For me Holy Saturday is usually a quiet, meditative day spent with Mary.
Normally the parish church would be open, but quiet and bare. Catechumen and Candidates would be gathering for Morning Prayer with their teacher, their sponsors perhaps, and the pastor. The feeling would be somber and expectant too, this last gathering before the class would be baptized and/ or confirmed at the Easter Vigil.
Mary seemed to sail through Great Silence like a sparrow released into a moonless night. The others watched her closely for signs of life and awareness, but her heart was fully awake.
“Mother, please,” Magdalene said, “Have something to drink. For me.” Her sisters had brought breakfast. Something hot and steaming was pressed gently into her hand. The cup warmed her fingers. She looked at the tear stained faces and worried eyes around her and took a small sip. She felt the weave of the mat she sat on, the movement of air, the stillness of earth.
The room filled with the others who also sat. As the strips of light from the shutters moved across the floor, no one spoke.
The cup grew cold.
At home I keep my little apartment quiet except for playing some Marian chant now and then. I pray the Hours too.
Our family altar is bare as well.
The door is open.
For you, my God, my soul in stillness waits. Truly my hope is in you.
(See Psalm 95/Catholic Hymn “My Soul in Stillness Waits” by Marty Haugin)
I know you might feel a little wilted, Reader, after all the Christmas presents and family and food (and sugar, etc.) I do too. I like this kind of tired though. It is a good tired. And the Octave of Christmas is a peaceful time.
I deeply enjoyed Christmas day with my daughters and their young families. This is the first time since the string of tragic deaths my family has gone through, that I felt I really could connect to Christmas and like it. A lot of healing has happened, time has gone by, and though I still miss everyone so much, I have begun to see daylight again and so have the kids. A big part of the happiness this year is that my eldest daughter, who has been living in Oregon for some years,has moved back home to Texas with her husband, their three year old and her eight month old. Basically with them gone our family was down to my youngest daughter, her three year old, and myself. With Maire and Jon back we feel like a family again. We feel complete.
Our gathering went well, and we were glad to be together. It was a fun and chaotic in all the right ways. We had a patchwork meal composed of everyone’s favorite dishes (rajmah, masala potatoes, potato cheese soup and spice muffins.) We had a family prayer service, sang happy birthday to Jesus (with candles and chocolate fudge cake) and opened presents, of course. Which was predictably wild.
There was a lot of laughter and relaxed joy,the two small children running around, the baby crawling through wrapping paper.
And now my little place is quiet. That is a good metaphor to me for this part of the season: the quiet house.
We scurried to get ready for the big day. Then we had the big day, the beautiful day, of the Nativity. We enjoyed family and friends. We went to mass to celebrate. And now, during the Octave of Christmas, we have a special opportunity to slow down, to be still, and appreciate the gift of the Lord in simplicity of heart.
It is pleasantly quiet, and Jesus is home for the holidays.
At this writing, it is cloudy and warm Texas day. I have some nice frankincense incense burning.
I have enjoyed some quiet prayer time today, gazing at my little Christmas tree and it’s multi colored lights, coffee cup in hand, Christmas peace in my heart.
St. Teresa of Avila imagined the soul as a beautiful crystalline castle with Jesus in its center, enthroned in the heart.
He is indeed home for the holidays and His home is right here, right now, in us. This is something He accomplished by His birth. He not only came among us and lived among us, but now and for eternity, He lives within us.
The Church season of Christmas is a time to return to the heart, to enjoy His company there, and let Him enjoy ours.
“The Father spoke one Word which was His Son, and this Word He always speaks in eternal silence, and in silence must it be heard by the soul.” ~ St. John of the Cross
* The Octave of Christmas is celebrated until January 1, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.
In my dream I am swimming in dark water. As I descend into depths unknown, I can tell there are other people watching from farther away, as if they line the walls of an underground cistern with different rooms and levels, filled with water completely, water unfathomable.
I dive into an area further down than the others. It seems like a dark aquarium but without light on either side of the glass. However I can still somehow see a box on the bottom. I open it. It is full of pictures, letters, keepsakes. In the dream I know what these things mean and I am filled with intense sorrow. My brother is at my shoulder now. A more terrible emotional pain than I have ever known fills me. I try to show my brother the things in the box and explain the significance and the pain but he can’t answer me. He only looks on. I am not sure he understands me.
I am distressed. “Why did you bring him?”
The Lord is silent, his expression inscrutable. I look at my brother who is standing at his elbow; “I can’t deal with talking to you!”
Mark’s hand had been coming out to me and he had started to say my name.
“OK OK! So I can’t fix everything at once!” he says.
He turns as if to leave but I have to ask, “Wait! … Have you seen Mom?”
“No,” he says to my surprise. “But I can feel Mom.”
I think about that. “Are you with God?”
“I’m …learning about God.” Another surprise.
“Well… where are you?”
“I don’t know. It’s just quiet here.”
I think of of the land of the Samaritans, of Jacob’s well, and the mountain in the distance where the people worshiped God whom they did not really know (see John 4:4–26.)
“Do you see anybody?”
Just Bob.* He isn’t always here but he comes to see me sometimes and we talk.
I am circling over the top of the hotel where my brother shot himself and fell from a balcony on the ninth floor.
Then I realize I am standing on the balcony next to my brother. Intense grief wells up in me.
“Didn’t you remember us? Didn’t you understand how much we loved you?”
He doesn’t look at me or speak but I feel that I am him and in my mind’s eye I see our family and all of our friends. But they are so far away as if they are across an infinite chasm.
“I saw every one of your faces.” I feel his longing and love for each one dear to him. I understood that the longing was more like a longing for the past though. To him there was no way back. I feel his overwhelming sorrow.
I understand that while to me there was a way back, to him there wasn’t.
I can’t feel the impact of the shot. I don’t hear it.
But then I experience him falling. It’s slow, very slow. He knows right away after the shot that this was all wrong, a terrible, horrible mistake.
As he falls he senses these beings all around him, present in different places all of the way down; some close, some witnessing from farther away. He realizes they are sad, so sad. He knows they are sorry for him and that they mourn over this terrible act he has just committed. They are gentle though, not angry. Just terribly terribly sad.
