Life at the Foot of the Cross

This post is overdue. Those of you reading by email has been growing, and many of you have been reading here since this little blog started in 2007. Thank you for walking alongside me for all these years, and welcome if you’re new!

The blog

It has been so long since I dusted off the blog to write – I’m not sure if anyone is reading here anymore. Let’s assume someone is, and let’s start here – the blog isn’t going away…although I thought about archiving the whole shebang. I decided instead that I wanted to spend more time here in my little corner of the interwebs. I want to write more. Maybe I need to write more. And the blog needed some (a lot of) behind-the-scenes/technical work. (Blogging has changed so much since I started!)

So…long story short…I moved it to a new framework (which will mean nothing to you except that hopefully, it will run smoother when loading). And I changed the theme/look of the blog because…well…read on, and I think that will become clear, but in case you want the reader’s digest version – I’m changing, the family is changing, and I wanted my writing and your reading space to reflect that.

There is still a good bit of work to be done here to tidy so that things are smooth (especially for those of you reading on mobile devices) – so please be patient with me…I’m a team of 1!. Instead of waiting for perfection, I’m opening the doors with good enough. The new look is softer and more muted, and I like the options I have to organize my content now.

Life at the Foot of the Cross

My life has changed completely. My life has transformed – is transforming. My life is shattered, and that’s probably the best sense I can give you; it is in a million fragments, and each day, I might pick up one of the fragments that God hands me and try to make sense of it, or understand it anew, with His grace.

These initial words are hard to pour out – I have to revisit these moments, unveiling those that I am willing to share, and it’s painful all over again. There is something about writing these words. Then again…there is something about writing these words. So here goes…

On December 17, 2021, just before Christmas, I took my husband, Rob, to the emergency room in the middle of the night. We knew something was wrong with his breathing and oxygenation. Rob was (relatively) young at 60, in good health, and all were pretty hopeful he would recover. I was hopeful.

His need for oxygen increased over the next five days. We escalated from a nasal cannula to a BiPAP machine (forced air through a facemask), and he spent five days on the BiPAP. The suffering for him was intense. No eating, minimal drinking, minimal communication, forced air – because the BiPAP covered his mouth and nose. We were still hopeful.

I called our priest, and he came up to the hospital; and Rob was anointed, and Father heard his confession. Rob was given an Apostolic Pardon. His soul was provided for, and now we prayed his body, particularly his lungs, would heal. We were still hopeful.

On December 23, Rob was moved to ICU, and the intensivist there quickly assessed him and recommended the necessity of putting Rob on a ventilator with the hope that it would give Rob’s lungs time to rest and heal. I could see the deep concern in Rob’s eyes, yet we agreed that we felt this was the next step and his best hope. And he was utterly exhausted from being on a BiPAP for so long. I squeezed his hand with all my might, and he squeezed my hand back; I told him I loved him and left the room. We were still hopeful.

For the next 42 days, I would see Rob on a ventilator in ICU. I spent Christmas day with him in the hospital. I spent our 29th anniversary with him in the hospital. Some days were quiet; some days were full of hope, others were full of bad news, and some were full of machines alarming and medical personnel racing.

Every day I held his hand, and pressed between my hand and his was our Rosary and the relic stone from the cave in Italy where St. Michael the Archangel appeared. Rob led the family Rosary at home, so while he was in the hospital, I prayed our Rosary aloud for him and me every day. As a married couple, we were two, but one flesh – so we suffered intensely in this together as one. It was profoundly mysterious suffering in its anguish and its beauty. I treasure it.

Every day I dug deeper toward total exhaustion – mentally, spiritually, and physically.

When I wasn’t driving back and forth to the hospital, I was trying to take care of our kids – to assure young children of their “okay-ness” without overpromising or lying is very hard to do when Dad is breathing with the help of a machine. I wanted to protect my children with my whole heart and soul, yet God, in His wisdom, wanted to teach them how to suffer. They went to bed one night and woke up the next day, and dad was in the hospital.

I nurtured security as best I could with as much stability and loving reassurance as could be provided. Our children were scared. We were all scared. I prayed with the deepest part of my soul, crying out to God for His mercy and complete and miraculous healing for Rob. Rob continued to carry his cross, so I kept carrying mine.

