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Feast Days Loss Mary Victoria K

A Space for Grief: A Reflection on Our Lady of Sorrows

our lady of sorrows

A Confusing Feast

On first look, Our Lady of Sorrows is confusing. It’s a whole day, a whole “Feast” Day, devoted to sorrow. How does one celebrate and commemorate sorrow? What’s more, Mary’s the Queen of Heaven, and Heaven’s a place of eternal happiness. How does that fit with this Lady of Sorrows? She’s a woman, draped in dark clothing, a tear falling down her cheek, a sword of sorrow piercing her heart. What do we, on our journey towards Heaven, have to learn from this woman, filled with grief?

Our Lady of Sorrows made no sense to me for a long time. But there was a lot for me to learn from our mother Mary in her time of grief. What’s more, I found that I need her in my own sorrows.

 

A Self-Realization

For me, Our Lady of Sorrows was particularly confusing because I’m really bad at experiencing sorrow. Even now I’m trying to find a joke I can attach to that statement. Like, “I know, I know, how can someone be ‘bad,’ at being ‘sad?’” Or, “I’m the life of the party at funerals.” But I’m working to not gloss over this self-realization with humor.

This realization came to me at a very specific moment. A little over a year ago, my grandfather passed away. He was joyful, intelligent, and quick with a sly smile. You never saw him without a book in hand, reading on topics ranging from ancient Greece to films from the jazz age to the intricacies of ocean sailing. As I grew older, I would listen to him explain the books he was reading at great detail, forming my budding ability at critical thought.

On the day of my grandfather’s heart attack, my father called me while I was working, overseeing about a dozen middle school students working on their homework. I ignored the first call, and then he called again, and again. On the forth call I picked up. I remember distinctly not understanding what my father was saying, I knew the words but I couldn’t piece together the meaning.

After a time, his meaning finally clicked. My grandfather, while shoveling the Minnesota snow, collapsed from a heart attack. I acknowledged that I understood what my father was saying, and little tears fell down my cheeks. After hanging up, I wiped those tears away, and got back to work.

It was like nothing had even happened.

 

No Space for Sorrow

I ignored the event, and went on with my life. So, that on its own would not have been such a big deal. Sometimes it’s important to compartmentalize, to be able to get the job done, to not fall apart.

But I never gave my sorrow any space. At all. I went home. When I told my husband, it was like I was sharing another piece of news. I prayed for my grandpa, but it was mechanical, something I did because I was supposed to. The next day I went to work, never mentioning it to anyone.

I buried it and moved on.

Everyone experiences sorrow in their own way. There’s no right or wrong way for grief to appear. But the way I had buried it inside myself was not healthy for me. I loved my grandpa immensely. I still love him, and at times I miss him with a sharp pain (A sword of sorrow pierced her heart). To go on, pretending nothing had happened, was a lie. It cheated the love I felt and owed my grandfather.

 

All the Grief Came Gushing Forth

At my grandpa’s wake, I didn’t want to approach the open casket. I had so successfully buried my grief, and I knew, I just knew, that if I saw him it would all fall apart.

But I loved him. Like Mary, longing to be close to her son, I longed to be close to my grandfather. Therefore, just as Mary stood at the foot of the Cross, I approached my grandpa’s casket.

As I did, all the sorrow, all the pain, all the hurt, all the grief, came gushing forth. I wept. After burying everything for so long, I wept in front of everyone.

Shortly thereafter, we prayed a rosary in the funeral home. My attention was caught by a particularly beautiful image of Our Lady of Sorrows on a prayer card. I felt very strongly our Mother’s compassionate presence beside me, praying for my grandpa with me.

Our Lady of Sorrows, who had confused me for so long, started to make a lot more sense.

 

A Necessary Part of Love

Now when I see Our Lady of Sorrows, I understand. In our fallen world, where death and sin are our realities, grief is a necessary part of love. If we love, we will experience loss and hurt. For our hearts to be pure, sometimes, they will be broken.

