The profound suffering of another person is frightening to be present to. When my husband’s cancerous brain tumor came back after two years of remission, he asked to be alone for a while. When he wanted me there I came and got into his chair with him and held him. I listened to him talk about his feelings of raw desolation, anger, and even shame, of terror, of feeling there was no comfort anywhere.
I had no mitigating words to say. Even if I had they would have been inappropriate and insensitive. Even with the intense devotion and deep bond I had with him, there were moments I wanted to run out in the back yard away from the enormity of what he was expressing. So I prayed as I listened; just the names of Jesus and Mary every time that urge came up. That simple effort made me able to share that space with him.
When he eventually asked how I felt about this on a spiritual level, all I had was the fact of Christ’s suffering. At least as we went through this we had a God who didn’t die in a shower of rose petals but naked and bleeding like an animal, nailed to a cross, with a cry of spiritual abandonment only just having died on his lips.
My husband nodded gravely.
I thought of Mary, surrounded by mockers, violent men, her weeping friends, silently sharing the space with her Son.
I believe she was near to me as I tried to open my heart to its fullest in the weeks that followed; through Bobs creeping paralysis, his growing confusion, his final inability to speak. She was close, I know, when I tried to surrender with love at the right time to set my husband free when he was ready.
Mary was the face of love to Jesus as he suffered. I tried to be that too, to lay my own grief aside. I have no doubt that is what she did at the Cross. I am sure she thought to herself, “I will grieve later. Right now I have to be here for him, I want to look at his beautiful living face as long as I can in these last moments.” I am sure about this because when you love, that is what you do.
May Our Lady pray for us when we are called to walk with someone who suffers terribly, which all of us are in some way at some time. May she companion us when we must find a way to love more than we feel able, to seek the true meaning of profound compassion that she embodied at the scene of her Son’s execution.
A reading from the Letter of Paul to the Galatians 2:19b-20
I have been crucified with Christ, and the life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me. I still live my human life, but it is a life of faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
The last few years have been so traumatic for me that I have felt alienated from everything and everyone, and like I would never be myself again.
Part of my healing in this latest phase of my journey has been to investigate for myself what really happened and to face the truth around my brother’s suicide, to ask questions I had been too freaked out to ask before, to recognize and re-claim my own experience of what happened after a truly dysfunctional family response that left me confused, dismayed, and even more traumatized.
I called my truth- seeking mission “The Immaculate Heart of Mary Detective Agency.” I thought this appropriate because the sword that pierced Mary’s heart, Simeon said, was “so that the secret thoughts of many may be revealed.
I wanted to truly love my brother by understanding all of him, not just the parts that I had enjoyed so much all of my life, but all of him. I wanted to try to understand what drove him to do what he did.
I realized I didn’t have to wait around for people to quit lying to me and tell me what was going on. I could find out for myself. So I started asking questions and interviewing people who had the information I wanted, or a different perspective from my own as the sister and room mate I had been at the time.
Unexpectedly, the whole experience of the IHMDA has been empowering, though I uncovered rank injustice and malice I hadn’t known some people were even capable of. I feel more alive than I have since all this tragedy began. I have a glimmer of an idea that I have a life and a future.
It seems to me that Mary’s heart has helped lay bare many truths, and strengthened me to deal with them.
I am not sure what I will do next. But it seems God thinks my next step is to forgive. That message was in last Sunday’s Gospel. It seems to pop up everywhere I turn. I seem to read or see or hear something about forgiveness every day.
There is hardly anything I have not lost to some degree in the past couple of years of shock and trauma; my home, my life savings, my family, and the cohesion of my group of wonderful friends. Everything is strange now. I have even felt like I lost myself.
I am grateful for the good relationship between my daughters and me, though honestly, at times, even those sacrosanct relationships were violated and temporarily distorted by lies and manipulation.
What do I do with this horrible story? Sometimes I can hardly believe it myself.
How can I forgive the unforgivable? And how can I ever be a whole person again? How can I bear this?
