All Souls Grieve

My sister's tumor markers went up again recently. Her doctor says the chemotherapy isn't working because, at a certain point, the body becomes immune to it. They have changed her chemo several times since her illness began four years ago, with no success in halting the cancer in her liver.

Because she's been battling the illness for so long, I've had time to adjust. First there was the shock. Then denial. Then faith kicked in. And now I'm more at peace; I've been striving to accept God's will in all that happens to me and my loved ones. And so every conversation with Nancy has been precious. It's like I record every word she's been saying lately. Storing up memories, in a sense.

I've been doing the same with my elderly parents, both of whom have been slowed by serious illness in the past two years. Nancy's cancer has saddened them to the point of depression. No parent wants to see their child die before they do.

With all these angles to ponder, I feel like I've been pre-griev-ing for the past several months. So this All Souls Day, Nov. 2, has new meaning for me.

I have always prayed for the dead in years past and will continue to do so. But I will also ask God and the communion of saints to fortify my faith so I can deal with any future losses.

And I will look to others who have more experience in dealing with grief than I. In fact, I've already begun doing so.

Father Terence Curley is a pastor at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Nahant, Mass. He's been involved in bereavement ministry for more than 20 years. For those who are grieving, he gives wise advice: Find someone who will hear your pain.

“I call it seeking out a compassionate listener,” says Father Curley. “I call it practical Christianity. Christianity really is how we practice our faith, how we do it together, how we console one another. We need to console one another.”

One of the areas that I've been working on in my marriage has been communication. I thought I did it well — until I got married five years ago. Then I realized how little I communicated. It's an area that I've worked hard to improve, and I'm glad I have because my wife is my number-one consoler and listener, especially in the pre-grieving anxiety I have felt.

In speaking to others about grief, I heard something that was very consoling: No matter how grief-stricken you get, God's presence helps you go on. Elaine Stillwell's two children, college-age students, died in a car accident 17 years ago. Driving on a foggy, rainy night, they hit a draw bridge they didn't realize was up.

Stillwell reflects back during that tragic period of grief and said her faith saved her.

“It's a faith that's inborn in you,” says Stillwell, who is the bereavement coordinator for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y. “I didn't tap it and say, ‘Oh, now you're going to help me, faith.’ It was something that was there. It was unconscious. It just came to the fore — all the rosaries, everything you say. The liturgies, the communion of saints, everything that [helped me] say goodbye helped my heart.”

When I heard that, I felt joy in being a believer in God and in Jesus, and it's that kind of faith that comforts me during the times my heart is filled with sadness at the thought of my 44-year-old sister dying too young. Or my parents dying of broken hearts.

It's the kind of faith that, this All Souls Day, reminds me that the pain of Good Friday is always followed by the joy of Easter Sunday.

Carlos Briceno writes from Seminole, Florida.