12

Unbearable Loss

funeralMy earliest recollection of Caitlin was in her mother’s womb. Her mom and I were both pregnant with daughters. Information we did not know at the time, but would later bring great delight.

This “wasn’t our first rodeo” as they say, I was on child number four and Caitlin made six. The girls were born months apart and grew up a half a block away from each other. I remember Caity as a happy child, loved without limit by her family and all that knew her.

Five short years later we moved home to the desert.

We kept in touch, her mother and I, each time we would talk the years seemed to just melt away. Each fall I would receive an envelope filled with colorful leaves, a reminder of a visit I had once made.ecc It narrowed the distance and it always felt like a warm hug from my friend Sue. Time flew by and soon our daughters were young women.

Out of nowhere came the sad news that Caitlin was in the hospital not expected to make it, and her family was asking for prayers. When one of her brothers called to later update me he also shared the heartbreaking detail that Caity had tried to take her own life.

I was overwhelmed, shocked, and confused. As a mother myself, I could not imagine the agony my friend was going through along with each member of her family. My heart was crushed, the tears flowed soaking my rosary beads as my prayers went into overdrive. Along with countless others, we were praying for a miracle.

At the end of the first week, after all the test results were in, the news was not good. The bedside vigil continued and by week two it was time for heart-wrenching decisions to be made. Based on all the data, Caity wasn’t going to be coming back from this. After consulting their priest the decision was made to remove Caitlin from life support. Another week would pass before she breathed her last.

We arrived days before the funeral so that we might be of some assistance and support to the family. What does one say at a moment of such devastation?  What comfort can possibly be offered other than our presence and love? For us it was a blessed honor to be there with them, to share in part their great grief, and unfathomable sorrow.

Picture collages of Caitlin and her artwork filled the room during the wake revealing the story of the vibrant, joyful young woman. She was electric energy, bottomless smiles, artistry in motion, contagious joy… The impact she had on every person she encountered was laudable. Anyone Caitlin touched was forever changed for the good. She didn’t just practice her Catholic faith; she appeared to have perfected it. Caitlin’s life seemed to be a living Gospel of sorts.

I’ll be the first to admit that I previously assumed in cases of suicide, that the person must have come from a dysfunctional family or lacked any kind of deep relationship with God. In Caitlin’s case all those erroneous thoughts were dispelled. This family loved her like no other I have known. Her faith was alive, deep, transcendent and transforming.

The question that went unanswered was “how could a soul so filled with life, love, and joy unbounded, extinguish itself?” How could one who possessed such an apparent deep understanding of the nature of God, and knowledge of Catholic teaching harm herself?

At her funeral the presider, Fr. Bob, recognized the need to address these unanswered questions and gently guided us towards recognizing the mystery that surrounds suicide and mental illness. This disease can be hidden behind locked doors, spoken in hushed tones, or completely ignored altogether. There is so much we don’t know. We may wrongly assume that something was wanting or that the person just didn’t try hard enough; and we would be wrong.

Her brother stated it most accurately, “If this can happen to Caitlin, it can happen to anyone.”

In a book that belonged to Caity called, Love Poems from God by Daniel Ladinsky, you could see her animated scribbles, drawings and notes dancing on the pages which literally came alive with her doodles and thoughts. She wrote on one page, “If you could paint the heart of God, what would it look like?”

Surrounded with colorful swirls was the poem, Christ’s Breath, (p153), “I am a hole in a flute that the Christ’s breath moves through-listen to this music.” This small sentence captures the essence of Caitlin’s life. Her life may have been short lived and torturous near the end, but it was a beautiful testimony to Love Himself, her Creator and friend.


Barbara Lishko works full time as a Lay Catholic Marriage Minister. She and her husband Mark, an ordained Deacon, have been married for 35 years and are blessed with five young adult children, whose lives grow and expand through marriage and grandchildren.


Through the inspiration of her family, work in the Catholic Church and wacky life experiences her dream of writing was born. She is the recipient of the Diocese of Phoenix St Terese of Lisieux award. Barbara can be reached at blishko_58@yahoo.com


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  • MariaGo

    My deepest condolences to you and Caitlin’s family. Thank you for writing about this. My brother took his life last Holy Monday. We realize he was probably depressed but still dont fully understand until now. He seemed normal, like his usual fun-loving self.

    I will include Caitlin and her family in my prayers. I know how intensely painful this must be for them. Please pray for my brother too, Brian Go. God Bless!

  • Guest

    Isn’t it amazing how nonjudgmental one can become when faced with an unfamiliar situation, in this case the horrible situation of suicide? We automatically become less self-righteous and are forced to confront our bigotry and firmly held but as yet untested beliefs. People become more human as a result of tragedy and it’s that much harder to judge them. I know we like things black and white; and unfortunately it takes the death of this young vibrant woman or some other tragedy to give us pause to reconsider how stringent and unbending we can be with the choices others make that don’t fit our worldview. This gives me hope that going forward we can all be less judgmental and more understanding of individual choices. Baby steps. In closing, I pray that you never have to go through such tragedy in your own life.

    • goral

      That’s quite a judgmental comment, automatically assuming that someone in the readership is wagging their finger. We can’t judge what we can’t grasp. Mental issues pose us that challenge. Yet, at other times we see quite clearly the signs of distress that should not be dismissed. The article doesn’t give enough information to ponder underlying reasons, if in fact any were detectable.
      In addition to your comment being judgmental and scolding, it’s also grossly confusing as to whom it’s being directed.

      • Guest

        Goral, everyone should be able to grasp the despondency one may feel prior to committing suicide. It’s this ability to empathize that separates us from other living things. The ability to get outside ourselves and feel the mental anguish and pain another person may feel is crucial to our survival.

        • goral

          The statement – “I know how you feel”, is not at all credible here. No one has the ability to grasp the hour of death until it’s upon him. The further complication of mental anguish puts this episode in the same category as a husband having a full grasp of his wife’s birthing experience.

          • Will

            I read Guest’s comments as affirming what was written in the column here. My reading was that Guest has experienced the same things and is expressing the shared experience. I’m totally mystified at your reaction, Goral. I think it’s extraordinarily presumptuous, rude, and mean-spirited, not to mention immature. Normally I’m interested in what you write, but you went off the tracks on this one.

          • goral

            Another guy who’s experienced childbirth. This should keep me on track and in line with all the descriptive language on my behalf.

          • Will

            Despite my user name, I’m a woman, Genius. In fact, I’ve given birth 11 times.

          • goral

            Confusing but commendable. You know of wherefore you speak. The presumptuousness was entirely Guest’s. In that comment you swerved off the road. I hope to read more of your opinions in the future.

    • Howard

      No, this is exactly what Christians have been saying all along: love the sinner. Caitlin was wrong to commit suicide; I see nothing in Barb Lishko’s post or any of the comments following that denies that obvious fact. Nor is that “bigotry”; it’s just a moral fact. Read the Catechism. “Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God.” At the same time, we can and do have sympathy for the person who committed suicide. “Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide. We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.”

  • Allison Grace

    This hurts to read. My morning prayers will be offered for you and her family.

  • Teresa Halsey-Hollar

    My daughter Brianna took her own life last July 12th. She was 19 years old and the similarities between Caitlin and her are so close. Thank you so much for sharing this.