I have been asking all that for a good while.
I realized, praying Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours today, when I read this reading, (above) the answer to these questions. “This is how,”Jesus says.
“You will do and experience both of these things because your life is not your own anymore. It’s better than that because I live in you and for you. From within you, I will forgive, I will live, and we will have a beautiful life together. I have loved you and given Myself up for you. You have loved Me and given yourself to Me, no matter what life has brought you. ”
I thought about this. It is a miracle that the thing I have not lost or had to re-negotiate, so to speak, is my faith in God. Even though I have been broken inside beyond anything I thought it was possible to experience, I have an inner rock solid foundation of faith that God has not let me lose.
I have discovered that, as St. John of the Cross speaks of in his Ascent of Mount Carmel, I am “supported by faith alone,” now, in spite of how disjointed I feel psychologically and socially.
No one and nothing can take me from Christ’s hand. He is even more real to me than I am to myself. And even though my heart is broken, it does know it is safe. It does know Who it belongs to and Who lives there forever. Not even my own death will change that.
In fact, Paul also says that the spirit of Jesus in us is so real, it is that power that will raise our bodies from the dead.
But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. Romans 8:11 (This turned out to be in Evening Prayer tonight.)
All the lies and malice, misunderstanding, persecution, blame, rejection, trauma, loss and grief I have suffered, and that the whole world has suffered, are no match for the Truth of God who is Love, and Life.
In a way, in comparison, these terrible things are not even real.
The reality is God.
And I am glad to be only ashes and dust.
That is exactly how I have everything I will ever need in this life and in the next:
“It is not I who live, but Christ Who lives in me.”
After all three of us had called everyone we needed to call, another pot of coffee was put on.
I took a picture of Bob- beautiful and at peace with rose petals all over him, all over the bed.
Andrea had the idea that our closest female friends should wash Bob’s body and anoint him with oils. Amy had a set of Biblical oils (like frankincense, myrrh, calamus, cinnamon, onycha, spikenard, myrtle, etc.) So she brought it over. Everyone was here except Nan, whose phone had been off that morning so far. Andrea got the tubs of water and pomagranite soap ready and Amy set out the oils. Bob was covered modestly of course.
I was caressing his face. His mouth was open and I said affectionately, as I often did (Bob sometimes would leave his mouth open when he was concentrating) “Close your mouth, Bobbi.”
I was drawn into the discussion over whether we should use spikenard or not because nobody really liked that smell too much. I said Jesus had been anointed with spikenard at Bethany and it was also in the Song of Songs. But it was not my favorite smell either.
When I looked back at Bob his mouth was not only closed but he had a little smile on his face. I asked the others if they had seen that. They looked and we agreed with wonder that he did have a little smile on his face.
Then solemly, reverently, Andrea, Jamie, Jocie, Amy, Shawna, and I together washed Bob’s feet, legs, arms, hands, torso, neck, head and face. We dried him and anointed him all over with oils and I also added in the blessed olive oil sent for healing from that priest with the gift of healing, and the oil from the lamp at St. Philomena’s tomb. I also blessed him with holy water as I did every day. Again I sprinkled rose petals over him. I noticed the smile had gotten bigger. This was very strange and I took a picture. We all noticed and remarked on it.
I knew that I needed to be alone with him, and I needed to be alone with him for a as long as I needed to be. People were arriving and my youngest daughter, Roise, had to be told. She had spent the night at Jamie’s house. We told her in the front yard but she already had figured it out. She received the news solemnly, blankly – though tears sprang to her eyes briefly. When I had woken up my oldest daughter, Maire, to tell her, she had looked angry and then blank. Neither of them felt like they could deal with seeing him. I said that was OK but they could if they wanted to.
I think I was hugged a lot. I don’t really remember those hours that well.
