I lost my mother to suicide on April 13, 2016. She suffered with anxiety and depression for many years and often struggled with alcoholism due to it. The stress and pressures of this world became too much for her to bear and much to the pain and desperation of those she left behind, she found her way out of it.
As the oldest of four daughters and the one who didn’t move far from home, I naturally took the role of handling much of what follows an untimely death – funeral arrangements, cancelling accounts, and applying for insurance and pension payments. After the whirlwind of visitors slowed down, I threw myself fully into my next project. I was appointed the director for my parish’s 2016 ACTS retreat that was scheduled that October. What attention my full-time job and four kids didn’t take was given to the Holy Spirit to guide me to make the retreat a success. I was not taking time to grieve.
In the midst of retreat planning, the devil took a few swings at my faith and forced me to press through a rocky end to 2016 including a flooded home which displaced my family for months and totaled all of our furniture and a miscarriage. These tribulations took a lot of my time and replaced normalcy with chaos. It wasn’t until mid-January 2017 I started to feel the abundant absence of my mom. From the time of her death in April through the rest of 2016, I kept myself occupied and didn’t allow a lot of downtime to be still and rest. Without projects keeping me occupied, the grief started to find its way in and I found myself being overcome with sadness and immense guilt. I was in an endless bad mood and wanted to mostly be left alone. During this time, my prayer life suffered as well.
A dear friend sent me a podcast by Monsignor Craig Harrison on grief. I listened to it in earnest hoping for a spiritual revelation to bring me back to life. I was tired of being distant and short with my family and knew this wasn’t the way God would want me to handle His bringing my mom home. I claimed that I understood and trusted in His timing, but I felt like I wasn’t truly abandoning myself to His will since I was suddenly unable to find peace in my mom’s passing.
I was familiar with Msgr. Craig, as I had listened to other podcasts of his and enjoyed his humor and his unique use of real-life scenarios to make his points much easier to understand. In this particular podcast, he spoke of many types of death including divorce and health. He explained the four stages of grief in great detail and helped me quickly recognize which stage I was in- stage three (despair).
He went on to share his experiences with the loss of his sister, father, and the recent loss of his mother and impressed on me that there was another stage to look forward to- one of reorganization and renewal- stage four. As Msgr. Craig described the magnificence of this stage, I felt the Holy Spirit instantly guiding me out of the dark hole I had fallen into. I prayed for guidance and light and quieted myself completely to allow God the space in which to do His works. With fifteen minutes left in his episode on grief, Msgr. Craig had my full attention and I was hanging on to every word.
He shared that each year on his sister’s birthday, he takes her favorite flower and bundles them to pass around to others in her honor. He goes on to say that he feels his sister gets more joy seeing her love being passed around than if he were take her favorite flower and place it on her grave. Stage four was where I wanted to be. It was in this stage that Jesus’s love would be spread and revered. It was in this stage that I could take the life that God has gifted me and use it for good and holy works.
Suicide awareness was the most obvious theme I could conjure as a way to help others avoid a tragedy of this magnitude, but still I wasn’t certain it was the most positive or loving approach. Instead, I did the exact opposite and chose to inspire others to celebrate life by recognizing our good health and our genuine happiness! I created a 23-day challenge through social media to remind the participants of all the little things to be grateful for- from the ability to use our legs to the importance of getting in for annual physicals to driving the speed limit with the windows down and enjoying the ride. It was a way for me to share my mom’s quirky, fun, and giving spirit with friends and family near and far as well as encourage them to live life more fully.
The scripture on my daily calendar from the day we lost my mom last year was 1 Peter 5:10 And after you suffer for a short time, God, who gives all grace, will make everything right. He will make you strong and support you and keep you from falling. He called you to share in his glory in Christ, a glory that will continue forever. I saved the page of the calendar and came across it a few days ago on the anniversary of her death. It wasn’t until now, after processing her passing through the four stages of grief Msgr. Craig spoke about that I wholeheartedly understand. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for making everything right and keeping me from falling. Amen.
Reflect: What are some ways you could celebrate the life of someone who has passed before you in the spirit of God’s love?
Act: Listen to one of Msgr. Craig’s many studies or homilies through podcasts or buzzsprout.com and journal about the things that speak most clearly to you. How can you apply his teachings to your daily life?