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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