Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen, Nobody but Jesus. A meditation on a grief observed.

My Father died a little over five years ago, and except for essential papers related to his estate, I simply boxed up most of his papers and stored them in the attic of my rectory for future attention. At long last I am sorting through those papers. Among his effects were also many papers of my mother, who died some seven years ago.

I must say that there are many moving things I discovered, as I read through their papers and I was reminded that many of us never really know the pain and grief that some others bear. I particular I was struck at the poignant file that was simply labeled, “Mary Anne.” (Picture of all of them at right)

My sister Mary Anne was tragically afflicted with mental illness from her earliest days. My parents knew there was trouble early on when she did not speak a word till she was well past two, and then only at home. She had a pathological shyness that led her to shut down in the presence of others outside the home. By six years of age, the counselor at her elementary school spoke of her as “disturbed” and insisted on psychiatric care.

Discretion and brevity limit what I intend to share. But she was deeply troubled, by age 13 she had to be hospitalized and spent the remainder of her life in 15 different mental hospitals and 6 different group homes. She was often able to visit with us, and even stay over on weekend passes. She had stretches where she was stable. But soon “the voices” returned, as did the dreams that afflicted her. Her psychotic episodes often led to running away, outbursts of violence, and suicidal attempts.

Through all of this my parents fought very hard for her, and to be sure she go the care she needed. This often led them to various courts and generated quite a correspondence with insurance companies and mental health officials of the State and private hospitals where she was confined. Indeed, in her life my parents made many sacrifices for Mary Anne, financial and personal, to ensure her care. At one point in the early 1970s, aware that Mary Anne felt isolated in the house with three brothers and wanted a sister, they went so far as to seek to adopt a baby girl, filing papers and coming very close, but the plan fell through. The baby sister we never had.

Maryanne died in a fire in the winter of 1991 at the age of 30. She likely had a hand in that fire, and had often set fires before when the voices told her to. I could see the pain on her face as her body lay in the casket. And I wept when I saw her. The funeral director explained there was little he could do since her skin had been singed in the fire. She had clearly been crying when she died. A grief observed.

Of her, my father wrote this on the frontispiece of her file that I discovered:

Mary Anne Pope was our first child.
She led a tortured existence during a short life
and fought hard against great odds.
We remember her for her courage

And as I read my own parents’ touching recollections of Mary Anne I could not help but moved too by their own pain. Such a heavy grief punctuates each page. I give them great credit for the fact that they insulated the rest of us, their three boys, from most of the dreadful details of poor Mary Anne’s struggle. They kept their pain largely to themselves and stayed available to us. It is true their were episodes we had to know about, but as a young boy and teenager I saw in my parents only strength and stability when it came to this matter. I saw my father’s grief and pain for the first time, as he wept, standing there at the funeral home looking at my sister. A grief observed.

After my sister’s death, my mother’s grief grew steadily worse and it caused her struggle with alcohol to worsen as well, to the point that she became increasingly incapacitated. Her life ended tragically and suddenly on a cold February day. My father had looked away only for a moment, gone to the kitchen to make a sandwich, and mom wandered out into a snowstorm. Incapacitated by alcohol, and disoriented, she died of hypothermia. We found her body only after three days of searching when the snow melted a bit. She had died almost a mile away, near the edge of the woods. A grief observed.

My father never quite forgave himself for letting her slip away. The open front door, a first sign of trouble. The searching on a dark frigid and stormy night, and the steady awareness, “She’s gone.” Those memories haunted him. In the months that followed he often wondered how he could go on when half of him was gone. He too was gone within two years. His congestive heart failure worsened and he died of a literal broken heart, and a figurative one as well in 2007.  A grief observed.

All these thoughts sweep over me as I look through this file “Mary Anne.” I pray, dear reader, that I have not lingered too long for you on these personal matters. But the truth is, all of us carry grief, and perhaps this story will help you with your own, which I pray is not too heavy.

There is an old spiritual that says, Nobody knows the trouble I seen….Nobody but Jesus. And it is a mighty good thing that he does know. Sometimes the grief is too heavy even to share, even to put into words. But Jesus knows all about our trouble. There is a beautiful line in the Book of Revelation which refers to those who have died in the Lord and says of Jesus and them He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Rev 21:4-5)

And for my brave parents and courageous sister, who all died in the Lord, but who died with grief, I pray this text has already been fulfilled, and they enjoy now that everything is new. A grief observed no longer.

