Why is the subject of death so hard to talk about? Is it because when a loved one dies each one of us responds and copes with this loss in a completely unique and personal way? And if I died today, would I be right with God, myself, and others? Would I be reunited with those who have gone before me? I pray that I would.
When we lose a loved one, we tend to deeply ponder the circumstances surrounding the loss, the life of that person, and our relationship with him or her. The grief that comes with loss is like the crash of waves onto a beach. Memories and emotions related to our lost loved ones can emerge out of nowhere. And then there are the logistical issues: planning the funeral, settling the estate, and so on. All of this can be overwhelming. We can find ourselves mentally, physically, and spiritually exhausted.
There is a stark contrast between my grieving process before my sobriety (or lack thereof) and today. In 1988, when I lost my oldest brother and brother-in-law to car accidents, my faith was pretty much non existent; I collapsed under the weight of my sorrow. Where could I turn for consolation when I had no faith, sacraments, parish community, and, most importantly, God?
My family members and I turned instead to the nearest bar, where we tried to drown our pain and sorrow as we pretended to celebrate two lives that were tragically taken away in an instant. I took this unresolved pain and buried it right alongside the hidden and unspoken pain and trauma of my two abortions that I had years earlier.
I’ve heard it said that time heals all wounds. Well, this unfortunately wasn’t the case for me. Over the course of my life the wounds grew, festered, and oozed into other areas of my life, exposing themselves in denial, guilt, resentment, anger, and fear. It wasn’t until I became sober and exposed them, with all of my pain and sin, to the light of Christ in Step Five—admitting to God, myself, and others the exact nature of my wrongs—that I began to find freedom.
Today, by His grace and the gift of a newfound life in sobriety, I am better able to cope and sit in my sorrow and mourn the loss of my loved ones. For example, it was no coincidence that when I lost my mother five years ago I had just finished my consecration to the Blessed Mother. With her motherly guidance I was able to lay my sorrow with hers at the foot of the cross, leaving it there with her son, Jesus.
I recently lost a sister-in-law tragically to suicide. My weekly Catholic in Recovery group became a lifeline of prayers and support, along with my AA meetings and sponsor. As I come to terms with yet another loss I am blessed to have so many avenues of healing that bring me to a point of surrender and acceptance.
That’s why if you or someone you know is struggling with grief, I highly recommend reaching out to others as I’ve been blessed enough to do. Many parishes have weekly gatherings of support after losing a loved one. I once attended a series called Seasons of Hope after my mother passed away and it helped immensely. Catholic Charities also has trained counselors who can help.
Ultimately, from my sobriety I have learned to surrender my will and life over to God each and every day, including the ones when I’m struggling with grief. I have learned every day to seek to live by the simple but powerful words of St Faustina: Jesus, I trust in You! Jesus, I trust in You! Jesus, I trust in You!
Kathleen Ann, by God’s grace, has been clean and sober since June 1, 2006. She is an active member of AA, CIR, and works part-time as the Project Rachel Coordinator in the Life office at the Diocese of Rockford, where she helps gently and confidentially guide those wounded by abortion to hope and healing in Christ Jesus. On most days you can find her at daily Mass, the gym, or caring for the needs of her family, young and old alike.