My Meltdown Moments

Maria Farrell For SCC calendar
Maria Farrell, Director GriefWork: A National Servite Ministry of Compassion

Moving is a major grief event. Last year at this time, I was bracing myself for the heartache of telling my children, family, friends and coworkers that my husband and I were moving to Florida. It was what I refer to as “the year of the lasts”:

*The last time the kids would just drop by to say “hi”.

*The end of being a part of the “everyday memories”. Now we are memories associated with “visits”.

*No more being the parents/grandparents/aunt/uncle who were a part of every family event/occasion.

*No more last minute calls from the kids to join them for dinner.

*No more being in Memorial Stadium for Husker home football games. I’ve been going since I was 12 years old.

*No more spaghetti dinner every Sunday at my mom and Dad’s house with our kids, our granddaughter, siblings, in-laws, nieces and nephews.

*The last time we would be entertaining in our home.

*The last time we would be having dinner with our friends.

I think you get the picture…so much change, so much loss.

This year is “the year of the firsts”. It comes with its own unique losses.

*The first time we weren’t with our family for major holidays.

*The first time we weren’t able to make it to family events.

*The first time we lived in a temporary housing arrangement. It doesn’t feel like home. It’s like being in a constant state of transition. I don’t have a HOME yet!

*The first time I’ve had meltdowns because I miss so much of what I left behind.

Change is hard. I crave the familiar, and at times I want things to be the way they were for the last 52 years. My head knows it will never be the same, but my heart keeps pulling me back. My meltdown moments come and go. I really don’t know what will trigger them. But here’s is what I do know:

*I know it’s okay to be sad.

*I know I’m going to cry.

*I know my husband doesn’t like to see me feel this way, but he’s always right beside me.

*I know that I can always call, text, Facetime, Skype, and Snapchat with my family and friends in between visits.

*I know that we have found and made some really wonderful friends in Florida.

*I know that when these meltdown moments come along, I am not alone. I can call my Florida friends for a supportive shoulder. They are in the same situation. Seems no one is really from Florida. We are each other’s “family away from family”.

*I know the sun will come up, both literally and figuratively. After all, I now live in the Sunshine State!

*I know that I found an awesome group of Husker fans to watch the games with.

*I know it won’t always feel “temporary”.

Most importantly, I know that when I pray, I include all that I am grateful for. That’s what helps me get through my meltdown moments.

Bah Humbug!


Paul Brustowicz

Charles Dickens’ The Christmas Carol is one of my favorite stories. I read it every year. I have listened to the audiobook version with Patrick Stewart more times then I can remember. The movie version with Alistair Sims is the best.

I have to believe that Scrooge’s attitude toward Christmas and the ghosts who visit him are the result of unresolved grief.  If you are working on your grief journey and this is your first holiday season, or if last year’s holidays were a disaster because of grief, here are some ideas and thoughts on how to take the humbug out of the season.

Keep in mind that anticipation and fear of the future are usually worse than the actual events. “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself”, as spoken by FDR.  With a firm handle on fear and the knowledge that the holidays are coming, whether we want them to or not, you can prepare for the inevitable.

First things first: look at the calendar.  When is Thanksgiving? November 24;  Christmas is a month later on a Sunday, with 2017 starting a week after that.

Take a look back.  What used to happen on Thanksgiving?  Dinner at your house; who did all the preparations; who brought what? Now ask yourself: Is all that necessary?

Plan ahead.  Check with family and friends. Time for a different host? Different chef? Are you expected to “perform”? Consider your own preferences.

No matter what, it will be stressful, so plan an escape route. Where to hide for a grief burst or pity party. A good excuse to leave early if events get to be too much.  Maybe there is a pet you have to feed or walk? Plan ahead.

Perhaps it should be a low key celebration with a time taken by all present to recognize the missing loved one.

I don’t recommend being like one widow who begged off being with family because she had committed to being with another widowed friend on the holiday. Turns out the other widow was at her daughter’s house, and this widow stayed home by herself, turned off the phone, and ate Chinese take out, rather than deal with the holiday head on.

