This article was previously published in Sword & Spade magazine.
by Joshua Johnson
Fourteen years ago, I married a girl who is a twin from a twin family. At her family reunions, it is the singletons who are the freaks. So, sure enough, the first time we conceived, it was twins! Surprisingly, the second and third pregnancies were singletons. So when we found out we were pregnant again, we suspected twins. But God threw a hat trick at us. On that ultrasound there were not two, but three babies! We were shocked and admittedly overwhelmed at the thought of triplets. Then we found out they were three girls. Again: joy! But again, we were admittedly overwhelmed. The equilibrium of our family’s gender balance—three males, three females—would be tipped forever by a surge of estrogen. But I have always been a push over when it comes to little girls, and ultimately the thought of three precious baby girls brought us much joy. What a unique gift they would each have growing up together.
Of course we were nervous with the high risk that comes with a triplet pregnancy—and my wife Katie was wondering how her body could carry 3 babies. But when we got past the 12-week appointments, and then the 16, with all three hearts beating safely, we thought we were in the clear.
At the 20-week appointment, everything changed. We were devastated to learn that one of the girls, who we named Chiara, no longer had a heartbeat. The doctors told us that she would remain in the womb along with her living sisters and be delivered stillborn. Never having experienced the tragedy of a miscarriage, it hit us all hard. One of my daughters made a paper sign that said “I hate this day” and posted it to our front door. Very fitting indeed.
As if the death of Chiara was not enough, in the midst of this our doctors discovered her sister Abigail’s Hypoplastic Left Heart (HLHS). We were not told much about it at first, only that through a series of surgeries she could have a relatively normal childhood. We learned we would have to temporarily relocate three-and-a-half hours from our home in Greenville, SC to Charleston, SC for the birth and the subsequent surgeries. We were totally up for this, and trusted that God would protect her and were grateful that modern medicine could save her. We were so immersed in grieving Chiara that we did not do much research on Abigail’s HLHS diagnosis.
This all changed two weeks later in a meeting with the doctors. We learned that there is really no cure to HLHS, but just temporary fixes, the final of which is a heart transplant normally in the late teens. For the first time we were told Abigail would be doing good to make it into her 20’s. The prospect of Abigail’s shortened life was like another death.
But as hard of a hit as this was, as the father-protector this news was much less debilitating than the death of Chiara. While death may come sooner for Abigail than most, there was a lot I could do. And doing seems to hit that primordial instinct
“…doing seems to hit that primordial instinct to protect and to cultivate, to wield the sword and the spade.”
to protect and cultivate, to wield the sword and spade. Here was a chance to show Abigail and the world how much we loved her and how precious life is. We would roll up our sleeves and do what it took to save Abigail, and help her live her shortened life to the fullest. Move to a different city where she can receive the surgeries she needs? Got it. Provide special care for her at home? We’ll make it happen. Re-order our lives however we needed? Let’s do it. We had already lost Chiara, and that was the greatest pain we had ever experienced.
We could not lose Abigail.
I had a mission. It was to love. And this was not limited to Abigail, because I had a renewed fervor for life and fatherhood— for my bride and other children. Abigail changed our life long before she was even born.
But before all these new plans could be executed, we had to get her into this world safely. She had only one functioning ventricle, and to make matters worse she was a multiple who would most certainly be born premature. This meant she had little chance of surviving if born before 34 weeks because she would be too small for surgery. Katie needed to carry her to 34 or 35 weeks for her to have a good shot.
With the help of friends and family, we did everything we could to keep Katie in prime pregnant condition. Katie was a trooper in so many different ways. She literally gave up her body for her babies, totally submitting herself to their needs. The rest of us did whatever we could. We received more moving help, donations, meals, and childcare than we could ever imagine. From old friends in Greenville to people we had just met in Charleston, there was never a moment we were in need. We even had friends travel from as far as Washington State to help! After three weeks in the hospital to stop contractions, it was such a victory for everyone when Katie made it to 35 weeks.