He wonders what they are. He thinks his sister would probably call them angels, but he isn’t sure.
What happens now?
The fall continues in slow motion.
Suddenly he’s caught. It all stops. Big strong arms squeeze him tight.
“It’s OK, buddy. It’s OK. It’s all over. You’re safe. I’m here. Come on with me a while.”
Breaking the fall.
*Bob was my brother’s best friend, colleague, mentor and soul brother for 24 years. He was also his brother-in-law. Bob died in my and my brother’s arms in April of 2012.
As Suicide awareness month comes to an end my intention was to write about what happened, especially about that time leading up to my brothers suicide.
As it turns out, it is still hard to talk about. The reasons are traumatic and complicated.
Everyone says to be available, reach out, check on people, talk to them, try to get them to get help. Sometimes I feel angry when I hear that stuff. None of that worked with my brother. People “reaching out” or checking on him would have annoyed him.
I and other family members tried to get him to go to counseling, and as things got worse, to consider checking himself in somewhere because we knew he was seriously depressed, that he was in an emotionally and financially abusive relationship with his girlfriend of that time, and that he wasn’t acting like himself. We knew things were difficult at work. He seemed paranoid, angry, agitated and unbearably anxious every day. Some of his ideas about how to fix his situation at work sounded grandiose and like more than a long shot. I asked what people at work thought about these ideas. He said, “They don’t believe me.” I worried about all of this every day. We all did.
One family member was over one day when my brother started yelling at me about something no reasonable person would have even thought was something to get mad about. The family member then took me out on the porch and said, “He sounds like a lunatic!” I was exasperated. “I KNOW!”
He never used to yell at me before all this. Never.
He seemed not to know my character anymore at times- the one person who had always understood me. He called me judgmental, insensitive. I didn’t even fight back which is not normal for me. I think I was too stunned to do so. I am not sure. I stopped telling my friends what was going on, or at least the extent of it. They have known me forever so they knew anyway.
I may have thought I was being loyal or honorable or keeping things quiet but we must have seemed more crazy to the outside world than we thought. One family member who didn’t live there said it was a house of cards. Another quipped that the house must have been built on an old Indian burial ground and was cursed.
One morning I awoke to my brothers’ alarm endlessly going off. I was scared he would be late for work so I ran up the stairs as fast as I could to wake him up. I turned off the alarm and shook the lump under the comforter. A large,strange man turned over. I had no idea who he was. My daughter was sleeping downstairs. Where was my brother? The stranger shook himself awake and said he was my brother’s girl friends’ cousin.
My brother was asleep in his “man cave.” I was very upset. How could he leave us in the house with some strange man he hardly knew? He thought I was over reacting. I thought, “Am I? Am I being crazy?”
Things would be normal between us for a while as if we were in the eye of a hurricane. He hugged me one day and said he was so sorry about how he had acted in hurting my feelings the day before. “I can’t stand to hurt your little feelings.” He said, “When I hurt you I hurt me.” Or he would send me an e-mail from work saying he was sorry we hadn’t spent more time together lately and why didn’t we go on a four wheeler ride this evening when we got home.
We did go on the four wheeler ride, laughing all the time. He kept flipping off deer. I said, “Why do you keep doing that?” He said, “Because it’s so inherently WRONG! Here are these beautiful. graceful, innocent creatures who look up at you…. and you flip them off! ha ha ha ha.” I laughed too. He was so weird and I loved it.
Then a few nights later he would be yelling saying he had asked for family support and we had said no. Which was not true. I was doing everything I could think of to be supportive. I had stopped asking questions. Ever. It seemed to upset him. Even, “Where’s the cat food.” I tried to listen and be available before and after work, to hang out with him in the evenings, to listen and be supportive.
Other family members were also trying very hard. One of them was meeting my brother for lunch every day and spending time with him each evening trying to help him get through his hard time.
My youngest daughter and I lived with him for ten months after I sold my house. He had plans for building me a new one on his land with the proceeds. I would live with him until it was ready. We were so excited. I was excited to be with my brother. I tried to be excited about the house too because he was always getting me to look at plans. He even drew a picture of my cat, Godith in the house so I would be more interested. (Clever!) He dreamed of building me a little tower to meditate in, with windows all around. He drew a place for me to sit with my friends, a special window that would look into my chicken coop.
Something went wrong after about three months. I don’t know what had changed. Nothing happened with the house and his attitude got darker and bleaker.
Sometimes he talked to me about problems at work. Some of it started to sound strange. I wondered what was really going on. I asked hesitant questions. That never went well. No questions did at that time.
Guns started showing up all over the house. I don’t know much about guns but I could tell they were big, automatic weapons. They looked like space telescopes. We were stepping over them. They were in the closet and under the bed.
I tried to ask about the guns but he wouldn’t talk to me about it. Or anything,really.
I asked a family member to come get the guns away, someone I thought he would let do it. He said he was working on it. Apparently it was a touchy subject for my brother with the rest of the family too.
We were not allowed to act worried. We were not supposed to notice how crazy things seemed.
It was very strange about the guns. I don’t know why he was doing that. He had always been obsessed with something. Making home made rockets. Chess. Building beautiful speakers. He would do that thing all the time and get everyone else into it. Then he would drop it and move on to the next thing. I thought maybe moving out into the country had gotten him interested in guns. Maybe it was a neighbor that got him into it. I hate guns. I didn’t like it at all. But it was his house, as he was quick to point out those days.
He became hyper critical of me and my daughters. He had never been that way.
He was mean to my daughter and seemed to pick on her all the time. He rebuffed my attempts to stop his griping at her. She said I was just making it worse. She and I talked about it in our room at night. We would just leave the scene, we decided, when he got like that.
At some point he stopped answering my texts and e-mails. I just sent them anyway. I didn’t know what else to do. I couldn’t just let him go without a peep.
He liked Buddha quotes so I started e-mailing him Buddha quotes every day. He said he appreciated them one time and that he often passed them on.
I prayed for him every day in an agonized way, walking with my rosary. I wondered how I could be a good sister in this situation.
