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A Communion That Carries Us

"Please give us the faith to be more certain of your Presence in the hardships of this world."

William Congdon, "Crucifix 46" © Archivio fotografico Museo Diocesano, Milano

On November 15th my 19-year-old son took his own life. He had suffered for five years from anxiety and depression stemming from a traumatic event and in the end, he chose to stop the suffering in this terrible manner. I was summoned home from work by police to enter into the most painful event of my life.

From the very beginning my wife, myself and our other three children were carried by our friends. Father Roberto, the chaplain of our school and a Fraternity of Saint Charles Borromeo priest was there as soon as he heard the news and he came every single day after. Our close friends in the community were there continually. They raised all the funeral expenses and they brought food every single day. But it was much more than that. I really had never seen so clearly before the sign that the community is the eternal element in the substance of our humanity.

Nothing eliminates the pain, but I had the strongest sense that the communion that carried us can hold us up, helping us to seek meaning in the midst of a terribly tragic event. This is already a miracle. It has been my fervent prayer every morning and in the course of the day that God’s redemptive love be more evident now than before. My life will never be the same and there is no “return to equilibrium” but I can see that this can be a blessing. I wake up feeling a wound and I begin to ask that it be an instigation to seek his mercy. This is not what I would have chosen (I do not think any father would), but I strongly desire that I see the grace in this moment. I am the diocesan responsible in Washington and some people wondered if I would continue or step down because of the grief from Liam’s suicide. Surprisingly, I am discovering that awareness of being wounded and needy is a help to embrace leadership. I have no pretension of being the strong one, the problem solver.

Fr. Carron talked about “either education or a heart attack” in his answers to questions after he presented Is There Hope? It is true that if we depend on huge, painful things to happen for us to learn how to live then we are in a bad position. It is also true that if we come to have certainty in the path that has been given to us (if we accept this education), facing a simple and ordinary period and facing a deeply painful and difficult one are not so different. I have had the sense these days since Liam’s death that there is a new urgency to make time for prayer, to work on the school of community, to share life with my companions, and to really face the challenges of work and of family life, but it is not a different way of living. The only thing that pulls me through this time is what helped me before he died. I do not need to seek something outside of the life I already had.

Here is a prayer I wrote for Liam and for all those with children or friends who are suffering:

Heavenly Father,

I say yes to the cross you have given us with the suffering and death of our dear son Liam. Please give us the humility to accept this cross, the openness to accept the love and support of others and the strength to carry it. I ask that this sacrifice be the occasion by which your merciful, redemptive love be more present in the world. May this cross bring Liam’s soul to rest in peace with You eternally and may it make your merciful love more abundantly present in our lives. Please give us hearts that are more aware of the suffering of others and more able to embrace it. Please give us the faith to be more certain of your Presence in the hardships of this world. Amen

Tom Tobin, Maryland


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