A year before her death I had asked my maternal grandmother if she would come back to Cincinnati to attend my ordination to the priesthood. She told me that she wouldn’t be able to be present. When I asked her why, she told me that she had been excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church. Again, I asked why. She told me that God no longer loved her because she had committed the “Unforgivable Sin.” She had been banned from entering a Catholic Church and barred from receiving the sacraments, including confession.
No one in the family knew about this. The “sin” was that of having an abortion way back In the 1930s. She carried that secret and the physical damage it caused. The “back alley” abortion provider messed up badly. She explained that grandpa had lost his railroad job because of the Great Depression. They could barely afford rent and food. To her, having another child would have been a sin because, in her mind, not being able to feed or house her family would have been a sin.
This grandmother meant everything to me when I was a kid. I ate lunch everyday while in elementary school at her tiny apartment just two blocks from school. (Back in the days when this was permitted to go home for lunch). She always had Bread and Butter pickles for me…..As only she could make them.
For many years, I didn’t know where her grave was. I had not been able to get to her service or see her in her last moments. When I finally found her grave, my partner and I had a small service. I began a short conversation with her that God had never given up love for her. I didn’t think I would do this, but as soon as I opened my mouth to begin the prayers, I just broke down in tears. I sobbed like a child, grieving the decades she believed she was no longer loved by God.
We concluded the service with my placing a jar of Bread and Butter pickles on her gravestone.