"The Church is a field hospital for the wounded, not a haven for saints. Its doors opened two thousand years ago, and they are still open today. Inside these doors can be found true peace and joy, especially for those who are hopeless, hurting, or suffering" (Pope Francis).
To all of you who are experiencing the agony of grief,
I am so sorry about your loss! I am so sorry that you have to suffer this way! I wish there was some way I could take the pain away from you. I can’t take it away but I am with you in it. I understand how difficult and heartbreaking a sudden and unexpected death of a close family member can be. I lost my 26 year old son almost three years ago on October 15. It seems like it has been forever and only a day at the same time. Time moves fast and slow at the same time.
His death was a complete blindside. In no way did we see it coming. My family and I have had to learn to live one day at a time, especially for the first two years, because that is all we could do. Thinking of never seeing Brett again in this life was more than we could bear. Every morning I would wake up and think, I can make it through today without Brett. Thinking of the future without him, even only as far into it as the next day, was too hard. We learned that God’s grace and provision are always with us in the present moment. We don’t have the grace and strength for the future yet but we will when it gets here in real time.
Now that it is almost three years later, I am able to think about the future without my son physically present in it without it causing me anxiety. Two years ago I could not do that. God has given me the grace to live in the present moment with joy & sorrow peacefully coexisting in my heart and, at the same time, with much hope for the future even though Brett will not be a part of it physically. I know that it is His desire is to do the same for everyone. Living in anticipatory anxiety about the difficulty entailed in carrying a particular cross is a recipe for depression and poor health - physically and psychologically.
In addition to the amazing prayers & support of family and friends, I have found the following things helpful as I grieve this loss of my precious son. I only share them because maybe they will help you too! My suggestion is that you read this post little by little. It is a lot to take in. I also suggest that you pray to God as you read it. Ask him to help you understand what I am trying to share with you. Ask him to increase your Faith.
Here are some of the lifelines from Heaven - channels of God’s grace - that have helped me in my bereavement:
1. Intentional Openness to His Grace
I ask God every day to be able to “welcome the grace” he is continually offering me that will empower me to keep going forward. That might sound unusual but it is easy to close our heart to his grace.
So even if you go through a stage where you feel angry at him, keep asking him for the grace to be open to his grace.
Think of your heart like a well and God’s grace is like water that is continually poured into it or like water that bubbles up from deep down inside of it. Try to keep the well of your heart open and free of clutter (sin, bad habits, negativity, etc.) so that his grace can fill it up. Little by little, his presence will fill up your well and it will overflow into every part of your mind and heart and through you it will reach others.
2. Mass, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament & Confession (the sacrament of Reconciliation)
Grieving is hard. We need God’s help. Jesus, in Holy Communion, will strengthen you for this journey of grief and will give you his love and peace through your union with him. This is because when we receive the Eucharist, we are receiving the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Eucharist = Sacred Heart of Jesus) and his sacred heart is full of sacrificial love. Through our reception of His Sacred Heart in Holy Communion, He is sharing his divine life with us, placing it in our soul - he is deifying us - and is making all of his strength. love and virtues ours to live from.
If you haven’t been to Mass for a while or if you were away for a time, it is necessary to go the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) before you receive Holy Communion and then commit to attending every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation at the very least. Attend as often as possible especially when you are suffering (here is a great Examination of Conscience and instructions on how to make a good Confession).
All God asks is for us to set aside one hour a week of our time to come to Mass and what He pours into our soul during that one hour is such a blessing whether we feel it or not; whether we detect it or not.
St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) is known for her experience of the "Dark Night of the Soul" - the rejection she felt from God for many years (I have heard anywhere from 18-40 years) - but in spite of this, she would attend Mass every day and then spend one hour in prayer before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament (Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament). Most of the time she did not feel love from God and as a matter of fact, we know that she felt rejected and abandoned by Him during this time. But when she left her time of prayer and went out to the streets of Calcutta, she knew He had poured his grace into her soul because she was able to love the poor people of Calcutta with a love that was supernatural. She knew she was loving them with God’s own love. She knew that she was able to love the poor heroically because of her union with Jesus in the Eucharist. Even though she didn’t feel His love for her personally, she was given the strength to persevere in her vocation and to love others unconditionally in spite of great suffering.
If you are in the state of grace, never doubt that God is pouring His Holy Spirit into your soul when you receive Him in Holy Communion. He is filling you with every grace you need to carry your cross in imitation of Him.
Also, your loved one is present with you at Mass! All those who have passed away, if they have been saved, are there with us whether they are already in heaven or are being made ready for heaven in purgatory. This is a profound mystery but God will strengthen your faith in if you ask Him to: “Lord, increase our Faith that our loved ones are with us at Mass! Increase our Faith about your Real Presence in the Eucharist!”
