Healing a Childhood Wound
I was grateful for my ongoing dialogues with Fr. John Eudes. He became an instrumental part of my spiritual life during those early, pruning times. I brought to him the matters that were most troubling for me. Any doctrinal questions, or scriptural clarities, and also complex things of the heart and soul. I felt safe with him. Perhaps that is the tact of any good priest and psychiatrist, but he was far beyond a Doctor of the monastery; truly a living Saint.
He was charitable in that he took time to respond to me, and always prudently. As I was immersed back into the world and into the classroom setting I could always count on his humble prayers whenever I sent him an intention. Many times these intentions were for my students and their sufferings. I had seemingly long forgotten the struggles of young adolescent life until I was given the grace to guide them in their learning.
During a meeting with him at the Abbey on December 15, 2012 Father was rather jovial sharing many tales from his younger days, of diving into seaweed in 1939, rambles about the army, or crazy things he had seen while studying medicine, including a story about a woman who had given birth and believed her baby was a rabbit. I never quite understood what he was getting at, but it absolutely frightened me.
Amidst all of the lighter joys of his reflective sharing he brought up the martyrdom of his brother monks in Algeria, something I had not heard about until this moment. He explained how the monastery was raided in the middle of the night by Islamic radicals. All of the men, except one, were taken and brutally murdered. The one who survived, and at this point still living was a friend of his. All of these martyred men his brothers. There was no room in this for speech on my part, I had no place to share or offer anything. I surrendered to the grand silence. Father then went on from this to speak of the need for healing.
Father John had a way of sharing things rather fraternally and superficially, yet was careful to not over penetrate the personal, or seek to self-glorify. His sharings were always rooted in God’s glory, intended or not, it was reflective of how authentically grounded in Christ he was.
As our meeting this specific day came to a close he said “I think it would profit you to read a book entitled “Healing the Eight Stages of Life”, we have it out front in the Abbey bookstore, it may help you understand the conditions many of your students are facing, and also yourself.”
I had taken to reading quite a bit since conversion, but was adamant about never bringing books to the Abbey. I came empty and open, knowing that I would be provided with reading material. This never failed; the Holy Spirit is a well-equipped Librarian!
Off I went to peruse the book shelf. I found the book Fr. John had referenced, it wasn’t the most inviting cover, an image of some man probably as old as Fr. John himself with two young children and seriously retro font. This would not be the first book I would choose for myself, but I trusted his counsel on it. I had grown accustomed to recognizing that most things I had chosen for myself weren’t always best for me anyway!
I started reading as I walked back to the retreat house and was immediately drawn in. Through the introduction alone it was apparent that this was not a Catholic book. It was Christian though, and spoke of healing the stages of life and wounds that can be acquired there by bringing Jesus into them. It was very intriguing, and by no means was it some charismatically fluffy book. With each stage of life presented there was a corresponding character trait, for example in infancy it highlighted the cultivation of “trust, resilience” and how these qualities are fostered through sound parenting and the importance love and touch. Anyway it went on and on through all of the stages.
As I got into Bethlehem house, I was sure to make my way into the kitchen for a hot cup of black coffee and a cookie. The cook was always kind to leave little treats inside of a container on the counter. Often the retreatants much less kind and some would rapidly finish them all, but I am not here to call one a glutton or judge sins, though it is quite sad to find the cookie jar empty. On this day it was plentiful. Most of the time I fasted from these goodies while retreating, I chose to modestly indulge during this visit.
Following my snack I headed to the chapel in the house with my new reading material and journal in hand. I was amazed at the complexity and beauty of the emotional life, of how much of our psychological make up is in fact reflective of what we experience and receive. I was also saddened by the reality of the wounds that can linger within us as a result of neglect in one of these fragile areas of our life. It indeed helped me to understand some of the brokenness I had witnessed in the classroom, and in those around me. Most of it I read with ease and objectively, I wasn’t prepared for what it revealed about me and my own wounds.
I arrived at the chapter on “Play Age” and that it where my reading became much more sensitive. As I read through the stories and examples suddenly everything felt more personal. Even though most of the examples had little direct resonance with my own experiences they did succeed in drawing emotions out of me. Before I knew it I was weeping. Sitting on a pillow in the back of the Bethlehem chapel before our Lord, weeping out a wound I knew that He was there to heal.
I continued reading onto the “School Age” chapter, attentively and tearfully. For the first time I was aware of just how much my Mother’s mental illness and breakdown had affected me. I was aware of the void of maternal love and feeling of abandonment that was the result of her illness. The guilt that I held within me for her breakdown, as if I had played a part in it, was oozing to the surface.
Christ met me in this. I did not like it. I did not want to have to focus on this. Not here and not now, heck, not ever. Simultaneously I knew it had to happen. God wanted to heal my brokenness so that I could love more fully. So that I could live with a greater sense of His immeasurable joy and have in this life an experience of His goodness.
I sat and wept. For the first time I felt as if I had permission to finally break down myself. To express in my solitude before our Lord how much weight was within me. Though I never did numb myself to the reality of my mother’s illness I did see, through the grace of conversion how a lot of my behavior and wrestling with sin was an acting out of this wound.