Requiescant in pace

This second video I made on what would have been my parents 50th anniversary. I picked the song “Cold enough to snow,” since it spoke to my Father’s grief in losing mom on that snowy night.

42 Replies to “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen, Nobody but Jesus. A meditation on a grief observed.”

  1. What an extraordinary journey into grief, and hope, and what we know, will one day be triumph.

    How do people without faith get through these moments?

    I thank the good God above for not only putting me into a family that was Christian, but that by decision, Roman Catholic.

    God bless you, Monsignor. Your sister and parents have just been added to my prayer list.

  2. Father,
    The article was very moving.
    We tend to forget that Priests are human with earthly aches… Like all of us. Thanks for reminding us to stare at the Cross and to Rejoice with our Lord for eternity.
    God Bless

  3. Dear Msgr, I haven’t read your blogs ( I didn’t know until now what I was missing) for some I came upon this one. When reading your blog I can’t help but remember the words to a song “Laughing on the outside crying on the inside” in reference to your parents. They were an example of being loving, unselfish and a blessing in those lives they touched. God was pleased, as He gave you the invitation to follow Him and you replied with a yes. Your parents were awesome, thank you for sharing….Blessings..

    1. Thank you. They were from a generation that did not often articulate its struggles but lived them in quiet dignity. I am glad we speak more openly today of our struggles but I respect their quiet witness too.

  4. I’m so sorry Monsignor! Seems we all have our deep deep sorrows. My son was tragically burned when he was 13 at a camp out, 34 now, 65% third degree …eight months burn units and then rehab. As tall as Michael Jordan a true tragedy that could so easily have been avoided. Thank God for all the lessons we’ve learned through our grief but the devastation and broken lives go on. People have seldom understood why I never approved sleep overs for my next three, or many other what many believed overly strict rules I set in place, for safety and sanity after that event! God bless all, as only He may heal our wounds and broken hearts. Amen

  5. Msgr. Pope, I am always amazed at how timely your posts are. I found out yesterday afternoon that the wife of one of my employees died in her early 40s. She has suffered a long time with Lupus, but I’m sure her husband was not expecting her to die, and perhaps didn’t even realize how serious things were for her. He will be making her arrangements today, and I can not imagine how someone can focus on such mundane things as obituaries and visitation times when he has lost his wife, and his life will never be the same. Thank you for reminding me that while the grief is not mine, it is very real for Jim. With the holidays, it will be especially difficult, and we will have to be gentle with him, even if he seems fine on the outside.

  6. Thank you Msgr. My wife lives with a mental illness that is controlled with medicine. She has great courage. I saw her when she was off the medicine and the experience was searing. I fear that at some time the medicine will stop working or she will quit taking it and I dread the tragedy that could come. I pray for her and place my trust in the Lord. I will pray for your family. Please remember us in your prayers.

  7. My mom and dad were very happy in the early years of their marriage but much less so in the later years. Yet in the sacrament of matrimony they found strength to continue to live together. They came to thrive on arguing! It made visiting them interesting. My mother suffered with cancer. She did what the doctors said which meant 4 years of torture. My dad was never in favor of all that and let her know it continually. Finally when she was incapacited, he took her off the other drugs and put her on nutritionals and she lived longer than predicted. When she died, he was devastated. He died 33 days later of essentially a broken heart. He had been on no medications or anything. It was a great shock to the family.

    My nephew is schizophenic. The suffering of his parents is great. He almost killed my sister once. Marijuana quiets the voices and he has done jail time for possession. A young man once so handsome and athletic and with a future cannot hold a job, has a record, and lives in a group home. There is grief.

  8. Thank you for sharing this with us, Monsignor. I, like probably everyone who reads this (and really everyone who we encounter today), bear the wounds of grief as well. Enough to break me. You description of your parents courage and stability is a great witness for me today.

  9. Thank you for sharing this. Your parents sound like they were amazing, selfless people. It is tragic the way that they died and the way that your sister died. It can be painful to learn what exactly people have gone through, but it is good to know and it is good to grieve. Suppressed grief can manifest into physical ailments, and stress can take more than an emotional toll on the body. Hearing your story may inspire others to open up and share theirs…so thank you again for sharing and God Bless You.

  10. Tears. Not just a grief observed, but shared. Thank you.
    Prayers for you and your family.

  11. Msgr. my husband and I will offer the Holy Mass in the morning, for the repose of their souls. May your family be blessed, and all the wounds be healed. What sorrow. I’m so sorry.

