The Mystery of Love Persisting
I can still feel the waves of nausea that began to hit my stomach when I heard the news. My whole world was turning upside down, and I had no way to stop it. The voices in my head were swirling around like a plastic bag being blown by a cyclone.
I was about to start my last semester of college—how would I finish?
What would happen with mom and the house?
Who would take care of us?
How could we survive without him?
As my dad lay dying in intensive care, the shock and grief that had hit me began to fade as I forced my mind to attend to the multitude of tasks that now faced us. This would become the norm for the next two decades of our lives without him. There was always something to be done, and no time to wallow in what felt like self-pity.
Jobs came. Marriage came. Children came. The list of things to do always overrode the inclination to allow myself to visit the grief that nipped at my heels all these years. It still felt self-indulgent.
Fast forward to the spring of 2020 when the world shut down, and everything I had been avoiding came crashing down when the phone rang in the middle of the night. You should know, there are only a few numbers that ring when my phone is on “do not disturb.” One number belongs to my husband who was snoring next to me.
Another number was my mother’s nursing home.
Once I shook off the fogginess of being woken from a deep sleep, my heart sank. I knew. It was just a month into the pandemic, and while the voice on the phone said it was an upper respiratory infection and they were just being cautious, there was no doubt in my mind. So when the nurse called the next morning to confirm what the pit in my stomach had already told me, my defenses were already up. I heard the words, but with a detachment that was preparing to lose someone yet again.
…Slim chance of recovery…
We will make sure she does not suffer.
Mom was admitted into the hospital on Holy Thursday of 2020, and she passed into eternal life as Good Friday turned into Holy Saturday. The holiest days of our Christian experience had been forever tinged with the real-time experience of this tremendous loss. The walls of busyness I had built around myself since the death of my father served me well in those early hours.
Get everyone ready for Easter.
Call the funeral home.
Work at the parish for Easter Sunday Masses.
Write the obituary, and contact relatives and friends.
Gather for dinner with my husband’s family.
Locate important paperwork.
However, like most defenses built on shifting sand, those walls came crashing down once I had to venture outside of myself and leave the fortress I had created. This time was different.
This time, I had to tell my children.
Grieving as a single young adult gave me the luxury of compartmentalizing all the emotions that came to the surface. Grieving as a mother abruptly stripped the facades off those compartments. Not only would I be faced with my own sorrow compounded upon the grief I had buried for so long, but I would be faced with helping three young hearts navigate a sudden and unexpected death.
Add to this the stripping away of familiar rituals of grieving due to the pandemic, and for the first time I felt completely unmoored. While I could talk about grief in the abstract ad nauseum, I was unprepared for the complexity of grieving together with my children. My heart as an only child was broken, feeling completely alone in the world, now with no parents on this side of heaven.
Yet I myself was a parent, and my heart as a mother desperately wanted and needed to console my own children. This tug of war, pushing and pulling my mind and heart in every direction, left me exhausted. I needed help. I needed rescuing from waves that threatened to pull me under no matter how hard I fought them.
Somewhere, faintly in the mix of the numbness, confusion, sorrow, anger, loneliness, and desperation, a whisper broke through.
“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.” (John 14:18)
More than one person had called me that in the days following my mother’s passing. It was a lonely word and easy to fixate upon, though at 45, I was hardly a child. Then God spoke that word from the Gospel of John into my heart, and I knew. It was time to be numb together, confused together, sorrowful together, angry together, lonely together, and desperate together. He had not left me to grieve alone, and I didn’t need to have it all figured out to walk the road alongside my children. We would muddle through—good days, bad days, and days in between—hand in hand and heart in heart. While our loss was different, we could face it—together.
By surrendering the illusion of control over the waves of grief that ripped through us, there was now room to allow myself to fully experience it without shame. In encouraging the kids to remember their Dida (grandma)—telling stories, looking through pictures, laughing at memories, crying about her loss—I was giving myself that same permission.
I had no idea that the grueling work of guiding my children through a shared loss would be the key to healing and finding my way back to myself after all these years.
Little by little, the stories continue to surface, now with an audience who listens with curiosity and a desire to learn more about those who only live on in memory. The stories of ancestors and adventurers, of their joys and struggles and sorrows, give shape to the people we are becoming. In beginning to know more about those who have passed on, we are together learning more about our own identities, shaped by their lives.
That’s the thing about those we love. While their loss forever changes the landscape of our lives, their stories and influence are etched forever on our hearts. It took three, broken, tenderhearted children to remind me what I had forgotten. Grief, while painful, is natural and necessary. It is a testament to love, and love always wins.
Rakhi McCormick is a first-generation Indian-American and convert from Hinduism who found her way into the Church and a career in ministry through a series of invitations, and more than a few leaps of faith – sometimes kicking and screaming. Having worked in a variety of ministries at the national, diocesan, and local level, Rakhi has discovered that her greatest passion is speaking light into darkness, wherever that might be found, and however the Holy Spirit leads. She has a heart for the underdog, the overlooked, and the broken. A devoted advocate for God’s mercy and justice, Rakhi uses these inspirations to shape her writing, speaking, and artwork. She is the owner of Rakstar Designs and currently resides in the Metro Detroit area with her husband and three children. When not playing wife, mother, or minister, you can find Rakhi singing, reading, scrolling Instagram, and making beautiful things (and messes) with coffee in hand.