The Word Among Us

Lent 2017 Issue

Grandma’s Rosary

My wife and I are separated, but I am not alone.

By: Stevie Leone*

Grandma’s Rosary: My wife and I are separated, but I am not alone. by Stevie Leone*

Be still and know that I am God! (Psalm 46:11)

My courtship with Amy was a modern Midwestern fairy tale. I proposed on a wintery night by the railroad tracks where my father had proposed to my mother. But even below the surface, Amy and I were compatible in many ways—best friends and lovers with similar passions. So when she left me unexpectedly three years ago, I was devastated. Not only was I alone, but I had no road map for dealing with the hurt.

A Rosary a Day. I had been Catholic all my life. My family attended Mass every Sunday. I went to Catholic grade school. I even dreamed of becoming a priest! But I stopped practicing my faith as soon as I began college. I couldn’t hide my agnosticism from my parents, but I made sure that my devout grandmother never found out.

Grandma had been raised during the Great Depression, and her family was so poor that she shared an armless doll with her sisters. A set of black wooden Rosary beads, however, was hers. She believed strongly in the power of thrift, but even more so in the power of the Rosary. In fact, she had once confided to me that she prayed a Rosary for me every day.

So despite my lack of faith, the Rosary came to mind years later, when Grandma entered a nursing home. I was in graduate school, and it occurred to me that praying a Rosary by Grandma’s bedside might comfort her. So I went every morning and did just that. The prayers took me back to my time in Catholic grade school, when I first encountered the richness of the Church. Without knowing it at the time, I was gently being called back home.

No Need for God? In the room down the hall at the nursing home, a man kept vigil by his comatose wife’s bedside. Seeing him holding her hand every day, I began to feel a growing loneliness and a desire for committed romantic love in my own life.

I found that companion in Amy, a teacher’s aide at the early childcare center where I worked. She came along to visit my grandmother, and our friendship deepened into a romance. She was down-to-earth and thrifty like me, and we enjoyed simple pleasures together. But there was one difference: Amy seemed to be free from troubling questions of faith.

One cold December night, I proposed to Amy. We married, and our life was blissful for years. Amy was a devoted wife and my best friend. It seemed that all we needed was each other. On Sunday mornings instead of going to Mass, she made pancakes while I brewed coffee. We spent the morning sitting in bed reading the paper.

Nearly every weekend, we visited Grandma together. Some years later, when it became clear that Grandma was dying, I rushed to her bedside. I was blessed to put my arms around her and pray the Hail Mary aloud as she took her final breaths. Later, when Amy and I cleared out Grandma’s nightstand, I took home her Rosary. For years, it remained in a drawer, untouched. I was leaning on Amy, and I didn’t feel I had a need for God.

Losing Everything, Gaining Christ. Amy and I began dreaming about saving money for a philanthropic project. We read books about frugal living that drew me to study the simple, prayerful life of the Desert Fathers. Slowly I began to rediscover my childhood faith, and I started going to daily Mass and reading Scripture. I dug up Grandma’s Rosary too. My faith once again took on the vibrant meaning it formerly had in my childhood.

Returning to a life of faith gave me joy, which I spoke about with my wife often. She found it hard to relate to these deep changes that were happening in me. In fact, as I became more joyful, she started to withdraw. The tension between us stemmed from my newfound faith and how, in Amy’s eyes, it was drawing us into different worlds. We were drifting apart, she said. One day, I returned from Saturday vigil Mass to find her standing in the entryway, her bags packed. Amy was leaving me.

My grief was overwhelming. Coming home to an empty house the next day was nearly unbearable. On instinct, I marched out the door with Grandma’s Rosary in hand, and started walking. Day after day, I took anguished walks that ended up in front of the tabernacle at a nearby church. Weeks of profound sadness led to depression and rage. I felt betrayed, and only the repeated cadence of the Rosary could settle my nerves.

Praying for Forgiveness. I got into the practice of saying the Rosary daily—sometimes multiple times a day. The lines of the Our Father—forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us—reverberated daily in my ears. Eventually, they made their way into my heart.

When I prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries, I found myself in the Garden of Gethsemane. I was reminded of how Jesus was betrayed and abandoned, just as I felt. Through months of meditating on Jesus in the garden, I was finally able to pray for the grace to offer forgiveness, and in time, to receive it. My anger began to diminish, and I was able to pray for Amy with love instead of bitterness.

I have found that forgiveness is not a feeling, but a conscious choice. So I regularly pray for a deeper love for Amy, even though my emotions sometimes spur me backward. So too, forgiveness is not a onetime act, but a many-layered process. Just when I think I’ve completely forgiven her, I realize I have more forgiving to do. In these moments, the Rosary propels me toward deeper and deeper forgiveness.

Jesus, Filling my Heart. In praying for forgiveness, I have come to trust in the Lord’s treasury of infinite love and mercy. His mercy showed me my own faults and sins in our marriage. This realization led me to ask forgiveness from the Lord through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, as well as from Amy herself.

An honest look at our marriage has revealed that it was not a sacramental union; I am now seeking an annulment. Even so, I seek to honor the commitment that I offered Amy by praying for her every day.

It has been three years now, and I find myself feeling very lonely, but at peace. My grief has been transformed into practical compassion as I reach out in ministry to other men experiencing the pain of divorce. And I remain hopeful that God, who loves me beyond measure, will in time fill my heart and complete my healing.

*At the author’s request, his name and the name of his former wife have been changed.