Lent without a spouse

Lent has a way of sneaking up on all of us each year. It can be especially hard if you've recently lost a loved one.

On Ash Wednesday two years ago, shortly after my wife died of uterine cancer, I was determined to get to Mass and receive the ashes on my forehead. But as I drove closer to church, thoughts of the annual reminder, "Remember, you are dust, and to dust you will return," were just too much for me.

I drove to the cemetery where Monica is buried and prayed and cried there. Later that morning, I was still wishing I had been able to get to Mass and receive the ashes when I headed to the assisted living facility/nursing home where Monica's mother and my mom lived.

As I walked onto the nursing home floor where my mother was being cared for, the chaplain, a nun, gave me a big, smudgy thumbs-up from down the hallway. She was distributing ashes to the residents. Would I like to receive them?

I was close to tears, an oh-so-familiar sensation.


And to receive holy Communion?

Yes, yes, yes.

I realized that on a day when I couldn't get to church and to the Eucharist, Christ and His church came to me.

I went on to have lunch with my mom and to spend some time with my mother-in-law in her apartment. On my way home, I stopped by an electronics store and bought a PlayStation 3 video game console.

I started that Lent with a new toy, something that was out of keeping with the penitential season, a little silly for someone my age, out of character for me and a wonderful distraction. A way to call a "timeout" from the overwhelming thoughts, emotions and necessary tasks associated with the death of a spouse.

Those 40 days were, without a doubt, a time of prayer and a time of reflection on life and death. But it was also a period of long walks, grief-support group meetings and hours playing video games.

It was a challenge that, at the time, seemed completely impossible.

I'm telling this story for those who have recently lost their loved one, for those who would like to mark this Lent as they have in the past but just can't.

God knows. God understands. God is with you. Right here. Right now. Be kind to yourself. Be patient. And, sometimes, be pleasantly surprised.

Dodds and his late wife, Monica, were the founders of the Friends of St. John the Caregiver. Bill is the editor of My Daily Visitor magazine and his latest novels are Pope Bob and The World's Funniest Atheist.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015