Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue


On the Feast Day of St. Therese: Roses From Heaven

posted by Beyond Blue

red roses, small.jpg

I like to publish this story around the first of October, since it is the feast day of St. Therese, my patron saint.

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.

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  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Katie

    What a beautiful story. I know it’s so hard. And the way that you wrote everything today…sounds like me (but I am not as articulate). So true. We try everything. We go to therapy…we try to retrain out thoughts..yada yada yada..but it’s not easy. We are here for a reason though. I feel that my purpose is to help those with anxiety disorders. I was in a bad spot 15 years ago after my daughter was born. I still have moments where it feels like I am back to square one. To have to “start over,” again..and feel those feelings..and fight fight fight for yet another day …can be so exhausting. But we are here for a reason. Thank you for making your blog. Thank you for keeping it real. Don’t ever give up. You are here ..a gift from God..to help people like me. You are an amazing woman and I am so blessed to have come across your blog. I created my own blog and have put your link on that page. Keep writing. And crying if need be. You are a gift.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment nadia

    I am a follower of your blog and this one literally left me speechless. When you speak of your frustration to get better, I felt like you were in my shoes, speaking my own mind and feelings. I am heartened to read that you received inspiration to continue and dispose of that awful bag in your garage. Can’t speak for others, but for myself, you offer courage, compassion adn understanding in your posts. Keep doing what you are doing…it truly does make a difference. If only I could get my own sign of inspiration. Be well.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Maureen

    Thank you for this. I did the intention at my home office. In the last few days my father had a stroke and my little 3 month old niece had her third heart surgery. I am stressed out from worry about both of them. (It doesn’t help that I have GAD). Thank you for giving a new prayer of hope.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Joan

    Thank you for a beautiful post about St. Theresa. May God continue to bless you and the work of His that you do for so many of us out here. I am so grateful.
    All the Best,
    Joan

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Pat

    Thank you for all that you are and all that you do for those of us who deal with this every day. You have been blessed with God’s gifts to inspire and help us to continue on.
    I have enjoyed your blogs and stories for a long time now. I pray that you are blessed as well. You are precious to me.
    Pat

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Mary

    Thank you for sharing so intimately, Therese. Your posts are so rich & personal & real, you help and inspire me. You remind of the ways in which God’s grace touched me in unique ways at key moments in my life. Those moments sustain me when I can’t feel his presence due to depression. God is love, and his love will never fail me.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Terry

    Thank you Therese and everyone else for posting. I needed that inspiration for today.
    I’m looking for some sign too maybe it was your blog and comments for today.
    I am also a Theresa (slightly different spelling).

    Blessings for everyone!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment terri

    Dear Theresa please keep me in your prayers, I an at that point you talked about, I have struggled with depression my whole life and had a nervous breakdown. ECT didn’t help much and every day is a living hell from the moment I open my eyes until I go to bed. I have amnesia of four years from the ECT. I forgot I even had a grandbaby. I don’t know how much longer I can hang on, I am so scared.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Patti

    My husband is bipolar I who had an especially destructive mania. It sent me into an emotional downward spiral. I struggle every day with all that I need to do. Our life is a financial disaster. We need to move out of our home before the bank forecloses, but we have 20 yrs of crap to go through. I just don’t want to do it, I just can’t face the memories and loss. I can’t face contacting the bill collectors to tell them I have no idea what I’m going to do. My husband is still struggling with the inevitable depression that follows the mania and the fact that he still doesn’t have the right formula to help his continual mixed states. He barely gets out of bed, isolates himself, showers when he has to and hopes for the best the next day. How do yo know when you’re not trying hard enough? My husband is on disability because of the bipolar and deteriorating spinal issues. He doesn’t have to function for any particular reason. I get through the day (I don’t work either) doing what I absolutely have to do. Every day I tell myself I HAVE to get out and walk – do something to get some exercise. I encourage my husband to do the same and we both feel like it’s just too much. We don’t feel at all suicidal just overwhelmed. How do you know when you’re indulging yourself, when you could be doing more although it feels like you can’t?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Dee

    Thank you so very much for being so open, brave and for sharing your touching story on a day I needed it the most. Blessings

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment susan buzzard

    I love St Therese.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment steve

    Tears of joy … for you, Therese … for this post which, archived or no, I haven’t seen before. Wow. That’s all I can say: wow. May the Spirit teach a damn fool like even *me* patiently and well from this witness. May God, through St. Therese and — as the Orthodox Church (of which I am a member) calls the “angels” — the honorable bodiless powers of Heaven, richly bless you now and ever.

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  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Anne

    Thank you again for sharing your life with us. St. Therese has special meaning for a friend of mine (Mark) who had an attachment to the little flower. Thank you for reminding me of him. He’s been out of my life for a long time. He was such a good friend. God puts people in your life when you need them. Angels on earth. It’s so nice to know we’re not alone. Blessings to you.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment laike

    After my baby died, I could barely breathe, let alone function. Every time I went somewhere I begged Therese to send me a sign that life would go on. I visited a shrine. A bouquet of carnations sat on the altar. Upon closer inspection, I discovered a rose in the center of the arrangement.
    At home, despite the fact that it was April and way too early for a bloom, the rose bush outside my door had one rose in bloom. I never saw it bud – it just showed up one day in full bloom. I had one other incident with roses at the shrine. I knew Therese was sending me comfort each time. I didn’t heal quickly, but I knew I was not alone, even in my darkest moments.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Donna

    Beautiful, Therese! I have struggled with a mood disorder my whole life, and my birthday is on St. Therese’s feast day. I know that she has watched over me in a special way and will continue to do so my entire life.

    Thank you for continuing to be such a wonderful voice and inspiration for all of us who struggle everyday with depression!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Charlene

    A couple of years ago, after saying a prayer to St. Therese, I received a call out of the blue,from a florist asking to hire me to deliver flowers for Valentine Day. My husband and I have been delivering flowers every since. On Mother’s Day too. I know this came from this precious Saint. I also have roses in my garden that continuely bloom. They are called knockouts.

  • http://STTHERESEWASINOPERATINGROOM Kay

    WHEN I AWOKE FROM LUNG CANCER SURGERY, I STILL TO THIS DAY DON’T UNDERSTAND HOW I MISSED THIS. MY HUSBAND WAS THERE AND WHEN I WAS FULLY AWAKE HE ASKED ME IF I HAD SEEN THE ROSES ON THE SURGEON’S HEADBAND. I HAD NOT SEEN THEM BUT TRULY BELIEVE THAT THIS WAS ST. THERESE ANSWERING MY PRAYERS TO GET THROUGH THIS SURGERY. I HAVE HAD CANCER 3 TIMES NOW, AM A DEVOTEE OF ST. THERESE FOR YEARS NOW, AND HAVE BEEN IN CANCER REMISSION FOR ALMOST 4 YEARS NOW. ST. THERESE IS SO POWERFULL, I HOPE ANYONE READING THIS SAYS A
    PRAYER TO HER, I LOVE HER SO MUCH. SHE HAS BEEN SO GOOD IN PETITIONING MY PRAYERS TO GOD!

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