH!!!!! ESH.

I can now attest to Nancy Reeves’ forth benefit of writing:  Issues often become clearer when written down ‘in black and white’.  If only I’d taken the time to find the quote I was looking for when this rant first started, I’d have saved myself a lot of time and grief and not needed benefit #3 so much:  Writing your experiences can allow the release of strong emotions.

Hum… how many more miserable misunderstandings am I wrestling with?  Veni Sancte Spiritus…. in Your goodness, enlighten and set me free – please!!!!!





Bereaved Parents Month

Aunt Glennis and cousin Lisa are visiting.  Aunt Glennis was sharing with us how Bernadette couldn’t say ‘Glennis’ or was it ‘Great-aunt Glennis’ and so she just called her ‘Grandma’s sister.’   Too funny.  Zoe on the other hand has no trouble saying Aunt Glennis.  In fact, tonight she told Aunt Glennis that she was a very very OLD grandma.  Oh my!

Yesterday, Lisa showed me the following picture on Facebook.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, this sculpture is worth ten thousand.  I doubt there is a book out there that could explain a parent’s pain better!


Bernadette’s Room

It’s been so long since I wrote a blog entry that I actually feel a little gun shy!  And yet there hasn’t been a shortage of things to write about, just not the time or mental energy to do it.

In late January, I asked Marc what he thought of the idea of trying to sell the Sorrento house instead of putting the Salmon Arm house on the market again in the spring – or even putting both houses on the market and seeing which one would sell first.  He was so excited at the idea that I started to question why we didn’t do it a long time ago.  Later, in the quiet of my office, the answer suddenly hit me:  It was never an option, we couldn’t leave where Bernadette died!  What in heaven’s name was I thinking suggesting listing the house and why didn’t I think about it before mentioning the bright idea to Marc?  ‘Why, oh why, oh why?’  But then the more I thought about it, maybe the fact that neither of us thought of it while we were planning it out was a sign that we were both ready to let go?  Maybe Marc was ready the year before and I wasn’t?  I don’t remember.  But as I sat there and let the implications of selling the Sorrento house sink in, I knew I could do it whereas before it just wasn’t an option.

One consoling fact was that Sorrento was where she died, but her body is at rest in Salmon Arm.  We’re made of body and spirit and after death we look forward to the day when our bodies and souls are reunited. So really, an eternal part of Bernadette is still with us at the Mt. Ida Cemetery.  That was worth more to me than just the memory of the moment she died – though that moment will forever be etched into my memory.  I remember standing in Mass saying that line in the creed “We believe in the Resurrection of the dead”  and telling God that He may have her soul but we still have her body.  My outburst of two-year-old defiance.  Of course He has her better half but her physical half will one day live again, so it was better to stay closer to that part of her than to a memory.

Second consoling fact was that we were going back to a house that was also filled with memories of Bernadette, though I admit, more distant ones.  We moved there when she was just four months old and moved back to Sorrento when she was three and a half.  Still, it may sound silly, but it eased my heart to know that we were going somewhere that Bernadette once called home.

For the next five months we were very busy with preparing to list the house, with showings and keeping the house in ‘show condition’, with the stress and drama of offers and house inspections, financing, etc.  Once we knew all the conditions had been removed on the latest offer and the house was sold, we had to turn our attention to packing, cleaning, planning, moving, renovating, more cleaning, unpacking, and lots of organizing.  Not to mention trying to explain over and over to Zoe what was happening and assuring her that we were not going to leave any of her toys behind, or her bed, or her clothes.

But in all the activity that went on, never a day went by that we weren’t painfully aware of what we were losing and the need to kept reminding ourselves of what we were gaining.

One of the biggest challenges we had was what to do with all Bernadette’s Wish Foundation Barbie toys.  In the Sorrento house, we were able to hide them all in the cubby under the stairs that had a locked door.  Zoe knew they were there, having caught a glimpse of them a few times, but she also knew she wasn’t allowed to play with them.   The closer we got to emptying the house, the more concerned she got that all that stuff was still there under the stairs.  She was even more worried about us leaving the toys behind than if we forgot anything of hers!  So where were we going to put it all in a smaller house with zero storage space for the likes of a Barbie three story Dream House, plaza, pet parlor, camper, etc.?

