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Dealing with grief, loneliness, and the holidays


Sima Dimitric | CC BY 2.0

Larry Peterson - published on 11/22/17

A recent widower has advice for those who are suffering from loss, and dreading Thanksgiving and Christmas

I write this as a Catholic man, blessed with the gift of Faith. I do (for the most part) attend daily Mass and receive Holy Communion. I do all the things a “devout” and fully practicing Catholic does. I even do some things I do not have to do, like pray a Rosary every day.

What’s the point? The point is, I am not looking forward to the impending, holiday season.

In fact, its approach is becoming somewhat unnerving. I need all that Catholic stuff to kick in and do its “thing” and nothing is happening. When you lose a spouse the grief process takes you into unchartered waters.

I lost my wife last March and there are two things I have learned for sure: first; each and every one of us experiences grief and loneliness in our own unique way and second; my Catholic faith is my Fortress of Solitude (yes, like Superman). It is my place and no one else’s.

If you have suffered a loss this year, you know what I am talking about. We all have our special “alone place(s) – the “fortress” which no one else can see. When I step into mine, I am protected, nurtured and comforted by my Faith. I can even bawl my eyes out in there and no one can see me.

I like my “place,” my Catholic fortress.

Last Thanksgiving Day was the beginning of the end of my wife’s earthly life. A post-surgical staph infection gave way to other infections and things traveled downhill from there. She passed away in March, and now a year has gone by and here comes Thanksgiving, 2017, and I am sad. I am in grief. But I am grateful.

I am grateful for being a Catholic because it has helped me deal with my new reality – the one that began after the funeral, when I came home to an empty house and knew I was truly alone.

I did not like it at all. After years as a care giver, I had become very isolated, and less active than I had been at church. We are all different, so this may not suit you, but for me, for my new reality, it was important that I get right back into church activities.

It was surprisingly hard to do, at first. Going to Sunday Mass was not the same. The passenger seat in the car was empty and the seat next to me in church was empty. “Empty” was different now. It was not just “empty” – it was “forever empty.” That is a powerful reality. I still do not know how I made it through that. But it gets better.

It is still hard to look at the side of the bed she slept on, where she sat on the sofa, and all those other little things: her hair brush, hair curlers, makeup, slippers, shoes, and things, and let in the “forever empty.” Hello Catholic world, I need you now, cries the heart, and she heard me and has been there for me. She is my “Fortress of Solitude.”

The Church can be your “safe-harbor” or “safe-haven” or quiet place for respite. You can hide inside its prayer books and converse with our honored ones, the saints. They have all made it to the mountaintop. They have all experienced great grief and bereavement. They feel your pain and they have your back. They are close to the Christ and His Mom and they can intercede for you. So—talk to your favorite saint or one you do not know very well. They are waiting for you.

Remember this — you must somehow, someway, get out and get going. There are new “friends” and new experiences waiting for you. Put your Rosary in your pocket or in your purse and continue living. The deep wound from grief will heal over – the scar will always be there, but you can move on and forward, because God always has a plan.

Just remember that nothing will ever change the memories and the love for your departed loved one because they will live on within you. But God wants us, the living, to live our lives.


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