Christmas creates high expectations with demands on time and energy. Grievers need all their energy all year long.  Consider lowering expectations.  If you don’t expect a multi course dinner, over the top Christmas decorations inside and out, and numerous party invites, it won’t hurt as much when they don’t show up.

Maybe this is the year for a change.  Different hosts; different location; Christmas vacation; fewer presents. Time to pare the Christmas card list or not send them at all.

My dad died in October 1989 and mom eliminated Christmas cards that year along with the decorations. She also found it a convenient excuse not to send cards for several years after that.

We had put away all the Christmas decorations the first week of January 1992 and Brian died in week three and my father-in-law died ten days later.  When November rolled around we left home for Thanksgiving and headed south to my brother’s. My mother came along. It was a good move.

Back home for Christmas we made the conscious effort to scale back: one small tree, a few decorations around the house, and a few lights outside. My helper was gone.  In 1993, we were in a new house and we had a few more lights and decorations. When we moved in 2011 there were a dozen boxes and tubs of Christmas stuff.

The times had changed. As the years went by we added lights and more lights. We had two Christmas trees to decorate.  The one constant is Brian’s Christmas rock.  As a little kid he had a school project to paint and decorate a rock for Christmas. It is the size of large potato, painted white with red and green markings. He got a kick out of putting it under the tree or on the mantle.  We put it on display every year. Christmas goes on and so will you.  If any one gives you a hard time, tell them, “Bah, humbug”.


Sr. Joan Houtekier, OSM

“A minister is a privileged intruder into the mystery of people’s lives.”  I heard this quote not long after I had finished my Master’s degree in Pastoral Ministry and had begun ministering in five rural parishes. My pastoral ministry there included many aspects of direct ministry to the aging, the sick and the dying as well as the training of lay ministers.

Bereavement ministry was a major part of almost forty years of pastoral ministry, usually in large city parishes.  And certainly ministering to the grieving often places one into the “mystery of people’s lives”… A very privileged place to be.

I now minister at Marian High School, the all-girls high school founded by the Servants of Mary and where I taught in the 60s, 70s & 80s. My “parish” now includes over 9,000 alumnae and their families.  I attend the funeral services of the parents of the alumnae that I had taught, as well as to services for their deceased siblings and spouses. Sometimes I attend as many as 5 visitations or funerals in a week.

Several weeks after the death of an alum’s loved one, I contact them with a phone call. This is different from parish ministry. In a parish, I would have seen the bereaved person at Sunday Mass or other parish activity and had a chance to visit with them.  Another way I minister to those who are grieving is through a personal note. I include a list of local resources like support groups, presentations or retreats for the grieving.

A helpful resource I discovered over the years is Abbey Press’s CareNotes. These five to six paged booklets include topics like: “Grieving the Loss of Your Parent”, “Losing Someone Close”, “Finding Your Way After the Death of a Spouse”, and  “Walking With God Through Grief and Loss”. CareNotes are easy to send with a personal note and provide helpful reflections, stories, and Scripture passages.

Sr. Joan Houtekier, OSM ministers at Marian High School in Omaha, NE.

A Veterans Day Prayer



God of compassion,
God of dignity and strength,
Watch over the veterans of the United States
In recognition of their loyal service to our nation.
Bless them with wholeness and love.
Shelter them.
Heal their wounds,
Comfort their hearts.
Grant them peace.

God of justice and truth,
Rock of our lives,
Bless our veterans,
These men and women of courage and valor,
With a deep and abiding understanding
Of our profound gratitude.
Protect them and their families from loneliness and want.
Grant them lives of joy and bounty.
May their dedication and honor
Be remembered as a blessing
From generation to generation.

Blessed are You,
Protector and Redeemer,
Our Shield and our Stronghold.

© 2015 Alden Solovy and All rights reserved.




