After the Death of My Husband Mark, Solace Comes From Faith and Hope in Jesus

Every loss of a loved one brings pain and sadness, but through our faith in Jesus Christ comes the hope to one day be reunited and the strength to continue on.

A double rainbow is seen outside the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Bismarck, North Dakota, following Mark’s wake.
A double rainbow is seen outside the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Bismarck, North Dakota, following Mark’s wake. (photo: Courtesy of Patti Armstrong)

Get him Last Rites. Those words seemed to come from my right side. On my left was my dear husband Mark, awaiting emergency surgery.

In the frantic rush on May 11, when I feared Mark was having a heart attack but learned that he had a tear in his aorta, I trusted that surgery to replace the valve would provide a solution. Three of our 10 children were already at the hospital with me and two more were on their way. I was told it was dangerous surgery, and if he made it through, recovery would be long. Would he have the strength to put in his beloved garden this summer, I wondered?

We had gone to our usual morning Mass together that Saturday. Although distressed, I trusted in prayer to bring Mark through this. Many were already praying, and word was spreading.

But suddenly, it seemed I had been instructed: Get him Last Rites. I called our parish priest, Father Josh Ehli. He had just returned from an out-of-town funeral and was at the hospital in five minutes. Although in intense pain, Mark was cognizant.

We arrived at the emergency room around 1:00 p.m. and surgery began around 5:00 p.m. Every update brought troubling news until, finally, we were told there was no hope. They had to let him go. Mark was pronounced dead at 11:45 p.m., 15 minutes before Mother’s Day and the Solemnity of the Ascension. The next day, May 13, was the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima. It was also Mark’s birthday — a birthday he shared with our son Jacob. Last year, we had been together in Fatima — his dream — joined by three of our children.

The six of us in the waiting room wept, unable to believe this man — described over and over again by people as “larger than life” — could be gone from us. The rest of our children immediately headed home to Bismarck, four from out-of-state and one from Guatemala.

I knew that the searing pain of grief could not be avoided in this world. Yet, from the inside, there were things that I had not expected — like how even happy things would make me sad because my life partner was no longer there to share them with me.

The shock has worn off, but grief lingers, as I’m told it will, likely for a very long time, often coming in waves. Eternity suddenly feels so close despite always knowing it is just a breath away. It’s what our faith teaches — always be ready — but still, our here-and-now brains struggle to fully grasp that. Yet, from the start, even amid grief, I could still praise and thank God for the powerful blessings of our faith. That is what has begun to place meaning and purpose back into my life.

After Mark died, I later reflected that receiving the Last Rites — which includes Confession — was a fulfillment of one of the 12 promises of the “Nine First Fridays of Reparation to the Sacred Heart of Our Lord.” At the end of the 17th century, Our Lord appeared to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690) and asked her to spread devotion to his Most Sacred Heart. In a letter written to her Mother Superior in May 1688, St. Margaret Mary set out the great promise Our Lord made regarding the Nine First Fridays:

I promise you in the excessive mercy of My Heart that Its all-powerful love will grant to all those who receive Holy Communion on nine first Fridays of consecutive months the grace of final repentance; they will not die under My displeasure or without receiving their sacraments, My divine Heart making Itself their assured refuge at the last moment.

At the end of that first week of shock, the prayer vigil and funeral the next morning brought solace from above as well as from those who had gathered. Voices joined in the Rosary at the prayer service, believing in its power to pour down graces and asking that our loved one be received into heaven. Then, the purpose of a Catholic funeral is first, to pray for the salvation of the deceased person, and second, to help those grieving to begin to find peace. We ask the Lord to receive the soul of our loved one into our eternal heavenly home. Nothing compares.

The Order of Christian Funerals describes it this way:

At the death of a Christian, whose life of faith was begun in the waters of Baptism and strengthened at the Eucharistic table, the Church intercedes on behalf of the deceased because of its confident belief that death is not the end, nor does it break the bonds forged in life. The Church also ministers to the sorrowing and consoles them in the funeral rites with the comforting Word of God and the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

And so, I move forward, reassured by the consolation of the Church, our community and my family. Every loss of a loved one who has blessed our earthly lives brings pain and sadness, but through our faith comes the hope to one day be reunited and the strength to continue on. We are not less, but more, realizing that their love and life lives on in us.

I’ll leave you with thoughts that our son Luke had posted on social media to which perhaps anyone who has lost a loved one can relate.

And the most important person in the room is not in the room. But the presence that pervades us all conjures a collective him. And sometimes he is taking us camping again. And often he is smiling. And he is up early in the morning shoveling snow and tending to his garden.
And we knew we loved him before, but now a layer of love has been peeled back to reveal the inner workings. And sometimes we are crying. Because sometimes we see him, and he is dying. And we don’t know where to place this strange rage. Because it’s not towards anyone, just a painful lament at the whole setup here on earth. This being born then dying and loving every step of the way. This way we’ve all been unmasked as fragile and forlorn, yet open to a renewed vision into how every moment matters to its utmost.
And maybe we learn his lessons now before he did through the way he was and the way he became. That subtle and constant support that came off in all directions, seen and unseen, as present as the air we sometimes forgot we were breathing.