I thought of how saying goodbye to my first husband’s body had felt. That was a lesson in how not to have to do that. He was in a coffin, in an institutional setting, and people were waiting for me so they could close the casket; others waiting to take me home. It was horrible. I had been so strong through the vigil and rosary and talking to people and everything else but after I left Marc in that casket and knew I would never see him again I went hysterical and almost passed out. The only thing that had brought me out of that was hearing my four-year-old’s cries of terror as she tried to get out of the car and get to me. I pulled myself together instantly. It was quite an effort. This time I could be try to prevent that sense of trauma as much as I could. So I told people I needed to be alone with Bobbi and not to tell the funeral home to come until I said so.
I didn’t lock the bedroom door because I knew everyone would be frightened. I suffered some interruptions because of this. But I was aware that I shouldn’t scare the crud out of everyone. They needed to know they could get in here if they needed to.
Once the door was closed I got into the bed by Bobbi and I looked at him for a long time. I caressed him everywhere- appreciating in the most profound way how his body, beautiful to me, was in so many ways an expression of his beautiful soul, of who he was, of his Bobness. John Paul II, in his Theology of the Body talked a lot about the nuptial meaning of the body. Bob’s body’s very design is for the spousal gift of himself – to me. And the Scripture says that a mans’ body is not his own but his wife’s and that the two become one flesh and one spirit. No wonder Eve was drawn from Adam’s very side.
It was not that I thought of these things in a conscious way. It’s that I was experiencing them directly, intensely, since it was the last time I would ever touch him, my beautiful husband, my precious man, and because I was so flooded with memories of experiencing these things throughout our beautiful marriage.
I called him that – beautiful husband, precious man- as I touched him. I called him all the special things I always called him. I told him again how much I loved him, how beautiful he was. I was peaceful inside during this time. I only felt love and deep appreciation.
It was not until I lay my body over his and put my cheek into the soft hair of his chest in my favorite spot- the safest place in the whole world- that I exploded into the abyss of grief and wept from some deep, dark, primal place- a horrible, wrenching, gutteral sobbing, “with tears hot and wild.” (Sinead O’Connor) I was speaking but I didn’t know what I said. After a while I realized I was saying, “I love you! I love you! God I love you!”
The grief was a physical pain and no wonder. And I groaned with it from my soul. How can you be one flesh and one spirit with someone and not feel it in your very body and soul when the one you are joined with is taken away?
Maire, came into the room and stared down at us. Her face was a blank mask. I knew she felt traumatized and maybe the situation brought back the memory of my hysteria at the funeral home after the coffin was closed on her father, and I had been led away.
I looked up at her, my face covered in tears and snot, my hair sticking to my cheek and I said brokenly, “Maire please go. I need to do this right now. This is a very special time for us please leave the room. I promise I will be OK later. I just have to do this right now.” Finally she left without a word.
I held him. I kissed him. I kissed him over and over and all over him. I lay peacefully with him, looking out the window at the crucifix shrine in the roses, listening to the birds as I had done so many times when he was alive. I knew his soul was there in the room. That helped a lot. His love would make him want to be near me as I went through this. I trusted that love. I trusted that our union, in some ways, was unbreakable even by death, because it is a union of total love. We gave ourselves completely. And we learned about love from one another. I did think about that and was grateful for it as quiet tears slid down my cheeks into Bob’s chest hair and onto his face as I kissed him.
I held his rough calloused hands against my face. Hands that had held, caressed, and protected me, and also reached out for me in need or grasped mine in companionship and joy, or taken my own and pressed them to his heart.
I was interrupted by Brandee, an old friend who was answering an inner summons to come to me. She did not even know Bob had died. Not even while she was in the room with me. That was strange. I don’t remember what she said or how I answered her. She went out of the room and I continued to be with Bob.
I called Andrea to me eventually and told her I was ready for the funeral home to come. I was ready to get that part over with. I said please make sure my brother is nearby because I remember that part being traumatic and I may need help. So she did that. I clung to Bob. I waited. After some time Andrea let me know they were here. I said send them in.
