Grief and Joy

After searching for three days, Mary and Joseph find the twelve-year-old Jesus sitting in the Temple discussing the law with the learned doctors (Luke 2:42-52).

I have some experience now with the kind of fear that dwelled within the hearts Mary and Joseph.  It is actually more of a pit-of-the-stomach type of feeling. My own son went missing and the story did not end as happily.  My oldest son Ryan passed away this past August. He died alone and after a heart wrenching twelve hour search he was found. It was the longest night of our lives for David and me.  Ryan, who suffered from autism, had a seizure and slipped into the creek he was sitting near and drifted into a culvert. He was very peaceful when he was found, still holding his juice box and bag of Cheetos. Believe it or not that gave me some comfort. He died quietly in a place he loved, eating his favorite snack. He had not struggled.

Even though the search for Ryan did not end with relief as did the search for the Divine Child the meditation of the Fifth Joyful Mystery brings me great comfort. Our Lady in heaven knew my fear, knew it in a very real and human way.  To have a relationship with the Blessed Mother is to not only rely on her intervention for us in heaven but as mothers to rely on her motherly care and concern. She was a mother. She felt all of the feelings of love and concern and even fear that we mother’s here on earth feel. She wants us to come to her and rely on her motherly comfort in our times of need.

Let me tell you, I am in need.

The grief of losing a child manifests itself, in my case anyway, as a real physical pain. I have had an ongoing ache in my chest since I first received the phone call that Ryan was missing. So how can the story of a child found be comforting when my own story has been so tragically different?

The first words spoken by the Lamb of God in the Bible tell us the whole story, ""How is it that you sought Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?" In these words Jesus gives us the purpose for His whole life and His whole mission. Jesus’ whole life will only be explanation of these words. He needed to get going on His Father’s business. How very simple and yet heart wrenching for his earthly parents, his Mother in particular who knew that his life and death would cause her great suffering.

I firmly believe that my Ryan’s life and death are all part of God’s business. David and I first thought that Ryan’s death would be a small family affair with a short viewing and a family funeral.  It was anything but that and for this we are so grateful.  For every person who came to the wake and told me a story of how my son touched them; for every little miracle that let us know that Ryan was praying for us; for the incredibly beautiful and joyful (yes, joyful) funeral Mass. The church was packed and in our grief we were grateful. This could only be God’s business.

I have written before about Ryan’s devotion to prayer and we know that like St. Therese Ryan would want to spend his heaven doing good work on earth. When Bishop Libasci spoke at the funeral and called upon those who loved Ryan to ask him to pray for vocations to the holy priesthood, David and I smiled for perhaps the first time in days, and nodded. This might very well be the business that God required of Ryan and of us.

To live without Ryan is awful. I don’t want anyone to get the idea that we are being particularly saintly about it. Knowing that something is good for you and your soul and living with it are two different things.  Many nice things could be said about David, the children and I, but saint is not the word that jumps to mind. Really. So we struggle mightily with grief, confusion and anger. We gasp when the pain stabs us, when a memory overcomes or a memento crosses our path. The tidal wave that is grief leaves us breathless and weary. However we are Catholic and we know that our suffering is not in vain, we have the ultimate example of that in the Passion and Death of Christ. So in my very imperfect way I try to follow the example of Mary and trust my God, who I know loves me. Who has a plan for my family that will reunite us all in heaven and give us eternity to spend loving.

I can’t wait to hug my guy.

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  • Claire

    I am so terribly sorry for your loss. I can’t even imagine.

  • Cooky642

    I can imagine, and my heart goes out to you and your family. In a sense, there will always be a ‘hole’ in your family and your life where Ryan should have been, and that’s hard. In another sense, he is not really ‘gone’–you know where he is, and that he’s waiting for you there. Hang on to that.

  • cbalducc

    Ryan’s gone to be an angel. May God bless and comfort you and all those whose loved ones have gone too soon.

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  • elkabrikir

    Mary Ellen, I’m so very sorry for your loss. I feel certain that it is through the prayers of
    Saint Ryan that you and your family will persevere to the end. Thank you for your testimony, and your witness to Faith, Hope, and Love.

    You and your family are close to my heart. I will offer up my suffering for your intentions. Thank you for the gift of sharing your sorrow and joy.

  • Linda

    Mary Ellen, I am so deeply sorry for your loss. Your family has been in my thoughts and prayers since I heard Ryan was missing, and later heard of his death, through the on-line Catholic homeschooling community. May our Blessed Mother and our dear Lord console you and and wrap you in a mantle of peace until that joyful day when you are all reunited.

  • joelrsmith

    Your story is so sad. I was reminded of the chapter in Wisdom 4. If you haven’t already read it I hope it provides some comfort:

    Wis 4:7-14 …the righteous man, though he die early, will be at rest. For old age is not honored for length of time, nor measured by number of years; but understanding is gray hair for men, and a blameless life is ripe old age. There was one who pleased God and was loved by him, and while living among sinners he was taken up. He was caught up lest evil change his understanding or guile deceive his soul. For the fascination of wickedness obscures what is good, and roving desire perverts the innocent mind. Being perfected in a short time, he fulfilled long years; for his soul was pleasing to the Lord, therefore he took him quickly from the midst of wickedness. Yet the peoples saw and did not understand, nor take such a thing to heart, that God’s grace and mercy are with his elect, and he watches over his holy ones. The righteous man who had died will condemn the ungodly who are living, and youth that is quickly perfected will condemn the prolonged old age of the unrighteous man.