Prayer House

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Every night for four years, with few exceptions, my dearest friend Pat, a former religious sister, now layperson member of the Carmelite Order, and I prayed for ourselves as well as dozens of other people … Mark, Sarah, Rebecca. As the years passed, we squeezed in new names … Joey and Anthony …. We squinted to read the growing names and intentions on the list that was about the size of an index card.

Always topping the list were the names of my two children and ending the list were the names of those who had passed over.

For the first two years, we prayed on the telephone. The last two years after Pat moved in with me, we congregated at our kitchen table. We prayed for health, wealth, romance, reconciliation or safety for those near and dear. No one could have convinced me that our prayers were left unanswered. Jobless friends obtained job offers. Sick friends became well again … at our table, it was as if we ordered from an a la carte menu … two burgers and one large order of fries, no special sauce. Bottomless bounty was served!

In 2018, we witnessed a miracle. A man in his early 30s, whom we did not know, but heard about from our priest, was run over by a car at a busy intersection. He survived the crash, but he slipped into a coma. Odds of recovery, grim. Through the grapevine we also heard, he was the only son to a mother who had recently immigrated to America. At that time, I could not imagine if something that horrific happened in my cozy,  little life. I prayed, “Please God, help this young man. We ask a miracle … if it is your Holy Will.”

.… “If it is your Holy will.” We capped off each prayer this way, because it reconfirmed our humble servant status. It reminded us that we were not the creators of this world and powerless to perform God’s work. Looking back, I was only kidding myself. When that young man came to consciousness and recovered, everyone called it “a miracle.” My egotistic self knew it was through the specific prayers we prayed at the kitchen table night after night for a month that he was alive and well.

As I said earlier, my young adult children always topped off the prayer list. Year after year, our intentions for them were consistent: good physical and mental health, good jobs and good spouses. For my son, there was always one constant request: help him find a friend.

Week after week, month after month, I knew we were getting closer to our intentions being granted. After we concluded our 20- or 30-minute prayer sessions, Pat gently placed the list under a statue in the kitchen of St. Joseph, husband of Mary, mother of Jesus. In the Catholic Church, he is recognized as the patron saint of workers. The statue is about three and a half inches long, and the saint is depicted lying on his side, sleeping. The reason behind the supine pose is that it is believed that an angel spoke to St. Joseph in a dream on two occasions to give him much needed direction. We liked to believe that every night while we slept, he “worked hard” and assisted us with his powerful intercession, and obtained for us from the Divine Son all spiritual blessings, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. We recited specific St. Joseph prayers and they sealed my concrete-like faith.

On the night before our personal tragedy blew our little bubble world into smithereens leaving the hot shrapnel embedded into every crevice of my mind, heart and spirit, we recited our routine prayers. Less than 15 hours later, I laid on the floor like the St. Joseph statue. Of course I was orbits away from being in the state of placid rest. I pleaded, beseeched and begged the invisible air to change what had occurred, my body in a convulsion state. And, so it was. The unspeakable and unimaginable from that day forward was a hard blow and, for me living with grief means crawling, because I feel like I carry 900 pounds of hot shrapnel day after day, week after week, over 17 months later.

I was the one who did not have another prayer request left in me, and Pat and I haven’t prayed since that fateful night. Memories of the last time praying together, and I can still visualize the lit candle dancing around the kitchen, coating our faces within a warm glow, and our spirits free to cavort with the frolicking candlelight.

As my lips fall to silence, Pat, with her religious zeal, that I so admire, has not slackened one bit in her prayer life. If anything, her prayer time has accelerated. For me, right now, I am trying to reckon with my powerlessness and I just listen. Be and leave the BElieving alone, because I don’t want to spark my ego into thinking I have any control on the ways of the world. Just as I possessed no control over the young man who baffled science and fully recovered from a near-fatal car accident. In the same way, I possess no control over my son’s unspeakable set of circumstances.

As a trained journalist, I always wanted the know the answers. Now, I don’t even know the questions to ask. I just know that I don’t mind seeing the statue of St. Joseph asleep and allowing it to remain in our kitchen. He looks comfortable, but, strangely, lonely. Sometimes I have a hankering to say, “Pat! Where’s the list? Can we pray?”

