Maria's Story of Change
Hello, my name is Maria. I attend Redeemer East Side. I grew up in Ohio with my parents, my sister and two brothers. I moved to New York City 11 years ago to go to college. My first semester here was great—I was doing well in school, making friends, and exploring the city. I felt confident about what I could do in school and life. It was hard to imagine anything going wrong.
"Later that freshman year, I received news that brought everything crashing down—my sister, with whom I was very close, had unexpectedly passed away. My sister was one of the main sources of my identity and stability in my life. My family was irrevocably changed by this loss."
Later that freshman year, I received news that brought everything crashing down—my sister, with whom I was very close, had unexpectedly passed away. My sister was one of the main sources of my identity and stability in my life. My family was irrevocably changed by this loss.
In the months after my sister’s death, I experienced grief and devastation on a scale I never had before. So much of who I was, my experiences and memories, had been shaped by my sister’s presence. We played music, baked cookies, watched movies, and talked together for so many years. Losing her brought a layer of sadness to those previously happy parts of my life. I hated feeling that overwhelming pain, so I did my best to avoid and distract myself from it by focusing on school and other activities.
I hid my sadness as well as my growing guilt and anxiety, because I did not want anyone to worry about me or treat me differently. I assumed no one would understand what I was going through, and that sharing with others would unnecessarily burden them. As a result, I did not reach out to anyone for help. Instead I stopped mentioning her at all to people in order to avoid the pain that talking about my sister always brought up. This strategy worked for several years, but as time went on, it became harder for me to maintain appearances. On the outside, I appeared high functioning and strong, but underneath there was a river of grief threatening to break through the surface.
About six years after my sister’s death, I joined a Redeemer community group. A lady in the group shared with me that her brother had passed away. I was struck by her vulnerability and courage in talking about how difficult it still was for her, and how she was going to Christian counseling. My new friend was so encouraging and empathetic. Seeing her strength made me want to get help too.
Three years ago, I signed up for Redeemer’s Counseling Services. At first, counseling was incredibly difficult for me. I had gone many years without talking about my sister, Anna. The pain was still intense for me. Finally though, I was encountering the grief directly and honestly. My counselor led and prayed with me through it all. She guided me in exploring the emotions that I had shut away for so long, allowing me to say her name again in the presence of friends.
My counselor also helped me confront my fear and guilt, which had kept me from sharing about my sister. Anna had suffered from bipolar disorder and her death was caused by suicide. As a result, I worried about sharing about her with others in case they would judge her or my family for her death. I also felt guilty and wondered if I could have helped her more. Through counseling, I learned to accept my weakness, but also to accept and remember my identity in Christ. I was led to remember to rely on God’s forgiveness and what He had done for me when He sacrificed Himself to heal the world, and to heal me.
The more I focused on God’s love and mercy in my life, the more I could go beyond my brokenness. Counseling helped me discover that I am a person with many emotions, both happy and sad, joyful and fearful, but ultimately created, loved, and cherished by God. The tragedy no longer defined me, rather my identity as God’s child did. I can grieve because Anna’s death will always be a sad memory, but I can simultaneously experience joy in God’s faithfulness and the promise of eternal life through Him.
After God healed my heart through counseling, I decided to become a member here at Redeemer and began co-leading a Community Group. And about two years ago, I joined the Diaconate so that I could walk alongside others who are going through difficult seasons in life. It took 10 years, but I can see how God guided each stage of my journey from brokenness to wholeness.