May 8, 2020

Our Works of Charity / David Bethuram

Month of May is time to share family’s healing journey

David Bethuram

Each year, millions of Americans face the reality of living with a mental health condition, as one in five U.S. adults will experience a mental health concern in their lifetime. However, the impact of mental health issues is also felt by family and friends of those who suffer.

Throughout May, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Catholic Charities and other participants across the country are raising awareness for mental health. Below is a story of a young family—whose names have been changed—who needed help after a life-changing event.

Little Mia giggled in delight watching her sundress twirl around her legs on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. As she spun in circles on the café sidewalk, her mother told the story of how they got to this spot, and how far they’ve come on their journey toward healing.

It came like a lightning bolt from nowhere, the stroke that nearly killed Mia’s dad and Jessica’s love of a lifetime, Matthew, in April of 2019. Mia was there when it happened. She brought her daddy a trash can when he said he was feeling sick. Jessica was at work at her new job, not knowing that she had a cell phone full of missed texts and calls.

Matt survived and is making great progress. But their old lives, the way things used to be, ended that day to be replaced by months in an ICU, emergency surgeries, scary procedures, a blur of white coats, rehabilitation and care plans.

“It’s been a long road,” said Jessica as she watched her daughter play. Mia worked with a Catholic Charities therapist who utilized play therapy.

Play therapy is a developmentally appropriate therapeutic service provided by a trained mental health professional. Children have not yet developed the language or mental skills to talk about what impacts them, so play is their language! Therapy is therefore conducted through play itself as the therapist helps a child to address and resolve their concerns.

Jessica said, “I was so focused on my inner turmoil that I didn’t really catch on right away that she [Mia] was hurting, too. Play Therapy was a tremendous help.”

During a period of nine months, Catholic Charities addressed Mia’s mental health challenges. A therapist met weekly with Jessica and Mia and provided counseling to the young family, helping with Mia’s behavior issues and assisting Jessica on what to be aware of and how to best address them. The counseling alleviated guilt and provided guidance for how to keep the family together.

Before the stroke, they were a two-income family just trying to stay healthy waiting for Jessica’s benefits at her new job to kick in. After the stroke, Matt was unable to work. With all her new caretaking responsibilities, Jessica had to leave her job, too. Since Catholic Charities provides comprehensive services, they received the help they needed.

Matt is much more independent now, and Jessica has been able to go back to work. With the skills gained in her work with the Catholic Charities therapist, Jessica has been empowered to lead her family to continued growth and healing. And little Mia is eagerly looking forward to starting kindergarten this fall.

Catholic Charities has enlightened Jessica’s way on this “long road” her family travels together. Despair has been replaced with hope. Sadness and anger have been quieted and tamed, making way for laughter and joy. Feelings of guilt and blame have been cleared away making room for new family memories—catching lightning bugs with dad, swimming at grandma’s, dreaming new dreams—going faithfully forward to where the road leads.

(David Bethuram is executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Catholic Charities. E-mail him at

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