Keeper of The Fruit Loops

Four Words That Helped My Find My Faith Again

September 21, 2016

My father died unexpectedly in October 2012 and, in the days that followed his death, I wandered around in a fog.

I went through the motions of helping my family arrange his funeral and I did what I could to put my grief aside to help the Fruit Loops manage their shock and hurt.

I answered the door as flower arrangements arrived in droves and mindlessly ate lukewarm slices of lasagna that had been reheated by someone I can’t remember.

Finding my way back to my faith wasn’t easy. But four simple words helped.

I hugged his colleagues numbly as they cried near his casket and told me wonderful stories about an office life of which I knew very little. I stared unbelievingly at his casket in the vestibule of the church and I concentrated on the pinch in my shoes as the priest processed into the church, my father’s body close behind.

I gave my father’s eulogy in front of his family and friends as a knot in my stomach threatened to spill over onto the pulpit. I steeled myself from my emotions and begged my heart to let me stagger though my words before I crumbled into a pile on the altar.

I stared aimlessly at faces I could barely see over the tears that threatened to fall as I tried to detail what my father, affectionately known as Big Art, meant to me.

As I stepped down from the altar, I turned and looked at the cross above the priest’s head. I was hit with shocking anger at a God who could take a grandfather away from his beloved grandchildren.

In the months that followed his death, I grieved. I cried hot, heavy tears and felt rage deep into my bones. I couldn’t concentrate, I was cold all the time and I was just plain angry. Angry at the Fruit Loops, angry at Hubby, angry at the poor grocery cashier who didn’t instinctively know that I wanted plastic bags (it’s *always* plastic, people).

I carried a weight in my chest and could barely fall asleep at night because I was weighed down by grief I couldn’t control. Running was no longer a solace for me because it meant being alone with thoughts I couldn’t handle and sitting in a room with my friends made me want to crawl out of my skin.

Life had gone on like nothing had happened, as if the world had forgotten that my father was now in a cold, dirt grave.

And I couldn’t face God.

Oh, I tried. I dragged myself out of bed on Sunday mornings, in an appearance of normalcy, and put on a church dress. I’d silently sit next to Hubby and the Fruit Loops as our priest gave a homily, all the while counting the minutes until I could escape the torture.

Everywhere I looked in the church I could see my father: he was in the kindly old gentleman with the cane who held his wife’s hand and he was in the wooden rosary beads dangling next to the stockinged leg of the lady beside me. He was in the sound of the deep gutteral cough in the back of the sanctuary and in the screech of the baby in the pew in front of us (my father used to tell new parents that we teach babies to talk all week long and we couldn’t expect them to not practice their words during church).

And, perhaps worst of all, he was in what I am fond of calling the “Funeral’s Greatest Hits”: the church hymns that cut deep into your soul and cause you to come right back to the moment when you could smell the calla lilies and feel the death in the air.

And I missed my faith. I missed the comfort I found when I’d commune with a God who understood that I wasn’t ever going to agree with all of my Catholic faith.

The God who forgave me for saying the F bomb more than I say “please” and “thank you” (shut up, we’re all sinners). The God who knew that I’m a person just trying to do a little good and that sometimes, okay, a lot of times, I’m out of the pew more than I’m in it on Sundays. I missed the serenity I used to feel as I’d look next to me and see my family quietly sitting together united in fellowship and the knowledge that we’d be eating donuts soon.

And, I was tired of breaking down into the ugly cry every time On Eagle’s Wings came floating from the choir. Seriously, there should be a disclaimer for that song.

As the months wore on, I resigned myself to the fact that my faith was broken, damaged beyond repair. I tried to accept that I’d never feel the same in a church again and I struggled with the idea of stopping altogether.

One day, though, a kind friend asked me how my grief process was going and I broke down and told her how frustrated I was that I was out of tune with my faith. She suggested that I talk to one of our Deacons, who happened to be a grief counselor. When I balked, she urged me to reconsider.

She gave me his number, I thanked her and I promptly put it in my purse, hoping to forget it existed.

But, even a week later, the card in my purse kept calling to me, telling me to take the first step towards healing. And, though I was skeptical, I made the call and arranged to meet our Deacon the following week.

When the Deacon met me in the chapel, the air was hushed and the smell of incense was thick. The silence was almost deafening and, as he invited me to sit in front of him, face to face, I felt an overwhelming terror. “This is a mistake”, I thought. “I can’t talk to a stranger about my dad,” I panicked. But, as his kindly eyes met mine, he said the four words that are responsible for me finding my way back to my faith:

“Tell me what happened.”