The room began to fill up with people- family and friends. I started sobbing and I think I was a little hysterical- whatever that means. I saw the stretcher in the hall and a mild mannered, kind faced Hispanic man came into the room. I was sobbing and clinging to Bob and the man started asking me what seemed like outrageously inane questions that totally could have waited. I thought to myself that maybe this is how he deals with the hysterical people he no doubt encounters nearly every day. It worked. I sat up in the bed and choked back my tears, answering his questions.
Bob wanted to be cremated. He is Catholic. He had asked to be buried at Mt. Calvary cemetery next to my first husband. I already own the grave plot. He is a member of St. Thomas Aquinas parish and the funeral mass will be there. Fr. Wade of St. Thomas Moore in Round Rock would be presiding and Deacon Ron would be assisting. There were more questions but I don’t remember them.
Finally a young woman brought the stretcher into the bedroom and they prepared to move Bob onto it. There was some difficulty and Jon and Sedrick sprang forward to help. Mark did too.
Once on the stretcher Bob was covered up to his chin with a quilt the funeral home people had brought. We were each invited to say goodbye to him.
Maire and Roise were in the room and Maire came and put her head on Bob’s chest and cried a little bit before she pulled herself away, patting his chest one more time. Roise came and caressed his arm, crying, and said, “Bye, Bo Bo. I love you.’ She hugged him briefly. Other people too came and most put their hands on his chest in silence a moment. Jocie kissed him on the side of his head as she did always whenever she said goodbye to him. I think she said, “By Bobbi. See ya. “ I think we may have prayed the Our Father at that point and chanted the Ave Maria.
I said, “Look at his face.” The smile was outrageous. It was unmistakable. It was huge. It was the biggest smile you ever saw. We couldn’t believe it. I took a picture of that too. It was truly amazing. And they took him from the room.
My brother, Mark got on the bed beside me and held me. My sister-in-law, Jamie, did too I think.
I was crying and I bet I sounded like a small child because that is how I felt. “Did I do OK?” I think I said. I don’t remember their reassuring answers and I don’t know why I asked such a thing. “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how. Are you going to help me? I can’t do this!” They all said they would.
Andrea said, after some silence, “Shawn, is there anything you’d like to say?” I said, with passion that surprised me, “Yes. I want to say that I asked God, “Father, take this cup from me but not my will but yours be done. And that I took the cup and I drank it all. With Bobbi. And I’m glad.”
I was still crying when Deacon Ron got there to bless the Bob’s body. He was surprised Bob was gone already. But he stayed and led us in prayer first. He conducted a simple prayer service that involved the reading of a few Scripture passages and traditional prayers for such a time. And then we all sang. We sang “I love You, Lord.” We chanted the Ave Maria. And we sang the family song, “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd. We were all delighted and surprised that Deacon Ron, though hailing from India, knew every word. Mark joked with him when we were finished, “Dude, you can’t sing. That’s OK. Neither can I.” My dad whispered in my ear, as people began to leave the room, “That guy in the long white robe looks Suspicious!” I laughed.
I don’t remember anything else from that day except that at a quiet moment Nan came. She led me into my room and got me into bed. She anointed me with oil. She sprinkled me with rose petals. As I had done for Bob a while since. So appropriate. Because that day I had died too. Or maybe I should see it in a more positive way. Being one with Bob I deserved similar attentions. Maybe I should try to see it in this way: That like Eve I was reborn from Bob’s side as he lay in the sleep of death with Adam until he should rise again in Christ who gave birth to His Bride the Church from his Heart pierced on the Cross. I was reborn into a new life as Bob’s widow to go forth from Bob’s side though still with him by Loves’ grace. This new life is yet to be discerned by me as to what it will be like and what path it will take. But God already knows. God waits for me until I am ready to walk again. Then he will show me where to go.
As I started to doze off I could hear Shawna and Mark talking in the kitchen but I didn’t know what they said. I was brought into sharp awareness when I felt suddenly that Bob was very close to me. I could almost expect to feel his breath on my face. “I’m complete now, Baby. I’m complete and I’m fulfilled. And it’s all because of you.”