Sometimes I got so worried about him I had panic attacks.
I was severely depressed myself at the time, and so was my daughter. We had lost my second husband to brain cancer three years before. Bob had also been my brother’s best friend and co-worker for 24 years. And we lost my mom six months later. She was only 63. Nobody had really recovered from that. And my brother seemed to be going under.
I used to ask him, “How was work?” when he got home, or “How was your day?” One day he said, “Don’t ask me that anymore.” So I started meeting him at the door with a glass of iced tea. “Here.” “Thanks.” “Hey look at you! You made it through the day!”
On Holy Thursday at my own house, the girls and I always washed each others’ feet. My eldest had moved to Oregon and my youngest was out that evening. I knew he wouldn’t want to do anything like that so I just stopped him in the kitchen and told him how much we all loved and appreciated him. I had a bowl of soapy water and I bent and washed his feet. “What are you doing?!”
“That made me feel really good. That was cool.” He mentioned somebody at work who was fighting cancer and that I should go and do that for her.
He started disappearing for days at a time, usually the weekends, and refusing to answer his phone. It was frightening. Sometimes I was so scared I searched his room for clues about where he might be. (Did he take his suit case? Was his toothbrush there?) I was getting a little crazy myself. Sometimes my daughter and I,along with other family members, were super angry when he got back. We asked what the hell was going on. We had been worried and so was everyone else. He was offended. He felt intruded on. He thought he should not have to answer to us and we were over reacting.
I was scared he was drinking.(He had been in recovery.) I was scared that his girlfriend would kill him one day. He moved her into the house with us and I could hear her angry screaming at him at night and what sounded like furniture being thrown around. He never said anything back.
I wanted to beat her up like I had beat up his bullies when we were kids or at least confront her but someone pointed out she had scary friends and that might not be a good idea for our family for me to do anything stupid or confront her. (One of her cousins had threatened someone working on the house, saying he was calling his gang members right then and that he would kill the man.)
I thought I should get my daughter out of there. I thought, “I should have done that months ago.” She ran away twice while we were there. It was scary and painful but I tell her now that I don’t blame her for it. The emotional climate of that house was not safe for her. I should never have stayed so long.
By this time we were locked out of the main part of the house all the time. I was able to cook for us but I had to wash dishes outside with the hose. My brother hardly ever spoke to me. He seemed brooding and angry, agitated, and not like himself.
He yelled at me because he could tell I was upset about his girlfriend though I was always polite to her. I was incredulous.
It seemed like I couldn’t do anything right.
Then some mornings he would gently wake me up, having gone and gotten me a special coffee, and invited me to come have coffee with him like when things had been normal. He would smoke and we drank our coffee like things were OK. I hugged him goodbye and after he went to work, I did too. Life seemed almost OK.
One evening I went to check on him upstairs in the loft. I told him he was looking a little better. He said that someone else had told him that that day too. He said he was trying to do some self care stuff and get into a routine again. He had gotten some movies to watch. He said maybe he was feeling a little better. He just didn’t have a sense of well being yet. He was going to up his medication he said. I was worried. “Does your doctor know you are doing that?” He didn’t answer me. Oh yeah, no questions.
He told me he was scared about what might be wrong with him. I remember the frightened look he gave me when he said that maybe he was mentally ill. This is when I dropped a very important ball he had thrown me but I didn’t know it. I did what I always did, I tried to reassure him, saying, “You’re not mentally ill! you’ve just been really really depressed and upset about a lot of things. But you’re not crazy. You’re going to be OK.”
He said, “I hope so, Shawn.” I said that I believed he was digging out of it little by little.
I am not sure if anything would be different if I had asked him more about why he thought he might be mentally ill, and what he was scared of about that. I don’t know. That was the last one on one conversation we ever had. I will never know if I should have handled it differently.
I often think, “He would have never let this happen to me.” Had our roles been switched he would have been intrusive and controlling. He would have insisted. He wouldn’t have worried what the rules were or what anybody else thought. He would have tied me to a chair if he had to.
I suppose in my defense I could say I didn’t understand. I was following my own role of being nurturing, being his defender, the person who believed in him. I had utter faith that whatever bizarre thing was going on with our relationship, it would never stand. He would come around. Things would straighten out like they always did, no matter what. I knew how necessary I was to him, and he was to me. I had complete faith in him. It was the wrong thing to do. But I didn’t know that then. If I had it to do over, I would have been mean and pushy instead. I would have hidden his car keys, taken the guns to the city dump, refused to cooperate with anything until he got the help I knew he needed. I respected him too much. More than he actually needed me to. Never do that if you know someone is in trouble. Then again, if someone is in this much trouble you may have slid down into the pit right along with them. I think this was the case. Looking back on it I don’t understand why I put up with any of what was going on at all. But that’s how it is. Everyone falls into their roles. And things get worse and worse before you realize.
He was almost never home. My seventeen year old was staying away as much as possible, always with friends. I didn’t blame her.
I had just started dating a kind, interesting (and cute!) man from Austin. We talked on the phone about every day and he was a nice break in all the chaos I was going through. Somehow we managed to fall in love in the middle of all this.
He was worried about me in this situation and he didn’t even know the half of it.
At confession, rather late in the game, I talked to a priest about the situation. I didn’t tell him much, only a few things. He asked if I had the money to support myself and my daughter on my own. I said I did and he said he would have told me to get my kid and myself out of there right away even if I hadn’t had the money. I promised him I would.
I felt guilty about leaving. I don’t know why because my brother didn’t seem to like having us around very much in those days. But I knew it made more sense for us to leave temporarily.
I started looking around for a place to live at least until my house was ready. I had lived there at my brother’s for ten months. My youngest was seventeen. This was an important year for her and me.Maybe this last year we knew we would be together we should get our own place in our old neighborhood near her friends again.
I found a place to go and quietly started making arrangements, not knowing what I would say to him about it with him seeming to be so fragile. I heard he had found out about it so I sent him an e-mail about what I was trying to do, that I would only be 15 minutes away, and maybe everyone would get along better like this until my house was ready. Maybe he could stop by on his way home from work like he always used to do.
