I was born into a Catholic home and attended a Catholic school. My Parish was the center of my universe. The Holy Name Sisters taught me about the saints and prepared me for the sacraments. I will always remember my first Confession, first Eucharist, and Confirmation. I received each of these sacraments with reverence and excitement.
When I was a 20-year-old college student, I met my first husband Doug. Doug was exploring Catholicism at the time. I soon moved to the city of Astoria where Doug lived. I was so in love. Doug was divorced. He was adamant that he would not marry me unless his first marriage was annulled even though I would have gladly married him outside the church. During this time, I began attending a Protestant Church while still going to Mass with Doug. I loved the spirit-filled style of worship, the bible studies and the focus on Jesus at the Protestant Church. I began to question the Catholic Church’s devotion to Mary and wondered if it was a cult. Doug’s first marriage was finally annulled and I happily married him in the Catholic Church but continued to straddle between the two Christian denominations.
After five good years of marriage and two beautiful children, Doug was diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer. He spent the last 3 months of his life in a hospital. I was in complete denial. I could not believe that God would give Doug a young wife (I was then 27) and two babies (they were 1 and 3) only to take him away. Doug patiently told me not to question God. He pointed out that we did not always understand his plan. He requested a priest and received the anointing of the sick and a last confession. He died a very painful death on April 15, 1979, Easter Sunday. The day before his death, a disturbing secret that Doug had kept from me, was accidently revealed. He was too close to death to confront, but if I had known, I would not have married him. Admitting that to myself, felt like a terrible betrayal.
Obviously my grief response was complicated by finding out the secret and I started smoking after 5 years of abstinence. I started dating and sometimes I drank too much. All of this was to avoid facing the reality of my complicated grief. I was a mess. I lost over 20 pounds.
I realized that with Doug out of the picture, I could go to any church that I wanted, but I was too angry at God. I didn’t want to believe in Him anymore. If God was real, He had abandoned me. It seemed like the folks at the Protestant Church assumed that Doug would be healed so I questioned my faith. Didn’t I have the faith of a tiny mustard seed? I was surprised when it was the Catholics in my life who helped me understand it was not my fault, or a lack of faith. I found that Catholic Church accepted death as a part of life. Mother Helen Jean, a local sister, told me that death was one side of the same coin of healing. In fact, death was the ultimate healing. I began to attend the Catholic Church exclusively. I met with Fr. Edward Altstock, my pastor, almost weekly for confession. Yes, I had sins to confess but Father Altstock also listened to me, allowed me to cry, and helped me to work out some of my complicated grief. I once again embraced the faith of my youth and appreciated all the sacraments, especially Reconciliation and Holy Communion. I went back to school and obtained a master’s degree in social work. I married my dear husband Mitch. My children grew up to be good people and I have four beautiful grandchildren. I often remember Doug’s wise words about God’s plan and I am grateful for my Catholic faith. Looking back, I can see that God did not abandon me. He never left me even when I was angry. I can attest that God is faithful and good. 10 years ago, I consecrated myself to my Mother Mary and I am so grateful that the Catholic Church promotes and understands her role as an advocate and intercessor with her son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. I will never regret being married to Doug because I now realize that God used me in his life just as God used him in my life. It is truly a gift to be used by God.
Paula Rose Lang