Thankfully we had a shed out back that had a gungy, dirty, creaky, nature infested attic storage area upstairs.  Marc was able to clear and clean it out, reinforce the floor, build safer stairs and a railing, put in new windows and wire mesh to keep nature out, paint, carpet, etc. and turn it into what we eventually named, “Bernadette’s Room”.   There is a memorial picture of Bernadette up as you come up the stairs to remind the girls to whom they can be thankful for all the brand new toys they have to play with.  Well not all, Catherine added a few favorites that she and Bernadette use to play with together.

Zoe is in 7th heaven in that she can finally play with all those mysterious pink toys that were hidden away behind a locked door!  She knows they use to belong to Bernadette and that she can’t just go up there to play without Catherine – because she still has a strong tendency to chew toys.  She’s just so happy that we’re finally allowing her to play with them at all.

Bernadette’s Room is not a room open to the neighbourhood kids, of which there are a handful of little girls.  It’s only known to our family and for now it’s how we’d like to keep it.  Eventually when we’re ready, like when we were eventually ready to let go of the house Bernadette died in, we’ll be ready to let go of the iron grip we (I) have on those plastic toys she never even got to play with, and welcome other little girls to enjoy them too.   In the famous words of Aragorn at the gates of Mordor on the eve of what appeared to be certain defeat in battle, “but not THIS day!”

Poem for Bernadette!

Yesterday I checked Friday’s mail, and in it I received a letter from a lady in Ottawa who didn’t know us but along with her children were praying for Bernadette.   She wrote to me once so I responded and she just responded back, well over a year later.

Included in the short letter were four perfectly flat dried purple rose petals that give off the most amazing strong aroma.

When I wrote to her so long ago, I included one of Bernadette’s drawings for her son Luc because he’d sent Bernadette some of his artwork.   She invited Luc to draw another picture but instead he wrote Bernadette a poem.  Translated into English it reads:



Likes to laugh





All simple

Very kind


Because it is translated it doesn’t have the same effect, but what Luc did was write out Bernadette’s name.

How beautiful!!!   ‘Out of the mouths of babes!’   Thank you, Luc!!!!!!!!

God, our Real Mother

Ten years ago today, March 8th, Bernadette burst into this world at 2:25am with such vigor and enthusiasm that none of us were quite ready, not even the doctor.  That evening, I was home in time to tuck Catherine into bed.   The next day, Sunday, we were at Mass and a nurse friend tells us that she was working the night before and heard about a woman who came in and had her baby within fifteen minutes.  Yeah, I told her, that was us.  Bernadette was in a big hurry.

After spending the day taking a walk down memory lane, Marc, Catherine, Zoe, and I met with Joseph at PJ’s where Johanna was working, along with Estelle who was at Bernadette’s side when she died and we celebrated the almost seven years she was in our lives.   Of course Zoe didn’t understand.  As we were leaving for town, she was annoyed that we were interrupting her Barbie move to celebrate Bernadette’s birthday and not hers which is coming up soon and she said, “It’s not like Bernadette can get undead to have a birthday party.”  What a precious goof.

Anyways, I just finished reading Fr. Ron Rolheiser’s short book Prayer Our Deepest Longing.  It’s a very easy read with wonderful little gold nuggets on prayer. It’s not a book on how to prayer but why to pray and some advice on obstacles and unrealistic expectations that can discourage us and bring our efforts to pray to a screeching halt.

At the end of the book though, I found another gold nugget, a section on grief that I think I’d heard in a talk by him that we listened to with Bob and Joan last year.   He surprised me with his insight and understanding of a mother’s grief as he put into words those thoughts and feelings that I’ve struggled with since the day Bernadette died.  Images of Bernadette looking for me, needing me, too shy to be in heaven without me and my being powerless to be there for her!  This shy little girl who still clung to my leg everywhere we went and who burst into tears when I wasn’t by her side when she woke up after surgery – because I was waiting at the wrong place.   It was truly amazing to feel understood, especially coming from a priest.  And Fr. Rolheiser was right in that when the grief is still so raw, any words of wisdom and consolation tend to fall on deaf ears, but I was more ready to listen to them this time.   I won’t say that they filled me with hope and peace and totally wiped away my pain because they didn’t, but they gave me something to contemplate with the hope that one day they will be words of consolation.

On that note, today as we remember the day the Lord blessed us with Bernadette’s presence in our lives, I find it only fitting to remind myself that on this the 10th anniversary of her birth into this world it is also 161 weeks (three years and five weeks) ago today that she again seemed to be in a big hurry, only this time to be birthed into heaven.  Fr. Rolheiser’s words seem so appropriate and even though he was writing about a young family member of his who had passed away, I’ve just changed the pronouns to fit our young  family member who passed away.