Victory, Short Lived
The birth of my three daughters was a peculiar mix of sorrow and joy. Sorrow for Chiara as we spent time with her body, joy for Bridget as we got to hold her, and mix of sorrow and joy for Abigail. Abigail’s name means “Father’s joy,” and while we could not hold her as she lay in the bed of the Pediatric Cardiology Intensive Care Unit (PCICU), we could visit her.
The night before her first surgery was when the meaning of her name truly came to fruition. Abigail was not only baptized but was also confirmed along with her sister Bridget. After the downpour of grace, I held her. Holding a baby is profoundly simple, but if there is one single hour I could relive in my entire life, that would be it. Scarcely can I ponder this moment without breaking down. For one evening, she was her “Father’s joy.” In holding her, I did what every father is supposed to do: ponder the miracle of life we have been blessed with, enjoy that mysterious and sweet bond and pledge to protect that life from sin and any other evils that would befall them. If our supreme earthly image of manliness is St. Joseph, let us consider that he does not hold a sword in his most glorious moment but peacefully holds the Christ child, with his gaze forever fixed on him. That is fatherhood.
The next day her surgery was off to a good start. The first few reports was that everything was going well. Then came the nightmare news no parent should ever have to hear. Abigail was dying. She had experienced cardiac arrest. Along with hundreds of others that I alerted through our Caringbridge site, we began praying our hearts out that they would be able to restart her little heart.
When a team of doctors with somber faces entered the room, we sensed our hope melting away. The lead surgeon then affirmed what we already dreaded: our six-day old daughter, Abigail Rose, was dead.
Words cannot describe the sheer pain of that moment, and the minutes, hours and days that would follow. Our priest Fr. Allen came in after the doctors. He led us in prayer. After prayer, there no words for several minutes. Just mourning. There was not anything he, or anyone else, could say or do. But his silent priestly presence provided more balm in Gilead than words ever could.
Fr. Allen then brought in each of our four children, from oldest to youngest, and shared the news with them. Now two of their sisters were dead.
Children are much more honest than adults about thoughts and emotions. They did not cry at first but questioned and denied that she had really died. This is indeed a
“Abigail had died, but something inside had not yet accepted that.”
common, almost textbook, first reaction. While our adult minds intellectually knew she had died, our hearts, our souls, our spirits could not yet absorb it. We could say “Abigail had died” but something inside had not yet accepted that. Children don’t hide this, they simply express what is reality within their heart, that she did not die. That moment changed us, and we’ve been grieving the loss since, and will for the remainder of our lives. Everything is different now.
When we first walked into the hospital room where the nurses had so lovingly prepared Abigail’s body for us, words fail to explain the pain we experienced, and still experience, every time we think about it. As composure gave way to wailing, the only thing I could think or say was “our daughter, our beautiful daughter.” Not “yours” or “mine” but “ours.” The best way I can describe the feeling is that a piece of your very being is torn out. As a father, this truly is the reality. My progeny, my inheritance from God, the very life that we co-created with him…now with no life in her body. Yes, if we endure we will see her soul some day. Yes, that body will be reconstituted in the resurrection. But we live our lives in the body, and feeling the cold body of your child is such a violent departure from Eden we can hardly take it.
Responding to Death
Perhaps the most unique pain of losing a child is that it is out of the natural order. We expect parents and even some siblings or friends to die before us. But our children are supposed to bury us. Not the other way around. The loss of a child is also a loss of dreams. The rest of our lives are filled with “lost firsts.” Already, the “firsts” and “milestones” of our beautiful baby Bridget have also served as bittersweet reminders of Abigail and Chiara. We expect this will be true for every birthday, every graduation and every rite of passage we share with her.
Sadness is not our end, happiness is. Perhaps that is why there is something in us that repels sadness from entering “normal” conversation. Talking to a grieving person is awkward, and is especially awkward with men. Silence and speechlessness are awkward. In A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis notes how people avoided him when he was grieving the death of his wife and laments the stoic expectations of the England of his times. Perhaps the more American way to deal with grief is in our search to break the awkwardness. We often want to say something that will make us feel better about the other person’s grief. Americans, as Tocqueville noted, are impeccably optimistic. Optimism has its place, but there are places optimism should not go.
