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Happy Valentine’s Day Ash Wednesday

Real and Raw

Welcome to the first installment in the series Real and Raw – Soul-Stirring Stories, a series focused on taking a candid look at life’s struggles as we journey to heaven. Being Catholic doesn’t mean you won’t suffer–in fact, Jesus promises we’re likely to suffer even more for being His disciple. But Catholics often feel self-conscious about admitting to doubt, confusion, sorrow, or anger in their relationship with God. We want the world to be attracted to our beautiful faith, so we minimize the darkness and emphasize the light in our lives, usually at the expense of authenticity. Yet there’s value in sharing our journey in all its shades–in admitting there are gray and black days, too. We offer these stories to let our suffering readers know they’re not alone–we’re in the trenches with you and so is God, who loves us and has a divine purpose for pain, even if it’s hard to see or accept in the moment. Most importantly, we hope these stories give hope to readers…hope that there is help and that they will survive. And one day, they will make it out of the darkness and be stronger for it.


My husband has only been gone for just over eight months and yet, I am being relentlessly pursued by another. I cannot even begin to think of what to write on the headstone of the man I loved with all my heart and yet I am receiving messages of love from another. He tells me I am “special” and “loved.” This began at his funeral Mass where my five children and I had front row seats. I was distracted and filled with hope and I didn’t know what to make of it. But I listened to him because he was the first one to tell me I was going to be ok.

I’ve started spending more and more time with him. In the beginning, I had nowhere else to go. So I would run to him. Sometimes I would just cry and cry. A few times, I yelled and screamed and accused him of all sorts of horrible things. Yet his door remained open. While he can be demanding and persistent, I always want him near. I am told to go here and do this or go there and say that. Usually, these arduous tasks require much more energy or character than I have. And, yet somehow I do them. And, when I do, I am always rewarded. He even encouraged me to write this blog post. He will tell me to clear my schedule and if I don’t follow his not so subtle suggestions, he clears my schedule for me. I’ve learned that if I don’t argue and get all flustered, I can actually enjoy his plans. They are always better than anything I had in mind. And, he always knows just what to say. Sometimes, he sends messengers in his place but the message is always from him. He tells me things like it’s okay to laugh and dance even though I am a widow with five children. He even told me to be thankful that my husband died. I’m still trying to wrap my head around that one.

When I was planning what would have been my 20th wedding anniversary with my husband, I asked him to go with me to celebrate my marriage. I actually sent him ahead and asked him to prepare something special. He blew me away by getting the hotel, where my husband and I had our wedding reception, to close the main dining room and set a table just for my children and me with fine linens and all of our favorite items on the menu. He turned what could have been a terrible day into a new memory to cherish.

For Christmas, he not only knew I needed something to open on Christmas morning but also that I did not want to shop for myself. So, he suggested I buy tickets to Les Miserables for my daughter. I took my daughter. We had a wonderful day together. And during Les Mis, there were endless streams of water springing out of my tear ducts and splattering my glasses. Yes, I’ve learned tears don’t just fall. Sometimes they gush forth. Life has killed the dream I dreamed. He saw my distress and whispered lovingly, death will not have the final word.

On one particularly desperate morning, I emptied out my lingerie drawer. Each piece was beautiful and special and attached to a memory it seemed I had no one to share with. I started to feel the familiar wave of grief wash over as I stared into the pile of ivory satin and lace. This wave was poisoned with self-pity. I won’t be needing any of this! I started to shove them into a trash bag. But, he stopped me. He said he knew what to do with them. I folded them respectfully like a priest does with the linens after Holy Communion and I placed them in a special bag and set them aside.

As Valentine’s Day approaches this year, I am guarding my heart. First Valentine’s without my husband, I think to myself. Am I going to dive into that deep, warm well of self-pity? Or will I just fall in like a helpless victim? Or will there be other plans? My husband always went all out with flowers, candy, and sincerely written love notes. We ate out at our favorite restaurants and shared so much affection.

I was also single for many years before my husband came along. I know the bitter sting of a lonely Valentine’s Day. Or even worse, I remember lukewarm Valentine’s days with awkward dates that left me feeling lonelier than being alone. For many years, I filled the emptiness of the day by focusing on my young nieces and nephews. Valentine’s through the eyes of children is a wonderful thing! I will do that this year for my children, I think to myself. I will just think of it as a holiday for children.

But, my suitor has different plans this year. When I heard about this year’s liturgical calendar, I smiled. Could it be that the one who loves my soul is seeking me? He’s changed the whole thing around! There will be no dining at a favorite restaurant. Instead, we will fast. There will be no ribbon tied box of dark chocolate. Instead, I will get ashes on my forehead. I am going to be united with him in Holy Communion at the Ash Wednesday Mass.
I’m still hoping there will be flowers.

Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; For Love is strong as Death- Its arrows are
arrows of fire, flames of the divine. Deep waters cannot quench Love, nor rivers sweep it away

~ Song of Songs 8:6

I’ve been a writer on the blog since 2011 but took an unexpected break following my husband’s death by suicide in June 2017. I’ve decided to return to the blog to share the heights and depths of my grief journey. My hope is that my story will give hope to others touched by tragic loss. This allegorical post is based on a meditation on the Song of Songs. I never really understood the role of God as a lover of my soul. And, in the wake of my husband’s death, I revisited Scripture to find out more. This post is dedicated to all the consecrated men and women who get this, to single persons seeking the fulfillment of a vocation, and to all those who are mourning the loss of a spouse this Valentine’s Day.


REFLECT

Let’s dig deeper. Did this story resonate with you? If so, please continue on below and consider starting a journal to jot down your answers. PRINT several copies of these questions to start your own journal based on different posts. 

  1. What was my spiritual life like before the experience of loss?
  2. How did the experience negatively impact my relationship with God?
  3. How did the experience negatively impact my relationships with my spouse, my children, my coworkers, my relatives, my friends?
  4. Was there anything that helped to alleviate the suffering I was going through? (e.g., counsel from others, professional help, medication/supplements, devotions, lifestyle changes)
  5. How did this experience positively impact my relationships, either during or afterward?
  6. How did this experience positively impact my spiritual life, either during or afterward?
  7. If I could go back and change how I responded to this experience, what would I do differently?
  8. What would I say to someone else in this situation to give her hope?

RESOURCES & SPIRITUAL HEALING

DBSA {Depression, Bipolar Support Alliance}

NAMI {National Alliance of Mental Illness}

NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION HOTLINE

MTHFR {genetic mutation associated with depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia}

Happy Valentines Ash Wednesday

 

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About Shiela

Shiela is a widow and mother of five children from elementary to High school. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor and art therapist but her primary vocation is to be a mom. She discovered apologetics while cruising around social networks and finding her faith under attack. She approaches apologetics with humor and everyday stories and hopes to ignite a fire of joyful catholic culture that will spread throughout the world. In the wake of her husband's death, she will be sharing her grief journey.

  • Linda - This is so moving!February 14, 2018 – 8:51 amReplyCancel

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