When someone close to us dies, especially a young person, we experience more than simple shock and hurt.  We are left with feelings of guilt.  At one level, we feel guilty because we go on living while someone else dies.  At another level, a more painful one, we feel guilty about the incompleteness of our relationship with the person who has died, even if that relationship was essentially a good one.

Coupled with this, especially if the one who died is young, there are feelings of fear and anxiety.  We sense an unfinishedness, an  unreadiness, and even a certain brutality:  “She is so young, so fragile still, so unprepared to give up life and to be so finally separated from home and friends.”  Like a mother who worries about her child when she or he first leaves home, we worry about the young who die.  They are too tender still to be subjected to death, to irrevocable separation, to a terrifying newness, to a final judgment.

As we search among the strands of hope and grasp for something to hang onto in the face of such a death, perhaps we can do no better than to seize onto the words:  She is in better hands than ours.   Those are words of faith and they assure us that the God who gave this young child life – who gave her a gentle mother, a loving family and friends, who gave her exuberance and the lively life of the young – can be further trusted to bring that life to completeness and to bring her gently into life everlasting.

In understanding death, it is useful to look at birth.  When a child is born, she or he is born into the arms and care of a mother.  Save for the tremendous care, gentleness, and attention of a mother, a child is radically unready to live in this world.  Given a mother, though everything changes.  There is some trauma in being born, but it is brief.  Very quickly, the gentleness, patience, and tenderness of a mother erase the trauma of birth.  In the case of a loving mother, the passage from birth to adulthood is not ungentle and traumatic, but a delightful adventure in awakening.

God is our real mother – more tender, more loving, and more understanding than any earthly mother.  Our birth into eternal life through the birth canal of death must be seen just as our birth into this life.  Just as here, in infancy, our mother was ever so tender and patient with us; in death, even more so, is God.  The hands that receive us at death are not the rough hands of our world.  The heart that embraces us there will not let anything be too much for us.  We will, children that we are, be gently, understandingly, and tenderly guided and coaxed into eternal life.  Being born into God’s arms surely will be as gentle and tender an experience as was the experience of being born into our mother’s arms.



Poem from Jerry

Yesterday was Bernadette’s Feast Day.  Hard to believe it’s been three years already.  Like last year and the year before, I wonder how the time could have gone so fast and yet so slow at the same time.

We were blessed with little reminders, texts, emails, phone calls, and hugs from family and friends that went a long way to reminding us that we are loved and are not alone.

The biggest blessing though was Joseph’s thoughtfulness in calling and kind of inviting himself and Johanna for supper .  Thankfully with the restaurant closed on Monday nights for the next little while Johanna was free to join us.  In a way, it is always the best way to honour Bernadette’s memory – being together as a family – as it was one of the things that was the most important to her.  I might have even written this last year, I don’t remember.  Even as a four and five year old, she was very aware of who was missing from our dinner table and she never failed to remind the rest of us of the sibling or siblings’ absence.  It was generally Paul of course because he’d already moved out.  So I think to come together as a family, to remember Bernadette in a special way on her Feast Day, to eat her favorite dinner, and just be together as a family as much as possible is the best way we can mark the anniversary of her passing.  We may not always get to do this as the big kids move on with their lives but for now we can do it for as long as we are able.   And with a smile, I doubt it passed Bernadette’s attention that Paul was still missing at the dinner table, though not only Paul now, but Christina, Ruth, and Marie too.

Until that day when we’re all together again at the Banquet of the Lord, we continue to live one day at a time as best we can.

Our friend, Jerry, sent Marc a poem that he said helps him when he’s missing his daughter, Victoria, whose one year anniversary of her Feast Day is coming up in April.   I honestly don’t know why I thought I could get through the poem without tears.  Esh.

When Tomorrow Starts Without Me

When tomorrow starts without me,
And I’m not there to see,
If the sun should rise and find your eyes
All filled with tears for me;

I wish so much you wouldn’t cry
The way you did today,
While thinking of the many things,
We didn’t get to say.

I know how much you love me,
As much as I love you,
And each time that you think of me,
I know you’ll miss me too;

But when tomorrow starts without me,
Please try to understand,
That an angel came and called my name,
And took me by the hand,

And said my place was ready,
In heaven far above,
And that I’d have to leave behind
All those I dearly love.

But as I turned to walk away,
A tear fell from my eye
For all my life, I’d always thought,
I didn’t want to die.

I had so much to live for,
So much left yet to do,
It almost seemed impossible
That I was leaving you.