Instead, I remain silent. I can’t fathom another disappointment or letdown. Now, I automatically take cover and duck and don’t stand in the way of life. Especially at night, I reckon with the feeling of loneliness and stark silence in the kitchen, even with the background music. I use what remaining energy I have to BElieve the sun will rise, and I don’t have to lift a finger to help that fireball to ignite.

Faith Muscle


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Last month, my friend finished shopping at Trader Joe’s, and while the cashier was ringing up her purchases, the cashier in the next checkout aisle, handed her a bouquet of sunflowers.

“These aren’t mine,” my friend informed the cashier, we’ll call him Zack. She mistakenly thought he assumed she had left behind her flowers.

“You look like you can use them. I bought them for you.”

Literally as well as metaphorically speaking, need I say on a cold day, a sunflower bouquet is like a pretty arrangement that can blanket the chill with a soft layer of faith?

As we later discussed the incident, it turns out that my friend had seen the cashier before, speaking to him only in passing. All she knew was his age, 20. We had no idea if he was an agnostic, atheist, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or who-knows-what and who cares? All that matters is that Zack cared enough to pay attention to someone else. Buried in our busyness, it can be an impossible task. Little did he know that my friend recently underwent surgery and was dealing with a host of other challenges. In other words, the sunflower bouquet added the much-needed color on the drab, gray tablecloth that life laid upon her. Come to find out, sunflowers symbolize “power, warmth and nourishment.”

Somehow Zack had a sixth sense, a spiritual knowing that equates to nonsense in the rational world. God in skin, my 12-step community would label Zack.

My fellow Michael G. always said, “If a god embraces me with love, then that god is for me.”

If you aren’t debilitated from mental illness, and you don’t believe in a particular god or higher power or harmony or the spiritual realm of things, I hope you can still believe in GOoDness. Out of everything, GOoDness has carried me through on this 17-month grief journey.

And, the best magnet channel to attract GOoDness is to perform kind acts. For me, the gesture means breaking free from the bondage of myself and fleeing my tiny, sesame seed of a world, so I can pass on sunflowers to a stranger.

If sunflowers are out of season, extending an over-sized candy bar and a few singles to a stranger in the CVS parking lot might work. Wouldn’t you know this is exactly what happened to me this past Sunday? Earlier in the day I start to write this post about my friend’s experience and Zack’s kindness. Then, later I go to CVS, stroll outside, and I have a burning desire to dodge the toothless, rotund woman heading toward me like a frantic meter maid.

“Need help with your groceries, mommy?”


The last thing I want is an intrusion into my insolated bubble of a world, pandemic or not.

Journalist at heart, however, I want to probe: “Do you like your life?” “Did you ever think about ending it?” “Are you freer from the monkey mind, a jumbled hot mess of thoughts, than the rest of us?”

Why did she look so happy and carefree? How did she carry on? Why did others like my brilliant, gifted, handsome son throw in the towel?

“Tell me the answer!” I heard myself shout in my mind. “Tell me the answer to this awful, perplexing existence!”

The answer is to imitate Zack at Trader Joe’s. Reach into my purse and offer her a reason to believe in the kindness of others. If she didn’t believe I was a kind person and simply laughed at me behind my back, so be it, I had to believe that in this world drowning in cruelty and noise, solitude and love could win, and it starts with Zack. It starts with me.

She began to converse with me. My old self would have jumped headlong into an esoteric conversation with her. My new self wants the comfy privacy bubble.

“It’s a nice car,” she comments, beaming.

“My son’s.”

The minute, I say that, I can’t erase the PTSD flashbacks and the memory of my son telling me how unworthy he felt especially in the last 30 days of his life, and how he did not deserve to drive such a beautiful shiny sports car that he had purchased on a whim in those final days.

Dry eyed, I want to say, “This is my son,” in the same manner Mama Sandra said in the temple, pointing to the turtle in the glass case.

“This is my son.”

“This is my son, you know.””

