Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Cry Aloud to God

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Cry Aloud to God

Article excerpt

Every time Mary Borner goes to church at St. Thecla Parish in Chicago she pictures her husband's casket going down the aisle. She and Jack had been married 40 years when he died two years ago. Friends suggest she switch parishes, but Borner prefers to stay rooted and engaged in a place full of both joyous and devastating memories. "It would be easier to run away," she says, "but I have to face this."

During the first year after Jack died, Borner prayed a lot and found comfort connecting to God, but her prayers also surfaced questions about why this had to happen. "But then I'd think of other people who are worse off," Borner says. "God helps you to see that you're not the only one. Sometimes I feel like I am, but there are others going through it, too."

She continues to live her life as before, keeping busy with a part-time job, her family, her house and garden. Sometimes she wonders if she is busier than she should be, but staying active seems to be her salvation. Another saving grace has been her family. She feels lucky to have children and grandchildren in the area, and siblings with whom she can share her grief and just drop by for visits unannounced. Without all this support, Borner says she probably would have joined a support group in the evenings, which are lonely times.

Plain and simple, Borner says: "You just live with it; you have no choice. I don't fight it. When I feel like crying, I cry and feel better"

Grief and loss are universal experiences; no human being can avoid them. But when people face the death of a loved one, they often feel unprepared to deal with the emotions and pain. For some, their faith is a godsend, while others find themselves questioning God. Either way, moving through grief and loss is a profoundly spiritual journey, and there's no right or wrong way to do it. Still, our Catholic Christian tradition offers many resources for navigating this most human of experiences.

What grieving people need

Crying can be healing, agrees Joyce Rupp, a spiritual director and hospice volunteer whose book Praying Our Goodbyes (Ave Maria Press) is a primer on the spiritual journey through grief and loss.

"Grieving people need to be vulnerable and have a willingness to enter the feelings of loss," Rupp says. "Grief sinks down and stays, and people have to be patient with it. They need someone to talk to who won't hurry them through it."

Rupp also encourages those who are grieving to stay faithful to prayer and spiritual practices. "It's about hope," she says. "They have to cling to the hope that one day grief will not be there in the intensity it is now. They don't get over it, but learn how to get through it and how to accept the loss."

It's also important to tell the story of a loved one's death, although that often makes others uncomfortable because of their own fear of death of discomfort in seeing a friend cry. But saying it over and over makes it more real, says Kathleen Walker, coordinator of bereavement services and part-time chaplain at Coastal Hospice in Salisbury, Maryland.

The worst thing to do after a loved one dies is to ignore your feelings, Walker says. Grief can surface in the form of severe depression if a person doesn't work through it. "Even if your husband died 20 years ago, other life experiences will dig it back up," she says. "You have to handle the loss."

Talking about the loss also allows the survivor to readjust to life. A loved one is now gone and so is the connection that a person had with him or her. If a spouse dies, the survivor becomes a widow or widower. Once parents die, the survivor becomes an orphan. Not only does the relationship disappear, but so does an identity and a role, which may have offered a sense of worth. Says Walker, "When a loved one is plucked away, the elevator drops, and we wonder, 'What good am I if I'm not a wife [of husband]?'"

Moving forward

The flip side is that grief can spiritually change people; it can help them grow. …

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