I feel so sad when I read all of the posts on the different pages dedicated to grief on the internet. So many people are suffering so much as a result of the death of a loved one; they are literally drowning in their grief. It is as if a very dark cloud is hovering over them and they cannot see the sun at all even after many years have passed. My heart aches for each and every one of them. I want so badly to be able to bring them some relief and lift their spirits. I want to gather up all their suffering and channel it into a force for the good. I know it’s possible because I have experienced many healings in my life from God doing this with my suffering.
I am well aware of the fact that sadness and feelings of depression are a normal part of grief and the sadness over the death of a significant loved one will always be with us; I live with this reality every day and some days are definitely harder than others. But, I have also learned that when there is an overwhelming sense of sadness or feelings of gloom and doom continually present there is something more going on that is bigger than me – a supernatural evil presence:
“For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 4:26).
My 26 year old son, Brett, died eight years ago and on some days, early on, the oppressive, gloomy outlook was so great I could not bear it. Even my eyes felt heavy and not just from crying. But, not only did this evil presence surround me with gloom and doom, it even tried to “seal the deal” and keep me in this state by tempting me to indulge in a misplaced feeling of guilt. I wrongly felt that if I allowed myself to experience joy, I was not honoring him because he could no longer physically be a part of it. I believed something along the lines of “the greater the loss = the greater the sorrow, and if it is as significant of a loss as a precious child than I should NEVER feel joy again.” Every time my spirits would lift at all, guilt would follow. I have battled with this temptation over and over again.
One thing I came to realize, through God’s grace, is that Brett can see things way more clearly than I can right now - he has an eternal perspective - and he does not want me to be depressed for the rest of my life because of his tragic death; I believe that would be anguish for him. He is not, in any way, insulted by me and the rest of my family experiencing joy in our lives! As a matter of fact, if we do experience peace and joy, it is because he is - and this I am sure of - continually pleading with God, on our behalf, for this to happen! He doesn’t want us to repress our grief but to learn what he is learning - that joy and sorrow are not incompatible but work together for a higher purpose.
Because of him, I am learning that it is possible, with God's grace, for extreme sorrow and even anguish to peacefully coexist with joy in my soul. It is a profound mystery but somehow they are not opposed to one another; they do not contradict one another. I am convinced that Brett wants us to know this. I believe that he is experiencing this right now as he is being made ready for full union with God in Purgatory.
How does this happen practically speaking? By struggling each day to be open to God’s grace.
When Brett was born, God knew this time was coming in our lives and he prepared ahead of time all of the grace and help we would need to live with joy, peace and hope in the midst of this anguish and sorrow. It is up to each one of us to keep our hearts open to the grace he is continually pouring out on us each day. Each morning, and sometimes several times throughout the day, I have to consciously pray for the ability to welcome His grace for that day or moment and I have to realize that the oppressive, gloomy outlook is not just a normal part of my grief. I want to honor him this way. I do not want his prayers for me to be in vain.
It is a lie that I do not have a "future full of hope" (Jeremiah 29:11) even after such a tragic loss. God is a loving Father and he desires to enable me to live with both joy and sorrow simultaneously and I know my son is praying and hoping that I will let him. Before Brett died, I would never have thought this was possible. I think about, miss and feel sad about him 24/7 but I have peace and experience joy at the same time. Some of the grace that I am learning to open up to has come:
- through the prayers and love of others; including the love of our dogs.
- through the witness of other people who have endured great suffering and were transformed by it instead of getting stuck in it or transmitting their pain to others.
- through the strength that comes from receiving Christ, our Savior, in the Eucharist and from my daily time with Him in prayer.
- through precious time with family and friends.
- through the love of our grandchildren, Cash, Bowie and Indy. Our first grandson, Cash, was born on Brett's birthday.
- through realizing that the oppressive, gloomy outlook for the future (that seems to come out of nowhere and can be so overpowering at times) is a lie and a spiritual attack and I need to combat it with praise, thanksgiving and trust.(**see below for explanation)
- through living one day at a time. I can get through today without Brett, but thinking of the future without him is too hard. I only have the grace for the present moment. As each new day and event happens in real time, God will be there to carry us like he is right now.
- through the maternal presence and intercession of Our Blessed Mother as she helps us to not lose hope in the midst of our suffering, confusion and feelings that God has abandoned us. At the foot of the cross on Good Friday, she, too, stood in confusion and darkness with a heart that was bleeding and broken but she didn’t give into the darkness. She clung to God with the light of a faith that believes in God’s love no matter what.
- through Scripture and the teachings of the Catholic/Christian Faith about why we are here, where we are headed and how suffering fits into God's beautiful plan for our lives.
- through knowing that our suffering is redemptive and God will use it to help others; He will even use each wave of grief, If we offer them to him, as a prayer for others.
- through the fact that, because of Jesus' victory in our life, we have the hope of being with Brett again in heaven for all eternity where God will wipe away every tear from our eyes and our joy will be complete.
If you are experiencing that oppressive gloomy outlook, I encourage you to take one small step and to call on God to lift it from you so that you can learn how to live with joy in the midst of sorrow - not without the sorrow - but together with it.
Pray this prayer: In the holy name of JESUS, the name above all names, the name that every knee under heaven must bend and every tongue confess that "Jesus Christ is Lord!", I rebuke any evil spirits that are coming against me with evil forebodings or an oppressive gloomy outlook and I command them to go directly to Jesus without manifestation or without harm to me or anyone so that He can dispose of them according to His holy will. O, Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament, Host of Salvation, that opens the doors of heaven and scatters our enemies, bring us help! Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, JESUS! Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of death. Amen.
**If you experience evil forebodings or oppressive gloominess, cling to Christ and Mary even more in those moments and beg them to lift the oppression and gloom. Praise him and thank him for all that you can think of that is good, true, and beautiful! There is so much. This puts the devil to flight and gloom is chased away or lifts from us. The sadness is still there but not the heavy, oppressive gloom.
This was my experience. My son died in October and from mid-December through the beginning of January I continually felt the weight of an oppressive gloom and fear. It felt so heavy that even my eyes felt strained. I kept offering the darkness up to the Lord and at the same time begging Him to lift it because it was so intense and overwhelming. Around January 1st, I felt that God was asking me to write in my prayer journal about this. I know that He was with me as I did because I would begin by writing about all of the heavy emotions I was feeling and somewhere along the way I would begin to praise God for all of things I was thankful for. As I did this I could feel a lift in my spirit even though the heaviness was still there. On January 9, I woke up and the heaviness was completely gone; the oppressive, gloomy outlook was lifted. In my journal entry on January 11, I described it by saying "Thank you, God, for letting me have two really good days with peace! I have had sad moments but not despair." On January 16, I wrote "Thank you for giving me so much peace this week and not allowing the grief to consume me." On January 19, "I am still living in the grace of Jesus carrying me in a tangible way." That was in 2016 and that feeling of despair and oppression has never returned. I believe, from hindsight, that it was a spiritual attack and that fighting it with the right weapons (the sacraments & prayer in the form of thankfulness, offering it up and praise) made all the difference in the world.