Defending the Defenseless
Make justice your aim: redress the wronged,
Hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.
‒Isaiah 1, 17
Without Mom, my father completely lost the will to live. He could do nothing for himself or for anyone else; that’s how deeply he was grieving. It was complete chaos, and nothing was right without Mom. She’d brought the light of the living God to all of us, and had always guided each of us in whatever way we needed. We were now a family of eight, counting Dad, Natalie, and myself, and each of us was grieving. Five of my siblings were still living at home when Mom died. This meant that her youngest kids who were still living with her, Shirley, Ronny, Tommy, Charles, and Louis, between the ages of sixteen and twenty-two, felt Mom’s loss more deeply than the rest. It was obvious how profoundly my younger sister and brothers had depended on Mom, compared with the others who were married with families of their own. Nobody outside that house could understand what lost souls we all were, and if I hadn’t been living there at the time, I may have been as blind to how hard it was for all of them.
During my journey of hardship and sorrow, which I blamed on the world around me, I prayerfully searched for answers. I was lost and looked for ways to endure my overwhelming problems, and watched my family and friends to see how they coped with tragedies like mine, which I was having such trouble overcoming. They seemed to handle their grief so much better, perhaps by being distracted by their busy lives, or else by distancing themselves from anyone who would bring down their spirits. I realize now that they simply were better grounded, having spouses or family members they were close with, and on whom they could rely; this gave them a sense of security or foundation that my younger siblings and I lacked.
My own suffering was compounded by the strain of trying to support my younger sister and brothers, who all looked so lost. Each of them was struggling and in dire need of help, and I reached out to them in any way I could. I surely could relate to what they were going through; we were basically dealing with the same level of loss. I felt a deep need to take care of them, and found that as I did so my heart, mind, and spirit began to be soothed. This gave me a bit of joy, as that lonely feeling of separation began to diminish and I felt slightly more grounded. Before I had shifted my focus away from myself‒and onto them‒I could barely even function; but the more I did for the kids, the better I began to feel. At last, I was starting to heal.
This was a valuable lesson I learned: that to transform our own suffering, we must have compassion for others and act on it. It is the only way to heal. We will not come into our own authentic power as grace-filled human beings until we first are able to give of ourselves to others. Perhaps we would not have to live through such great tragedies if we opened our hearts with love the way God intended. But until we learn to rely and depend on God as our foundation, we will continue to come to grief as lost souls.
I tried to take care of my younger sister and brothers, especially being joined with them in our loss. But I couldn’t be the mother Mom had been, and I couldn’t stay home to be with them the way Mom had always been, taking care of everyone full-time. It helped that for the first month after Mom died, Bea, my oldest sister, came to stay with us to help out. We were so grateful to her husband for taking over their family responsibilities so she could be with us, and she did her best to manage everything until we could pull ourselves together. But eventually she had to go home and left hoping that Dad and I would be able to take care of everyone else. When she’d gone, I once again felt the sense of loss and separation, and my heart whispered, “Weren’t we her family too?”
During the day while I was at work, my dad, sister, and brothers found it hard to deal with even the simplest things on their own. Life was by no means getting better; in fact, it was turning into chaos. Without Mom, there were no dinners waiting for us, no freshly washed clothing, and no tidy, warm house she’d always made ready. We missed how she lit up when we came in, and her smile had always warmed our hearts. Realizing how the whole household was struggling, I offered to quit my job to stay at home and take care of the rest of the family. But Dad, in his infinite wisdom, told me that working was good for me and that I should stay at my job. By then I had gone back to work as a hairstylist, and the people I worked for were very kind and understanding about my situation. Their compassion helped me feel supported when I needed it most and I was glad to keep working there, but I felt torn over not being home to take care of Natalie and my younger sister and brothers who were all still so lost without Mom.
My brother Ernie, who owned Molly’s construction company, named after Mom, gave jobs to some of our younger brothers, giving them an opportunity to learn his business and providing some stability after losing Mom. And even though we were all grieving and having a tough time making decisions, the younger kids found ways to take care of and serve each other with my help.
One night, as I put Natalie to bed, I overheard my older sister talking with Dad. I was surprised when she said she thought Mom died because she couldn’t take hearing me cry. The next morning I asked my dad if my grief caused Mom’s death. He said, “Cathy, she was grieving for Johnny, too, but only God knows why she died.”
After that, I tried my best to contain my sorrow. And rather than closing off my emotions, I learned to go within and ask God for comfort and help in understanding the meaning of what I was going through. For the first time in my life, I was learning to depend on God, and I trusted that I would be guided to the answers I needed. I began to see that the same compassion I sought was exactly what I needed to give to others in order to heal.
I found that the more I gave, the more I had to give, and I prayed and communed with God that I wouldn’t bring negativity to those around me. I didn’t want them to feel responsible for my crises, which were beyond everyone’s control. Staying positive and seeking God’s guidance helped me focus on my father and the kids, letting me feel empathy for them, rather than them feeling sorry for me. By not complaining about my plight to everyone around me, I was able to seek understanding from God. And when I stopped crying, I eventually attained a greater sense of peace, assurance, and an awareness of God’s presence.
Causes Catherine Nagle Supports
Westwind Foster Family Agency, Christian Children's Fund, Compassion International, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Invisible Children, Save the Children