“For in grief nothing "stays put." One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral?C.S. Lewis describes grief as a spiral, but one where you can never tell whether you're going up or down. He also says that faith is not real until it is tested, until faith is a matter of life and death. The last year has been a painful reminder of the fragility of life. My family has said goodbye to young and old, sick and healthy, friends and family. In total, I've said the final goodbye to eleven people. In doing so, grief has become something intensely real.
But if a spiral, am I going up or down it?
How often -- will it be for always? -- how often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, "I never realized my loss till this moment"? The same leg is cut off time after time.” C. S. Lewis-A Grief Observed
Intellectually, I believe that God is real. God is a loving, caring God with a plan for everyone's life. God is in heaven. He plan for each one of his creations is that we live our lives, die, and enter into eternal life. Intellectually, my belief in heaven and God's mercy does not waver. However, I can't process grief intellectually. It's a confusing state that has no clear cycle.
“I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process.” C.S. Lewis-A Grief ObservedSpiritually, I know God is real. I have felt His Grace in the sacrament of confession. I have been consoled in front of the Eucharist in Adoration. There is an ever-lasting joy in talking with my Christian friends about our faith lives, a joy I experience no where else. Spiritually, I believe in heaven. I rely on God's mercy every day of my life. However, my faith at times feels more of a barrier to dealing with grief than anything.
“Talk to me about the truth of religion and I'll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I'll listen submissively. But don't come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don't understand.” C.S. Lewis- A Grief ObservedEmotionally, I do not understand. Most of the time, the emotions trump all of the intellectual and spiritual. I don't want to live life without these people, especially the ones that I sought advice from. I don't want to think about what they've left behind, who they left behind. Even a simple smile from a friend can set off a chain of thoughts in my head that leave me nearly in tears at the thought of what my family and I have lost. Sometimes, the emotional leaves me in actual physical pain.
“The death of a beloved is an amputation.” -C.S. Lewis
That's probably what has surprised me the most this year, grief's physical pain...the sleepless nights, the heaviness in my chest, the growing pit in my stomach. the loss of appetite, the random tears while sitting in class, crying in bathrooms, and the emotional exhaustion. About a month after my cousin Renee died, right before finals, I pretty much stopped sleeping. I had to force myself to eat because I was never hungry and food never appealed to me. Grief was so tangible, I thought I was going crazy.
“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.On top of the grief, I realized I suffered from a lot of guilt. I felt guilty that I didn't pray hard enough, or that I didn't believe enough in my prayers. God promises to answer our prayers if we have faith. And it felt like He didn't answer mine. To some degree, I feel the same guilt with every death from terminal illness, but I have realized that it is not a lack of my prayers that resulted in death. However, even though I realize that intellectually, emotionally I don't quite accept it. When my cousin Chrissy was in the hospital, I told my mom that medical miracles don't happen to people I love...and to be honest, I believed it. Today, I realize that was my emotions speaking, not my faith or brain, but it still is a weight I carry with me. Why do so many people die of cancer or terminal illnesses? Why can't we discover a cure yet?
At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.” C.S. Lewis-A Grief Observed
Recently, I've been reading the Diary of St. Faustina. Her diary highlights the trials of despair and depression. While I'm convinced that I'm not depressed, I do find myself in the depths of spiritual despair on a regular basis. Her description of this feeling is perfect.
In the depths of sadness, in the depths of grief, even just a simple prayer is torturous. When Fr. Will died, I forced myself to go to Sunday Mass. I remember texting my sister because I was so confused by my feeling of distaste for church. Reading St. Faustina, I kind of understand it a little bit better. Thankfully, I felt better after Mass.The soul is drawn to God, but feels repulsed. All other sufferings and tortures in the world are as nothing compared with this sensation into which it has been plunged; namely, that of being rejected by God. No one can bring it any relief; it finds itself completely alone; there is no one to defend it. It raises its eyes to heaven, but is convinced that this is not for her – for her all is lost. It falls deeper and deeper from darkness to darkness, and it seems to it that it has lost forever the God it used to love so dearly. This thought is torture beyond all description. But the soul does not agree to it and tries to lift its gaze toward heaven, but in vain! And this makes the torture even more intense.
“The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just that time when God can't give it: you are like the drowning man who can't be helped because he clutches and grabs. Perhaps your own reiterated cries deafen you to the voice you hoped to hear.” C.S. LewisTomorrow, I'm going to start counseling for grief. I could probably work through it on my own, but it's a lot easier to talk about it with someone that I won't feel guilty for burdening. I feel bad reaching out over and over to my friends. Being the Debbie Downer isn't my role in life. Being sad and dealing with sad feelings on a regular basis has become a difficult cross to bear. Whenever bad news comes my way, my first reaction is "I am so done." My capacity for experiencing emotions is shot and I am ready to renew myself through counseling and an improved prayer life. Things are looking up though. I'm excited to start talking to a professional and get back some semblance of normalcy.
People often suggest talking to a priest. Believe me, I am. That's the only way I haven't turned my back on God. But priests don't necessarily have training in psychology and counseling. There are times we should turn to professionals who understand the science of the mind. That's the beauty of Catholicism there is no contradiction between faith and science and we can rely on science when necessary.
“We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, 'Blessed are they that mourn,' and I accept it. I've got nothing that I hadn't bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.” -C.S. LewisHopefully in sharing this, others who have been dealt difficult blows in life will have more insight into their feelings. Hopefully, my family and friends might be encouraged to seek out help for themselves from professional counseling. If you're dealing with anything of a mental nature...depression, grief, eating disorders, suicide, self-harm, etc...please seek out help. God has given us the tools to get better and you just need to reach out for them.
Over the past year, C.S. Lewis's book "A Grief Observed" has been instrumental in helping me comprehend these feelings. As you can see here, much of what he has said heavily influences my perception of life. His words have guided me to this understanding of the intellectual, spiritual, and emotional aspects of grief. He helped me process things on my own and I HIGHLY recommend this book to anyone. Secondly, for those in spiritual despair, whether from grief or otherwise, I recommend St. Faustina's Diary as it puts into words the troubles of the soul while showing the great mercy of God that can work through us.
Jerry Petkash, Cousin
Renee Jaczkowski, Cousin
Irene Sommers, Great Aunt
Chrissy Ayres, Cousin
Meryn Hodges, Family friend
Hazel Weber, Great Aunt
Joseph Weber, Cousin
Roger Connor, Uncle
Fr. Will Propsero, S. J., Spiritual father and friend
Ronnie Kuskowski , adopted grandma
Rhonda White, Aunt