Memento Mori & Parenting a Dead Child

Shortly after my oldest son Anthony died by suicide a religious sister on Twitter began a movement. She began talking about death and an old Catholic tradition “Memento Mori”, which is Latin for “remember your death” or “remember you will die”. The point of this devotion is to always keep death on front of you so that you can live your life ready for the moment you will face God.

Sr. Theresa is a former atheist turned Catholic who became a religious sister. I have always been intrigued by her and her story for many reasons, mostly because she says things that hit home for me. Her twitter handle is “pursued by Truth” and there is no better way to describe my relationship with God. She gets it.

I’ll be honest with y’all. When she first started tweeting about the skull on her desk, I was upset. I had just buried Anthony and her talk of death seemed to go against the experience I was living. But as the days, weeks and months went by I began to see what she was doing and what this devotion was all about. It was all about hope.

One thing that has annoyed me since Anthony’s death is the way that almost everyone comforts themselves about death. How so many people insist on saying “God has a new angel” or just plain assuming that everyone who dies is “in a better place”. The reality is that humans do not become angels (we are two distinct species) and not everyone goes to heaven.

What I found in following along with Sister’s memento Mori devotion is reality. Reality that we will all die, reality that Christ has died for us and the reality that we each have the freedom to choose God or to choose anything and everything but God. The skull gives me comfort in knowing that wherever Anthony is, he is loved and he is there by his own choice and that God loves him so much that He died on a cross for him to choose heaven. God did not hold anything back so that my son can be saved.

Parenting a dead child is not something anyone writes about in parenting books. Mostly because we all tend to think that losing a child will not happen to us. That is a tragedy that happens to be we know, but our kids are safe because we do the right things. It isn’t until you’re standing in front of a grave with your child’s body being lowered into it that you realize life is not fair and yes, your child can easily die just like any other child. Even then, I don’t think it sink in. It sinks in little by little every morning when the first thought is “Anthony is really dead”. I have yet to wake up and that not be my first thought in the morning. It takes me half an hour to remember and accept it every single morning. In that half hour I look at the skull on my bedside table and remember that my goal for the day is to remember that one day I will die and to do everything I can to be ready to face God and by His Grace and Mercy see Anthony again.

Sister’s devotion has been my how-to guide on parenting a dead child. She has helped me to say “dead” and “death” and it not punch me in the gut. It has helped me to face a reality that otherwise would have crushed me if not for her reminding me of the HOPE that comes with Jesus dying for us and conquering death.

It has taught me not to fear death or give death any power over me or my son. God has defeated death. Death has not taken anything from me. I am still Anthony’s mother and he is still my son. Love is stronger than death.

Sister’s memento Mori journal has become a place where I write all my grief, my hopes, my dreams and my goals on moving forward. It is where I write things I want to say to Anthony and where I remember that death has been destroyed. It is where I remember that death has no sting.

I think this journal is amazing but also if you are grieving, I suggest buy one (link here) and following Sr. Theresa on Twitter or Facebook.

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Motivation for the Poor

Something I’ve been noticing a lot lately is this new fad of motivational speakers and writers telling everyone how to “make it big” and they all basically say the same thing while using their own story of how the did it. The majority of these people are middle class white women who are “allies” of people of color (a term I HATE by the way and do not understand why brown and black people seem to not get how close it sounds to “colored people”, but that’s another blog post that is sitting in my drafts because I am not really ready for the flame-throwing that will bring me) and who don’t seem to see that their motivational advice is all basically the same and all for one specific audience: people with privileges that poor people do not have. Not just poor people, but people living the struggle.

I do not mean the “oh I had to be on bed rest” struggle either.  I mean the struggle of generational poverty and trauma. Of being a single mother and grandmother who has to wait tables to make ends meet or have more than one job. The people who are working for minimum wage at the conferences where these motivational gurus are speaking. The people who never had the chance to go to college and even if they did, they would be behind socially because we have to learn a new language around kids who went to good schools. People who are worried about racism and how it is an issue that they live, not just learn about in books and on the internet. People without insurance or a spouse or whose whole family has been riddled with addiction. People with a criminal record that means they will never get a job with benefits. People with bad credit which means they can’t rent an apartment or ever own a home. People who struggle with every single one of the issues that I just wrote at the same time. Who is helping these people learn to figure out and follow their dreams?