Our Lady of Sorrows gives us a place for our sadness, our distress. She sits with us in the moments that can’t be fixed, that can’t be made better by ignoring them. Like a loving friend, she empathizes with our grief. She doesn’t judge or chastise, or tell us to “cheer up” or “get over it.” She listens, all the while pointing back to the hope that only her Son can provide.

Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us.

 

Looking for more reflections on this beautiful devotion?  Check out two reflections on The Seven Sorrows of Mary, Remembering Our Lady’s Sorrows and Seven Quick Takes: The Seven Sorrows of Mary.

You can also find a beautiful prayer and reflection here.

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Allison Ink Slingers

Keeping Our Sympathy

And Jesus Wept Statue

During a thirty minute wait in a physician assistant’s office a few weeks ago, I had enough time to read all of the informational pamphlets on a dozen different drugs and conditions. When my provider excused herself to consult with one of the doctors, I learned all about unpronounceable medications and rheumatoligical conditions. There is a drug that inserts itself into DNA and strangles cell replication and another drug that doctors don’t even know how it works for autoimmune diseases, just that it does. And there is a condition so odd that it is called a phenomenon. One of the last-ditch treatments for this Raynaud’s Phenomenon, when blood flow to the hands and feet is severely reduced, is nerve surgery called a sympathectomy. The nearby nerves, named sympathetic, that control the blood vessels in the hands and feet are cut in order to “interrupt their exaggerated response.” I understand that the surgery strips away troublesome nerves around the dangerously constricting blood vessels, but the word “sympathectomy” sounds dreadful. I wonder if some of our personal sympathy is being cut out of us these troublesome days.

The word is defined as “feelings of sorrow for someone else’s misfortune” or “understanding between people.” And it seems that every time I open up a newspaper (Yes, we still receive a real paper in a tube by our driveway; it’s good for the kids to run up there and read the headlines before flipping to the comics and fun page!) or scroll through news websites, there is horror and sorrow: Syria, ISIS, our own cities and campuses. It’s easy to shake my head and keep flipping the paper while in my comfortable kitchen, but I must not. I must not ignore sympathy. I must nurture my uncomfortable feelings of sorrow for others’ misfortune and strive to understand others’ plights. When an ambulance or police car zips past us on the road, we all cross ourselves as a quick prayer; “Help them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” I’m trying to do the same when reading news stories.

God has sympathy for us. He became one of us, uniting himself with humanity. “And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).” God, in the person of Jesus, pitched his tent (dwelt) with us like the traveling tabernacle of old. It was the architectural expression of God’s presence with Israel; Jesus is the human expression of God’s presence with us. In the Nicene Creed, written in AD 325 even before the canon of the New Testament was finally accepted, we affirm, “For us men and our salvation he came down from heaven; by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary and was made man.” The point of a creed is that it is truth about God. The word credo means “I believe;” I believe this truth, these sacred words, this reality. The reminder of truth is solid grounding in the uncertainties and problems of life. He came down from heaven for us and our salvation; halleluia! Yes, I believe.

And Jesus has sympathy for us. While on the earth, he was moved by people’s suffering. “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things (Mark 6:34).” Later on in the chapter is the miracle of the loaves and fishes. He had sorrow for their misfortune; he understood. Even though he knew what was going to happen when his friend Lazarus died (John 11), “he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled” at the sisters’ weeping and pain. Here is where we find a favorite verse for children to memorize, the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept.” He actually wept. According to Hebrews 4:15, “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

crucifixFrom our catechism, “Jesus knew and loved us each and all during his life, his agony, and his passion, and gave himself up for each one of us. The son of God loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20). Jesus’ Sacred Heart, pierced by our sins and for our salvation, is quite rightly considered the chief sign and symbol of that… love with which the divine Redeemer continually loves the eternal Father and all human beings with out exception (#478).

So we can read the news and embrace those feelings of sorrow for someone else’s misfortune. We can draw close to Jesus, who understands and loves all human beings without exception. Let us not cut away our sympathies (except for Raynaud’s Phenomenon).