Beware the Crystal Ball of Grief


Paul Brustowicz

When I was leaving church this morning, I couldn’t help but notice that one of the regulars at Mass, Carol, was the center of attention with several women chatting with her and offering hugs.  It did not look like a celebration, so I joined the group to see what was happening. Carol’s teenage grandson was being moved into palliative care.  His cancer had returned with a vengeance to his spine and brain.  Carol needed hugs and compassion from her friends. She passed around her grandson’s picture, asked for prayers and talked incessantly about possible treatments and cures at distant cancer centers. It got me thinking about anticipatory grief.

Anticipatory grief is what the psychologists call all those grief feelings that caregivers and patients experience in anticipation of a death.  Anticipatory grief is like having a crystal ball that reveals a future of pain that you hope never comes.

According to NorthEast Florida Community Hospice, anticipatory grief puts us in fear of actual or possible losses. We may fear living life alone, fear losing our social life, fear losing companionship or fear losing control.  These fears play on our minds and before you know it, you are experiencing grief symptoms.

NorthEast Florida Community Hospice lists the following symptoms of anticipatory grief:

  • Tearfulness
  • Constant changes in emotions
  • Depression
  • Emotional numbness
  • Poor concentration
  • Forgetfulness or poor memory
  • Loneliness
  • Denial
  • Acceptance
  • Fatigue

Do these look familiar? Isn’t this the same list for active grievers?

When a friend’s sister was on life support after an aneurysm, she was a bundle of emotions that changed by the minute.  Mostly though she was tearful, forgetful and unable to concentrate. She needed help from friends just to make it through the day: meals, transportation, emotional support, and talking with medical staff, especially talking with doctors.

In the same hospital room a close friend of her sister was in complete denial even as she faced her friend hooked up to life support. They both knew what was inevitable and both processed the moment differently.

I’m of the opinion that anticipatory grief is a good thing in that it may shorten the grief process after death has occurred. After all, you’ve been crying your eyes out and you are numb with fatigue.  Why not just carry on until the healing starts? Be aware of that crystal ball of grief and prepare for the future.

The Servants of Mary offer Congratulations to Fr. Jack Topper, OSM & also to Fr. Richard Boyle, OSM

Fr. Jack Topper, O.S.M., Retires
After 25 Years at The Grotto
The National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother (The Grotto) announces the retirement of Fr. Jack Topper, O.S.M.
Fr. Jack has served The Grotto for many years, first as Director from 1991-2014 and then as Rector from 2014 to the present. Fr. Jack’s tenure at The Grotto were years of modernization, beautification, and greater visitor outreach.
When Fr. Jack arrived at The Grotto in the summer of 1991, a fund-raising campaign to construct a new gift shop was already underway and Fr. Jack worked hard  to build new relationships with the friends and supporters of The Grotto, as well as the larger community. The Grotto Gift Shop, as well as the adjoining plaza were dedicated in early 1995.
In 2001, a new visitor complex and conference center facility was completed in the plaza, on the site of the old gift shop. Other projects followed: a major plaza restoration in 2003, and a modernization of the elevator to the Upper Level Gardens in 2007. In 2010, Fr. Jack oversaw the installation of a meditative labyrinth in the Upper Level Gardens, modeled after the labyrinth in France’s Chartres Cathedral. This project was spearheaded by Servite Sister Val Lewandoski and Fr. Jack.
Fr. Jack is most proud of the creation and installation of the wayside cultural shrines that now grace a quiet pathway in the Upper Level Gardens. A Lithuanian shrine had been erected at The Grotto in 1963. In 2007, Fr. Jack collaborated with the members of the local Polish St. Stanislaus parish to create a new wayside shrine in honor of Our Lady of Czestochowa. This was followed by the installation of Dambana, the Filipino shrine in 2008. Most recently, the Our Lady of Lavang Vietnamese shrine was dedicated on Freedom Sunday in July of 2016, and the blessing and dedication of the shrine in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas, will take place Saturday, October 29.
In 2012, Fr. Topper was the recipient of the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (for the Church and the Pope) medal, also known as the Cross of Honor, an award bestowed on clergy and lay people by the papacy in recognition of outstanding service to the Church.
Honoring this occasion, Fr. John Fontana, O.S.M., Prior Provincial of the Friar Servants of Mary, USA Province, stated, “We Servites are so proud and so deeply grateful to Fr. Jack, who has been the ‘face and voice’ of the Grotto, and of the Servite community, for more than 23 years! He has developed the Sanctuary physically and spiritually. And, with his engaging personality, he has so ably led its diverse ministries of hospitality, spiritual enrichment, worship and prayer, offering the opportunity for both quiet reflection and joyful celebrations to such a vast variety of pilgrims and visitors from near and far.”
Fr. Richard Boyle, O.S.M.,
Appointed Rector of The Grotto