But when I went to get money out of the bank, the account where the proceeds of my house was, in order to get deposits and other moving expenses taken care of, I discovered my account was nearly empty. To this day I don’t know what happened to it.
I don’t know if his girl friend or one of her scary friends or my brother did it. I had him on my account so he could get building materials and so on.
My eldest daughter had entrusted my brother with some money from a settlement she had from the death of her father when she was little. I called her and got her to check her account too. She only had $1000 left. We decided to close both accounts right away. We could not get much information about what had happened. There were extra accounts started in our names that we had not known about. Money had been moved between them over and over. It didn’t make any sense.
I didn’t even want to bring it up to my brother because I knew he was in such bad shape. So I didn’t. I was scared so I called a family member. This was so wildly out of character for my brother to do this or to have allowed someone else to. Doing anything that would harm me this much was so not him I was scared for him.
I was in shock. I went to stay with a friend until I could get a grip.
The family member I had told about the money tried to talk with my brother, but couldn’t get much out of him about the what had happened. I was surprised they talked about it. My instinct was to protect him for now until he was better. I wrote him an e-mail that I was OK and what I cared about was him getting better. We would work it out like we always worked out everything when the time was right. I told him I was just freaked out and would be staying with my friend for a few days. He didn’t answer but at that point he never did anymore.
A family member set up a meeting so we could talk about the whole thing, but texted me at the last minute to say he thought maybe it was not a good idea just yet.
The last time I saw my brother, I and my boyfriend were stopping by my dad’s house to drop something off. I don’t remember what it was.
I was surprised to see my brother there. They had been having dinner and he looked up, surprised to see me too. I knew he knew that I knew about the money so I was relieved when I saw him smile. I went over to him and hugged him, pressing his fuzzy little head to my shoulder, mussing his hair. He hugged me back.
He got up and shook my boyfriends’ hand in a kind purposeful way. When we left I said he had looked ill, but that he had looked better to me. My boyfriend remarked that he had looked very young, like a little boy having dinner with his parents.
Everyone was worried about him so he was staying with a family member while he tried to get better. One day he told that family member that he was going to take a little vacation time and just go somewhere, and that he would be back Friday.
He told one person he was going to Austin. He told another person he was going to Houston. Then he disappeared. We weren’t all that worried because he had been doing that from time to time, a few days here, a few days there. I reassured my family member. “He’s been doing this for a while. He’ll be back.”
I had said that I hoped he didn’t lose his job. The family member said, “I just hope he’s still alive.” I thought that was crazy. Why wouldn’t he be alive?
I was well trained not to question his actions anymore, not to express alarm, and to think everything might be a little crazy, but that it wasn’t THAT crazy.
But things were seriously wrong, and they had been getting more and more and more wrong.
The worried family member talked to my brother who said he was fine and would be home late Friday.
My thoughts were that he was at his bottom and would come up from here. When I got a message from somebody at his work asking if he was safe, if he was with me, I had replied that he had been OK the day before and we expected him home Friday. Then I got another message like that from another of his colleagues.
Then I got a message from a family member who was on a trip to Florida that Mark had sounded really weird the night before, sending texts that sounded like goodbye. Time to worry.
He wouldn’t answer his phone, would not answer texts. I called another family member. We decided to call the police.
I texted and called over and over, even sending the number of a suicide hotline in case he would rather not talk to us. I hoped it was all overkill that he would gripe at us about later. It did not seem real.
Later I got a text from a family member: “Just received Mark’s suicide e-mail.”
I rushed to be with family. When I got there I started to read the suicide e-mail. It was addressed to two other family members and said they were the only people in the world who loved him. I remarked, “There must be another one for me,” and asked if I could check my own e-mail. There was nothing. So I scanned the only letter, which began, “By the time you read this I will be dead.”
I was in shock, as you can imagine. We all were. He only mentioned me twice in the letter, and my children not at all. What he did say about me was that he didn’t know what to say about me and that I would “make up [my] own s*** anyway.” And he said I would be “OK… in every way.”
Then he gushed about the two family members to whom his letter was addressed, asked that they one of them take care of the other one, asked that they be kind to his girl friend, and gave unrealistic financial advice about selling his house and car in order to take care of the one of them who was financially challenged.
He said he knew people who were suicidal always say this but he didn’t see any other way out.
He said he couldn’t believe he was doing this but he was doing it.
As the police were doing whatever they were doing, we were desperately texting him. I begged him not to do this. I reminded him the kids had already lost two fathers. I said I didn’t care about the money and that we always had each other no matter what, that it may seem hopeless but there was a way through.
The others were doing the same. One of us said, “it says the message was delivered. Maybe he’s still alive!” We didn’t know where he was. I had no idea I had been in the building next door to where he was when I got the text about the suicide letter.
At some point I felt unwanted for some reason. One family member did tell me this was not my fault, and that the letter had been cruel. I will always be grateful for her kind words and her hug.
I went to my friends’ house where I had been staying. My other friends began to show up to wait with me.
I sent one of my daughter’s friends to pick her up from her boyfriends’ house but to my surprise she refused to get in the car. She seemed to think I was going to give her a talk or something and she wouldn’t come home. I had to let her be.
At about 9pm I got a call from a family member that said the police had just been there to notify them that they had found my brother. He had been at a hotel in town and he had shot himself. He was dead.
My friends drove me to go tell my daughter before she saw it on the news or something. She was sitting on the porch when we got there. Someone had already told her. She said, “Mom, it’s not your fault.”
When I called my eldest daughter she was hysterical at the news. Her husband cried too. She had just gotten home a day or so before from visiting us but she got in her car and headed back to Texas pretty much right away. She called several times along the way crying.
Not me. I didn’t cry. I don’t remember crying.
Everyone seemed relieved when my boyfriend got there from Austin. I remember putting my head on his chest in my friend’s kitchen.
Another friend had been cooking mushroom curry. I had love and support.
Friends continued to arrive. Some even came from far away to sit with me, old friends. People from work came by.
My closest friends and my youngest daughter came one night to pray the rosary for my brother. I remember my friends in a circle on the living room floor, candles burning, rosaries in hand. We prayed and cried and hugged each other sometimes. We talked. We remembered.