3. Redemptive Suffering
To me the waves of grief can wash over me like a tidal wave and it can literally feel like I am drowning and the water can feel like the Dead Sea if I don’t know what to do with it. When I offer each wave to the Lord as my sacrifice it changes it into Living Water because Jesus takes each wave of grief I give Him, unites it with His perfect sacrifice and uses it as a channel of grace for others. This increases the flow of His grace in the world. He allows us to see some of what He does with our offering of suffering here and now but most of it will be seen only in heaven. It can be helpful to make a prayer list and as each wave of grief comes, take out your list and pray: “Lord, I offer this suffering to you for….”
This is what we are doing at Mass. We are at Mass to offer ourselves with Jesus to the Father for the salvation of the world and because we are members of His Mystical Body (the Church) and he lives in us (Galatians 2:20), our offering has merit – eternal value (see 1 Cor 12:12-13, Col 1:18; 2:18-20; Eph. 1:22-23; 3:19; 4:13).
We receive Jesus in Holy Communion so that he can strengthen us to offer everything to him as a gift; so that he can transform everything we give him and be present in every aspect of our lives – our prayers, works, joys, sorrows and sufferings. What a high calling we have as Christians! If only all bereaved people knew this. What a difference it could make in finding a mission and meaning in their suffering.
Not only that, I know that it makes my precious son happy to see that his death is not destroying us but we are instead allowing God to bring a greater good out of it.
Your anguish and suffering, too, has redemptive value in many different ways. Every wave of grief that comes over you can be offered up to God as a sacrifice too. This way it becomes a powerful prayer for whomever you offer it for. I made a prayer list and keep it in my pocket. Every time my grief comes over me, I take out my list and pray: “Lord, I offer my broken heart, my anguish to you for these intentions:
For my son to be taken to heaven or to go to a higher place in heaven
For my family's broken hearts to be healed and that they would grow closer to God through this suffering and not farther away from him.
For our country.
For other people that are grieving
It won’t take the pain away but it will take the edge off of it. God will use your offering to bless others abundantly and that will help in the healing process of your heart. This is what our Blessed Mother did as she suffered through her Son’s death. She will help you too.
It has been said that the Catholic devotion of “The Stations of the Cross” began when Our Blessed Mother would go back to specific spots where Jesus suffered on his way to Calvary and she would relive each one in her mind. As she did this she would grieve what happened there and offer up to God, as a sacrifice, the memory of watching her son suffer this way. She offered up her suffering so we would open our hearts to her Son and receive eternal life in Him. She didn’t want her suffering or her Son’s suffering to be in vain. She didn’t waste it. She allowed God to make her suffering redemptive.
In the early days of my grieving, I would have flash backs about all the events that happened the day of his death. The traumatic events were all jumbled up in my head. I knew that I needed to grieve these memories and not try to escape from them or to push the thoughts away and ignore them. I asked God to help me and I believe that He led me to get a journal and write each memory down in the order of when it took place.
When I was having a hard time accepting what happened, I would pick up my journal, read what I wrote, cry and then offer each memory to the Lord as my sacrifice for him to use to increase the flow of grace in the world. Just like the three shepherd children at Fatima, I knew Mary was with me helping me to offer up my suffering as a gift to God. These memories were my personal “stations of the cross.” Doing this has really helped me to connect with God through my suffering and this has enabled me to accept what happened and to find peace in a very difficult situation. With God all things are possible!
Here is how I explain what happens when we “offer up” our suffering:
When we offer our suffering to the Lord, it is as if a wall has come down in our heart and he has access to an area of our life that he was not able to come fully into before; we have “opened it up” to Him. Because he is present there now, we are not on our own and can consciously draw from his power and strength to face the difficulty. His strength begins where our natural ability ends.
Now that he is present, so is his self-sacrificing love, which we can tap into in order to offer up the difficulty as a prayer of intercession for others. In other words, He is present in our difficulty – we are now yoked to Him (Matthew 11:28-30) so that we can, not only bear it patiently, but we can go even further, and offer it up as an act of love for other people.
4. The Rosary
Pray the rosary as often as you can. God has set it up that he will help us in an obvious & superabundant way if we stay close to his Mother and pray the rosary. Her role is to lead us to her Son and she takes us by the hand and we reach union with him much faster with her help than we do on our own.
5. You can still help your loved ones!
The Church teaches that unless a person has a ST. (as in Saint) in front of their name (i.e. St. Juan Diego, St. Jose Maria Escriva, etc.) we cannot assume that they are already enjoying the Beatific Vision of God in Heaven and because of that we should continue to offer prayers, indulgences and sacrifices (suffrages) for them to aid them in their journey to full union with God. There can be a very real exchange of spiritual goods between us and them. They cannot help themselves but they can intercede for us and they will if we ask them.
We pray and offer our good works for them and they pray for our needs so our relationship with them continues even now but in a new way. We have experienced many blessings through my son’s intercession and I know that I am helping him too. This is so good for a grieving heart! It gives us something concrete and effective to “do” with our grief. It is also a great incentive to grow in holiness because as we grow in holiness, our prayers and works become more fruitful for our loved ones.