But, instead, I don’t murmur a word.

The woman replies, “That’s nice, mommy!”

Even though I have his name on a teal-colored decal on the back window along with his birth and death dates, I do not point out the commemoration to the clueless pedestrian. Instead, I squeeze that solidary moment and derive the last sweet drop, as if I had sneaked out for a joy ride behind my living son’s back, as if death had not crept in, pilfered and shattered my sheltered world, and spring had sprung as it did in the old days, and the hummingbirds returned to drink fresh nectar in our backyard feeder.

“Can I have the twenty?” she asks, spotting the bill in my wallet as I handed her my dollar bills.


“You need it.”

“Yes. My allowance for the week.”

“Thank you, mommy!” she calls, satisfied with the singles. I climb in and veer the beautiful blue sports car, smelling like roses, out of the parking lot.

In the old days, I would have shouted, “Pray for me.”

Now, no words form.

I realize, this is our own kind of private prayer when I see her reflection in the rearview mirror, waving the dollar bills as if they are part of a beautiful bouquet. From her toothless grin, she heralds, “thank you, Mommy.”

Her toothless gums somehow seem as if they represent the GoODness of the world. Faith, after all, is believing in things you can’t see. For me that means missing teeth.

Later, I have a sense to beeline back to her and forfeit my sole twenty. But I stay on route, realize you can only give what you have, whether it be to pan handlers or your own flesh and blood. My PTSD subsides. My guilt dissipates. A sense of GoODness fills the air, and the road home opens before me like a smooth pedal surface.

Faith Muscle

Fear Mongrels

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Since childhood, the bullies in my garden of life are as plentiful as three-leaf clovers. Their job is to intimidate and control. Sling insults, impede success and flatten everyone who appears on their radar.

After a bully encounter with the one of the two bullies, who are like Velcro in my life in spite of my grief journey, I am left with an indifferent acceptance fueling a slow burn in the pit of my chest. Afterwards, I quell my uncomfortable feelings by sprinkling a pollyannish delish sweetener on my angst. Many times, however, the discomfort awakens me at 3 p.m. like a pulled muscle.  

My denial doesn’t trick me any longer into believing that the bullies are acceptable. In reality, bullying behavior under the best of circumstances has the same effect of a concoction of artificial chemicals in the body.

Now, in the final chapter of my life, I am removing toxins, starting a healthy diet and getting fitted for big girl panties. After all, how long can one survive on toxicity? Sometimes, though, finding voice, drawing the line and saying, “No More!” seems like an impossible conquest.

Uncharitable, unkind bullies seem “blessed” in my circle of family and friends. Their big ego magnets attract big things. One bully, for example, who is now an adult, but used to mercilessly insult my son in middle school, has not only survived, but, apparently thrived, having recently obtained a supervisory position. The job involves children, and I wonder if he has outgrown his bully behavior. I wonder what will he pass on?

Bullies come in all ages and from all backgrounds. Bullies rein with a rod of thunder that elicits fear. Their mission is to control the moves on life’s chessboard.

My mission is to stop perpetuating the cycle. If fear and faith are segregated roommates then I am at that point where I am friending faith. This does not mean fear magically disappears. This means, I have to look it in the eye and die … but not REALLY die, because that’s fear talking, lying and stripping me of my birthright dignity. The only path to victory is having the wherewithal to weld a faith shield. I can do that, because I, too, am blessed with courage to climb higher, above fear’s bondage and escape into freedom outside the prison of running scared.

Faith Muscle

WTF: One Year Strong

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After my dear friend, Aileen, encouraged me, I started this blog in 2013, the day after my son turned 20.

“Do it for me,” she had said at one point, which ended my more than two-year mental debate of whether I should make WTF, Where’s the Faith blog a reality or not. From there on, I only wrote posts, for the most part, sporadically.

I relaunched the blog last year on March 31. A couple months after we buried my 26-year-old son, my close writer friend, Laurie, asked me about the status of the blog. I explained that I had abandoned my writing projects, especially writing posts about faith for a faith-themed blog! She countered me, saying, “Write posts about how you have NO faith. How you question faith. How each and every moment is the dark night of the soul.”

