Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue


Shower of Roses

posted by Beyond Blue

One of the first pieces I wrote about my depression was called “Shower of Roses,” about my devotion to St. Therese. I was so pleased when Jim Manney, senior editor at Loyola Press (who also just published Jim Martin’s book “A Jesuit Off-Broadway“) informed me that it had been selected to be published in “The Best Catholic Writing 2007.” I felt like I had won the lottery (but not because of the stipend).
I’ve posted the piece below.

Shower of Roses
I owe my life to St. Therese of Lisieux. A few times over.
This Carmelite nun–dubbed the “greatest saint of modern times” by Pope Pius X–declared on her deathbed that she would spend her time in heaven “doing good upon earth,” and that she would “let fall from heaven a shower of roses.”
I was ten years old when I first witnessed the power of St. Therese’s novena, in the form of a literal shower of the roses she had promised. Named after the Little Flower myself, I could see my mother grasping for something that would heal the wound inside her when my father left. She went to prayer group once a week, said a rosary every morning, and hung an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in our kitchen.


But I especially remember her novena prayer to St. Therese: “St. Therese, the Little Flower, please pick me a rose from the heavenly garden and send it to me with a message of love. Ask God to grant me the favor I thee implore [state intention here], and tell him I will love him each day more and more.” Tradition holds that if you say the novena prayer, followed by five Our Fathers, five Hail Marys, and five Glory Be’s each day for five days, you will receive a shower of roses on the fifth day.
Roses for My Mother
Around the time my dad left, I knew my mom was particularly desperate and in need of a sign from heaven that she could raise her four daughters by herself, despite her hurt. On the fifth day of her novena, our neighbor Mr. Miller, who kept an impeccable garden, was pruning his rose bushes. As he trimmed off the fully blossomed flowers to make room for the tender buds, he noticed my twin sister playing soccer in the backyard.
“Give these to your mom,” he said. There must have been eight dozen roses of all different shades. With the skill of an artist, my sister went back and forth, from his garden to our kitchen, arranging all the roses until she ran out of vases and counter space.
Later, my mom came into the kitchen exhausted from a long day’s work to find what looked and smelled like a rose garden on our kitchen counter. Remembering it was the fifth day of her novena, she cried tears of hope.
The Little Flower’s petals have fallen onto my path at every major milestone in my life when I’ve begged her for a sign that I was headed in the right direction. In high school, when I decided to give up booze, a florist came to the door with three red roses sent by my religion teacher, who knew I was struggling with alcohol. When I freaked out three weeks before my wedding, my mom called to tell me that the rose bush I had planted in her front yard, which had produced only three or four buds in the last five years, was blossoming with over two hundred roses. And when I went into premature labor with my second child, I received so many roses dropped off by visitors that my husband and I named our baby Katherine Rose.
But the roses that truly saved my life appeared last October.
Shortly after I stopped breast-feeding Katherine, I descended into a deep depression that felt, as William Styron says in his memoir “Darkness Visible,” like a drowning or suffocation. My appetite disappeared, and I lost twenty pounds, dropping to a size 2 from a size 10. During regular panic attacks, I breathed into a paper bag. And my anxiety was so acute that I would shake and tremble uncontrollably, as though I were possessed by a demon. I cried nonstop, breaking into sobs at the grocery store, at the park, at my son’s karate class. I simply couldn’t hold it together, not even out in public or in front of the kids.
Tried Everything, but Nothing Worked
I tried to tackle my condition as best I could: I went to weekly counseling sessions; I ran five miles a day; I prayed and meditated like mad; and I saw a psychiatrist, supposedly the best one in town, who tried fourteen different medications on me over four months, bringing my body to a toxic state that required hospitalization.
I stayed in the hospital’s psych ward for five days and four nights and then graduated to partial hospitalization (which meant I could sleep at home in my own bed) for another six weeks. Every day for a month and a half, I spent a big chunk of time in intense group therapy and individual psychiatric treatment. I talked about the haunting suicidal thoughts that were constantly with me and had me scared for my life.
I knew that taking my own life wasn’t the solution. But I could think of no other way to escape the pain, which was worse than anything I had felt so far in my life (including feeling a knife slice me open before the drugs kicked in during an emergency cesarean for my son). During my stay at the hospital I watched three separate groups of people come into the program as anxious and depressed as I was, and then, after two weeks of group therapy and psych visits, gain enough composure to be honorably discharged. I, on the other hand, was let go from the hospital simply because my insurance would no longer pay for treatment.? ?”We don’t feel you’re ready to leave the program,” the nurses informed me, “but we have no option other than to discharge you.”
I didn’t blame them for saying I wasn’t ready to leave. Angry and despondent, I hadn’t exactly been an ideal patient. One morning in group therapy, I had slammed down my writing journal and my copy of “What Happy People Know.”
“What does it take? What the hell does it take to feel better?” I yelled. “Why are you guys getting better and I’m not?” I brought my hands to my face and started to bawl. I felt completely frustrated, tired of trying every cognitive-behavioral technique I knew, practicing relaxation exercises, composing gratitude lists, and praying with Scripture every morning. Nothing seemed to work.
“God, could you please cut me some slack?” I shouted to the heavens. ??On my last day of treatment I said farewell to the nurses, who told me that the program helps 95 percent of patients. I suppose I was in the other 5 percent. Wondering where I had gone wrong, I ripped off my hospital badge and climbed into my car. I wept the whole way home. I also issued God an ultimatum: “I can’t do it anymore. I can’t go on feeling this way. I’ve been doing my part. I’m working with a doctor. I’m retraining my thoughts. I’m exercising. I’m trying to be grateful. I’m praying. But listen, something just isn’t working, and unless you give me a sign that I’m supposed to hang on, I’m out of here.” I meant business. I had stored over twenty bottles’ worth of old prescription drugs in the garage in case I got desperate.
My shoulders slumped over, I used my last reserve of energy to pick up the mail from the box outside my house. Shuffling through the envelopes, I saw a letter from a woman named Rose whom I had met in Buffalo, N.Y. almost a year before, when I had given a speech to an audience of over 500 Catholics. I ripped open the envelope to find a card with an image of St. Therese surrounded by roses and the words “I will spend my heaven in doing good upon earth.” Inside the card I found my name and an announcement that a novena would be offered for my intention by Carmelite nuns (St. Therese’s order), as requested by Rose.?
A Sign from St. Therese
My eyes were already swollen with tears when I saw the medal of St. Therese that Rose had enclosed. It matched the one I had been carrying in my pocket ever since the day my depression set in. On the front of the medal was a profile of St. Therese; on the back, above a crucifix and bouquet of roses, was the inscription “After my death I will let fall a shower of roses.”
That wasn’t the last day of my struggle with depression, of course. Recovery from any condition, and especially mental illness, takes time, patience, work, and faith. What the medal and novena did was give me the extra ounce of hope I so desperately needed, the hope that enabled me to pitch that bag of old drugs in my garage and believe that if I kept on putting one foot in front of another, I would be walking in the light before too long. Blessed by the best shower of roses that St. Therese could have given her troubled namesake, I am confident now that I will find the strength I need in moments of weakness. And I also want to be a missionary of St. Therese’s generous and childlike love, sending flowers of hope, as Rose did for me, especially when I sense that someone else might be struggling with a crippling and frightening mental illness like mine.