A dear friend who is a deacon came over too. He even talked to my other daughter over the phone. The girls wanted to know what happened to his soul. Our Deacon said that the Church commends such souls to God’s holy mercy.
One family member came over and cried in my arms asking how I could over forgive them. I didn’t know why. Why that question? Forgive what?
They said if that was them in that letter, if our places were reversed, “I would want to die.”
“Well I do,” I said. “But that’s not your fault.”
They said they would do whatever they had to to get my money back for me. Which seemed a strange far away concern to me.
People tell me I often acted like I was OK, that I laughed and joked around some. Other times I seemed so far away my friends thought, “Our friend is just gone.”
Time passed. I don’t remember much about those dark days that stretched into months and years.
I was like someone who had just come back from war. I was shell shocked a lot of the time. I had nightmares if I slept at all. I yelled at people over nothing. I didn’t know who I was anymore. Everything triggered me. I wondered if this was how my brother felt. People were there caring about me but I didn’t feel their love. I felt unwanted. In some cases this was true, to my dismay. But most of the time it wasn’t.
My friends had been through so much with me, other tragedies included.
This one, I reflected, was the one that broke me.
My boyfriend would drive me to Austin because he had to work and he was afraid for me to be alone. I used to sit in the lobby at his work staring at the covers of magazines.
He drove me back. I only remember that it was dark.
I got an apartment. I sat there alone with my books and my daughter’s little dog, Flower.
I didn’t understand anything.
I couldn’t get the information I thought would make this make sense. Nobody would talk to me about it who might know. I was scared anyway that I would find something out that would hurt me more.
I couldn’t stand that. I couldn’t stand any more pain.
People seemed so far away and the world didn’t seem real to me.
Maybe that’s how my brother felt.
Maybe that’s what he thought about on that hotel balcony.
A few years later I finally thought of talking to the hotel manager. He told me my brother had been there a week. He had seemed fine. He had spoken to him. He had sat by the pool with his coffee and cigarettes working on his lap top.
Then on the Friday, August 21st at about 3 O’clock or so he had parked his car beside an obscure emergency exit, taken a gun out of his trunk, climbed nine flights to a tiny balcony overlooking the pool and patio, sat on the rail, and publicly shot himself. Someone at the pool had called 911. The police had told the hotel manager that he had probably done it this way to ensure that if the gun shot didn’t kill him the fall would.
I never saw his body. The police report is sealed (I don’t know why.) The police said they would talk to me and then wouldn’t. I cannot see the autopsy report. I don’t know what kind of gun it was. I don’t know what was on his phone besides our desperate messages. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know why he seemed to be angry with me when he died.
All of my reading of public documents and trying to talk to people helped me feel less helpless for a little while.
I went to the hotel. I walked the way he had taken. I went up the stairs. I sat on the balcony for an hour. I wasn’t thinking. I didn’t know what I was feeling. I didn’t cry until I left.
My brother and I were standing on the loading dock at the Eagle Newspaper where we both worked, looking out at the woods across the street, the sky, the parking lot. People were working around us unloading trucks, driving the forklift, walking in and out of “the roll room” where the giant rolls of newsprint were stacked waiting to be loaded onto the press as needed. Sometimes he lifted his chin curtly at someone going by. He was the Production Director so there was hardly any such thing as a break for him. There were texts, phone calls and people stopping by to ask questions.
“Yes… that ad, yes. I called already, yes. You. Pain is the ass. Yes.”
The Eagle had a family atmosphere and Mark was like everyone’s Uncle and to most people he was also their friend.
I was trying to talk to him about his smoking, hopeless though I knew it was. “I read that non smokers live an average of ten years longer than smokers,” I was telling him as he listened patiently, drawing on his cigarette as I spoke. “So what?” he asked charactaristcally. I said, “Since I am a vegetarian and we live eight years longer than meat eaters, that means I will have to live eighteen years without you! I don’t want to live all those years without you!!!!”
He looked at me then, holding his latest lungful.
“Better start smokin’!” he said in chokey voice.
That is one of my funny Mark stories. There are so many.
He was funny, quick, tough, talented, cocky and competent, sometimes arrogant and “full of piss, wind and vinegar,” as my granny used to say.
He was short so he had to learn to be like that. It worked for him, and I am so proud of all that he accomplished. I was his sister. I knew he could do anything and he pretty much could.
He wrote in an e-mail to me once, “You are among my chief comforts.” Did I say eloquent? Because he was eloquent, too. Intelligent. Thoughtful. Reflective.
He was a person of depth. He was a master of banter but he disliked meaningless conversations.
He always knew the right thing to say to me.
When I was pregnant with my first daughter and freaked out about the overwhelming prospect of motherhood, he had said, “Shawn think of it this way, there will be a new sweet little baby in the world! And that baby will grow up to be a gentle human being. We need gentle human beings. I know that’s what I value most about myself.”
Some people would be surprised that he valued his gentleness most. They wouldn’t know he had that quality. He could definitely play the games of the world- something I have never been able to do. He really did see the corporate world, the business world, the get things done world as a game. It was fun to him though I saw that he regretted it deeply when someone was personally hurt by him winning. He was a good guy even though he enjoyed being a little deviant at times. I mean coloring outside the lines in ways he thought benefited the people who worked for him over whom he felt very protective. (When people around him were mad at him they thought he was patronizing. He could be patronizing.)
Some of the things he did were big heroic risks that saved people’s jobs at the risk of his career had he lost his bet with luck. Other times I thought he was just showing off a little bit or seeing what he could get away with. “Ha haaaaa! Gotcha!”
I think he felt justified if the people he fooled were mean or threatening to his “people.”
Also almost anything was justified if it was funny. That is an unspoken rule in my family. You better be smart and if you mess up it had better be funny. Or at least being funny or making the whole thing hilarious will get you points. Always.