The Novena

On January 24, I began a novena to Our Lady of Good Success, asking for Rob’s healing. Already devoted and consecrated to the Blessed Mother, my devotion to her grew immensely while Rob and I suffered together. Each day with Rob, I reminded her that Rob was consecrated to her, reminded her of our countless daily family Rosaries, and how Rob prayed for Her to pray for him “now and at the hour of his death.” I reminded her much like a child reminds his mother that she promised some little reward after the child spent time plaintively asking – clumsily but sincerely.

Earlier in Rob’s hospitalization, a friend pressed into my hand a Rosary touched to the incorrupt body of Mother Marianna de Jesus Torres, the visionary to whom Our Lady of Good Success had appeared and with whom she shared her messages. By the time January 24 arrived, I was eager to start my novena to her, asking for Rob’s complete bodily healing and restoration to health.

I began my novena in the early morning before anyone was awake. With my Rosary and my prayer book, I prayed through my morning prayers and meditation time…and I noticed a light floral scent in the air, which I didn’t attribute to anything at the time.

The following day, I began at the same time, praying my novena with my Rosary and prayer book, but this time I noticed the same sweet scent. I picked up my Rosary and found that emanating from the center medal of my Rosary was a light but unmistakably sweet floral fragrance. It came from nowhere else on the Rosary. I casually mentioned it that morning at breakfast, but it would take me a few more days to see the full gift I held.

Each day, the Rosary continued to give us the gift of the sweet, delicate smell of roses, and, with each passing day, I knew more fully that Our Lady was giving us the gift of the assurance of Her tender, maternal care. She had heard my prayers and my pleading for Rob. I felt a certainty that She was about to answer. My heart was overflowing with gratitude.

By the 6th day of the Novena, another miracle took place – one which I’m not going to share here, but it was a miracle I attribute to Rob’s suffering. The minute that miracle took place, Rob’s physical condition changed and worsened. I continued my Novena, and I knew in my heart before I shared with another soul that Our Lady would answer generously by assisting Rob’s soul to his final reward. She would pull back the veil that separates this Valley of Tears and bring Rob home.

Since I knew in my heart what the answer was going to be, I immediately requested two Masses – one for Rob for February 2, the day my Novena ended, and the day I believed Our Lady would answer my prayers, and the other for February 3, in thanksgiving to Our Lady for answering my prayers. Through it all, she never left my side.

The last days and hours with Rob were excruciating. I can’t summon the adequate words that share the juxtaposition of painful joy that it is to walk your beloved right up to the veil when your whole body – your entire being – is an exhausted, anguished prayer shifting from asking for his healing to begging for his happy and holy death. We were two, but one flesh, and he was being ripped from me. It was just as painful as it sounds.

I prepared our children as best I could, but there is no preparing for that.

On February 2, the Feast of Candlemas and the Feast of Our Lady of Good Success, his strong, exhausted heart stopped.

Now dost Thy dismiss Thy servant, O Lord.

Nunc dimittis, Words of Simeon at the sight of seeing the Infant Jesus at the Presentation, the Feast on which Rob died.

How much anguish Rob must have undergone – physically, mentally, spiritually – and now it was over. I kissed him goodbye again and again. I cried the deepest, most painful sobs in every part of me. My 21-year-old son held me in that hospital room, and then he took me home. Once home, all of our children were in my arms, or I was in theirs. And we began at that moment our shattered life without Rob, without Dad, without my beloved.

And we have taken a step forward every day since. Some days are more painful than I can convey, and other days God is merciful and consoling, and we feel light and joyful, and sometimes it’s all mixed. Rob’s soul was provided for, and though his death was sudden, I carry that beautiful consolation with me. Rob and I did not falter. I walked him to the edge where the veil was pulled back and let him go. Only God knows how deep that pain cut.

Laboring

Just as there is labor when a new soul enters this world through birth, there is also labor when a soul is born to eternal life. And just as midwives assist us in laboring for delivery, some serve that role in helping a family and a soul toward the veil that separates this Earth from that which is beyond.

This story – Rob’s and mine – would be incomplete if I did not mention with my wholehearted gratitude that three priests, in particular, tended to our souls. Two priests were able to be reached day and night by close friends and would offer Masses for Rob, often as soon as we requested them. If you have ever requested a Mass for an intention, you know how extraordinary and unusual and what a gift it is to be able to request a Mass and have it offered that day or the next. And one priest, our family priest, was available to me night and day. He gave Rob his last Sacraments, counseled me regularly, helped me with meditation points, provided for my soul and those of our children, prayed for us, prayed Rob home, and offered the piercingly beautiful Requiem Mass for Rob’s departed soul. (What an extraordinary consolation the Requiem Mass is – it is genuine assistance for the soul of the faithful departed and a soothing balm for those left mourning.) Father is a dear friend of ours, and my spiritual father and I couldn’t have walked my Via Dolorosa without him at my side. Thanks be to God for humble, faithful priests who serve and shepherd with wholehearted fidelity to God the Father.

