Mary Ellen Barrett is a Catholic writer and a homeschooling mother of seven on Long Island. I have quoted her writing previously on my blog.
In August, while on a camping trip, it is believed her fourteen-year-old son, Ryan, had a seizure that resulted in his drowning. As a parent who shares with her a deep love of our Catholic Faith and for our children, we all share in this heartache.
Ryan was very loved within his community, and aspired to become a priest. When Auxiliary Bishop Peter Libasci came to Ryan’s wake, he told a mourner, "I just had to come and see the little priest."
Mourning directly exposes our souls and our hearts to the presence of God without any obstructions. There are no pretenses or falsehoods in mourning; no rhetoric, no social pleasantries, no cosmetic appearances, no designer clothes, nor teeth whiteners. Nothing but the true essence of human struggling and emotions with all else stripped away.
Grieving is the battleground between the Divine and the mortal. Our mortal nature and senses tell us that our loved one is gone forever because we no longer have their physical presence; and our Faith tells us that they are in God’s embrace and that we are called to believe the nonphysical and things that can't be seen -- what our senses can’t perceive and hearts can't prove. It is a very tough battle.
This struggle is what Mary Ellen calls "sitting at the foot of the cross" in this beautiful piece where she wrote about her grief. You will see there are no pretenses in her words, just her struggling with her essence and the belief in her God. It is a very worthwhile read:
Triumph of the Cross
"One month. It's been one month since our world came crashing down around us and we began our vigil at the cross of Christ.
To learn to embrace the suffering and turn it to some use has been, at times, a nearly impossible task for me. I miss my Ryan so badly it is a physical pain that just will not go away. A stabbing knife in my chest that often makes it hard to catch my breath.
To sit at the foot of the cross in the real way that Dave and I have this past month, it is necessary to surrender to God and to just trust that His plan is for our ultimate salvation. I confess to having my moments of bewilderment/anger at why God called Ryan home but I pray through that and ask Ryan to pray for me. I know that Ryan is happy in heaven, that he is doing good there. There have been several little intercessions he has accomplished for his mom and dad and I'm told others have had little prayer requests granted. I am so comforted by the knowledge that he is home with Our Lady, helping his family and friends.
I still want him home with me. That is me, my fallen, broken nature. To be aware of his joy and yet want him here. I can't help it. I don't think I ever will be able to feel differently.
Still we chug along here, life still happens. Babies need feeding and changing, toddlers require care, older kids need to do school and go to music and soccer and other places. I am sometimes annoyed that the world hasn't stopped, frozen in time because my son died, but then I see that going to dance and soccer is good for the kids and visiting with family heals me.
So the grief crashes over us in waves. Mind numbingly, over-powering waves and then we gasp and stick our heads up and catch our breath. We see the world around us and the love being bestowed on us and we know it is good.
Sitting at the foot of the cross gives others the opportunity to minister. We have been so cared for and generously provided for in the last month. I still receive a delicious hot dinner every evening at 5:00 pm. I We spent this last weekend in a beautiful New England resort owned by my cousins, being catered to as if we really deserved such treatment. The dearest friend in the world and her husband and children still take care of so many details of daily living for us so that we no longer have to think. The generosity of our parish family, community and homeschool group have been unimaginable. Thank you all dear people.
This community too, this blogging world with is so "real" in spite of it's "unrealness" The cards, letters, donations, emails, gifts and prayers have overwhelmed us in their love. Thank you all so much.
I have almost 1,000 thank you notes to write. Yes 1,000. Between the wakes and the funeral and the giving that followed almost 1,000 people expressed their gratitude for Ryan's life and love for our family.
If you know me, you know how long that it is going to take to get that done. If you don't know me, let me tell you it's going to be a while.
I want to assure everyone that this blog is not going to become a constant outpouring of grief. I won't be able to keep it out entirely but I still want this to be a happy place that records what we do here and how we do it. I still will rant politically over at CatholicVote.org and I still intend to keep up with other writing commitments. Soon.
For today, the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross, let me assure you that the suffering we embrace does in fact unite us to Christ. While I think I have felt every emotion going in the last month the one that prevails is unity to Christ. A comforted, loved feeling. Knowing that my Father in heaven has embraced my family and I and is holding us close is a warmth I can't describe. To witness and experience the Body of Christ in the real, powerful and practical way that we have is evidence of the suffering doing good. It is evidence that God is in His heaven, that my son is there too and he is caring for Dave and I.
The cross will be triumphant, we shall all be united again.
Until then I can't wait to hug my boy."