Among most of my friends, I was given a great amount of love, sympathy, prayers and thoughtful, wisely worded messages and greetings. However, with some men, I encountered a different attitude. Many men only asked how my wife was doing, without ever asking how I was doing. While well meaning, it implies that grieving the loss of a child is women’s business. As if common stoicism ought to go so far as to “bounce back” after the death of a child. One man even told me to “keep my chin up,” as if there is no room for a man to grieve his baby. What these comments reveal is a general attitude of standoffishness many men have toward children.
Other responses were equally unhelpful. I know it is well meant, but please, don’t compare the loss of your parent to the death of my child. I can only imagine your pain, but mine is different. I dread the day, but ultimately I expect to bury my parents. I did not expect to bury my daughters. And no, I don’t want to hear how time will heal. And no, God did not need more little saints in heaven. And no, dead babies are not angels, they are human beings whose souls and bodies are separated.
And no, while we have a well-founded hope that our unbaptized children are in heaven, we have no definitive doctrine. Don’t get me wrong, I believe Chiara is in heaven. God’s normative channel of grace is through the sacraments, but he does not limit himself to the sacraments. The God who created this earth out of nothing can wash away the guilt of original sin and bring a baby with no actual sin into heaven if he so wills. So it is with a great and reasonable hope that I believe that our Father in heaven will give this father the joy of spending eternity with Chiara. All this I deduce from what
“The fact is, we who have lost children don’t want our children in heaven. We want them here with us.”
God has revealed about himself in Divine Revelation. But this is different from a baptized child, which Divine Revelation explicitly reveals we can say is in heaven (she was baptized and never sinned).
I can tell you from experience that the death of our baptized child is different from our unbaptized child. It is not that we fear for Chiara’s soul. But rather, that we did not get the blessing of witnessing the guilt of original sin being washed away, her soul being sealed and her heavenly adoption. The lack of dogma on the fate of unbaptized children implores us to show our love for her by praying for her. We do this even as we ask for her prayers, trusting in God’s mercy.
May We Grieve?
The fact is, we who have lost children don’t want our children in heaven. We want them here with us. An early death was an affront to the Father’s goodwill in creating them. Death separates the body from the soul and is an evil, one of the effects of sin entering the world. God did not intervene and stop the death of my babies, but he did not ordain it—theologically we call this his permissive will, as opposed to his positive will. We are grateful for our hope of heaven and the resurrection, but to gloss over the pain of loss in a matter of sentences by self-canonizing a dead baby discounts a parent’s pain. It may make you feel better to say a child is in heaven, but it is scarcely helpful to the parents. Was Mary allowed to grieve the death of Jesus? Faith does not ask us to deny the course of sorrow.
At the memorial and funeral Masses, we chose as the reading the raising of Lazarus from John 11. When Jesus arrives on the scene “he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” Yet “deeply moved” is woefully inadequate. As both Fr. Patrick Allen and Fr. Jonathan Duncan explained in their respective homilies at our daughters’ memorial Mass and funeral, a more literal translation is that Jesus bellowed like an ox. A mix of sorrow and anger. Our Lord in his divine nature foreknew he would raise Lazarus, first in this life and then at the Second Coming. So why does he express such strong emotion at his friend’s death? Because he hates death. More than anything. Even knowing the glory and joy to come, he mourned and hated death like a man.
Jesus did not shy away from suffering. He did not shy away from grief. In all this he revealed his true virility—a virility that pours forth from a tenderness of heart, not an ability to cope or “move on.” His strength is found in his endless ability to empathize, not from stoic endurance. Death separates us and causes a sharpness of interior pain like no other. As a perfect man, Jesus would have experienced the full truth of death and suffering, which means he grieved and hurt more intensely, not less. And therein lies his strength—he does not avoid the griever but immerses himself in the grief. That takes courage. I as a father want that same courage.