I’ll tell you Who: Jesus.

Yeah, I said it. Jesus. The one Name you don’t hear much of even though a lot of these spunky motivational speakers will say they are Christians. They use Christianity as a badge of honor but they do not dare speak His name or say anything about His Gospel.

Something I have been thinking about a lot this week is how equal holiness makes us. It does not matter how much money you have, what kind of family you were born into, whether or not you are a millionaire or work seventeen jobs, holiness is attainable for everyone. Not only is it attainable, but it is the purpose of our entire existence. THAT is the true goal of our lives, to be made into saints.

The key words are “be made into”. It is much easier to become a multi-millionaire than it is to be made into a saint.  Because allowing God to make you a saint means that your entire life will be set on fire right before your very eyes. Suffering is the fire that God uses to make saints (He does not cause the suffering, He USES it).

He will perform surgery on your life to take out every single rotten thing out of it and you will not be put under while it is happening. No, it will be painful. So so painful.

I can totally see why these nice, kind, superficial, easy and full of the prosperity gospel “methods” are so in fashion and so marketable while stories of suffering and being nailed to a Cross are not. I can tell you for sure that if I had known the amount of heartache, suffering and all around bullshit my life as a Christian seeking holiness would bring me, I would have run so fast the other way.

I did not know because God dupes us lost sheep all the time, it’s his MO. Just read the lives of the Saints, the unedited versions. He swoons us, loves us, does miraculous things for us and then our lives go right into the toilet. Motivational speeches and “how-to” books do not help when that happens. The only thing that helps is clinging to Jesus who went before us and Who hung on His Cross saying “Why have you forsaken me?”.

Blessed are the Poor in Spirit, for theirs will be the Kingdom of God. 

That is the motivation for the poor. He isn’t a motivational speaker, He doesn’t give us a “how to be a success” plan, He gives us salvation.

Life 18 Months After Suicide Loss

Grief is a living thing. It starts one way and then it changes and changes. That is what I am learning as I get further and further down this journey. It does not go away, get better or ever become less painful. It is like ground zero and life goes on all around it, but it is still there like a crater in the ground where the bomb went off.

Today I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts about grief.  (Having a favorite grief podcast by your favorite grief memoirist is part of the weirdness of this new life of mine. Only people who have their own new grief life will know what I’m talking about. )

Well, today the episode of Nora McInerny’s podcast Terrible, Thanks for Asking, was about suicide loss. Apparently, September is Suicide Awareness month. I hate that name because I am more than aware that suicide is a thing and that it fucks up everything it touches. Suicide threatens to ruin my life every single morning when I wake up and remember that my son is in a grave up the road from me or every night when I fall asleep knowing that I can mark down one more day of this life which is one day closer to me seeing Anthony again.

This new life sucks. I am not going to even try to sugar coat that. Things are weird here. We talk openly about dead people, they are still a part of our daily reality, we talk to kids about those dead people and we have our own rituals that help us keep the memory of the dead person alive. We also have an irrational fear of forgetting our dead person and it is not weird for us to refer to them as our “dead person”. Anthony is my dead person. He is ground zero. He is gone but yet he is everywhere. He took his own life and in doing that, he blew up the lives of every single person that he loved more than anything.

I listened to a widow on this podcast talk about her husband’s suicide and her ground zero as I sat in my gym parking lot. That parking lot used to be a Garden Ridge. My husband and I bought our first Christmas tree there when we first moved to the suburbs a decade ago. Anthony was so excited about how life was so much better than it had ever been. We bought the biggest tree we could find and hundreds of dollars of Christmas lights to go with it. It was black Friday and Stacey was so happy to buy all the kids Christmas presents. It was the first real Christmas my kids had in their whole lives.