 

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Ink Slingers Mindy Series You Did It To Me

You Did It To Me: Comforting the Sorrowful

Welcome to the series “You did it to me” where we will be discussing the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy. This will be a twice a month series from March to September 2015. We hope you enjoy!

Comfort the SorrowfulOne of the spiritual works of mercy is to comfort the sorrowful. When I think of this, my mind immediately turns to a young, profoundly disabled woman who stayed with us in our home for a period of time. She had the mental functioning of a very young toddler, with the upper body strength of an ox. Her brain injury frequently caused her to have very powerful emotions which would take over and cause her to cry or to laugh at a moment’s notice when something struck her as particularly strange or funny or sorrowful.

At this particular time, she had every reason to be sorrowful. She was spending the night in a strange home, separated from the family she loved, and with not a great deal of capacity to totally understand what was happening to her. Also, we did not know her very well at all, and we were still in the very early stages of learning who she was and figuring out how best to spend time with her.

That night, my first night tucking her into bed, she started weeping. She wept and wept, and I couldn’t do anything to stop it. I sat with her, verbally comforting her, singing songs, and trying to make her laugh…anything to try to help her stop crying and to be a source of consolation to her.

Suddenly, she stopped crying, looked at me, and reached out and grabbed my hair, which was hanging down in front of my shoulders. With her incredibly strong arms, she pulled me down by my hair until I was within her reach and wrapped her arms around my neck, clutching me in what is the tightest hug I have ever received.

Finally, she settled down and fell asleep. I untangled myself and managed to slip out.

I weep a little bit when I think of her, because one thing I wish that I had done, in the time that I had known her, was to give her more hugs.

It took a lot of energy to take care of her. Sometimes, I was so worn out by the end of the day that I simply felt I could not do anything more than help her to get to sleep and then collapse in a heap on my own bed in exhaustion. But the works of mercy call us to go beyond our normal energy and remember what is truly the most important thing in any encounter.

God, help us to go beyond what we “feel” we can do and to fulfill Your call.

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Ink Slingers Loss Michelle Spiritual Growth Uncategorized

My Journey Through Grief

Grief is a curious partner.  It can be a horrible adversary or a gentle friend.  It can destroy your day or be the only thing that gets you through the next minute.  It can be a constant companion or can show up when you least expect it.  We each deal with it in our own private way.  Some of us are very open about our sadness while others tuck it away so that no one knows just how much our hearts are hurting.

I have shared a chapter of our story with you when I shared William’s birth and death with you one year ago today.  It was a hard to put our sorrow out in the public’s eye.  We had grieved so quietly for 10 months up to that point.  To suddenly have all the details of his loss center stage was very difficult for us.  Still, we trusted in the wisdom of a dear friend who encouraged me to share his story and we found a comfort that we had missed out on in our quiet grieving.

In December we will be at the two year anniversary of losing our son.  I often look at the time that has passed and wonder how in the world it could be almost two years since I last held my son.  Where does the time go?  Why does it collectively seem so impossible that it’s been two years since we endured hell and yet some days the time moves so slowly that I wonder how I can stand another minute?

There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of William and of my other children lost to me.  There are many days now that are much easier to get through and some where there are tears just behind my lashes waiting to be spilled.  There’s no rhyme or reason to what makes a day good or a day bad.   That’s another aspect about grief that I probably won’t ever understand.   I have found ways to get through the hard days, most of the time anyway.  I pray, I cry, I look at pictures of my son, I visit his grave, I try to distract myself, and I try to find joy in my everyday life.  Still, it can be hard and it can be all encompassing to deal with the grief.

This summer I encountered a time when I just didn’t know what to do as grief enveloped me at a strange time. It was about 10pm and I was driving home from a friend’s house.  I had just laughed and had such a wonderful time with my very best friends, but as I left the gathering I felt an overwhelming emptiness consume me.  I blinked back tears as I started my car to drive home.   I turned off my radio and started to pray, “Lord, please, how do I get through this pain? Why now?  Why like this?”  My car was quiet.  I didn’t hear an answer.  As I drove home though I knew I would pass the church.  I thought about William there alone in the dark.  I knew what I wanted to do.

