Holy Week 2019

Sooooo how’s Lent been? Good? Ok. Well, for me it began fairly good. My husband was home from Iraq, we got news that we are getting to keep our house and all the bills were paid. It all seemed hashtag blessed.

And then it all went right down the tube because Lent is LONG ya’ll. Some stuff went down with my stepsons that I can’t really share on the blog but it was rough and then my husband went back to the sandbox so that sucked plus tax day was yesterday. Also, grief is weird. It sneaks up on you. Tomorrow will be the third anniversary of my Tio Roy’s death and it is the one that is taking a toll on me this year.

Monday I watched like everyone else as the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris went up in flames and I lost it. I have not been to Mass in three weeks. I was sick, depressed and then one of the Sundays I didn’t go because I had not been to confession and at that point I felt so defeated that I didn’t think there was any use in going. I know I need to go to confession because I am starting to hate everyone. As I watched that beautiful Church burn what I saw was a vision of my faith since Anthony died. That day everything that I thought was real went up in flames. Up until that moment I really thought I was a solid Catholic. I knew my faith, I knew answers to difficult theological questions, I believed that if you served God, He would protect you and your family and I thought my goal in life was to be a speaker who told everyone about all the wonderful things God had done for me. I really thought that I was living the happily ever after fairy tale, sure there was suffering but suffering was a part of the deal and I would say stupid shit like “I fear NOT suffering”. And then Anthony took his own life and poof, it was up in smoke. I often look at my Facebook memories and see the fake piety I displayed and want to punch past Leticia in the face.

I cried in a coffee shop as the pictures of the fire flooded my feed. On Tuesday the picture of the inside began to go viral and there in the middle of destruction stood the Pieta. The Blessed Mother holding the body of her son Jesus. Me and that sculpture go way back to 2010 in Rome when I saw the original at St. Peter’s. I stood there staring at it wondering how it could be so beautiful when it was every mother’s greatest fear. Looking back on it now I can see that even then, seven years before the death of my son, I sensed something that connected me to that statue of the Mother of all mothers. And after the fire that was watched around the world, there she was again. I am also here holding the memory of my son in the middle of a Faith that has been charred by grief.

Then today I watched the Beyonce special on Netflix. It is her Homecoming performance at Coachella last year and it was an experience. She talks about the way her body changed after giving birth to twins and the challenge of being a mother, wife and Beyonce while creating something from nothing and the freedom that comes from having an amazing team part of which is her husband. You would think that a 42 year old grandmother of two, mother of four, grieving mother of one and a wife in the suburbs of Austin Texas would not get much out of the struggle that Beyonce has, but I do. Because it is all of our struggle. The struggle of motherhood is universal. The struggle to stand after a fire rages through our family. In her special Beyonce said that her family is her sanctuary. Just like Notre Dame had a fire rip through her sanctuary, so did I when Anthony died.

I have been hiding from all things Catholic this week, which is kind of difficult when it is Holy Week, but when you are bat shit crazy like me, you do things like that. God is so good and so amazing that He knew I was spiritually putting a hoodie over my head with shades on so He spoke to me the one way He knew would get to me, through a work of art like Beyonce’s concert. The entire thing was God saying He loves me and has always been by my side.

That’s how my Holy Week is going so far. I also read an entire book since I’m off social media. Which can be considered a miracle honestly. We will see what the rest of the week has in store for us all.

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Business As Usual

I am really just rambling today so please stick with me, I’m hoping it all comes together in the end. My blog used to be called “Ramblings of a Crazy Face” and that’s why. It is how I write.

At the beginning of March I went and spoke at the FemCatholic Conference in Chicago. (You can buy the talks here. Honestly, I think that they are all worth the money and mine was not bad even though I almost fell apart in the middle of it.) At the end of my talk a woman who was the victim of sexual abuse as a child asked me how I felt about the current scandal in the Church. I guess from the look of most of my feeds on social media we might wanna start calling it the “last scandal” because nobody seems to remember that we are mad about it still and that nothing has been done at all. My I am bitter so maybe it is just me.

Here’s my answer: I am pissed. In my opinion, this is more than just about the sex abuse scandal though. It is about the way that we as Catholics accept lies when we think they are worth whatever end we are trying to achieve. It is easy to look at the sex abuse cover up and want our Bishops to face the fire for their part or their culture in those cover ups but then we all turn the other way when it is a lie that helps some narrative that we are trying to push, whatever that might be. And we all do it.

Catholicism is a great mask for psychos. People who take jabs at other people and mask it all with “I pray the Lord gives you peace” or other such piety speak that makes you look crazy when you tell other people that it was a jab at you. People with agendas and fakery fit right in when it comes to Catholic media. People who seethe with rage in real life but post pretty Instagram pictures of their rosaries and flowers telling us all how their morning prayer time was so fruitful. In the last nine years I have seen the under belly of our Church and it is ugly. Even in Parish council meetings where people say racist things about Hispanics without batting an eye.

The last time that I was this mad about the PR machine in the Catholic Church I lost a speaking job and was removed from the list of approved speakers for my Diocese. They were “concerned” about me. Then I set all of my social media accounts on fire and burned my platform to the ground. I have 0 desire to be made into someone I am not to do the work God has called me to do. I will not do it.

I have had a hard time articulating what exactly it is about all of this that makes me so ragey. But now I think I have finally figured it out.

After Anthony’s suicide I was on Instagram just scrolling out of habit when I saw so many of my friends just living their lives while I was sitting in a funeral home waiting to start planning my son’s funeral. His body was in a morgue somewhere and I was sitting in a funeral home and my friends were posting videos and pictures of them having fun. At that moment, I wanted to take a hammer to my phone. I hated that little device that showed me how little everyone cared about my dead kid. How they could just go on with business as usual without having their world stop because their son was dead.

