My new article at Catholic Mom speaks of ways to use loss to increase in virtue.
Loss might entail the death of a loved one, the loss of an unborn child, an accident that causes us to lose an ability, the discovery of a child’s handicap. It can be a difficult divorce or an adult child who’s lost his faith. It can be the loss of a beloved pet. It can be a parent with Alzheimer’s who has lost her memory; it can be the loss of a job or even the loss of innocence.
St. Faustina assures us that God “uses EVERYTHING to effect our transformation… that He wastes not one little trial to bring about good.”
I’ve experienced my share of losses over the past five decades. These are a few guidelines I try to follow when dealing with loss.
- Be Prepared for the Unexpected
This point became evident to me with the unexpected death of my father when I was 18. He was only 49 years old and died suddenly. My family walked around in shock for weeks. Because he had died suddenly, I had a lot of regret: If I had only told him one more time that I loved him, if I had only been more attentive the last time he was talking to me. Life is full of enough trials and losses without focusing on regret.
When my husband and I were first married, I had hoped that God would bless us with ten children. So when we became pregnant, we were ecstatic. Soon, joy turned to sorrow when I miscarried. Several days later, I was rushed into emergency surgery because there had been another baby in my fallopian tube, and I was bleeding internally. We had conceived twins, but I left the hospital with neither baby in my arms.
St. Padre Pio said that when you pray, pray with an attitude that God will answer your prayer if it’s His will. My husband and I prayed a thanksgiving to God that He would allow us to conceive another baby and have a successful pregnancy. We were blessed to have three sons in five years. When our third son was ten months old, we were pregnant again, this time with another ectopic pregnancy, but this time, I found myself with dangerous complications, in the back of an ambulance, hemorrhaging internally and drifting in and out of consciousness. Instead of trusting, I panicked. I was in a great deal of pain and I was worried that my three little boys would have to grow up without a mom.
As I panicked, I prayed a Hail Mary with those last words taking on powerful meaning, now and at the hour of our death. Amen. I felt peace, serenity and God’s grace. My anxiety and worry was replaced with peace and joy.
- Embrace the Cross
God uses trials to make us better people. CS Lewis once said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, but shouts in our pain.” God has shouted to me many times. In this case, after the peace, joy and trust I felt in the ambulance, I woke up in the recovery room, happy to be alive only to be greeted with a different excruciating pain and violent vomiting. Nausea medications did not work. My husband was away, and I felt so alone. “Please God, I can’t do this anymore.” Within minutes, a good Samaritan nurse came along and sat and held my hand for a short while. Her presence was the consolation I needed. I was then able to embrace that cross.
- See Beyond the Moment
When you’re caught up in the middle of a loss, it’s hard to see beyond that particular moment. Some losses seem too much to bear. It’s important that we acknowledge the pain but also to try to see beyond that moment. You will never ‘get over’ any loss, but the pain will eventually be easier to manage. We were eventually blessed with two more sons in our family.
Sometimes a loss will be the direct result of someone else’s actions: an accident, a murder, abuse. When Christ taught us to pray, he taught us to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” He didn’t qualify it. It doesn’t matter what the person has done to us or the heartache they caused; it doesn’t matter whether they want to be forgiven. We must forgive them. It’s not an easy thing to do. However, forgiving someone is for our benefit. Holding onto anger and holding onto a grudge hurts you. Pray and fast for the grace to forgive.
- You Are Not Alone
As Catholics, we believe in the spiritual presence of The Father, Son and the Holy Spirit and our guardian angel, the saints and angels. Our Lady is also a precious maternal presence in our lives. In terms of human presence, our parish priest, close and supportive friends, relatives, counselors and those in support groups can be helpful in listening. Thankfully my husband is a very patient empathetic listener because grieving and dealing with loss is much easier when you don’t feel alone.
- Prayer life/Sacramentals
Prayer life and the sacraments are vital to our day-to-day journey as Catholics whether we are experiencing loss or not. But a strong prayer life is even more essential when grieving or going through difficult moments in life. Attending Daily Mass, reciting the daily rosary, consecrating ourselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, wearing a scapular and/or miraculous medal, using holy water and candles are all instruments of grace.
- One Day at a Time/Take Time to Grieve
Taking one day at a time is crucial. One can become overwhelmed with the sheer immensity of any particular loss. This isn’t an article on grief specifically, but allow time to grieve.
- Take care of your needs
St. Thomas Aquinas once said, “Sorrow can be alleviated by good sleep, a bath and a glass of wine.” Grieving can be hard work emotionally; some days you have to just remember to breath, let alone make meals, do housework, homeschooling, etc. If a friend or relative offers to make you a meal or take your younger kids for an afternoon, accept the offer!
Finally, it’s important to reiterate that God is and always will be trustworthy. In the beginning of this article, I shared that I had hoped to have ten children when my husband and I were married. God in His generosity gave us more than we asked for, he gave us 12: seven babies in heaven and five sons we’ve had the privilege to raise. When you ask for something, be assured that, if it’s in your best interests, God will provide it. The biggest consolation with the loss of our seven babies through miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy is that I will get to finally hold those babies one day in eternity. My friend’s mother passed away years ago. She had had four miscarriages. When this woman was close to death, she said, “They’re singing to me.”
My friend asked, “Who’s singing, Mom?”
Having my babies sing me into eternity is a beautiful, consoling thought.
Copyright 2019 Ellen Gable Hrkach