As I stared blankly at him, he repeated the words in the exact same way and waited patiently.

I fumbled with my fingers and felt a lump swell in my throat as I opened my mouth and told him the story of how my father got sick, the painful months leading up to his death and the excruciating details of the day he died.

For almost an hour, he sat with me, held my hand, and listened to me tell my story. I cried, I spat out angry frustrations and I smiled as I reminisced. And, the whole time, the Deacon just quietly accepted my words without judgement.

In giving my grief a voice, the Deacon helped me unload the weight I’d been carrying. Months of anger, hurt and grief were lifted as I let myself admit out loud how I’d been feeling.

And, when I shamefully admitted how angry I was at God for taking my father away from me, he gently said, with a twinkle in his eye, “That’s okay. God forgives you.” We talked about forgiveness and grace, pain and suffering, hope and promise.

And that simple act of listening, an overwhelmingly simple kindness, was enough to help me slowly work my way back to the pew on Sunday. But not *every* Sunday, mind you. I’m still not perfect, you know.

In the years since my father’s death, I can now sit in church and accept my Dad’s presence near me. I still maintain that the Funeral’s Greatest Hits should be banned but, for the most part, I know Big Art is looking down on me with a smile. I haven’t ugly cried in quite some time and even managed to make it through “Amazing Grace” without wanting to junk punch the choir director. Baby steps, I tell you.

And, when we recite the Lord’s Prayer, please forgive me as I change the words to “Our Father, WHO IS Big Art in heaven…..”. I mean, if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry, right?.



11 Responses

  1. Thank you for putting into words how I felt.
    After all these years(26), I guess I’m still a “little”
    angry that God took my dad away. More so, I’m angry He
    gave him cancer. But, after reading your post, I feel
    a “little” better!! Thank you for sharing and most of the time–

  2. This is a beautiful, moving, and honest piece about grieving. I never had a similar experience, and I’m an atheist, so I dunno what else to say but I hope you find your happiness.

  3. This post touches my heart to the core. I lost my mom last summer and am still not on “speaking” terms with God. I am trying to make my way back there slowly and your post is giving me hope that someday I will make it back to Church. I am in therapy and it is helping to unload the weight of the grief and anger. Thank you for showing me there is hope I will find my faith again.

    1. to be honest we have never had gnhocci, not sure why, just never did. that spinach gnocchi looks great! this weekend is just relaxing with the family and friends, probably watch some football 🙂

    2. Kuff (or others)I am curious we keep hearing the $4B number mentioned as being cut. Does someone know the actual numbers spend on Public Ed last year vs what is being proposed? Is the delta of those two numbers $4B, or is it a case that the funding formula said it should go up by $4B but the State is just keeping public ed funding flat? I am not being a smart a$$ and I am not one of those who is a fan of cutting education just curious because I have heard different figures of the actual dollars being spent getting thrown around.So is it a true cut or is it just a cut from what the formula says schools are due?John

  4. I am a PTSD survivor.
    It took me 13 years to find my way back home again. What it was for me was when a friend said “This wasn’t what God had for us. Death was never in His plan. We were meant for eternity. We were made for Eden!”

    It was the acceptance of free will that finally reconciled the idea of a loving God with the violent death of a child in my mind and heart.

    It’s an imperfect journey to say the least, but faith is a necessary part of healing, at least for me.

    ((hugs)) Mama. You’re amazing.

  5. I lost my faith almost 5 years ago, after my mother died. I am glad to see yours was restored. My mother believed in and loved God, and I suffered that love at the crack of dawn every Sunday morning from birth till I was 15. I raised my son with that same live and belief until her death. I have justified my lost faith by my being a scientist. And it’s hard to believe in evolution and Him at the same time. I am very happy you were able to come to terms with your fathers death and that He forgave your anger and lack of faith. But for some of us, faith is what other people have.

  6. I lost my husband many years ago and carried that anger at him and at God for a couple of years. It wasn’t until I told my friend (and now second husband) everything that happened and exactly how I felt that true healing and forgiveness started.

  7. On Eagles Wings, How Great Thou Art, and Ave Maria are all on that Greatest Hits album. My children know as soon as the first few notes start, here come the waterworks. But yes, every funeral we have them. Lost both parents and feel your pain…and you will always cry. And church will become comforting again…

  8. So, many intriguing facts and crucial instances that I’m astonished and thoroughly pleased with the data you provide us.
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