So many others were at my side – and still are – as Simon in helping to carry the cross or Veronica in wiping our faces as we labored. God orchestrated an amazing miraculous move and put my parents, who were two hours north of me in Nashville, in our backyard 10 minutes away. After 40 years, they sold our family farmhouse and moved here the week Rob was admitted to the hospital, and now we all know why. They lived with the children and me for the better part of Rob’s hospital stay and now are close by to support us in all the ways we need help. Thank you, Lord, for answering prayers before we could even ask!

My adult children have been my joys, my own confidantes, and my greatest help. My daughter and son-in-law live near us and have been a constant source of support for the children and me. To be honest, some of our most needed consolations came from those precious grandchildren who happily played here. When my attempts to help my children failed or words couldn’t serve to reach one of my hurting children, a two-year-old’s earnest arms reaching out to that child could.

Our dearest friends stepped in to fill in every gap – when I needed clothes for the funeral; they shopped; when I was overwhelmed thinking of returning to our empty home after every Sunday Mass, they opened their home to us; when I needed to crawl into a ball and cry out my anguish, they picked up the phone and listened to me. And they still are.

Our church family that loved Rob so much stepped in to feed us and pray for us – then and now. There were prayer vigils and friends who stood outside Rob’s hospital room daily to pray for him and me. There were friends with the medical understanding that helped me navigate that world. The prayers, friendship, and helping hands of our church family propped me up every time I felt I was about to crumble under the weight of this cross.

And beautifully, the internet made this world smaller and allowed me and others to share what was going on with Rob, and many of you all around the globe prayed – for Rob and our family. Several of you emailed – thank you – I read every email!

In His immense love, God saw to it that we were provided for spiritually, emotionally, and physically and He provided many hands to do His work. And because suffering and grief of this magnitude are so deeply exhausting, I can tell you that we couldn’t have done this without them. All of them continue by our sides. We have not been left at the foot of this cross – they stand with us.

To all of you, Rob and I won’t be able to thank you on this side of heaven adequately, but I am delighted to think of the day when, together, we will.

Walking home from the Cross

Have you ever spent time meditating on Our Lady’s walk home from the Cross and how she accepted that walk home from the moment of her fiat, which She gave at the Annunciation? Fiat. Let it be done.

The physical, mental, and spiritual anguish she labored in assisting Her Son back to the Father was so immense that only Mary, full of grace, could love and be alongside God, the Son, through His Passion and death. Her labor was exquisite and profound and mysterious and utterly, mind-bendingly painful. It’s a mystery we will never be able to comprehend, yet it is such a rich meditation for me – her walk home. Because after He died, and after they took His Precious tortured body down from that Cross, and after She held him and cried her deepest sobs, sobs that rocked heaven and earth – after all of that – she walked home, still pondering all of it in her pierced heart. She walked home in grief and peace because she never once faltered in her complete trust in God’s perfect plan.

And that’s where I am. I’m walking home. I’m at peace, and although my trust, submission, or service isn’t a fraction as perfect as Our Lady’s, I have unspeakable peace – the peace that surpasses all understanding. I will not mistrust God or His plan although it has stripped me bare. Fiat.

One End is Another Beginning.

Or…Chapter 2.

As I finish this post, it has been almost four months. So much has happened. The shock is fading and giving way to a new reality – a reality in which I see fringes and glimmers of joy. There is hope. I’m now a widow, and my children are fatherless. Rob continues his care of us without his body – he has provided financially through his future planning for us, so he will always be our provider.

Most importantly, we enjoy the assistance of Rob’s prayers for us now. And I ask him to pray for us constantly!

In this vale of tears, I live out the consequence of my married vocation – widowhood. My work now and my path to heaven are raising our three remaining children, supporting all five of my children with my wholehearted service, love, and prayers, and doing everything I can to get our five children, grandchildren, and myself to heaven.

