A female perspective on the grieving process
GRANGER — In June of 2011, St. Pius X parishioners Cathy and Pat Laake were enjoying the life they had built together for 36 years. Unbeknownst to them, a medical diagnosis for Pat the following month would change their lives forever, and begin for Cathy a process of separation and grieving, ultimately resulting in the death of her spouse and best friend.
Cathy remembers Pat had noticed his back hurt and that he was tired, which he attributed to the hot weather that month. An MRI on his back found a problem with his bone marrow. After being referred to a hematologist, the diagnosis was confirmed to be Myelodysplastic Syndrome.
The doctors told the Laakes that Pat had one-and-a-half to three years to live. Cathy recalls that she was hopeful that Pat would be all right and did not allow herself to think he would die.
A few weeks later Cathy noticed a change in Pat. “One morning Pat was up early and acting a little different. … We later took Pat to the ER and by noon he couldn’t answer questions the nurse asked him,” says Cathy.
By 4 p.m. that day the doctor told Cathy that Pat’s blood had converted to acute leukemia and nothing could be done to save him.
“The next day Pat was still breathing on his own but could not speak. Msgr. Bill Schooler came up to give him Last Rites. Father Bill leaned over Pat to tell him he was going to pray,” Cathy remembers, emphasizing that Pat’s strong faith endured to the end. “Miraculously, Pat feebly made the sign of the cross. He knew we were praying with him. Pat’s last two conscious signs reflected what he lived — his love for me and his deep faith in God. He passed away quietly on Thursday morning, Feb. 16, 2012,” she says.
Cindy’s initial reaction to Pat’s death was shock.
“Many of my actions were based on what I thought Pat would want me to do. … There were times I didn’t want to go on but for some reason, I hung in there because I knew he would want me to. I have learned I am stronger that I thought I could be,” says Cathy.
Feeling out of balance also affected Cathy. “We were a couple and when one is gone, there is no one to prop the other one up,” Cathy acknowledges.
Like many that suffer the loss of a loved one, questions arise over how God is involved in a tragedy. “Little fits of anger toward God surface for Pat not being here when I need him. Or I feel angry and sad on the happy occasions like our daughter’s wedding because Pat is not there. Pat contributed so much as a provider, a good parent and adult mentor that he should be here to see the happy times and successes,” says Cathy.
Cathy believes that Pat prayed to be taken to heaven. “I asked God why He answered Pat’s prayers and not mine. Someone reminded me that my prayers were answered; Pat is well but in heaven. That is not what I want to hear, but I know he is no longer suffering. But I do ask God, what about my suffering?” she says.
Seeking counseling after Pat’s death was a beneficial avenue for Cathy.
“I did see a bereavement counselor right away and she gave me some helpful tips on dealing with returning to work. I also think keeping busy helped me with the grieving. I returned to work after one week. For a short time each day it allowed me to think about something else other that my loss,” says Cathy.
The Church community has always been a source of strength and comfort along her faith journey and it was an essential element in Cathy’s transition to being single following Pat’s death.
“So much in my life had changed in a short time. I needed something that was familiar, and going to church at St. Pius was that normalcy. It is the sitting alone and the quiet meditative time before Mass that is still hard to deal with,” Cathy says.
Cathy gives thanks to God for the 36 years she enjoyed as Pat’s wife. “I will always want more, … but gradually I have accepted that one more time will not happen. I still have times when I shake my head and say to myself, ‘This didn’t really happen to me, did it?’ Then I look at the empty side of the bed or the empty chair at the table and say ‘yes’ he is gone.”
One man counts his blessings even in grief
FORT WAYNE — It’s long been thought that, in general, men and women grieve the loss of a loved one in different ways. Women seek support to talk about their feelings and men many times look for ways to “fix it.” One man in Fort Wayne agrees with this notion and has personal experience to back it up.
Matt Brady lost his wife Pam to cancer in 2007 after a 10-year fight with the life-altering disease. His grief, he admits, was something he simply wanted to fix.
Originally from Ohio, Brady married his beloved Pam in July of 1991. The young couple lived a happy upwardly mobile life, raising their daughter Shannon, now 22, and son Nolan, 19, as they moved around the country several times with business opportunities, eventually landing in Fort Wayne a decade ago where they were closer to family.
Though Pam battled cancer for 10 years, she was in full remission for five of those years. Following a radical mastectomy though, Brady says, he knew it was the beginning of the end. Grateful that his sales job offered him flexibility, he was able to spend more time with his family. “After the surgery,” says Brady, “my days consisted of emptying ports and taking care of Pam’s needs. Then I’d take care of the kids and go to work. Then I’d be back to take care of Pam again.”
But even then he counted his blessings. “We had neighbors, friends and church people who came to help with meals and transportation,” recalls Brady. As he continued to live his life the best he could Brady got the fateful call in September of 2007 that had him rushing to the hospital where his wife lay dying from complications of surgery.
Now looking back on that day that changed the landscape of his life forever his inspiring nature shines forth. Though he remembers how difficult it was to gather family members to say goodbye, Brady remains grateful that their children and Pam’s best friend were able to join him at her bedside as she took her last breaths.
Following Pam’s funeral, Brady tried to get right back into work but found he had lost his focus and needed time to process the recent life changing events surrounding his beloved wife’s death. “My manager said ‘take some time,’ so I took a couple of weeks off,” he says.
Finally back at work, Brady found that “working a lot with late evening appointments was a way of dealing with things.” With his hard work, he was offered significant advancements but refused them so as to be available to his grieving children. And though admittedly not a nurturing man by nature, Brady looks back and is grateful that he found local assistance for his children at Erin’s House for Grieving Children. The benefit of having a safe place to grieve for his children was great, he says. His daughter Shannon continues to volunteer there in an effort to give back to those in need.
In an effort to find any sense of normalcy in his life Brady admits he made some disconcerting choices. Seven months after his wife died Brady found himself dating and admits it was the “wrong relationship.” During that time he felt judgment from others as well.
“I tried to fix things in my time, not in God’s time,” he says, adding that eventually over the years since Pam’s death he has found a sense of peace through prayer. As he gained wisdom from his life experience he has learned to “let go and let God.”
“I first learned it in CRHP (Christ Renews His Parish) program at St. Vincent de Paul Parish,” he says. “It works. But it’s so difficult sometimes for a guy. … Letting go comes down to listening to your heart.”
Now after seven years of working through his grief Brady is grateful for his journey and says, “When you lead with prayer on a regular basis, what you need to accomplish and when and how presents itself. And then I’m at peace with all of it.”
Interestingly, his thoughts on gender differences in grief reflect the norm. “I think women by nature are more patient with the grief process. By their nurturing nature they understand it takes time. Men tend to want to fix it,” he says.
So in an effort to educate men with wisdom from his own grief experience, Brady offers these helpful tips for the newly bereaved, “No. 1 — Be thankful for what you had … and have. No. 2 — Give yourself time and room to grieve. No. 3 — Stay out of relationships for two years. No. 4 — Don’t try to beat the percentages.”
To assist anyone working through grief, Brady offers these coping skills that worked for him: “Talk with good friends, journal and take advantage of any employee assistance (counseling) program. Get involved in the church and, of course, prayer.”
As his life moves forward, Brady is grateful for what he had and how his life has been transformed through his grief work. As for his strongly held belief in letting go and letting God, not only in grief but in all of life’s challenges, he says, “The more you do it the better life gets.”
The best news. Delivered to your inbox.
Subscribe to our mailing list today.