Do not press me to leave you!
Wherever you go I will go
wherever you stay I will stay.
Your people shall be my people
and your God, shall be my God.
All art is by my husband, Bob Chapman, who died of Brain Cancer in my and my brother, Mark’s arms on April 13, 2012
I have a cup of coffee, and I am listening to jazz (Alice Coltrane today,) because it is 2 o’clock. That’s what I always do this time of day; jazz and coffee. Somehow this makes me feel more present in the day.
The loose, open-ended routine of stopping the day, at least a little bit, to remind myself I am in it, began when I was an overwhelmed young mother with my first new born. I looked forward to the afternoon jazz show on public radio every day. It helped me touch base, and for the day not to just slip away. It started at 2:06PM. It still does, actually.
My best friend, Andrea, lived on the other side of our duplex, and she liked to make a pot of coffee about 2, because she tended to get sleepy that time of day. So we had the afternoon solace of a cup of coffee, afternoon jazz, and an attempt at a moment of peace together each day, with our babies.
Later 2 o’clock jazz and coffee was a stopping place of peace and re-gathering before I picked the kids up from school. There were various incarnations of the same 2 o’clock routine as my life evolved.
Even through all the tragedy and trauma of these last few difficult years, I have continued to put on some jazz and make a cup of coffee around 2PM, if possible. The duration of time I spend on this, and what else I will do at that time, varies, but generally, I will do at least those two things, and make conscious contact with the day.
What does this do? It gives me a little island in the day to reclaim my peace and priorities.
On a busy, hectic day, it reminds me that I need to slow down.
On one of those difficult, timeless days when my ADD seems worse, or I have that PTSD inertia -anxiety I get, it helps me get a foot on the ground and start over.
For me time can be vague, and the day gets away from me. The simple act of turning on the music and putting on some coffee at that same time of day I always do, is a rung on the ladder back to earth.
As Dorothy Day said, “My strength returns to me with my cup of coffee and a reading of the Psalms.”
When I am at work caring for Mac, I still make coffee and put on some jazz at 2 in the afternoon. He has developed a taste for jazz now, and if I put on any other type of music that time of day, he looks confused. “Hey, what are you doing?”
The rhythm of the day means a lot to Mac. I think it is how he understands his place in time and in the world in general.
I can learn from his way of keeping track of his life so that it means something to him. Without the predictable and repeated routines of each part of the day, life would feel like an unsure, confusing continuum to him. He feels safe when he understands, at least in a general way, where he is in his day.
We are the same way, though most of us have more physical senses and more personal choices available to us than Mac does.
Routines and traditions help us to be fully in the present moment, and, if they are appreciated, can help us live more deeply, more consciously, and therefore, more prayerfully.
Maybe that’s why God made time for us to live in, even though He doesn’t need it. He doesn’t have any problem being present everywhere at once, but we do. We need time to truly experience life and meaning.
We have to mark time to keep ourselves in the only part of time we can really live in; the present moment.
The present moment is where we are most able to encounter God, because that is where we ourselves really are. God is within us, so we need to be “home,” to be present to our Guest.
During the day, we can get caught up in the past, in the future, and other distractions, worries, and concerns. Our minds are a constant river of thoughts and feelings.
Sometimes the day is a frantic blur. Sometimes it is like a dream we can’t quite remember.
When we occupy time fully by being present in the day, there we will find meaning; we will find God.
I have been thinking about that.
I am not much of a routine person. I tend to prefer a cadenza of a day, leaving plenty of room for inspiration, for people who show up, for the Holy Spirit to blow through, for random acts of goofiness, impulsive kindness, or happy, dreamy uselessness.
However, I understand that touch points in the day can be sacred. They give me a way to put the day back on track, put first things first, and remember what I’m trying to do with my life.
Besides making sure I get certain things done each day that have to be done, routines can be boxes to put presence in.
They can be conscious bridges into the next part of the day, helping me live intentionally for the next few hours.