My brother had the gift of presence. The people closest to him knew that sitting with Mark in silence or telling him something important was different than being with or talking to anyone else. He was all there with you, with all of himself. Somehow he understood everything, or seemed to, the way the person in front of him was feeling it. As our friends since childhood, Mike and Kenny said about him, “Listening to music with Mark was different than listening to music with anyone else.” Part of this may have been that the four of us were in a band together for 16 years. But I think it has more to do with the quality of Mark’s presence and friendship than that.
He was loyal, and he invoked that loyalty in others. People who loved him would do anything for him and did.
There were little everyday things he did that showed his mind was on the people around him. He always kept a cache of nickels (his favorite coin since childhood) in his desk drawer at work in case anybody needed change for the vending machines.
His co-workers did little things for him too.
Cindy, his right hand person, parked in his parking spot just to make sure it stayed open for him one time. He laughed. He appreciated that kind of thing.
The people around him had faith in his abilities. When I worried about him, his friends at work would say, “He didn’t get where he is by being stupid. He’ll be fine.”
He liked to bring people together to enjoy each other. He loved watching people he loved talk and have fun together.
That is one of the reason he had a pool put in at the old house we grew up in. He loved having people over to the pool and waiting on them hand and foot.
When my first husband lay in his coffin after the Vigil (wake) my brother put his hand on his chest and promised him he would take care of me and the kids.
He kept that promise almost until the end of his life. He was part of my kids’ daily lives. He was over almost every day. When I was at my wit’s end he would come pick up the girls and take them to The Kettle (a diner kind like Denny’s in our town where we used to hang out.)
They would clamor all over him until he said, “Shut it, Rat!”
He loved them like they were his own children. He fretted about them, picked them up from school, lectured them, talked about them to his friends, came with me to teacher meetings if he could. I can’t imagine a better Uncle.
He could also be ridiculous like when he would try to reason with a wildly weeping teen-aged girl in a restaurant parking lot with me saying, “Mark! You are just making it worse!”
He liked to take me to lunch. He liked to talk to me about his problems over coffee and cigarettes and listen to mine.
If we hadn’t seen one another or had time to hang out for a while he would sometimes say, “Hey, we both do better when we make time to be together enough.” It was true.
His spiritual beliefs could be described as fairly minimal, although he believed in Something. He just thought that Something was unknowable. His argument was that God is so big you can’t know him like you know a person. “We’re all just fleas. What do we know?” I knew he respected my spirituality so I said, “What about me?” He said, “You’re just a really smart flea.” I loved it.
It’s funny how he claimed basic agnosticism or only the vaguest spiritual beliefs but he understood my most intimate of secrets in my experiences with God as someone very serious about the life of prayer would. He got it. “I just translate it into my own language,” he used to say. I was fine with that. I always felt understood by him and he felt understood by me.
One time he found a little baby bird and he looked up how to care for it. He took care of it for several days and was heart broken when it died. “Yesterday he wasn’t feeling very good,” he said with the sadness you would normally see in someone talking about about a sick relative. When the little bird died he could hardly talk about it.
He worried he had fed it the wrong thing. He kept trying to figure out what made the little bird sick like that.
Sitting with him on the porch was like total inner peace to me. Even when he wanted to take me on a wild ride on his motorcycle or his latest car I was never scared. I laughed or I closed my eyes happily but I was never scared. He was a skilled driver and I simply trusted him completely.
He felt taken aback that none of that scared me. Not going over a hundred miles and hour on his bike, not a jump in a go-cart. He thought my fearlessness was a little creepy. I think I was fearless because of trust.
We had a few fights and disagreements. We had terrible crises we weathered together. But that trust in our essential unity gave me total confidence that we would get back on track every time.
We had observed that since we were kids we felt like he and I were the family. We had these parents and they did this and that but we were what we called “the core.” We reminded one another of that in the many losses and tragedies in our lives. No matter what we always had each other.
We told each other everything. We even shared gum. (Mostly to gross out other people at work but if I said, “Hey you have gum where is MY gum? He would half his piece and give it to me even if he was already chewing it.)
I think of blue eyes and cigarette smoke, a cup of coffee and the setting sun, a new song he wanted me to hear. Laughter.
I can’t really tell you all about my brother. Like you, he was an entire universe. Like all deep relationships, ours was also a living thing, a world we comfortably inhabited together and sometimes let other people hang out in, too.
How can you share a universe with someone who never traveled there? I don’t know. But I know there are people you love very much; maybe as much as I loved my brother, maybe as much as he loved me (which my dad said was more than anyone on the planet loved anyone but I think he was exaggerating.)
This month is suicide awareness month. I have decided to follow Leticia Adams’ lead and write about my experience with suicide. This is what I wrote today, I will write more.
It’s been four years. It was four years in August. The pain changes but it hasn’t stopped. There are tears in my eyes as I write this.
It hurts like hell.
P.S. He wouldn’t have liked this song. Just so you know. However, right now it is on target with how I feel. So he can just deal with that.
A good book I am reading* begins by saying that the legend of the long, winding history of the Indian Koohinoor diamond began when Krishna gave it to one of his disciples in response to his meditations. I tried to imagine Jesus giving me a diamond. “Have you ever given me a diamond, Jesus?”
“If so, what was this diamond,” I thought.
I know Jesus has given me everything, grace upon grace. But I was surprised when the first thing that crossed my mind was that he has given me the diamond of chastity, and it is of eternal value, and that it is my consolation now.
Not too long ago, I ran across a secular video about celibacy. It was odd to watch because I am used to hearing about celibacy in religious terms, and this video’s attitude seemed to be, “Hey, look, people actually do this, and on purpose!” There were about five people presented with their various reasons for being celibate permanently or temporarily. The last person featured was a religious sister, who gave an explanation about Jesus being her spouse, and so her love in service was his love, broad, deep and available.
I thought about my journeys as a wife and mother, then a widowed single mom, and the evolution of chastity’s meaning for me. We are all called to chastity according to our state in life. My state in life has changed in ways that have been confusing. What is my vocation now? I don’t think of myself as a single person, really. Being a widow is different. I am someone who lived and fulfilled marriage vows. However, I am alone. At the same time, I am much aware of a deep spiritual connection with my spouses, so in that way I am not alone. I am forever changed by marriage, in all the best ways, and I feel its beautiful seal on my soul.