This is why we have Masses offered for the “repose of the soul” of our deceased loved ones. The Mass is the best way to pray for them and to help them; however, all of our prayers & sacrifices greatly aid them and console them too. These acts of love draw their efficacy from the merits of Christ and actually flow from our union with Christ (begun in Baptism) in the Mass. Your loved ones will know that you are praying for them and they will pray for you too.
I offer my whole day, every day for my son and all the Holy Souls in Purgatory – every prayer, work, joy, sorrow and suffering; every difficultly – traffic, weather, rudeness from other people, difficult situations at work, headache, etc. I try to bear each one patiently, do my best and offer each one with love to God for them. (See video below by Matthew Kelly about how "Everything is an opportunity to grow in holiness.")
I always pray for him this way & then, I ask him to pray for specific needs that come up! God answers those prayers so fast when I pray this way. God has taught me that my relationship with my son can continue this way and in this way we are creating new memories. I don't have to cling to the past as my only source of union with him. To be able to love this way is one of the many fruits of Holy Communion.
Sometime I will share with you some stories of how God has allowed my son to help and it was obvious it was his prayers that helped. But I never ask him to pray for anything without praying for him first. The Catechism of the Catholic Church #958 says that “Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective.” The closer he comes to God (the higher he goes in heaven) the more his intercessory power increases. This is because we are all members of the Communion of Saints (see image below):
It is better to assume that your loved ones need your prayers than to assume that they don't. If they are already in heaven, your prayers will send them to a higher place. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that even if our loved ones are already in heaven and we continue to pray and offer sacrifices for them, especially the Mass, their "accidental glory" (their intimacy with God and their intercessory power) increases because love (charity) is always creative.
Through this union of intercessory prayer with my son (I pray for him and he prays for me and my intentions) we are growing in holiness together. We are advancing together deeper into the heart of God.
6. Joy & Sorrow
Eventually, as you stay close to God and open to his grace, you will find that extreme sorrow and even anguish can peacefully coexist with joy in your heart. Joy and sorrow are not incompatible. They are not opposed to each other. It is a profound mystery, but because of the presence of the Risen Christ & his Holy Spirit in your soul, it is possible to experience both emotions at the same time.
Your loved ones will not feel sad if you feel joy. They will not think that you must not love them that much if you’re not sad all the time. As a matter of fact, if you’re not sad all the time, you can believe that it is because they are begging God for you to experience peace and joy in your life. They are asking God to pour his grace into your heart. Nothing would be harder for them than to see you suffering with no relief.
7. Fight the Devil with thanksgiving and praise
If you experience an oppressive gloomy outlook for the future; a heaviness of gloom or feel that you are surrounded by darkness, fear or despair, please realize it might be the devil trying to make you lose hope. It is a lie that you do not have a "future full of hope" (Jeremiah 29:11) even after such a tragic loss.
God is a loving Father and he desires to enable us to live with both joy & sorrow simultaneously and I know our loved ones are praying and hoping that we will let him. Before my son passed away, I would never have thought this was possible. I think about, miss & feel sad about him 24/7 but I have peace and experience joy at the same time.
If you experience evil forebodings or oppressive gloominess, cling to Christ and Mary even more in those moments and beg them to lift the oppression and gloom. Praise him and thank him for all that you can think of that is good, true, and beautiful! There is so much. This puts the devil to flight and gloom is chased away or lifts from us. The sadness is still there but not the heavy, oppressive gloom.
This was my experience. My son died in October and from mid-December through the beginning of January I continually felt the weight of an oppressive gloom and fear. It felt so heavy that even my eyes felt strained. I kept offering the darkness up to the Lord and at the same time begging Him to lift it because it was so intense and overwhelming. I would write in my journal about this and end the entry by telling God and praising Him for all of the things I was thankful for. On January 9, I woke up and the heaviness was gone; the oppressive, gloomy outlook was lifted. In my journal entry on January 11, I described it by saying "Thank you, God, for letting me have two really good days with peace! I have had sad moments but not despair." On January 16, I wrote "Thank you for giving me so much peace this week and not allowing the grief to consume me." On January 19, "I am still living in the grace of Jesus carrying me in a tangible way." That was in 2016 and that feeling of despair and oppression has never returned. I believe, from hindsight, that it was a spiritual attack and that fighting it with the right weapons (the sacraments & prayer in the form of thankfulness, offering it up and praise) made all the difference in the world.
How are these seven channels of grace connected?
Through openness to God’s Grace that we receive through prayer (e.g. the rosary) and the sacraments, we are enabled to unite our suffering with Christ and offer it up as a sacrifice for other people, especially our loved ones. The grace that we receive through Holy Communion and prayer also gives us the ability to experience joy and sorrow simultaneously; it enables us to fight the devil through praise and thanksgiving.