I am trying to aim for small and attainable things to do here and there like modest ornaments for the day I am crafting.
One of these little routines is to turn off any music or stop whatever noise or activity or device is on at noon and pray the Angelus prayer.
I try to get certain things done at work by then so that I can sit down beside Mac and pray the Angelus at the traditional time of noon, or as close as I can get.
Mac likes this, too. He knows when all is tidied up and quiet, and he is made comfortable, that I will come sit and pray with him for a while. Sometimes he likes me to scratch his head while I pray the Angelus, and mid day prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours.
Another thing I have been trying to do: When I get home from work, before I do anything else, is to make time for a mindful sweeping up before I let myself settle down or get obsessed with anything. It’s an easy thing to do, but it makes a big difference in how the rest of the evening goes.
The temptation, when I get home from work, is to flop down and start reading or messing around on the Internet, or get caught up in listening to the news.
When I succumb to that temptation, it seems I only get more and more tired and unmotivated, and that time is wasted. There goes the evening, before I know it; myself and the world, none the better.
I am more likely to do other good things if I make the transition into the evening by doing a simple, silent routine like sweeping, paying attention to what I am doing, often accompanied by inwardly saying the names of Jesus and Mary prayerfully as I sweep.
Jesus. Maria. Jesus. Maria. Jesus. Maria.
Sometimes I even think there is another pair of playful, encouraging feet dancing with mine as I move across the floor with the broom; sneaky, sandaled, dusty feet behind my bare ones, and a silent voice that playfully says, “1,2,3, 1,2,3,” as if we were waltzing together while I sweep.
It makes me chuckle.
Maybe I’m on the right track.
*If you would like to try praying the Liturgy of the Hours, you can try it for free on Universalis
Something that seems to be returning to me as I very slowly recover from the grief and trauma of the past year, or even four years, is a slight sense of self determination. I had not realized it was gone in the first place.
What I did know is that it was very hard for me to talk about the future without feeling really freaked out, or even angry. It was hard for me to let go of anything, or make any changes, even though I kept having to do just that.
I felt like my inner infrastructure had been bombed out and I was not at all sure it would ever really be rebuilt. It’s not that I thought God could not do this. I was just not sure He wanted to.
Actually, He was waiting for me to remember a few things. “You are not dead,” Jesus says, “…only sleeping.” (see Lk. 8:52)
One thing to remember is that God does not create our hearts to be empty wastes, but to be lived in. (see Isaiah 45:18)
Why in the world would God create me and send His Son into the world for me only to have me be destroyed and stay that way? That makes no sense, and can’t be true.
“I came that you may have life, and have it to the full.” (see Jn. 10:10b)
The next thing I remembered is that we are each co-creators with God, and even though we always want to be guided and conformed to God’s will in our lives, this is actually a creative process in which we work alongside with God with a combination of His inspiration, His help, and our own volition and creativity He gave us.
Then I remembered one of the many things my beloved second late husband, Bob, and I learned as we journeyed through our fight for his life against Brain Cancer. We discovered the beauty and strength there is in thinking of each day as an entire life time in miniature. Each day begins with the re-birth of waking up, and the gentle death of falling asleep in our Father’s arms.
We found a lot of peace, courage, empowerment, manageable self determination, and a new way to stay in the present, living fully, in this idea of life being represented in each day we lived.
I thought about how to apply this idea in the new life I realized God wants me to build.
I can make a life one day at a time; one day, my life’s microcosm.
I have to decide what is important to me, what ingredients I want in each day, what ornaments I want to decorate my life with, what design I am trying to trace.
Then I have to start somewhere.
Right now, I have decided to start with rebuilding my prayer life, which has altered along with the rest of me.
What else do I want?
I want peace. I want peace in every day.
What else? Love. I want to live love every day.
That’s a good beginning.
So I am setting off , one day at a time, with a bit of holy self determination, to adorn my days with prayer, with peace, with love; to rebuild my life.
“…rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified,’ says the LORD.” Haggai 1:8b
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