I thought of all the yesterdays,
The good ones and the bad,
I thought of all the love we shared,
And all the fun we had.

If I could relive yesterday,
Just even for a while,
I’d say good-bye and kiss you
And maybe see you smile.

But then I fully realized,
That this could never be,
For emptiness and memories,
Would take the place of me.

And when I thought of worldly things,
I might miss come tomorrow,
I thought of you, and when I did,
My heart was filled with sorrow.

But when I walked through heaven’s gates,
I felt so much at home.
When God looked down and smiled at me,
From His great golden throne,

He said, “This is eternity,
And all I’ve promised you.
Today your life on earth is past,
But here life starts anew.

I promise no tomorrow,
But today will always last,
And since each day’s the same way
There’s no longing for the past.

You have been so faithful,
So trusting and so true.
Though there were times you did some things
You knew you shouldn’t do.

But you have been forgiven
And now at last you’re free.
So won’t you come and take my hand
And share my life with me?”

So when tomorrow starts without me,
Don’t think we’re far apart,
For every time you think of me,
I’m right here, in your heart.

The song “Memories” written and performed by Margi Harrell

Into Safe Hands: A Meditation On Dying for Advent and Christmas (by Ronald Rolheiser)

Bob sent Marc and I this article a week before Christmas.  Fr. Rolheiser’s words, wisdom, and imagery have been my constant companion during this Christmas season.


Note: Today’s post, by guest contributor Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, is an excerpt from his new book, Bruised and Wounded: Struggling to Understand Suicide. This may seem to be a difficult topic for the Advent season, but as anyone knows who has been touched by suicide (or even by the sudden death of a loved one, under any circumstances), loss and grief can be particularly acute during this time of year. So I’m honored to offer you Fr. Rolheiser’s thoughts on a very challenging subject.


It’s hard to say something consoling in the face of death, even when the person who died lived a full life and died in the best of circumstances. It’s especially hard when the one who’s died is a young person, still in need of nurturing and care in this life, and when that young person dies in less-than-ideal circumstances.


As a priest, I have a number of times been asked to preside at the funeral of someone who died young, either as the result of illness, accident, or suicide. Such a funeral is always doubly sad. I remember one such funeral, in particular.


A high-school student had died in a car accident. The church was over-packed with his grieving family, friends, and classmates. His mother, still a young woman herself, was in the front pew, heavy with grief about her loss, but clearly weighed-down too with anxiety for her child. After all, he was still just a boy, partly still in need of someone to take care of him, still needing a mother. She sensed how, dying so young, in effect, orphaned him.


There aren’t many words that are helpful in a situation like this, but the few that we have say what needs to be said – even if on that day, when death is still so raw, they don’t yet bring much emotional consolation. What’s to be said in face of a death like this? Simply that this young boy is now in more-loving, more-tender, gentler, and safer hands than ours, that there’s a mother on the other side to receive him and give him the nurturing he still needs, just as there was one on this side when he was born. No one is born, except into a mother’s arms. That’s an image we need to keep before us in order to more healthily imagine death.


What, more precisely, is the image? Few images are as primal, and as tender, as that of a mother holding and cradling her newborn baby. Indeed, the words of the most-renowned Christmas carol of all time, “Silent Night,” were inspired by precisely this image. Joseph Mohr, a young priest in Germany, had gone out to a cottage in the woods on the afternoon of Christmas Eve to baptize a newborn baby. As he left the cottage, the baby was asleep in its mother’s lap. He was so taken with that image, with the depth and peace it incarnated, that, immediately upon returning to his rectory, he penned the famous lines of “Silent Night.” His choir director, Franz Gruber, put some guitar chords to those words and froze them in our minds forever. The ultimate archetypal image of peace, safety, and security is that of a newborn sleeping in its mother’s arms. Moreover, when a baby is born, it’s not just the mother who’s eager to hold and cradle it. Most everyone else is too.


Perhaps no image then is as apt, as powerful, as consoling, and as accurate in terms of picturing what happens to us when we die and awake to eternal life as is the image of a mother holding and cradling her newborn child. When we die, we die into the arms of God and surely we’re received with as much love, gentleness, and tenderness as we were received in the arms of our mothers at birth. Moreover, surely, we are even safer there than we were when we were born here on earth. I suspect too that more than a few of the saints will be hovering around, wanting their chance to cuddle the new baby. And so it’s okay if we die before we’re ready, still in need of nurturing, still needing someone to help take care of us, still needing a mother. We’re in safe, nurturing, gentle hands.