At the close of each chapter is an exercise or meditation to help heal a wound occurring in that stage of life. Though I was not one usually into these “self-help” feely, touchy type exercises, I could not deny the importance of what was happening to me interiorly.
“Behold, your mother.”
From the sufferings of the Cross, Jesus gave us His mother. This moment for me in the chapel, meditating upon one of the heaviest crosses in my young life, I too was given the grace to embrace our Lady, our Mother, my Mother.
I had built a routine around praying the Rosary regularly and though I understood some of the spiritual significance of it. At this time I lacked an honest connection to our Lady. I am not talking about one of these heretical type relationships, or some madness of receiving daily messages and Tweets from Her. I mean, yes, She speaks to the soul, I am sure of this. I am just more convicted of humble discernment and prudent silence.
I question anything spiritual that is too loud and projected really. Things most sacred, things most authentic must naturally linger in silence from where they are conceived and thus remain so intimately woven between the soul and our Lord where they bear fruit, humble fruit; cultivated in time and revealed void of human glory, long after the human body has decayed and the soil dried up! True contemplation is conservative.
Back to the meditation…
The exercise invited the reader to write a letter to Jesus from the moment of hurt. It provided a suggestion in the event that one could not think of one themselves. Weeping and writing I wrote to Jesus as was asked of me. What came out was something written with incredible honesty and the limitations of my young self.
I remember my mother’s absence like it was yesterday. I don’t know what a mother’s love is like from my own mother. This always made me seek attention and approval in everything. I blamed myself that something my brother and I did had broken mom. I began to hide my emotions and everything. I didn’t share anything with her- she was not there. I remember feeling alone.
At school I sought the affirmation of teachers. I was scared of my mother from the moment I heard her yelling that day. I did not know what to do, but she was dangerous to me.
Dad was overwhelmed and ashamed of her. I never wanted him ashamed of me. I felt abandoned and neglected and alone. I felt it was my fault. I became ashamed of her too Jesus. No one told me I was good because everything became about mom then.
Sometimes I still feel like that child in need of love, and so deprived deep within me of a mother’s validation. It still hurts me.
It was out. Everything I wanted to yell and scream. I knew it was not pleasant or nice. I knew that no one should feel this way toward their mother, and I knew my mother would never understand the complexity of my emotions about this as she struggled with the radical fluidity of her own. The sixth commandment always haunted me in this regard. How could I honour her, with these feelings in my heart? Simultaneously I was also aware that she was ill, that this was not her, I was torn between not wanting to discriminate against her and her mental illness, and yet victim of it too without consent. There is great stigma in our society surrounding the mentally ill and quite frankly there are many silent sufferers in their caregivers and family members who ride the highs and lows of this illness, afraid of sharing their honest truths and difficulty.
I found myself searching for my mother. Some memory of her before the illness took her away. Who was she? Was she a happy person? Did she love us?
I can still remember some prominent moments from my childhood, pleasant ones of mom, a couple of encouraging words and hot lunches when my brother and I would walk home from school for recess. That warmth is all I know and all I remember though, yet somehow I am sure of her good work and mothering in my earlier days. She will sometimes tell me satisfying stories about those years and I cling to the hope of believing them.
Jesus was there. For the first time I recognized Him amidst all of this, as the exercise invited me to bring Jesus into the moment. My tearful and sobby panting had started to settle, my breaths more calm and deep, more relaxed, more free. With my eyes closed I envisioned my old kitchen. I was 8 years old, the time of mom’s breakdown. I could feel the laminate floor beneath my feet again. Hearing the humming of the old fridge to my immediate right and seeing the dim light coming in from the kitchen window. My mother stood before me. “Okay, now Catherine bring Jesus into this” I imagined what the exercise suggested, breaking one of mom’s china cups, though I don’t recall mom ever having china, this was redundant. It was a moment of me doing something to upset her and there emerged the anger, the yelling, and the woman I wanted to desperately forget from my childhood.….Suddenly He was there, radiant, yet sorrowful. He stood behind my mother with His hand on her heavy shoulders and looked at me. I felt warmth and comfort within, indescribable peace. It was the first time I think I ever realized how broken she was. How much she needed Jesus to be able to stand and that he was always there with her looking at me and watching over me.
My eyes still closed and tears now trickling down my cheeks She too was there, Our Lady, in this tiny childhood kitchen. She was behind me, surrounding me with her Maternal love and warmth. She was always there holding me and I had not known Her. I could see then that I was always provided for. That the void within me could never be fulfilled by the expectations placed on human love. We are made and sustained by the radical love of God for each of us and it finally resonated with me.
“Behold, your Mother”, was imbued with immense meaning now. I could begin the journey now of laboriously learning how to hold my own mother, surrounded now with the understanding of our Lady always holding me.
At the close of the exercise I was invited to write a response from Jesus, meditating upon what He would say….
Dear Young Catherine,
I saw your hardship and was always present beside you. I heard your cry and held you in my arms, waiting for you to talk to me, to come to me.
I have given my Mother to you to guard and protect you, to guide you for the rest of your life into motherhood and every place you now go. Your life will be fruitful. Continue to trust in me. It is over now….I love you
* Please pray for my mom. For her healing and conversion.