That warm summer night, clouds blocked the light from the moon but it didn’t matter.  Even in the dark I knew the way to my son’s grave.  I had never been to the cemetery at night and I wondered what others might think of me if they knew where I was at that moment.  I decided that it didn’t matter to me.  My grief, my suffering, was the only thing that I needed to worry about at that time. 

I quietly made my way to William’s grave.  Lightening filled the sky and lit up his name.  The tears that I tried to hold back in the car would not be contained.  They spilled down my cheeks and I began to sob.  I sat down beside him and placed my hand on the cold granite.  I ran my fingers along the letters that spelled out his named, gently caressing each letter…  William Nathaniel.   I then did something that I never could have done during the day; I lean over and pressed my face to the stone.  It was cool against my hot cheeks.  I kissed his name and wept.

It was quiet sitting there alone.  The thunder rumbled softly in the distance and occasionally the lightening would light the sky so I could see clearly.  The wind picked up and gently ruffled my skirt around my legs.  I sat with my knees pulled to my chest, hugging them close to me.  I buried my face in the soft fabric of my skirt and cried.  How could I endure another day of this pain?  How can it come without warning… so swift and  so complete?  Why did I have to go through this?  I had thought that Jake’s birth would close these doors for me and yet here they stood wide open allowing the hurt to trample my already broken heart.   I thought my heart would be healed and I would be able to move forward but here I was, sitting quietly in the dark at William’s grave, unable to move forward.  Why?

I wouldn’t have my questions answered that night but in the two months since sitting beside my son during those dark hours I have come to realize that when we love so dearly, so deeply, it only makes sense that there will be times in our lives when the grief that is inside of us will overflow and cause us to stop and not be able to see past that sorrow.  It will be all-encompassing just as our love is.  It will envelope us like a dark shadow, gripping our souls, and causing us to lose our breath.  If we didn’t love we wouldn’t feel the pain that accompanies the loss.  Those times where the pain is too much to bear is just an affirmation of our ability to love.  That pain is a gift, a reminder that our hearts are capable of loving, of giving, and of receiving.

I knew as I left the cemetery that my son was only there physically. I know his soul is in heaven with our Lord.  Still, it is such a blessing to know that I can go to be with him when I feel that overwhelming sadness beginning to take over.  It’s a poor substitute but the only one I have until one day I am allowed to hold him again. 

Grief is strange.  For some of us it will take a lifetime to heal from the pain and yet others are able to carry on easily.  It is a reminder of what has been lost, of what could have been, and of what we had hoped and wished for in our lives.   Everyone’s journey with grief is different.  Some will walk it alone, others surrounded by people who love and support them.  Thankfully we know that our Lord is right there with us, even when it’s hard to feel Him there, suffering too.  He has felt the pain of losing someone He loved.  He knows the pain of asking the question, “Why me, God? Please let this cup pass from me!”  He also knows physical suffering and death.  He knows where we are and He is willing to travel with us on our journey through our suffering, loss, and pain.

Our lives will never be the same.  We have suffered through many, many losses and with each our hearts have been torn apart.  We thought we would never be able to get through William’s loss.  We were wrong.  God has shown us that through Him all things are possible.  It’s not to say that our journey is easy, it has been the hardest thing we’ve ever encountered. We know it is a road we will travel our whole lives.  However, God has kept us safe in His hands, allowing us to cry when we need to cry, scream when we need to scream, and smile when we need to smile.  I am so thankful for a Father who loves me so much that He has been with me every step of the way.