  12. Thank you for sharing this life story, Msgr. Pope. It teaches hard lessons, but somehow it makes me especially think that God’s love for us is so great, and it’s here for us even in the midst of our burdens… It’s good to be reminded of this in the middle of Advent.

  13. A friend shared a link to your blog on facebook and I read this just after hearing about the tragedy today in Connecticut. I shared this also and hope many will find comfort in your words here. God bless you.

  14. Dear Mnsgr, your sharing of your family’s deep pain was moving and deeply touching. It makes one think of the hidden pain that so many of us carry and live with. And, how easy it is to compound that pain further through a harsh word or action. Thank you for your courage and generosity of spirit in making us aware of each others’ tender need for compassion and understanding.

  15. What a timely piece as we see the tragedy in Connecticut today and mourn with those who mourn.

  16. Oh, the crosses we bear, the sadness, the heartache and the bone crushing weariness sometimes, of trying to stay on God’s path of life! Just like our Lord’s, it is lonely and difficult. But yet it is a path He has chosen specifically for each of us. Which means it is our path of santification. I am truly sorry to see your pain and that of your parents while they were living. Count on my prayers for all.

  17. ‘A grief observed.’ Hehehe, so bland and subtle. I know and feel they are much deeper than these words. The parallelism in my life is remarkable. This is a gift from GOD, so that in our ministry we will be empathetic with those we get in contact with. You made me cry, though as a boy, I was told by my father men do not cry. You are a human person, a priest forever in the line of Melchisedech. GOD bless you, Monsigneur. You and your family are in my prayers. Pray for me and my family, too.

  18. Words really fail to adequately respond to this. Those of us whose families have in one way or another been touched directly by contact with mental illness know a tiny bit of what your family has gone through. You and your family has no doubt many people now praying for them, including me.

  19. What a wonderful witness to the redemptive power of suffering and self-sacrifice -two things that so many today seem unwilling and incapable of doing. Thank you, Monsignor.

  20. How rarely these days do we hear the prayer “Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy Our Life, our sweetness, and our hope, to thee do we cry poor banished children of Eve, To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning, and weeping in This VALLEY OF TEARS.”‘
    Today, a town in Conn. is a valley of tears. May Mary, through God’s power, pour down her motherly consolation on all there and embrace the innocent souls of the little ones who are now at her side as Jesus was at Bethlehem.

  21. Thank you for sharing so deeply with us. As a recent reader of yours, my life has been so enriched. It’s so good to know where you’re coming from and how marvelously God brings good and life to the work of his hands.

  22. Msgr.,
    Thank you for sharing your parents’ story with us. I am deeply moved and reminded of the truth that we all suffer – loss, disappointment, pain, fear, rejection…. Thank you for also reminding us the truth that Jesus knows our pain and will one day turn our tears into joy. I, too, will keep your fmaily in my prayers.

  23. Monsignor, you are an inspiration and example for us to imitate; St. Paul, back then, pointed us to Shepherds such as you in this day (1 Thess 1:6; Heb 6:12).

    Yet he knows my way;
    if he tested me, I should come forth like gold.
    Job 23:10

    if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
    Romans 8:17

    Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
    Matthew 25:34

    Benedicat tibi Dominus et custodiat te
    Ostendat Dominus faciem suam tibi et misereatur tui
    Convertat Dominus vultum suum ad te et det tibi pacem

    The Lord bless thee, and keep thee.
    The Lord shew his face to thee, and have mercy on thee.
    The Lord turn his countenance to thee, and give thee peace.
    Numbers 6:24-26, DR

  24. Thank you so much Monsignor Pope for trusting us enough to share this difficult part of your family’s life. The two videos you made are beautiful and very moving. Mary Ann was a lovely girl and you had the most caring parents. I pray for them, may they rest in peace. God bless you.

  25. Thank you for sharing your life story, Monsignor. You and your mother and father and siblings are in my prayers. Very powerful narrative and videos. …My only sibling, seven years’ younger brother (born 09/1959) has chronic schizophrenia. Now that my parents have passed, I am at the forefront. Michael is a major part of the fabric of my life which has made me who I am and united me to Jesus. I can resonate with everything you have said.

  26. When I listened to your sermons at St. Mary of the Mills I often thought I was listening to a person who had great strength and faith. Sharing your story I now understand.
    God Bless You

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