In hindsight, I am not mad at anyone in particular about that at all, I’ve been and still am the person who goes on with my life when tragedy strikes another family. We all have our turn in that chair at the funeral home when our world has crumbled and everyone else is going to the movies or eating at Applebee’s or having a birthday party you aren’t invited to because you are dealing with dead bodies and funerals. It is part of life. But we haven’t always been able to see life go on when ours is at a standstill in a funeral home. Now we can.

Now we are all branded and have things to promote even in the middle of someone else’s tragedy, including the Catholic Church. And to me, that seems so wrong. I do not think that Jesus died on the Cross because it was a good content for His brand. I don’t think that His Passion was a marketing move. Or that He died at 3 pm because that is when the most people are online. In the modern world we have allowed the tools to become our masters. And with that comes dehumanizing ourselves into brands and dehumanizing others as brands and mostly we dehumanize Jesus into content for our feeds. That is not how God intended us to grow His following. That is how the Kardashians grow a following.

When I see the USCCB’s social media devoid of any talk about the sex abuse crisis I feel like my pain does not matter. I was sexually abused as a child by a mechanic and those things, those happy social media posts selling some kind of Catholic stuff, still hurt me. I cannot imagine what it is like for people who were victims of clergy. Each one of those “business as usual” social media posts might as well say “we do not care about your pain”. It is a signal that The Catholic Brand means more than the Gospel. A signal that I hear loud and clear. And it makes me angry. There is something more important than all our branding. There has to be, otherwise we are all just fooling ourselves and each other.

At some point I will have to find a place for this anger. I will have to process it and figure out where to put it because I am not going to allow it to stop me from doing what God has called me to do. But for today, I am just going to allow myself to be angry. There just has to be another way to be witnesses of Christ without the PR spin and without being fake and without accepting lies for the greater good. The Truth matters. The Truth has a name and a face. The Truth is Jesus and if we do not believe that then we should all just stop spending so much time pretending we are Catholics who believe in God.

One Step At a Time

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Grief is different for everyone and each loss is also different. There is no worse grief or easier grief, it is just different. Some people seem to be “fine” but they are really in denial. Their brain will not allow them to think about or face the loss of their loved one. They are not choosing to ignore the fact that their loved one is dead as they go on with life, as usual, it is a defense mechanism. Some people dive into work to distract themselves and they do really well at whatever they put all that energy into, some people have brain fog and forget to make sure the slow cooker is plugged in. I am the latter.

My grief is very specific. It is suicide loss of a child who took his own life in my home with a side of the trauma of leaving him in my house and finding his body hours later. Not to mention that I was already riddled from the trauma of being sexually abused as a child, verbal abuse and being bullied most of my childhood. Anthony’s suicide was trauma on top of a mountain of trauma. I remember the exact moment that I saw my husband in the kitchen screaming and I knew that he had found Anthony and that Anthony was dead by suicide. The information all just came into my brain like it was being uploaded onto a computer. I told my husband to get himself together and then it was like a switch went off in my brain that turned me into a robot. I instantly started making a list of things that had to get done: I needed to get dog crates, secure the dogs, call 911, call our priests and then when I was sure that Anthony was dead I had to call into work to tell them that he, his brother and I would not be in the next day. We all worked together, and I had to call in for us.

I had to call in dead for Anthony, which is so crazy and whoever thinks they will have to do that? But my point is that I did it and I did it all calmly and matter of factly. I asked the paramedic if Anthony was really dead and when he said “Yes Ma’am, he is”, I just took a deep breath and went into the kitchen to wash the dishes. This was not an action that I choose to do, my brain decided for me that accepting the fact that my son was dead in my garage was too hard to face so we were going to do something else. I didn’t finish the dishes because the police had questions for us and I was rerouted after that to my mission to have our priests bless Anthony’s body. It was on the list of things that had to be done. Then I had to drive to my mother’s and check on her and Anthony’s little family. All of it was on a list in my mind that is still going to this day twenty-two months later. My brain and daily routine have been forever changed by that switch that flipped the moment that I realized what was happening.

I finished the dishes the next day. In the sink was the plate that still had the food Anthony had not finished at dinner less than 48 hours before. He was dead but there I was washing the plate with food that he had served himself on it. Again, my brain flipped a switch because that fact was too difficult to look at and feel. Typing it makes my heart race and I can feel the switch flipping.

This was the second year that I and my family celebrated the Holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s since Anthony’s suicide. The first year we all tried so hard to pretend like it was ok and to keep his memory alive in our celebrations. This year we did not try to do anything. We all knew that Thanksgiving was missing the crazy person who would click his fork on his giant teeth at the table until one of us told him to knock it off. It was so quiet and that was more depressing than anything, so we decided that Christmas was going to be very low key. We were going to lean into the depression. And we did. We went to eat Chinese Buffet for Christmas dinner, we laid around and watched our favorite family movies like Nacho Libre, Shaun of the Dead and the Big Lebowski. My daughter and I also watched Birdbox which was so good but a bit triggering.

Losing my amazing son Anthony to suicide has been the hardest thing I have ever lived through. I look back on the past twenty-two months and I do not know how I made it. I see so much love from people, I see a lot of meltdowns, I see moments when I could not think or breath, but I also see that I made it. Somehow, I am not sure how I have made it from that day when I was figuring out how to call into work because Anthony was dead to today. One breath, one prayer, one moment, one word of encouragement from a friend, one hug, one mass and one step at a time.