After the death of my first husband, Blaze, in a car accident at the age of twenty-eight, I didn’t understand what my life was- I lost that much of myself. I slept fitfully with the light on for years.
It felt imperative to me to understand my vocation, to understand what I was supposed to build on and be. I was still a mother. I still loved my husband. Just because he was dead, I did not stop feeling like his wife. I didn’t even consider dating. I had some very intense little girls to raise, and challenges that were hard to accept were mine.
Over the years my ideas about celibacy evolved as I moved from the chastity of a wife to the chastity of a widow. I was surprised to realize that I felt an expansiveness of love, of my womanhood, of my motherhood, as I developed in this new life I did not ask for, but slowly embraced. When I turned the light off at night, I felt enveloped in love and peace.
“Through the silent watches of the night, bless the Lord.” (Ps. 134:2b)
I wondered, during the quiet mutations happening in my soul, if this was how priests and religious felt- like they were half in love with everyone, like their hearts were available to people, and to God in a special way.
My marriages were beautiful and life giving. I was a very happy, totally in love, fulfilled wife, both times, in every way. My present choice of celibacy is not a repudiation of married love in the least.
One woman on the video I mentioned said that she had always felt “asexual.” I wondered if she used that word only because she didn’t have the language to describe herself as a sexual being who is celibate in expression. In this present culture it would be hard to find any such language in every day public discourse.
I have come to recognize sexuality as a spiritual energy, so to speak. It is like a power current and a connection, body and soul, to and through God. This was so when I was with each of my husbands, and it is so now. It is just directed differently. The proper direction of the spiritual energy of sexuality is what chastity is.
Eventually I felt very happy and whole in my new life. I missed (and still do miss) my husband every single day. But more and more I felt that he was with me and part of me. I loved him as much as I ever did. And it was OK.
My reasons for remaining celibate were changing. It wasn’t because I was broken in that area anymore, or that I still felt I needed to be faithful to Blaze (though some of that has always remained.)
It was because I felt married to Jesus.
As my girls began to be interested in boys and have their teenaged heart breaks, I would tell them just to let Jesus be their boyfriend for a while. “He’s the best,” I would tell them.
I was so perfectly at peace with this idea, that God is the husband of the widow and the father of the orphan, that it was a very difficult adjustment for me when I felt I was being asked to consider loving Bob, ten years after Blaze’s death. It took a lot of prayer, a few “burning bushes,” and a couple of little miracles to help me see that loving Bob was now my way. I came to understand that Christ and I were going to love Bob together. Slowly this began to make sense, and I was able to let that love happen.
I was very, very happy as Bob’s wife. I was more happy and unified with him than I can say. He said we were each other’s priests one time and I laughed because that is not so far from the Catholic idea of marriage. Truly, we formed Christ in one another and experienced Him living in our relationship. In an ineffable way, though changed, it seems to me that we still experience that.
Now the diamond of chastity is given to me again in different setting, with a new cut. I didn’t think this would happen again. But I cherish this beautiful gift. It is powerful and affirming.
Truly, it is a wonderful consolation. I am still growing to understand it and let it be a fullness in my life. Widowhood is to live with a bottomless loss. But it is also a very special kind of love, and celibate chastity can be one of its expressions. It is less an expression of emptiness, in time, than a different kind of wholeness. This love, this diamond, is the gift left to me.
I heard that a wife said to her dying husband, “I love you so much, what will I do without you?” He said, “Take the love you have for me and spread it around.” That is beautiful and I identify with it deeply, especially since that is something Bob would have said for sure. I think I have started to do this again now, and I recognize it as a sign of life. As Bob and I loved each other, and that love went out to others, this is what is happening in the relationship I am developing with God, in my life as a widow.
As a daughter of the Church, I have the richness of Carmelite spirituality to draw on, and other Catholic spiritual traditions, too, that speak of the soul as a bride of God. Ronda Chervin, who has written about the spirituality of widowhood, calls this, “Jesus [as] the second Bridegroom.” * (In my case this would be “third Bridegroom,” of course.)
This understanding of my present form of chastity is profoundly healing for me. I feel filled, enclosed, and loved, carried and protected every day, in spite of my still very present loss. Celibate chastity is a positive, liberating presence in me, peaceful and meaningful.
To me, the virtue of chastity is a beautiful diamond, a true One Love that puts all other loves in their proper perspectives, making them even more vivid. Chastity is a vessel and an expression of love according to my state in life. But it is the same effulgence of brilliancy; a faithful, steadfast and complete love.
The more I learn about it, the more I am dazzled.
“From His fulness, we have all received, grace flowing upon grace.” John 1:16
When you are in a time of intense suffering; grief, dread, or emotional overload, when you are walking around the house just staring at things, when getting through the day seems impossible, and you don’t know what to do with yourself, read this:
1. Do the next right thing. This might be eating a sandwich, sweeping the floor, going for a walk. Do one thing at a time. Do the task, and then do the next one. My mother used to say, “Wipe your table, sweep your kitchen floor, make your bed, and call me back.” It works.
2. Section off the day into manageable pieces.
You don’t have to suffer the way you feel, or the situation you are in forever, only for today. Divide the day up into sections. Think of something you are going to do at the end of each time period to mark its end and transition into the next one.
I have used:
calling a friend
reading a daily devotional or thought for the day
a novena prayed every hour instead of once a day
praying the Liturgy of the Hours through the day
a short walk
These little things are anchors and dividers in the day to help re-center, reground, and chop a long, difficult day into chunks you can manage. This helps a lot.
My mom used to say, “Brush your teeth, wash your face, say your prayers, and start your day over again.”
“You can start your day over again,” she would say, “any time,” and as many times as you need to.
3. Master your thoughts. In times of crisis the mind becomes crowded with speculative, negative, or questioning thoughts that are very unhelpful.
These thoughts might be about blaming yourself or others, trying to figure out how or why something happened, why or whether God allowed it, or going over and over possible outcomes to a frightening situation you may be in.
These lines of thought, and others like them, are tricks of the well meaning brain, trying to problem solve, predict the future, or give us a sense of control or order.This not only wastes precious energy, it overloads us emotionally and mentally, and can block us from accessing real wisdom and strength which would help us to peace. As my dad says, “There’s no truth in those thoughts.”
