A Prayer Journey Through Grief

prayer journeyFor the past two years I have been juggling prayer and grief. I have lost a friend, my mother, my grandmother and others. It has been tough to go through, but I’ve not been alone. Friends have reached out with concern, hugs and text messages. They’ve read my reflections about these losses and listened over the phone as I shared memories.

Losing these special people in my life has challenged my faith like no other hardship in the past. And I have never found it so difficult to pray. I’m left wondering how to pray to God when I feel angry and hurt. The dance of trying to reach out to the God of comfort while pulling away because of loss “caused” by God has moved me to pray to my loved ones directly. I’ve been asking them to intercede on my behalf and put in a good word with God while I struggle to get close again.

Praying from heaven

When my mom was alive, often I would ask her to pray for people that had asked me to pray for them. I always thought that the more people asking God for help on someone’s behalf, the better the chance of those prayers getting answered. Right after my mom died, a friend asked me to pray for someone diagnosed with cancer and I immediately wanted to call my mom and say, “Mom, pray for this person.” Knowing that I couldn’t really call her at that point, I still sent up the petition directly to heaven and asked her to pray from there.

Growing up I would pray to my deceased relatives as a way to keep them in the loop of all that was going on in my life. I figured if they were still around I would have asked them to pray or asked them for guidance, so why not ask them now? When I would drive by the cemetery where my grandpa and other relatives are buried I would ask Grandpa to help with a situation or to pray with me for something. I always figured people who passed away had to earn their wings somehow!

Since I sought answers from my loved ones while they were here, maybe I am hoping I can get a direct answer from them now.

It is not that I don’t address God directly in prayer anymore. I still ask for comfort and peace for my loved ones. And I question God about the fairness of taking away those close to me. Why did they have to die? Asking “why” is something I’ve shied away from, knowing the answers aren’t always easy to hear and comprehend.

But since I sought answers from my loved ones while they were here, maybe I am hoping I can get a direct answer from them now — even though they are not physically present with me. I believe that praying for and to those loved ones who have died, and seeing things that remind me of them, my prayers are still being heard. When I remember my loved ones, I pray with gratitude for the gift of their presence in my life.

Prayer journey

Before these two years of loss, my prayer life was thriving. I was more present discovering God’s presence in my life. I grew up believing that God is present with us through prayer. I would pray the Our Father and Hail Mary on a regular basis, and once I learned others like the Act of Contrition and Memorare I threw those in as well. In addition to the repetition of prayers, I would often just talk to God, almost like God was right in front of me. I would pray on the spot, whenever I thought of something to ask or tell God. And I would pray with music while I played flute at Mass — reading through the words of the songs, I would make those words my prayer to God.

It seemed so easy and natural. Now it’s not.

Grieving has made it more difficult to pray, but praying to loved ones in heaven has helped move me in the direction of a new prayer life. As I have found myself in life on a spiritual journey, I’ve discovered I’m on a prayer journey as well. And journeys aren’t always a straight or direct path. I have felt closer to God when life is more calm, and I’m finding that when things are in upheaval I can turn to my family to keep me connected to God. This new prayer life has led me to understand once again that we are all in this together — especially in prayer.

Elizabeth A. Elliott is a staff writer for the Arlington Catholic Herald in Arlington, Virginia, and a freelance writer from Omaha, Nebraska. She has degrees in journalism and music from Creighton University, an MFA in Creative Writing from Creighton University and a certificate in paralegal studies from the College of Saint Mary. Elizabeth has written for several publications including "America," "National Catholic Reporter," "Catholic Voice" and "Omaha World-Herald." Elizabeth is also a flutist and has played for more than 20 years.