Chris Faddis had to learn very early about what Vatican II calls a “continuation of the marriage vocation,” that is the stage of widowhood.
He was married in 2006 and just a couple months after his sixth anniversary, lost his wife to cancer.
Faddis wrote a memoir that pays tribute, ultimately, to the sacrament of marriage. “It Is Well: Life in the Storm” was distributed last year.
In light of the synod on the family underway in Rome, and the synod’s call for greater support of those in the stage of widowhood, ZENIT asked Faddis for his reflections.
ZENIT: Gaudium et spes #48 refers to widowhood as a “continuation of the marriage vocation.” Given your own experience, especially in light of your youth and brief marriage, could you share some of your own reflections on that statement?
Faddis: For me, there is a specific significance to this understanding of “widowhood as a continuation of marriage,” because Angela and I had two young children together. In my letting Angela go, I let go of the promise of a long future together and I let her go to God, to her true groom, Christ. In so doing, I felt as though my “vocation” to Angela was completed in a sense because just as her and I had become a new creation in marriage, she now had or was on her way to becoming a new creation in heaven. Yet, while I felt in a sense I was now also a “new creation,” there has always been this sense that I still had a responsibility to Angela. First, in our promise to one another we promised to be open to life and a result of that is caring for that very life. So every day I felt as though I am honoring her and our marriage as I care for our children and raise them in the faith. Second, I saw as a husband that it was my role to lead her to heaven. Given the Catholic understanding of the afterlife, it is my duty to continue praying for her soul, and to offer my suffering for her purification. At the same time I ask for her prayers because I feel strongly that her great suffering may have been enough for her to head straight to heaven. Both my prayer for her and my asking of her intercession go hand in hand. Third, I feel that I have a duty to continue to honor her all the days of my life. I do this by keeping her memory alive with my children, making sure they know who their mother was and what she stood for, sharing her story with others so they might be inspired to live with trust like she did, and by remembering her on important anniversaries, feast days and birthdays.
Still I think it is important to note as it is often misunderstood. This statement does not mean that the widowed spouse remains bound to their vocation. The Church is clear that the vocation to marriage is dissolved by death. This is important because whether or not the surviving spouse remains single or remarries, there is often this result that the spouse never allows him/herself to move forward, to let God make them into a new creation. Every death brings new life. It is ever important that the surviving spouse understands they can honor their deceased spouse while still moving forward in hope and trusting God to make them a new creation. This may lead to remarriage and it may not, but it will bring new life and this new life will bring them through the grieving process. So often we find that the grieving spouse feels as though they can’t make any changes or move forward because it is somehow dishonoring to the deceased. This can stunt the grieving process.
ZENIT: One of the topics discussed by the synod participants has been a need for the Church to increase support for widows. Most widows/widowers reach this part of the marriage vocation in later life, with grown children. Though your situation is different, what do you see as needs for the Church in this aspect of family ministry?
Faddis: I often hear that there is not enough available for widows/widowers in the Church. I have not personally experienced this because my support system was very strong. However, I hear this often, so I believe it must be true. First, I think the Catholic funeral/burial process is truly beautiful and absolutely essential for those grieving. I’ve heard from some priests that often the children of the deceased will not pay for a Catholic funeral for their Catholic parent and I think this is a tragedy because for the whole family — especially the surviving spouse — the Catholic funeral process is an incredible gift. It involves the memorializing the person and then it turns the focus off of that person back to God in the sacrifice of the Mass. This is where we are reminded that it is not about us or the deceased, but about the Maker and Creator of all things. Then finally there is finality in the burial. The lowering of the casket is extremely painful, but the finality of watching your loved one’s body be lowered into the earth is the ultimate of closure. From this place you can say, “I’ve shown them the dignity they deserve and now I can entrust their soul to God and I can move forward in hope.” For me personally and for our children this process was vitally important.
I believe the Church must do more to catechize and walk beside the family before and after death. There is a great need for the Church to get more involved in hospice care at all levels —pastoral and clinical to not only ensure the protection for the dying, but also so that the teaching and catechetical opportunity with the family of the dying person is not missed. Our grief support must begin BEFORE the death whenever possible and then continued in a way unmatched by culture. I continue to receive letters and cards from the hospice that cared for Angela. They continue to check in and offer services. However, while I have a wonderful parish, I’ve not received cards and letter in the same way. This is not a condemnation of my parish or Catholic parishes. However, it is an important observation. Can we as a Church say we are offering grief support in a way unmatched by the culture that encourages euthanasia and hastening death?
One last thought. It seems more young mothers and fathers are dying and leaving children behind. There clearly is not enough grief services and support available in the Church that is specifically Catholic. This is something I hope and pray will change. We have a counselor at our parish, and that is a great gift. But there is more to do, and more to offer. More is needed.
ZENIT: What message about marriage would you like to see come from the synod?
Faddis: I trust and hope that the Synod Fathers will reaffirm the truth of the permanent nature of marriage in way that will encourage and energize married couples. I hope the result of the Synod will be a concise and clear message of hope for families. We need not just a reaffirmation or repositioning of Church teaching and Church law as some might hope. We need a reminder—a wake-up call. We need to discover anew the meaning and purpose of marriage that is so great and so wonderful that God entrusts the husband and wife with life and with leading one another to heaven.
ZENIT: For those of us who have read or will read your book, can you give us an update about how your two young children are doing?
Faddis: My children are doing so very well. Yet they still grieve their mother. There is always that hole there for them. They asked for a new mom many times after Angela passed and while I was not open to the idea, I told them I’d pray and ask God if I was to remarry. I did remarry just recently and the kids are very happy to have a mother on earth and a mother in heaven. Still, they grieve the memory of their mother at times. Grief, I’m told, is like the peeling of an onion, and there is always another layer to go through. We have entered another layer of grief with our daughter. What I find so remarkable is that in this new grief, she has been able to open up to my new wife and this has drawn them closer together. Gratefully, our parish has a counselor and so we are seeking her guidance and how to help our daughter with this new phase of grief.
One thing that I feel has been a tremendous grace is that despite any period of grief my children or I have had, there has never been a loss of joy. There is a joy that permeates it all, and this is very evident in my children. Their joy is so palatable that even people in public will remark about it. My daughter often will talk about wanting to become a saint so she can be in heaven with mommy, and so this is one of our family goals. While I would never have chosen this painful path for my children, I see so often how God has made good of it. This desire for heaven is what I always wanted for my children.
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