That Time I Went to Lourdes and Came Home to Hit Rock Bottom

Putting an end to a very prolonged blogging absence… I’m going to attempt to write the story that has prevented me from publishing to the blog in many, many months – partially because it’s not an easy story to tell, and partially because one event in the story has led me to be even more ridiculously busy than I was beforehand. So here goes: the story of the time I went to Lourdes and came home to hit rock bottom.

Lourdes is a tiny town in France where the Blessed Mother appeared to a young girl in the 19th century. During one of the apparitions, water miraculously sprung from the ground, and that water has been associated with many miraculous healings. Since then, it’s become a popular pilgrimage destination, especially for those seeking spiritual or physical healing. The Order of Malta generously takes “malades” and their caregivers every year, and Ray and I were fortunate enough to be included in last year’s trip. (Thanks to my friend and fellow Catholic YA author, AJ Cattapan, who’s a Dame in the Order of Malta, and sponsored us to go on the trip!)

As we embarked on our pilgrimage, Ray’s healing was first and foremost on my mind. While we’d already experienced numerous miracles, he was still subject to many deficits compared to his previous capabilities – deficits which prevented him from living the life he – or we – would love to live, achieving the goals and dreams that we once held for ourselves and our family.

Interestingly, Ray underwent a brief transformation while we were in Lourdes. One day we went to a healing Mass. On the same day, we were both submerged in the healing waters of the baths at Lourdes. That evening, Ray’s speech became clearer, more quick and concise. His thoughts seemed to come at a much faster pace. We enjoyed one very special meal – just the two of us – and a fun evening of karaoke with our fellow pilgrims. It was almost like old times. I felt incredibly blessed to have those special hours with him, but held my breath, fearful that it wouldn’t last or that – maybe – I was simply imagining things. Indeed, it was a temporary improvement, but I felt that it gave me a glimpse of what could be – of what still might be – if God chooses to grant healing to Ray in the future.

This particular story I’m sharing with you today, however, isn’t about that particular intention. Very close behind the prayer for Ray’s healing was one for my own healing. Not a physical healing, but a spiritual one. In fact, that need had become so obvious that I was probably praying for my own healing at least as ardently as for Ray’s. The challenges of being a “brain injury wife,” the mother to five young children, and juggling the numerous other responsibilities I held were taking a serious toll on me. I found myself impatient, jumpy, stressed out, quick to anger, and any other number of unpleasant things. Hence, I went specifically praying a prayer I had learned during preparation for Marian Consecration, which is adapted from St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta: “Mary, lend me your heart and keep me in your most pure heart.”

A heart like Mary’s, and the graces to carry the crosses I’d been given. That was what I most desperately needed.

The trip to Lourdes was wonderful, but also incredibly busy and with very little downtime. As an introvert, who spends a lot of time every day in quiet prayer and reflection, the hustle and bustle proved a bit difficult, especially since I found myself with so little time to refill my cup in silent prayer. However, I greatly enjoyed meeting many wonderful people from the Order of Malta, and felt incredibly blessed by the friendships that we made.

One woman in particular shared the story of her friend who’s husband had also suffered a brain injury. Her friend realized that what her husband needed was to have someone working with him to keep his mind and body active throughout the day. So, she worked with him for eight hours every day and – miraculously – the man improved and was able to lead an almost normal life. Except – scratch that – the wife didn’t work with him. She had gobs of money, so she hired someone to work with him.

Imagine the needle screeching across the record at this point. I can’t afford a full time employee to provide therapy to my husband! But – since I sometimes make the mistake of thinking I’m Super Woman – I was determined to somehow figure out a way to provide that 40 hours per week on my own. Buoyed by that glimpse of the Ray that “could be,” I went home determined to do make it happen. I was going to keep Ray’s mind stimulated for eight hours a day, every day of the week.

We arrived home on a Tuesday night after a long day of travel – jet-lagged, exhausted, and anxious to see the kids, who had been very well cared for by my mom during our six day absence. She had skillfully and lovingly made sure that everyone was fed and clothed, made their lunches, drove them to and from school each day, helped them with their homework,and gotten them to the wide variety of activities and sports that five kids tend to be involved in. In fact, you might say my mom is the real Super Woman of the story! Alas, though, as one might suspect, keeping on top of things like laundry and housework was not at the top of her list. The house was in need of a serious straightening, several loads of laundry needed to be folded, the floors needed to be swept… you get the picture.

And so it happened that late the next morning found me sitting in the family room, kids at school, and Ray still in bed. I hadn’t been able to rouse him despite all my efforts, so instead I had grabbed my laptop in hopes of tackling the mountain of work I had gotten behind on. The laundry piled on top of the couch proved too great a distraction. I began to think of everything I needed to do. I needed to write another book in order to help support our family. I needed to promote the book I’d already written. I needed to write a newsletter for one of my freelance clients. And I needed to fold those clothes. And vacuum the floors. And clean the evidence of boys in the bathroom. And then there was the fact that I needed to figure out a way to stimulate Ray’s mind for eight hours a day but how was I going to do that when I couldn’t even figure out how to get him out of bed???!!!!

Once a month – on about the 14th day of a 28 day cycle – I’m prone to anxiety. I think maybe this was the 14th day. Or maybe it was just the jet lag. I’d like to use both of those as my excuse. But the long and the short of it is: I lost it. I started sobbing. Long, deep, gut-wrenching sobs that I didn’t know existed within me. Maybe, on some level, I was finally mourning the loss our family suffered on that fateful November night in 2015. Maybe I was feeling sorry for myself. Maybe I’m just human and finally became overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of everything that was being asked of me – or, rather, everything that I was expecting of myself. Whatever it was, I couldn’t stop. Just as I thought I finally had it under control, I would be swamped by another wave, and overcome by another bout of sobbing. I’d give into it for a little bit and then struggle back up to the surface, only to be plunged under again. This went on for hours.

Finally, as time to pick kids up from school drew near, I resorted to calling a friend who was able to prescribe – and deliver – something to get me calmed down. It worked, and I went through the remainder of the day in a strange emotionless haze.

So there you have it: the time I went to Lourdes praying for a heart like Mary’s and – somehow – came home to hit rock bottom.

Fortunately, this isn’t the end of the story. But, this story is way too long for a single blog post, so you’ll have to wait a day or two for the next chapter. (I’ll give you a hint, though: I’m still working on that heart like Mary’s. But, I think I’m a lot closer than I was. The interesting thing is the strange twists and turns its taken me to get here, and the many unknowns that I hope will continue me on the path.)

While you’re waiting for that next chapter, check out these two amazing stories from my fellow pilgrims to Lourdes:

AJ Cattapan’s “That Time I Went to Lourdes and God Whacked Me Upside the Head”

AJ’s “Pod Members” Miracle: “That Time We Went to Lourdes and Our Son Was Healed

6 comments on “That Time I Went to Lourdes and Came Home to Hit Rock Bottom
  1. Cathy GK says:

    Welcome back!

  2. Christy says:

    I had my panic attack on the airplane ride home!

    Coming down the mountain can be such a brutal experience. I’m sorry that touchdown at home was so intense for you. I still pray for Ray, you, and all the malade/caregiver teams every day, and I can’t wait to hear what happened next.

    • stephanie says:

      Thank you so much, Christy! You, Oscar, and your family are in my prayers as well. You’re observation is spot on – the act of coming home from a spiritual journey and back to the realities of daily life can be incredibly jarring!

  3. Nell says:

    Oh Stephanie, what a beautiful post….I will patiently wait for your next entry. God is good, all the time!! You are amazing and God will be glorified!

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