The Winters of Spiritual and Biological Grief

I will never forget driving home from work for months as tears would fall on my steering wheel. For the first time in my life, I was upset with God. I was angry at my situation, because as a father I dreamed of having ten children. And that dream was fading quickly.

Thanks to God’s grace, I never turned my back on Him. I never stopped praying. I never stopped attending Holy Mass. But deep down inside, I sometimes doubted whether God was truly generous with me and whether my desires for a large family would ever come to fruition. I thought to myself, Why is it Lord that so many people can have as many babies as they want (and sadly abort them) or some large Catholic families do not seem excited for another child—yet we are unable to have another baby?

My wife called it her two years of winter, the season of losing two children from miscarriage. Winter seemed to never end. That winter dragged on for nearly six years.

Grief has been defined as a “deep sadness caused by someone’s death” or “keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss.” There are several stages of grief, such as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

I went through all of those stages. I also went through isolation. I slowly began to isolate myself from other Catholic men at my parish, who were filled with joy at the sight of their pregnant wife, meanwhile, my wife was a barren desert. Eventually, we ended up switching parishes to one closer to our house where we could heal without being triggered or be frequently asked questions as to why we only had one child.

Grief does not just pertain to child loss. In the Dark Night of the Soul, St. John of the Cross once wrote, “In poverty, without help all my powers, the understanding in darkness, the will under constraint, the memory in trouble and distress, in the dark, in pure faith, which is the dark night of the natural faculties, the will alone touched by grief and affliction, and the anxieties of the love of God, I went forth out of myself, out of my low conceptions and lukewarm love, out of my scanty and poor sense of God, without being hindered by the flesh or the devil.”

Yes, grief afflicts each one of us on our path to God and rightly so. Perhaps there is grief over “consolations” that are taken away. Perhaps there is grief over the loss of a beloved spiritual director. Perhaps there is the grief of losing your job, or moving away from your hometown. Grief is all around us, but it need not cripple us.

The spiritual life and the biological life are as much about death as they are about life. We are born to die and we die, so that we can have eternal life in Heaven. We literally detach ourselves from this passing world and attach ourselves to God. In our winters of desolation, God never abandons us. He sends us the fire of the Holy Spirit. He sends us the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph to walk with us. Above all, the Father sends His beloved Son to be born again in our hearts this Christmas.

In my own winters of child loss, I looked for guides to help me experience some taste of spring. In the Scriptures and in the saints, I found so many guides like King David, Job, and Servant of God Karol Wojtyla Sr.  I found friends like Bryan Feger and Ryan and Kelly Breaux from RedBird Ministries, a Catholic non-profit organization to help couples with child loss. And through our friendship, the Holy Spirit inspired us to write the book called: The Grief of Dads: Support and Hope for Catholic Fathers Navigating Child Loss by Ave Maria Press. This book is a resource for any Catholic father who has lost a child at any stage.  Filled with stories of saints and Catholic dads like the great Catholic writer, Joseph Pearce, The Grief of Dads brings consolation to those who grieve. Pearce described the powerful moment when he held his stillborn daughter, Gianna. He said, “I looked up at the crucifix on the wall and found myself, for the first and only time in my life, being lifted up onto the Cross. I felt myself at one with my crucified Lord. He was embracing me, making my suffering his own. But, more than that, I felt myself being crucified with him. He and I were one.”

Suffering and death draw us into the Mystery of all mysteries, Christ Himself. Although my six years of winter seemed to end with the birth of our fourth child Mella (our second living one), winter never ends permanently when you lose a child. It comes back just like the actual season, and it comes in varying degrees. Grief is often compared to waves, but I also think grief can be compared to winter. On some occasions, the blizzard is so overwhelmingly and the chill pierces your bones. At other times, you look back on your child with fondness like a gentle snowfall.

The storm of grief hits every person, some more forceful than others. At the same time, the storm of grace is always there—the grace of the Sacraments. In this season of Advent where the days get shorter and shorter, we know that Christ is coming into the world both now and at the end of time. He alone can dispel the darkness. He alone is the Resurrection and the Life. He alone journeys with us through the winters of our lives to the perpetual springtime in Heaven.

Let us become like Christ, Who was born naked and died naked, by stripping ourselves of every attachment and by never forgetting that we, too, were born to die like Him! May God turn our grief into joy one day.


Image courtesy of Unsplash.

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