My role has changed forever. I have become the only parent, and the parenting-overwhelm is real! I am now completely in charge of our budget and financial decisions – what a learning curve to steward the resources Rob left to take care of us, but I am learning. I continue homeschooling three of our children because that is what is best for them and because that was Rob’s explicit desire. I am still living the active life, but without the benefit of the Sacrament, and without the benefit of the one who breathed life and headship into our actions and decisions. I am without the one who helped balance my nature and personality. I am without Rob, so God the Father is now the head of our family, the balance to my nature and personality, and most beautifully, the father to my fatherless children. It is a beautiful promise given to us widows, and I will not mistrust!

Our faith sustained us and continues to deepen as faith does when one is planted at the fertile foot of the Holy Cross, and the Blessed Virgin helps tend your suffering heart. That was part of Rob’s legacy. He led our family in the daily Rosary; he ensured we were at First Friday and First Saturday Mass, and he got our family to Confession. He led this family, and now we continue to walk in the path he made for us, seeking the narrow way so that we can all be united again together one day! We remain anchored to the Sacraments of Holy Mother Church.

I wondered how much to tell you and share with you, and as is the case for me, the words just started spilling out effusively. LOL! (Rob would be laughing and shaking his head at my words!!! LOL!!!) If you’re sobbing, know that I am, too. If you’re still reading, I am grateful from the bottom of my heart – it is not easy to be in this really hard, painful space!! And if you’re married – hug your husband right now; love him deeper; respect how much he gives of himself in leading your family. And also…have the awful talk – the painful one. Rob and I did (even though I resisted), and I can’t tell you how much peace it gave me knowing that I knew his wishes and could find the things I needed in the hurricane of events that happened after.

I want to continue writing here, but I have to be transparent and say that as Rob was ripped from me, this grief was woven in, which means my writing will reflect my grief. And I know and acknowledge and celebrate that this kind of painful, hard reality isn’t for everyone. I can tell you I’ll still be sharing about all those things that make my world go ’round – my faith, my family, homeschooling, planning, organizing, and making home…as a widow and only parent. If you’re down for that and a little humor as I laugh at myself along the way – pull up a chair here next to my comfy little corner of the interwebs! I love having you alongside me!

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34 Comments

  1. I have been praying for you and your family and I appreciate you opening your heart to us in this post. I cannot imagine your grief but reading your words brings me to tears…I cannot imagine. God, I know, will have so much to teach you through this heavy, nearly unbearable cross. May God be with you, friend. Rob, please pray for us.

  2. Oh, I have long followed you and appreciated your wisdom. My heart broke when you shared this on Instagram and I cried reading this. I have been praying for you and your kids.

  3. I am so sorry for your terribly difficult trial as you said good-bye to your beloved. The tears are flowing and prayers are being lifted up for you and your family

  4. Thank you for sharing this heart-wrenching but beautiful window into your life. Your words are a gift and you and your family are in our prayers.

  5. Thank you for writing this. I have learned so much from you over the years and now with this post you’ve taught us even more. Thank you for your example.

  6. Thank you for sharing your story, I’ve only known you through a shared love of planners and planning. To find any peace at all in these most difficult moments of life is a miracle in itself and an amazing example of God’s nature and unfailing love for us. I pray that your days are filled with sweet memories of Rob and that you feel him close. Bless you.

  7. Thank you for sharing so authentically your family’s story and with such openness about your faith. I will continue to pray for you and your family and think of you often. I’m thankful to hear how God has provided for you and is continuing to provide for you.

  8. So beautifully written Jen. My heart and prayers are with you as I navigate my own grief journey. You are a light in this world.

  9. Thank you for sharing your journey. We have been praying for all of you. Grief is so hard. And it does change your life forever. Especially when a loved one is taken suddenly and too soon. I am a year and half later and I’m jealous of your peace. Hope to one day get there.

  10. Thank you for sharing your most sacred thoughts, feelings and grief. I have been praying for you and your family everyday. I know this journey, that you did ask for, is the hardest journey you will face. I am awe of your strength and your faith. I truly believe your faith will carry you through. And I also believe that it is already doing so.

  11. You have an amazing love story, it sounds like the beauty of your faith still carries you. My condolences to you and your family. Your family will be in my prayers. As a homeschooling mama and long time follower of your blog, I do look forward to your future posts.