The National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother (The Grotto) announces the appointment of Fr. Richard Boyle, O.S.M., as Rector.  Fr. Boyle begins his tenure November 1, 2016.

Fr. Boyle comes to The Grotto with a wealth of pastoral and ministerial experience, most recently in the Diocese of Sacramento, CA, where he served the parishes of St. James in Davis, CA, and St. Joseph in Rio Vista, CA. He also served as Catholic Chaplain at the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, and at Solano State Prison in Vacaville, CA. Fr. Boyle spent many years in education ministry at Servite High School, Anaheim, CA.
“I am delighted to be taking on this new responsibility, pastoral role, and ministry,” saysFr. Boyle. “Certainly, it’s a bit daunting… a ‘big job,’ but my best guide, counsel, and inspiration comes from the Lord himself, who said many, many times in the Gospels, ‘Do not be afraid.'”
No stranger to the Portland area, Fr. Boyle previously served on The Grotto staff in the 1990s and was also pastor of the parishes of St. Rita, Portland, and Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Cottage Grove, OR. In 2015, Fr. Boyle was appointed to The Grotto’s first Board of Directors.
“While one might say that Fr. Richard has big shoes to fill after Fr. Jack’s 25 years, I am pleased to affirm rather, that he arrives in his own shoes, which have walked through high school, parish, hospital, and prison ministries,” said Fr. John Fontana, Prior Provincial of the Friar Servants of Mary, USA Province. “All that experience has prepared him well to minister to the many people who make their way to The Grotto.”
The Grotto
NE 85th & Sandy Blvd.
Portland, OR 97220

The Empty Chair


Sr. Kerry Larkin, OSM
Sr. Kerry Larkin, OSM

Is there a whole in your heart that only God can fill?

I don’t know about you but I was not prepared to deal with the reality that my brother Kevin, who was just a year older than me, was seriously ill. Nor was I prepared to deal with his death eight months after he had been diagnosed with kidney failure.

It’s still difficult for me to find the words that come close to expressing the grief, loss and sadness that followed, and continues to be a part of my life today five years after Kevin’s death.

After the death of my brother, Kevin, I found myself wondering how Jesus dealt with death and loss in his young life.   So I turn to scripture to see if there was an answer to that question. It led me to the scripture story of the Martha, Mary and Lazarus.  In his Gospel, John describes the loving relationship Jesus has with this family and the compassion he showed in helping Martha and Mary deal with their grief over the loss of their bother, Lazarus. Mary and Martha dealt with their grief in different ways. Just as I dealt with the grief of losing my brother differently than my siblings.

It’s okay to feel deeply troubled even a little confused as we get in touch with our own sense of loss. The reality of how important our sibling was to us and the broken bond, never to be replaced, takes time.  Jesus himself wept over the death of Lazarus.

So what does this mean for us? I believe we will find the answer in the words that Jesus spoke to both Martha and Mary; “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

What we need to understand is there is more to our existence than what we experience here on earth.   We often hear the saying, “We are Human Beings on a spiritual journey, but in truth we are Spiritual Beings on a human journey.”  That is part of the Paschal Mystery: Life, Death and Resurrection.  Once Jesus calls us forth from the tomb all the chairs will no longer be empty and the whole in our heart will be filled.