When you find yourself spinning your wheels this way, try to catch yourself and dismiss unhelpful thoughts. Don’t be mad at yourself, don’t be mean about it, just say to the mind, “Nope. Not today.”
Routinely stopping and observing your surroundings, and saying a set, short prayer, might help you let go of the offending train of thought.
I like to imagine putting all my fears and problems into the hands of Jesus, or putting them in Mary’s lap to pray over for me.
If you dismiss unhelpful thinking over and over, it works surprisingly well to help you feel better, make room for grace, and give you a sense of true empowerment.
4. Be your own best friend. It’s hard enough feeling horrible, but you can make it so much harder by being disappointed in yourself, and by what psychologists call “negative self -talk.” One day I was so mad at myself for not being further along in my grief (whatever that means,) for not getting anything done, for being a wimp.
I felt that the Lord asked me if I would treat my friend, Jocie, that way if she came over feeling like I felt right now. “No, I would never talk to her like this.” I would love her, encourage her, and take care of her. I understood that this was how Jesus wanted me to treat myself for His sake.
Please be kind and accept yourself. Be sensitive to yourself. Understand that some days you’re doing well just to make it through the day and let it be that kind of day, if it is that kind of day. Do for yourself what you would do for a best friend. Think of it as a way to practice surrender and humility. Because it is.
5. Pray. You will feel like you can’t pray sometimes. The 11TH Step of Alcoholics Anonymous mentions prayer as “conscious contact” with God. That is always possible. It’s OK if you don’t feel prayerful. Today, focus on what St. Therese called a “simple look toward Heaven.” Some things I have done in times of shock, fear, trauma, or grief, are: clutching my Bible to my chest simply holding a rosary making some physical gesture of prayer without forming any thoughts or words offering my pain to God in union with Jesus on the Cross visualizing putting my head against Jesus’ chest just being in the darkness, knowing, with “naked faith” (St. John of the Cross) that God was with me.Holy music can really help. Try playing spiritual music that centers you, on these kinds of days. This is setting up and environment of prayer for yourself.Strangely, prayers of praise in the midst of suffering can be a powerful catalyst for peace of heart.
“Blessed be God.Blessed be His Holy Name.”~ The Divine Praises
May God’s transforming love be with you in your suffering, as we, the Church, are with you, and may the Holy Spirit comfort you and give you peace. Right now. Today.
Traveling through Advent with grief this year has led to me to soul search about what Christmas is, and, in the process, to notice similarities between the journey of Advent into Christmas and the stages of the soul’s progression into the heart of God. According to Carmelite spirituality, the soul first travels through and away from outward distractions, into inward beauty, then into the deep pain of the dark night when even these lovely interior gifts are removed and the soul’s perception of them and consequently, of God, is radically changed. This happens so that the true nature of God can be apprehended by naked faith and purified love. In this way, the soul is prepared for union with God, and begins to radiate peace and love through His indwelling presence.
Throughout this journey, the soul finds that the things around God, even things that point to or reflect God, are not God Himself. The soul has to learn to relate to all these other things in a whole new way that has to do with loving God as He is in Himself. This is something which God will begin mysteriously to teach the willing and loving soul, who responds to God, in and through this suffering, with more and more surrender and determination. God will transform that soul, making it able to receive God in pure faith, hope and love.
In a similar way, the journey through Advent prepares us for the very real grace of Christmas, which is beyond all of the outward and even inward trappings that surround Christmas itself. We journey through all these things to the heart of Christmas, and thereby receive its true grace.
Advent is full of things that are good and point the way to Christmas, but they are not Christmas itself. I can be distracted by the outward show of the season; the lights, the gifts, the traditions, the social interactions. These outward things can be good, used to serve others and remind us of the birth of Jesus. But they are not Christmas itself.
Even the people in our lives, whom we love and enjoy, and/or who cause us a lot of stress at this time of year one way or the other; they point the way to Christmas because they are our school of love, forgiveness, mercy, sacrifice, and communion. They reflect the love of God to us. But people and relationships are not actually Christmas itself.
The events we plan with our families and friends, as good (or as stressful) as they can be, are not Christmas either.
Our feelings, memories and thoughts, so intensified (sometimes painfully, sometimes happily) during this time of the year, are part of our journey. Our expectations, our longing for unity, joy, peace, justice and beauty, are all from God and are holy. They point us to the meaning of the Nativity, and to the joys of Heaven. But even these are not Christmas itself.
Sometimes I am happy about shared love and memories with family and friends. Sometimes I am keenly aware that I am in deep mourning. Some years I have truly felt that I have known Christmas joy. Other years I did not feel it. But it is still Christmas, whatever I think or feel.
Cultural expressions of the season, social events, our relationships, and even our inmost feelings, all these things, painful or joyful as these may be, are not Christmas. These are things that surround Christmas, that reflect its light.
What is Christmas? Is it just a remembering of the birth of Jesus? I think it is that, but what else is it?
Does something actually happen at Christmas?
I think Christmas is a remembering by us, the Church, that makes present and re-presents an eternal reality. With this remembering, I believe, Heaven cooperates whole heartedly.
I believe that at Christmas, by a special grace, there is a sunrise that bathes every face, a release of extra love and light coming through the heart of the Church, Christ’s Body, that shines on everyone.
The Church prays for it: “Grant….that the the coming solemnity of [the Nativity of ] your Son may bestow healing upon us in this present life.” ~ from the Liturgy of the Hours Wednesday of the Third Week of Advent
Jesus has come into the world and continues to be with us.
Christmas is true no matter what happens with events outside or inside myself, or how I perceive them.
Christmas is real, and that sunrise is there. It’s coming.
The God who brought light out of darkness has shown in our hearts.
-The God who brought light out of darkness has shown in our hearts.
To give the light of the knowledge of God’s glory that appears on the face of Christ.
-He has shown in our hearts.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.~Responsory from Morning Prayer from the Carmelite Proper of the Liturgy of the Hours, Feast of St. John of the Cross.