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Abortion Current Events Erika HHS mandate Ink Slingers NFP and contraceptives Respect Life

Birthday Bash

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Yesterday was my 31st birthday. Today is my mom’s birthday (I’ll let her tell you how many years ;-)). Two days from now is our country’s 236th birthday. Four days after that is my 3rd cancer-versary. Three days after that is the 3rd anniversary of discovering my youngest child was a girl via ultrasound. If I were to continue with all the meaningful days in July the list would be quite long. The days I listed are days that are important to me and my family. Yet, these days, as wonderful as they are, have all contained sadness as well. Ten years ago on my 21st birthday, I sat and prayed by my late fiance’s bedside as he slowly died of metastatic melanoma at 22 years of age. Three years ago, on my mom’s birthday, I had the horror of undergoing an ultrasound that pre-figured my diagnosis of breast cancer. This ultrasound overshadowed the joy of the sexing ultrasound I mentioned earlier. The Fourth of July that year (2009), saw my family and me twisted with anxiety waiting over the long weekend to schedule my biopsy. These celebratory days have often been anything but joyful, yet each year I look forward to the next because I choose to celebrate God’s gift of life and salvation instead of wallowing in miserable memories.

My husband’s father is Jehovah’s Witness. In their religion, birthdays are not celebrated. I’m not certain about anniversaries (or cancer-versaries) in this religion. Growing up, my husband didn’t get his own birthday party, nor did he get to enjoy other children’s parties. He didn’t celebrate Christmas, Easter, or any of the big holidays. The reasoning is that these holidays and birthdays (anniversaries and cancer-versaries) aren’t mentioned favorably in the bible. While Christmas and Easter are mentioned (although not by these names), the days we’ve set aside for these celebrations is not strictly biblical. Instead, Jehovah’s Witnesses profess that Catholics (and other Christians) are actually celebrating pagan feasts. Many other writers have covered this topic; read here, here, and here for an explanation of both Christmas and Easter dates. Since my husband was basically raised Jehovah’s Witness, he sometimes has difficulty celebrating on these days.

Part of the argument against celebrating birthdays is that those mentioned in Scripture coincide with horrible events. In the Old Testament, Pharoh’s birthday becomes his chief baker’s death day. While in the New Testament, Herod’s birthday becomes the death day of John the Baptizer. Historically speaking, Jews did not note birthday celebrations, but they did honor death days. As a derrivative of death celebrations, early Christians would have been more likely to celebrate Herod’s birthday as the death day of John the Baptizer than to allow it to pass unmentioned. Yet, the New Testament makes no further mention of this date. Yet, early Christian did celebrate Christmas in some fashion in the early 4th century. Once Christmas was established as Christ’s birthday and celebrated, the discussion of celebrating individual birthdays became somewhat moot.

Truly though, the bible does indicate in various areas that births are occasions for feasting and joy, even amid suffering. Only in times of difficulty do Scripture writers renounce the day of their birth (most notably Job and Jeremiah). Yet, in the New Testament, Elizabeth and Zechariah are told that “many will rejoice at his [John the Baptizer’s] birth” when the angel announces Elizabeth’s conception to Zechariah. Yet, we aren’t told exactly when his birth occurred, just as we don’t have a truly biblical/historical date for Christ’s birth. Even without a specific date, we praise God that He sent John ahead of Jesus to begin paving the way for our salvation. Christ spoke favorably of John the Baptizer as well. That is what birthdays are all about — praising God for His gifts of life and remembering His blessings.

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Our country’s birthday is celebrated a scant 2 days from now. That means that we only have 2 days left of our Fortnight of Freedom, it is truly good for us to remember on our nation’s birthday some of the founding principles of our nation. The most obvious ones are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This blog has already spoken extensively on the HHS Mandate and what it means to us as Catholics and to every American. However, as the nation’s birthday draws near, it seem appropriate to express once more how our Founding Fathers established this nation in an effort to escape oppressive government. We are at a turning point in our nation’s history. If we say nothing and merely stand aside waiting for others, we sentence our children to lives that fall far short of our Founding Fathers’ and Heavenly Father’s intentions for us. Yet, if we band together and stand up for religious freedom, we set a precedent for future generations to follow and continue our country’s freedoms. By standing side by side, whether Catholic, Baptist, Jewish, Jehovah’s Witness, atheist, etc, we can and will make our voices heard. It is time for us to not only celebrate our nation’s birth, but also honor her intentions.