Sr. Kerry will be sharing more of her personal story and how this scripture passage helps her on her grief journey at the Servite Center of Compassion in Omaha, NE. To register for this event, visit the Servants of Mary website at and click on “Servite Center” and then “Registration for the Servite Center of Compassion”. For more information on dates and times please contact Sr. Kerry at


The Power of Gratitude


Sr. Barb Kennedy, OSM

This is not your ordinary “Let’s be grateful – it’s thanksgiving time” blog.  It’s about gratitude but not the kind that says, “Once a year we should say a blessing at dinner.” At first the following ideas might sound a bit flaky, yet I think you will be grateful you read this.

Recent research has found that thoughts of gratitude are good for us in many ways.  It slowly changes our attitude for the better. Performing simple gratitude exercises like writing thank you notes, keeping a gratitude journal or finding ways to pay it forward increases well being and reduces depression.  For example, adults who keep gratitude journals show a greater increase in determination, attention, better sleep and more energy than those who don’t.

Realizing that others have it worse off is not gratitude.  True gratitude is realizing the positive aspects in our lives.  It is not a comparison.  For the effects of gratitude to reap the most benefit, we first have to recognize it and then the next step is actually expressing appreciation.

First, a word about recognizing it. Let’s say we’re having a bad day, difficulty at work, or a fight with our spouse or good friend, stuck in traffic, late for a meeting.  Gratitude doesn’t mean these things didn’t happen and let’s play Pollyanna about life.  It does mean there is still so much good in our life that goes unrecognized every day.  Have you thought about being grateful for toothpaste, your eyesight even if it’s not so great? How about the shoes on your feet, windshield wipers or popcorn?  But let’s revisit for a minute that bad day you just had.  Can we be grateful for the opportunity to become more patient, more accepting, be just a bit more humble?

A must read is Brother David Steindl-Rast book, Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer.  On of his many challenging statements is, “This is how I show my faith – not by asking to get what I need but by trusting that I need what I get…the gift within every gift is opportunity

And now what?  How will we live in gratitude and express our gratitude?  We could easily keep a gratitude journal and write down three things we are grateful every day and not repeat ourselves. We need to be grateful for gratitude.  It does so much for others and us.

The Boss’s Grief


Paul Brustowicz

In his new autobiography, Bruce Springsteen writes extensively about his father, Doug, “Pop” as he calls him, and their relationship or lack thereof.  Bruce describes his dad’s death in 1998, the funeral, a eulogy, and burial service in Freehold, NJ, Springsteen’s hometown. He writes about the problem of confronting his grief. His stoicism.

He writes that he felt “claustrophobic” after his Pop’s death.  After the funeral, he spent two weeks sleeping outside.  He couldn’t drag himself inside.  Then he made a pilgrimage to all his Pop’s old haunts: a bar, a marina, a parking lot at a boat ramp.  He moped around and then “came inside and gave in to the tears.”

When Bruce was making his fame and fortune in ’70s and early ‘80s, I wasn’t paying attention.  Everything I ever learned about pop music came from my wife and my sons. When we moved back to NJ in ’83, I learned more than I wanted to know about Bruce.  It seemed the whole state was taken with him.  Well, maybe not the whole state, but a certain generation and demographic was enamored with Bruce.  Probably because he was an “everyman” who sang about everyman and the blue collar world.  He did not play the part, he was the part! He grew up the part.

Brian was into Bruce.  I spent many a road trip with Brian listening to Born to Run, Growing Up  and other Bruce favorites.  Can cassette tapes wear out? Bruce was Brian’s anthem in those driving lessons we took up into the Highlands, Atlantic Highlands, Sea Bright and Rumson.

After Brian died, I wrote a song, or maybe it is just a bad poem:

“Bruce Springsteen Makes Me Cry”.

I haven’t read it in years. It is handwritten in ink on yellow paper. It is not dated, but it had to be 1992.  Surprisingly I can read my own handwriting/printing.  Here it is.