I followed Laurie’s advice and since that time I have posted on a weekly basis. With the exception of one post that was accidentally scheduled, the schedule for my posts is the same: Every Tuesday at 1:51 p.m. This is when the Russellville, Kentucky, coroner notified me of my 26-year-old son’s death by suicide. Some grieving parents build organizations, charities and foundations in memory of their lost children. I build faith in the bricks of words, hoping that my pain will help heal the world.

What I have learned in this year-long journey is that even when you feel abandoned, no matter how bone dry your faith-o-meter is, locate solitude. It might be by a veil of a mighty falls or besides a tiny trickle of a backyard stream. It might be inside a church, synagogue, temple, mosque or a wondrous place like the Cathedral of the Pines in Rindge, New Hampshire, where my once young and whole family found rest and rejuvenation many years ago. Don’t disqualify a barn, shed or cave and other random places that can serve as a refuge from the world’s noise. Fold yourself away and unfold the natural beauty within, warts and all.

For me in the final chapter of my life, often I become in sync with myself by sitting alone quietly in my bedroom and entering into the temple of peace within me. In this personal temple, among the space solely reserved to grieve my son, and the less intense spaces representing my life span, I find my sacred place and sanctuary, a sense of spirit. In my personal temple, I unhinge the rein of control. Here is where I try and write these blog posts and allow the dredging of my words to take on a form of their own, allow them to drip out and expose the most vulnerable parts of my emotions. The uncomfortable parts that want me to take cover and overeat, overact, over-everything and cancel out my humanness and, instead, retire me to a supermarket aisle where I feel like I’m on display in a row of polished cans of sauerkraut.

During these last 12 months, however, there were also times when the noise threw me into confusion and calamity. I lost complete direction. The monster mind reared its evil, ugly lying head, and I thought of ways to end the absolute pain of the grief journey. On those nights, while I felt like I was sinking in a caldron of boiling water, miraculously, one of my newfound blogger friends would reach out and pull me up with an inspiring, reflective and/or galvanizing comment. Or I would read a blog post from another blogger friend, who was not in a good frame of mind, and I would reach out and try to pull him or her up with a helpful, encouraging comment.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, THANK YOU blogging community! Thank you for filling my life with your eye-candy photos and artwork; sage wisdom; daily musings, dreams and fantasies; spirtual beliefs; food recipes; how-to advice; lifestyle interests and, most of all, sharing a generous slice of your private pie, pain and perceptions and, in turn, affording me a dose of Vitamin D rays on the cloudiest of days, and helping me wait around long enough to witness another sunrise.

In other words, thank you for filling my faith-o-meter. Every single drop of your hope and faith has helped fuel me thus far. Amazingly, the faith fuel has appeared from all sides of the globe. For instance, I was very touched by one of my newest blogger friends, Anand, who explained “putra shokam.” In India it means the grief associated with the loss of a child. Anand’s mother, a world away, walks on the same putra shokam path as I do. I think about Anand’s mom as if she were in the ZOOM mode of my mind. I mirror my steps in hers and know that in love as in faith, there is only one universal language.

Anand also generously shared a very intimate post with me about losing his brother, There are always songs to sing.

I meditate on the profound words in the post and the beautiful eyes and smiles in the photo of him and his brother, 17 months older. I think of my daughter and her “twin” who was 21 months older. Anand’s brother died four days after his 25th birthday. My daughter’s brother died 61 days before his 27th birthday.

I’m not sure if I or my daughter can sing quite yet and create music like Anand, but I do think our bond has created a latticework design and repurposed the uninvited litter of grief that we pick through on our grief journey. The latticework is not only beautiful in design, but it sustains us as we use it to support each other.

One day, I hope my daughter and I will find solid footing, climb up and sing in the manner Anand writes about, because I do know that deep in all of us there is a repertoire of music waiting to be surrendered and released to the world, no matter how off key our voices are, because in love and faith, all voices sing in the unison of a common language and are powerful enough to reach the farthest distances on the globe and bring the house down.

Faith Muscle