Welcome to our Blessed Chats series! Each month, we will dedicate an entire week of blog posts to a topic that affects many of us. These conversations often come up in our Facebook groups and in our real life friendships. We want to share a variety of perspectives on the topic at hand, so we’ve asked women to share their stories and how the teachings of the Church have guided and comforted them. In this series, we’re talking more about grief. We’d love for you to join the conversation!
My stomach tightened as if I had been punched in the gut and I kept repeating the words, “Mom’s cancer had returned.” Not only did the cancer come back, it returned with a vengeance and the doctor gave her a year. My mind swirled as I tried to make sense of it.
How could this be?
The previous month, we were at the Blessed is She retreat together. She just attended my daughter’s Confirmation, she had been dancing at my brother’s wedding, smiling and laughing, surrounded by her family. Tears escaped me as I realized she wouldn’t be at the weddings of my younger siblings, or my children. She’d no longer be there for the big and little events of our lives.
On that day my heart took its first step on the road of grief.
The Beginning of Grief
As the cancer thwarted my mom’s mobility, I mourned the loss of my active mom but was hopeful that God could still perform a miracle. Unfortunately, with every hopeful treatment, my mom got hit with more medical complications.
After receiving another piece of bad news, I lost it. I was mad—the maddest I’d ever been with God. It hurt to hear my mom, one of the strongest people I’ve known, express fear and feelings of defeat. She’d already overcome so much in her life; I didn’t understand how God would allow her to suffer more. I ranted at God until I crumbled exhausted on the bedroom floor.
Deep down, I knew I lashed out in anger and frustration and that Our Father was God enough to take it and tender enough to let me get it all off my chest. I didn’t magically feel better afterwards, but slowly, peace seeped into my heart, which was needed since my mom’s diagnosed time on earth was cut in half.
Accompanying Her to the End
Six months later, at Christmas time, my mom was in her last days and our families traveled to be with her. After a particularly emotional day at the hospital, I drove back to my dad’s house. My heart was grieving, and tears began when “King of My Heart” came on the radio. The lyrics echoed: “Let the King of my heart be the fire inside my veins… You are good, You’re good… You’re never going to let me down.”
My mind whirled, “Did I believe God was good with my heart breaking and prayers unanswered?”
Surrendering, I thought, “Yes, I believe, not just when things were going well, but when it seemed all hope was lost.”
I clung to Psalm 18:
I love you, LORD, my strength, LORD, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer, My God, my rock of refuge, my shield, my saving horn, my stronghold. -Psalm 18:2-3
Eventually, my mom was brought home from the hospital and we made sure she was never alone. On the last day of our trip, we said our final goodbye and during the drive home, there were continuous tears as heartache bubbled over. I was resigned, but I still felt the sting of sorrow and grief.
The following day, on the feast of the Epiphany, my mom passed.
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The Cascade of Grief
The next weeks were a blur of tears and numbness. I took consolation that Jesus wept when his friend Lazarus died (John 11:35). He experienced the pain of loss and was overcome with emotion, even though He knew Lazarus would be raised from the dead.
It was okay for me to grieve and process all the conflicting emotions. I thank God for the kindness of family and friends who stepped in with prayers, consolation, and practical help. My instinct was to say, “It’s okay, I’m fine,” but I needed to accept their help, cancel plans, postpone work assignments, and allow myself time to heal.
For the funeral, I stormed Heaven, asking for strength so I wouldn’t lose it during the eulogy. Prayers were answered because although my heart was heavy, for that afternoon, I was at peace and glad that my mom’s earthly suffering was over.
Never Finished with Grief
Since I did well at the funeral, I assumed I was over the worse part of the grieving and I could get back to “normal.” However, I’d be going about my day, and suddenly a song or photo would trigger my memories, or I’d see an Instagram post with a friend doing a fun activity with her mom, and I’d feel resentful and jealous of them.
Grief would wash over me again, like a wave of the ocean.
At first, I thought something was wrong with me, until I learned that this was a common aspect of grief – sneaking up when you least expect it. I allowed myself to feel the grief and leaned on Christ to pull me through the wave.
Because I had to lean on God so much, my relationship with Our Lord deepened and I pondered why He hadn’t healed my mom. Interiorly, God spoke to my heart. He had healed her, but not in a way people could see.
I recalled my mom’s words before she died, “I’m no longer afraid to die. I’m ready physically, mentally, and spiritually. How lucky can I be to be ready to meet Jesus!”
We didn’t receive the physical healing of my mom’s body, but the contrast from fear to joyful surrender was evident. Through her suffering, her soul had been transformed.
Understating that was a turning point in dealing with my grief. The same way my mom’s surrender changed her heart, I prayed my surrender to God would change my heart and draw me closer to Him.
Death is Transformed by Christ
In her book From Grief to Grace, author Jeannie Ewing* wrote, “Embracing our cross is the essence of navigating grief. It is precisely the conscience act of entering into our wounds and permitting God to enter into our wounds that lead us to ultimate healing, peace, and joy.”
It brought meaning to the Scripture:
We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. -Romans 8:28
We’re approaching the two-year anniversary of my mom’s death. Although the waves of grief aren’t as frequent or tumultuous, there are still moments, such as writing this post, when I’m overcome with emotion and typing though tears.
However, I’m comforted to know that:
Death is transformed by Christ. Jesus, the Son of God, also himself suffered the death that is part of the human condition. Yet, despite his anguish as he faced death, he accepted it in an act of complete and free submission to his Father’s will. The obedience of Jesus has transformed the curse of death into a blessing. -Catechism of the Catholic Church 1009
Through these tears, I can see my mom’s photo on my desk. Every day I pray for her and ask her to pray for us, taking comfort that we are one body in Christ, and that our connection with each other doesn’t stop at death. Just as she accepted her death, I accept this physical separation for the love of God, waiting in hope for the day, God willing, we will be reunited again.
Has anyone else lost their mom? We’ll be praying for you.
*Jeannie also wrote this article on grief as a Catholic with a brief summary of the topic of her book.
If you want more on the Church’s rich teachings on these engaging topics, our best-selling study, “Blessed Conversations: Rooted,” dives into the Catechism’s teachings and now offers a video companion series along with it featuring Theological Editor Susanna Spencer and Managing Editor Nell O’Leary. Get it here.
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