Worldwide Candle Lighting in Memory of Our Child

Last Sunday, the 10th, Marc, Catherine, Zoe, and I went to the Worldwide Candle Lighting in Memory of Our Child  in Vernon put on by Compassionate Friends.  Like the title suggests, it’s done world wide.  It’s always on the 2nd Sunday of December and one of the timing goals is to have the room lit by 7:00pm in union with all the other parents around the world at their own 7:00pm.

During the service, Zoe leaned into me and whispered, “This is just like church!”   Oh man…. it was nothing like church except the keeping quiet, but it was still too cute.

It’s not the same as a Compassionate Friends meeting in that everyone is welcome.  We can bring family and friends and our living children.  Like the meetings, we’re invited to bring a picture(s)  of our child for the In Memory table.  There is a set format to the short evening after a short introduction and welcome from the MC :  1.  Specific poems read by a mother, a father, a sibling, and a grandparent.  2.  A beautiful heart wrenching song recording to listen to.  3.  Lighting candles representing hope, love, courage, and            . . . . last one escapes me.  4.  A chance for people to get up and share.  Their sharing can be as unique as the individual.  Tribute to their child,  advice, what they’re doing to get through, etc.  One lady got up and said she writes her son a poem every year on the anniversary of his car accident.  At first she published them in the paper but that made certain family members uncomfortable, so now she just writes them and keeps them to herself.  This year she shared her October /17 poem with us. 5.  Lighting candles in memory of our child.  Each person has a candle, stands up one at a time, says their child’s name (or sibling’s, grandchild’s, niece’s, nephew’s, etc.) and lights their candle.   Even Zoe was not afraid to speak out Bernadette’s name and turn her light on.

When the short service was over, I immediately turned around to the woman who wrote the poem, as her and her husband were sitting right behind us, and asked her if she had an extra copy of her poem she could share with me.

Her first stanza was very personal to her son, but the second stanza really spoke to me, and the third was beautiful too.  Their son passed away seven years ago now so they’ve been walking this path for quite some time.  It was like her poem reminded me of the hope that there is life past the pain, encouraged me to keep moving toward that life, and permission to continue to love and miss Bernadette even as we move forward.  I know I don’t need permission.  I guess it’s just that seeing someone who is moving forward be a little more at peace while at the same time still loving and missing their child is a witness to what’s possible.  They’ve gone through the struggles and come to the truth that they’re not betraying that love and memory because they are moving forward, if that makes any sense.

Here is the two stanzas of Penny Hardie’s poem:

“We’ve had to put behind us

The devastating grief

We try to focus now on hope

Turn over a new leaf

Move beyond the nightmare years

To invest in life again

There’s no way you can stay alive

If you cling to all that pain.


So we speak of you

with a laugh sometimes

Remember your music and smiles

And when we need to get to you

We bring our roses across the miles

The wracking sobs have given way

To gentle tears and a sigh

But as far as loving and missing you….

“Never a day goes by.”


Penny Hardie wasn’t the only witness Sunday night at the service.  Actually every parent there is a witness.  But in particular for me there was a beautiful younger mom there with a one-year-old (whom Zoe couldn’t get enough of as they were the only two under five feet tall) and expecting a baby soon.  She lost two small children in a fire several years ago.  She had the most beautiful smile and she looked happy and/or peaceful!  I stood in amazement and awe at her courage and tranquility and the love that poured through her eyes for her little girl.  She was truly an inspiration.

That’s the thing with Compassionate Friends.  It brings together those who have just experienced the devastating loss of a child with those struggling, and those who have gotten to the point where they can be at peace and continue to live life again.    I stood there in the room and witnessed the whole cycle.  Everyone belongs and everyone offers support to the others in some form: those just experiencing loss for the first time (or the second!) needing a place where they can share their raw grief knowing they’re with other parents who totally totally totally get it, those who are a little further into their grief looking back at how far they’ve come and forward at how far they can still go, and those who have come out to the light again at the other end of the ever so long dark tunnel a stronger and yet whole person.  The balance is beautiful.  If it was just those with extremely fresh pain and those in the light, there would probably be too big a gab between them, they both need those in the middle at all the various stages to bridge the gap.  Of course the other blessing of Compassionate Friends is it is a place where hurting parents can go to know that we are not all alone in our grief and pain.  Others have come before us, unfortunately others will come after us, but we are not alone.  And that is Compassionate Friends’ motto:  You need not walk alone.  We are the Compassionate Friends.



