Earlier this week I considered writing up something about how to grieve during Holy Week. It seemed like a good idea because I wanted to be able to reach people who are facing their first Holy Week since the loss of a loved one, but then I realized that I have no clue at all on how to do it. There isn’t a list of things that make this easy. The only thing that got me through my first Holy Week after the suicide of my oldest son last year was just doing it. I had no choice. I didn’t ask to be a grieving mother. It was something that happened with no input from me, so the only choice I had was to put one foot in front of the other or to lay in bed crying, either choice was perfectly acceptable.
I didn’t put any expectations on myself last year. I asked people who I knew would be going to all of the things at my parish to take me with them in prayer and they did. When I did make it to something, like Holy Thursday Mass, I focused on God and not on anything else. I didn’t go there to socialize. I went there with the laser sharp focus of getting in God’s face. So my only advice to anyone who is grieving this Holy Week is to not put any expectations on yourself. Go to what you can, ask people to take you with them in prayer when you can’t and just breathe. Take it moment by moment. And if you do go to socialize, that’s okay too. I just had a lot to get off my chest because my default stage of grief is anger.
This Holy Week began with so many emotions and so many memories of the last Easter we had with Anthony. I am so thankful for everyone who walked with me when I converted and became Catholic. I came into the Church at Easter Vigil 2010 with my children. They were all baptized and received all of their Sacraments. Me and my children received the Eucharist and were confirmed on the same night. We will always share that anniversary. We came into the Church at the same parish where my granddaughters were baptized and where we had the funeral Mass for Anthony. This year his fiancè is coming into the Church in that same parish at Easter Vigil. Looking back on my first evening in RCIA, I could never have imagined all of that happening. But it has. I am so grateful for most of it and the rest has devastated me. Both joy and tremendous heartache live in the same space this week.
A priest who is a friend of mine prayed for Anthony in the Tomb of Jesus on Monday and that really revived something in me that I didn’t even know was dead. My faith in that fact that Jesus is real. The first time I had that profound realization I was standing at the tomb of St. Peter. I could clearly hear the voice of Jesus saying “this is Peter, and upon this Rock I will build my Church” as I stood in the middle of a Catholic Church at the heart of the Vatican in Rome. In that moment I knew that Jesus was real, He had lived, He had died on a Cross for me and He rose to conquer death.
Last year that was all wishful thinking for me. I really held onto what I knew to be true but that little bit of doubt wrecked me. What if it wasn’t real? What if I never saw my son again? What if he no longer existed? Then what? I went to God with those questions. I went to Him with my doubt, my anger and my heart in pieces. Sometimes I couldn’t go and I just sent others for me to pray for Anthony. But what I didn’t do was set a list of things to do. I just went with the flow and God went with me. That I know for sure now.
This morning I was driving home after leaving my daughter at school and I felt the sun on my face. I looked up to see the most beautiful sky and the sun shining so bright in the sky like a message from God telling me that He loved me and no matter which way I turned on the roads in life He would be there shining on me. When I got home I walked into the backyard where we spend Anthony’s last Easter as a family. Pictures of that Easter flooded my Facebook memories when I woke up this morning so it was fresh on my mind and heart. It is one of the reasons that I ended up crying on the drive home. As I stepped into the backyard what I saw was that same beautiful sky with the bright sun in it. It had followed me home and was shining on the place where I spend the best Easter of my life with my family, including Anthony. Beyond all the pain, grief and trauma there is life. Anthony’s life. It was beautiful, difficult, full of joy and hardship and it was all worth every minute of it to be his mother. This week I am not only being carried through this Holy Week by the prayers of others but I carry my son and everyone who has lost their lives to suicide and the families that mourn them. May God’s love shine upon us all.