  12. What an amazing sharing of love! You have an incredible way with words to express the depth of this difficult time, weaving the natural with the supernatural, the physical, emotional and spiritual all together. You are such an inspiration. I have been following you on this blog for a long time, and I always am inspired. Your spiritual insight inspires me to cultivate my prayer life to the next level. Thanks for sharing something so deeply personal. I will continue to pray for you and your family.

  13. I sobbed… along side you as I read this post. Your willingness to be vulnerable is a gift. I’m down for pulling up a chair in your comfy little corner of the interwebs. Your wisdom and honesty will always be a gift to me, and I hope you tuck in your heart the knowledge that many prayers are continuing to be said for you and your family.

  14. I’m SO sorry for your loss of Rob. I think and pray for you often. And then again every time I see one of your Instagram posts. I lost a daughter and though that is not the same as losing a spouse, I know too well how grief is such a rollercoaster. I’m so so glad you cling to God. In all the ups and downs, He is always there and He loves you.

  15. This is so beautiful, so heartbreaking, and it truly encourages me to live out my married vocation with renewed love. Thank you, so much, for so vulnerably sharing your heart and your vocation!

  16. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I’m so very sorry for your pain and pray for your healing.

  17. I can’t even begin to express how heartbroken I am on your behalf, even though we have never met or spoken before. And yet, that is the beauty of the body of Christ – that we are brothers and sisters carrying one another’s burdens, even as we are strangers. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences, something I know must have been unbelievably difficult to do. Your story is such a beautiful testimony of faith and trust in God during difficult times, and inspires and reminds me to continue running the race well. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family during this time, and I pray earnestly that you sense God’s loving presence and peace every single moment through this difficult season. Love to you all from a stranger and a sister!

  18. I am hearing this for the first time now, and my heart hurts deeply for you. I have been following you for years now, but only in this space. I am inspired by your honesty and faith. I will pray for your husband today and for you and your family. God be with you.

  19. Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us. I have been a reader since 2007 and have gained so much wisdom from you sharing your life with us. I will continue to do so as you walk this next chapter. Thank you, and I’m am deeply sorry for your loss.

  20. Jennifer Than you for sharing your thoughts and feelings. Your post is inspiring and hear wrenching.
    Peace and comfort to you and your family.
    Marion

  21. Thank you for sharing your heartfelt thoughts! May our Dear Blessed Mother wrap you and your family in her mantle of love, protection and peace. Continued prayers! May your dear husband’s soul rest in Christ’s peace!

  22. Jen, I feel honored to follow your journey of faith. My prayers and condolences for you and your children.

  23. I was an occasional reader last year as I had begun researching homeschooling, and specifically Catholic homeschooling for my currently 2 year old when he is a bit older. I realized I hadn’t heard much from the blog in a while, when I clicked on the IG logo and realized the extent of your loss. (I don’t have social media.) I appreciate so greatly the effort and honesty you have shared in recounting your past 6 months, and I have prayed for the repose of your husband’s soul, and your immediate family. May God grant you the grace to continue grieving and growing in the love of God and blessings from your marriage. And, I will hug my husband a little tighter, as you recommended. Thank you.

  24. I thank you for sharing my heart goes out to you and I will pray for your healing and your family

  25. I am a long time follower of your beautiful blog. I am so very sorry for your loss. Thank you so much for sharing your story of the beautiful graces Our Lady and Our Lord gave to you during this time of sorrow and loss. We will be praying for your family and for Rob. Eternal Rest grant unto him O Lord and may perpetual light shine upon him.

  26. Holy Spirit, you who makes me see everything and shows me the way to reach my ideal, you who gives me the divine gift to forgive and forget all the wrong that is done to me and you who are in all instances of my life with me. I, in this short dialogue, want to thank you for everything, and affirm once more that I never want to be separated from you no matter how great the material desires may be. I want to be with you and my loved ones in your perpetual glory. To that end and submitting to God’s holy will, I ask from you..(mention your favour). Amen

    This prayer should be said for 3 consecutive days. After the 3rd day, your sincere wish will be granted no matter how difficult it may be. Promise to offer thanksgiving by sharing it and expressing it on granting of your favour. The idea is to spread the wonder of the Holy Spirit.

  27. I have been following your blog since 2015 or so. I was heartbroken to watch your story unfold through prayer requests on Facebook and now to read this here. It sounds like platitudes, but you are an encouragement, even to those of us who are not walking your path at this moment. I’m grateful for everything you’ve poured out to the homeschool community over the years, and I feel blessed to continue to draw wisdom from your journey.

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