“Renegotiating” our relationship with God.

A couple weeks ago, after a discussion with Marc about supporting one another in times of grief on a parish level, as we’ve had quite a few parishioners who have lost loved ones recently, whether they be parents, spouses, siblings, dear friends, or children, I went online just to see if there was a parish grief support model that we might be able to implement in our parish.  I didn’t find one but I did find a letter on grief posted on a parish website.  It was written by someone who’d lost their spouse, but the author said that much of what was written could apply to losing any loved one.   Most of what I read was nothing new and some things just didn’t apply to us, but the author did say that of all the challenges that grieving people face, one of the most common is ‘renegotiating their relationship with God’.

That didn’t surprise me as I’ve heard many stories of people who renegotiated their relationship with God after a tragedy. One very common experience was the quick and simple:  I’m done with you, God.  Good-bye. Though I highly doubt it’s ever really that cut and dry.  Others really struggle, some for years, others for the rest of their lives.  It’s no secret that it has been my experience too.  Bernadette’s death was like a tsunami that crashed against the shores of my little card house of who God was and washed it all out to sea – and me along with it.   It didn’t happen when she got sick because I still clung to the hope that God might swoop down and grant us a miracle.   When He didn’t, everything fell apart.

When I watch Zoe have a total meltdown or temper tantrum because she doesn’t get her own way, I look at her with love (and sometimes frustration) and just shake my head.  She has no idea what she’s melting down over.  She’s even taken to saying, “You’re doing this because you don’t love me.” She has no real idea what she’s saying and I know in her heart she knows darn well that we still love her because a minute later when she’s calmed down I can say, “I….love……” she quickly responds with her standard: “Me.”   I confess, as  I watch her three-year-old logic, desires, and manipulation at work, I often see a parallel with the way I respond to God our Father – especially in the last three years.  In the eyes of God, I’m no bigger than a three-year-old having a total meltdown and accusing God of not loving me any more.  Thankfully He’s no doubt looking at me with love and infinite patience and saying, “I…….love…………………………you!”

A few weeks ago, I found a video by Fr. Mike Schmitz entitled “The Real Purpose of Funerals.”    He said most people think that a funeral is to say good bye to a loved one, for closure, and to celebrate the loved one’s life.  Those things in and of themselves are good, but they’re not the real reason we have a Catholic funeral.

To my surprise I discovered that the real reason for a Catholic funeral is a call to reaffirm our relationship with God!   Here our first inclination can be to renegotiate it, but the Church’s first response is an invitation to reaffirm it!  And the four reasons he gave for a funeral were:

  1. To worship Jesus.
  2. To thank God for His mercy.  He at least fills us with hope for the future of the person who had died.
  3. To renew our own faith!!!!  It is one of the lowest moments in our lives because we’ve lost this person we love terribly.  And it’s in that moment that the Church asks us to renew our faith in the Resurrection.  It’s in that moment of sorrow, that moment of grief that the Church says, ‘but remember you can renew your own faith in Jesus Christ’s triumph over death’.  That you can, like Paul, we can say, “Oh death, where is your sting?  Where is your victory?”
  4. We’re there to pray for the person.  We’re there to intercede for the one who has died.

I take great solace in the knowledge that if we take even just one small step towards God, He’ll come the rest of the way to us.  I was there but I don’t think at Bernadette’s funeral I was worshiping Jesus.  Yes, I trusted in His mercy and was full of hope for Bernadette’s future.  Like Fr. George said, “Without a doubt small children go straight to heaven.”  And the two dozen purple roses delivered at the funeral were proof of that for me.    The forth reason I’d always known.  It’s the third reason that blew me away: Renewing our own faith at the lowest moment in our lives.  I’ve been thinking about that ever since I saw the video.  Hum….

It’s been just over three years since our lives were forever changed and I’d have to say that the ‘renegotiation’ process is not over yet, but I take comfort in the fact that I’m in good company and that God is on common ground.  The Apostles followed Jesus for three years and still, according to the Gospels, they didn’t totally get who Jesus was and what He came to accomplish.  They spent a lot of time with Him, walked with Him, talked with Him, ate with Him, watched Him perform miracles, listen to Him, and still they had to go through a period of ‘renegotiation’ when Jesus died on the cross – hiding in the upper room!   Even after His resurrection, Peter went fishing again, some scholars suggesting he felt lost.  And yet Jesus never gave up on them, He won’t give up on all the grieving people renegotiating their relationship with Him, and He won’t give up on me.