  • cathy

    Thank you for sharing that story about St. Therese. I have been depressed for several weeks now. I am a bipolar patient. Do you think you could say the novena for me?
    Cathy

  • Nancy

    Congratualtions on having your writing being selected and included in the book. That is very exciting, and isn’t it a great feeling? It’s those moments that are pure joy.

  • Wisdum

    What an incredible story Therese, and as I’ve said before, every Therese or Teresa, or any of the different spellings of that name, have been highly motivated people, who will let nothing stand in their Way, and have no problem addressing it directly to God for help and support (and your favorite patron saint, whoever that may be)
    For me, the miracle of “laying on of hands” worked (as skeptical as I was) It was like a heavy quilt was lifted from my brain. It took three separate times by my friends in this Bible study/prayer group, to lift my depression completely from me. I have never been depressed since. Don’t get me wrong, I am fully aware that the kind of physical imbabances that women have to go through in this Life are far more critical, and I don’t know the answer, but I do know that there is a God, and if what they say about God is true, and God is about Absolute Truth, you can bet that my Father (and yours) is fully capable of taking care of whatever problems you call upon Him/Her for. My only problem has been “Be careful what you wish for and pray for, you just might get it !” … and saying stupid prayers like “Father, I don’t want to be rich, I just want to get by ” … (and God said “No problem, we can take care of that right aWay !”)… (You ain’t gonna hear no rich people saying stupid prayers like that !)
    LUV 2 ALL
    Wisdum

  • Nancy

    Congratulations, Therese, and thank you for sharing this writing with us. It’s beautiful. The portion that hits me to the core is your crying out to God. I have been to that place and know it only too well. I am at a point now where I am tired and weary from “managing” my illnesses and life; implementing all of the “tools” I’ve been taught over the years. I guess as much as I want to give up, I’m here; so perhaps, I still maintain some hope and faith. I love this writing and the shower of roses. I’ve had a “laying on of hands”, am on many prayer lists, etc. There was no miraculous release from illness and depression where I didn’t require medication, and not from a lack of faith either. For me, right now at this point,the “miracle” is that I’m still here and haven’t done myself in.

  • Larry Parker

    Congratulations on the award, Therese!
    In (re-)reading your story, maybe the difference between you and me is that if you have a strong faith before your first depressive episode, you look for signs that your faith can persist (as you did); if you are already doubting your faith when you have your first depressive episode, the feeling of abandonment as you lie alone in your hospital room can extend to the divine as well as the human.
    (Sigh.)

  • Beverly

    Please say a novena for me. I have had cancer twice and now they are doing test for multiple myleoma (cancer again). I dont’ know how much more I can take. It seems like when things start going good something comes along to upset things. Please pray for me

  • dms

    I am in tears after reading your essay on St. Therese. My mother-in-law is named after St. Therese and had we had a daughter I wanted to name her Teresa after my mother-in-law.
    I, too, suffered severe ppd, although I did not require hospitalization. Actually, my doctor wanted to hospitalize me, but I didn’t know who would care for my sons and I refused to go. My ppd was exacerbated by my husband’s affair with another woman and his request that I allow her to become a part of our marriage. This struggle still continues and there are still moments when I contemplate killing myself. The only thing that stops me is the idea of this other woman becoming my husband’s new wife and children’s mother. I can’t bear the thought of that.
    Please lift me and my husband up in your prayers and ask God to save our marriage and for him to stop feeling that he needs the love of other women to make himself feel alive as he puts it. I did not know this about him before we were married despite the fact that we dated for four years before we married, three of those before he proposed.
    I love my husband and I want him to change, to become closer to God, to give up other women and his need for constant attention from other women. We so desperately need help. I have overcome ppd, but my heart still feels as if it is breaking each and every day.
    Thanks for sharing your story. It indeed gives me hope.

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