He sings about the Jersey Shore

of teens and love and cars,

With raspy voice and twangy guitar.

We’d drive on River Road or Ocean Boulevard,

While Bruce was wailing about glory days or

the tunnel of love.

Just Brian and me tooling along Monmouth roads.

It didn’t matter where I drove

As long as it was far.

We didn’t talk much, I don’t why.

Brian always brought the tapes:

Guns and Roses, Billy Joel,

Paul Simon, and Bruce.

It didn’t matter what I drove

ZX, Sable, Olds,

a ride was a ride and that’s

what he liked.

Some nights I’d be in no mood.

I’d cut it short, Scenic Drive and back;

Other times we circled Middletown

Through Holmdel, Rumson and Sea Bright.

When in the mood Brian told me

Of his dreams of sports, big houses and Porsches.

He told me he loved me, more than once.

He talked about his grandpa and his brother and his friends.

In summer we’d argue about the radio station,

I’d want to hear a baseball game,

He wanted rock and roll.

We’d push the buttons and annoy each other.

Brian won’t hear the new rock and roll anymore,

But I listen for him, so what,

If Bruce Springsteen makes me cry.

Elihaz, Bildad, Sophat and Elihu


Paul Brustowicz

It is the twenty-sixth week of ordinary time, and the first readings for daily Mass are selections from the book of Job, from Chapter 1 on Monday to the end of Chapter 42 on Saturday. On Monday God is chatting with the angels and Satan shows up to put in his two cents.  Satan offers a challenge: let me knock that guy Job around and we’ll see how much he really loves you and worships you. God says “okay” but you’re not allowed to “lay a hand upon his person”.

The next thing you know Job’s farms are destroyed: the oxen and asses are stolen, the sheep are destroyed by lightning, the camels are raided and almost all his workers are killed. A tornado takes down the house with five of his children. The reading ends with Job blessing the Lord.

Not in the readings are Satan’s second attempt at Job: he breaks out in boils and sores. Mrs. Job says he should curse the lord already and get it over with.  Job is like: we take good days from the Lord, why not the bad?

Job’s friends show up to console him and sit Shiva. After seven days of silence, Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar,  and Elihu offer advice and consolation that goes on and on and on. Eliphaz contends that God punishes evil doers. Bildad tells Job that maybe his children sinned against God and were punished. Zophar opines that Job hasn’t gotten half of what he deserves. Elihu says that God always gets it right and suffering is part of his plan.  With friends like this who needs enemies?

After each one speaks his piece on why Job is suffering, Job answers each one of them with pretty much the same message. I don’t deserve this. He rants and raves at God. He questions God and his beliefs; he never blames God for his trials and suffering. He just wants to know “why”. Why this undeserved suffering? What did I do wrong? I don’t remember doing anything wrong.

After the four “friends” have their say and Job has debated everything with them and a mute God, a storm pops up and God speaks from a whirlwind to Job. God tells Job to “listen”. God will be asking the questions and looking to Job for the answers. He presents a litany of all the good things He has done since the creation of the world. He points out that His goodness was there all the time. He hasn’t left him alone. Job slaps himself upside the head and acknowledges God’s presence, praises Him and then apologizes to God, “I won’t do that again.” The book of Job ends with a short story of Job’s new found wealth, family and friends.

I think that Elihaz, Bildad, Sophat and Elihu show up at every funeral and wake to offer platitudes and advice.   ‘God wouldn’t give more that you can handle”; “everything happens for a reason”; “another angel was needed in heaven”.

And behind your back, “I wonder what she did to deserve this”. Maybe you have been a friend of Job, offering advice.  I know I have been on both ends of that stick. When I’ve been on the Job end, all I want is for someone to listen and support me.  When I’m on the friend end, I want God to jump out of the whirlwind, slap me upside the head, and remind me He is our friend in heaven. And that no one does anything to deserve their suffering. It is a mystery.  That is life.