This morning I sat in that space where we bought all those decorations and listened to a woman talk about her husband’s death by suicide relating to what she was saying because my son, the same son who was so happy just ten years ago, is also dead by suicide.

Anthony had driven past this spot in town a lot in his life. It was the way to his apartment from my house. He must have driven down this feeder road the morning he died as he drove Dan to work that morning. One day he was here driving on these roads and then one day he was dead. And the world kept turning.

This morning the highway was full of cars and people going on with their lives. Red mustangs zoomed by.  I am sure he passed by this corner of town a million times in his red Mustang, but today he is in his grave and I am sitting here listening to a podcast building a life around ground zero.

Part of the reason that I ended up deleting all of my old social media is that I realized I am not the same person I was before Anthony committed suicide. Not at all.  I am a completely new person, this is a whole new life and in order to accept that and begin building a life around ground zero, I needed a fresh start. Not one without Anthony but one with the grief that his suicide left behind. Staying stuck in the in-between of my old life and this new existence was exhausting.

I woke up one day fed up with it. I was fed up with my front yard looking like this house had been abandoned a year ago, I was fed up with being overweight, I was fed up with feeling like my chest was going to explode from anxiety and I was fed up with waiting for Anthony to come back. God, I would do anything for that to be possible but it isn’t and being stuck in this mess was not going to make it happen.

I was also pretty pissed off at God and I needed a change in that relationship too because I was also tired of just going through the motions but not knowing what I really believed anymore. I had to ask myself what I wanted out of life. Before Anthony died, I thought I knew what I wanted but after his suicide, that was all blown up with everything else.

So what exactly do I want? Who am I now? Who was I then? Where am I going from here? Where did Anthony go in all of that? Where did God go in it? Where did the rest of my family and my husband fit in it? 

It felt as if I had been stripped of everything and I was starting life over. I almost felt as if I was losing my mind for a little bit, but what I knew was that I needed to take a break from life on social media and do this on my own without opinions or influences or jealousies of mine or my own flaws of thinking that everyone else has a better life than I do.

In my rage cleaning, I ended up with a prayer closet. The first thing I did in this new prayer closet was to have a phone conversation with a wonderful priest who I trust to be honest and blunt with me. I told him that I was devastated and could not see a way out of the anger, despair, and grief.

He gave me a lot of great words of wisdom on how to begin to rebuild. First, he validated my pain which he said made perfect sense because a child becomes a part of their mother while she is pregnant so to be separated from my son is the most painful thing I will ever endure in my life.

I left that conversation with a plan.

I needed to find an outlet for my anger, find time and space to sit in the presence of God for two minutes a day and I needed to find a support group. I also needed to return to the Sacraments. So I joined a gym to release my anger, I’ve been spending time with God more, I went to confession and I have found a support group and plan to begin going this month.

Then my husband and I cleaned our front yard. We cleared the flower bed, planted some plants and we mulched our backyard. I also began to clean the inside of the house and eventually will get around to cleaning the kids’ bathroom which will be a penance I can offer up for the Church. It is so disgusting that it should bring us all a lot of Grace! I am also slowly returning to social media, mostly with new accounts.

And from there I have begun to feel alive again. Alive and still grieving but alive.

That is where I am at 18 months after burying my son, the love of my life and my best friend. I miss him every single second of every single day. I wish he was here. I hate the thought of life without him and all the new gyms that will be built in his absence or the fact that I am eating organic oatmeal and he is not here to make fun of me. I hate not being able to text him a joke I find funny and he responds by telling me how old I am. But this is my new life and I can control how I build it in his honor. It is the only choice I have because going back is not an option and giving up would only add to the pain of my family.
What do I want out of life? I want to help people heal and I want to do it carrying the memory of my son with me every step of the way.  It starts by allowing myself to be healed first.

I miss you Anthony and I hope you know how much I love you.

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