Therefore, we who are grieving can take solace in our Lord’s example, and make allowance for it. As I have led and continue to lead my children through this dark valley, I remind them of hope. But I have not hidden my sorrow.
Grief Triggers: The New Normal
The emotions, senses, intellect and memory are a curious unity. Grief triggers, as I have come to know them, can come out of anywhere. I don’t know much about PTSD, but I think the phenomenon is similar. You are busy in the day, not counting on any time to grieve and, boom, something jumps out at you and then the sadness and pain rush in. Sometimes it feels like a relief to indulge in the feelings of sadness and pain and let it out. Other times it is followed by deep depression. I’m not a psychologist, but I do know this—it is better to let these waves of grief have their way than to resist them.
Anger is also one of the “cycles of grief.” First, I became angry that the doctors didn’t choose an alternative procedure on Abigail that could have kept her alive after the surgery and given her a chance at open heart surgery a few weeks later. (Because of Abigail, they are changing their approach with babies who have hearts like hers. If it has better results the head pediatric surgeon has told me he will call it the “Abigail method.”) But the hell with that. Why did my daughter have to be the victim that changed your strategy? Of course I know that I should be happy for any lives the change may save in the future, but for now I am miffed. Because of one stupid stent that could have waited, I lost my daughter.
But in the waves of grief that come, it is not the doctors I am mad at. In fact, if I was in their shoes, I would have made the same decision. If they had done the procedure dozens of times with no fatalities, and not doing the full procedure could likely lead to other complications, why would they have proceeded in any other way? Add to that they tried everything they could, including 45 minutes of chest compressions to manually keep her heart going. I could see the pain in the doctor’s eyes when we had our follow-up meeting. It was not his daughter, but she died on his watch—not exactly an easy day at the office.
Doctors have been given tremendous gifts to save lives, but life and death are not ultimately in their hands. God is a lot more powerful than any doctor. With the faintest effort, God could have not only saved Abigail on the operating table that day but could have miraculously healed her heart defect all together.
But he did not. In her greatest hour of need, in our greatest hour of pleading, he just let death happen. He may not have caused it, but he allowed it. Despite hundreds of people petitioning for her, he let it happen. Doctors have limits, but God does not.
Intellectually and even in my heart I know and believe that God can bring good out of evil, and that I will one day praise him for his loving plan in allowing us to lose Abigail and Chiara. But I am their father, and the God of miracles that we prayed to so fervently did not save the lives of my daughters.
How can I as a father not be angry at God?
So what to do? Should I shake my fist at God? Should I try to get back at him? Some people do this by abandoning their religion as a way to “stick it to God.” I simply can’t. C.S. Lewis jokingly asks if trying to stick it to God will get us anywhere. He then later remarks that “sticking it” to God may cause him to lose the gift of heaven, and then he will never again see his beloved. While tongue and cheek, there is some truth here. Abandoning God will not do anything but hurt myself. There is nowhere else to go but to God.
Even though I am angry with God that he didn’t save Abigail, I cannot be angry at him on the whole. He did not need me, but he created me. He gave me life. He has forgiven my sins and given me a heavenly inheritance. And all this even though I have repeatedly let him down and offended him. He has blessed me beyond measure with a beautiful wife, four amazing children and now a beautiful baby Bridget. Not to mention good health and material blessings.
And yes, he blessed us with Chiara and Abigail. The day Abigail died my pastor back in Greenville, Fr. J. Scott Newman, texted me. As expected, he assured us of his prayers and that he was there to talk when we were ready. Yet one line jolted me: “God be praised for her life.” Yes, there is a part of me that is angry God did not prolong her life. But as Fr. Newman later said in a homily, in the scope of eternity, 8 months in the womb and 6 days on earth plus eternity is not less than 80 years on earth plus eternity. God did not need Chiara and Abigail. He created them out
of love. Now they live forever. In the scope of eternity, this pain, while real, is but a breath. So yes, “God be praised for her life.” If it means I have a life tinged with grief till the day I die, so be it. It is worth it for the eternal life she enjoys, and if I stay close to Christ will also enjoy.
Abundance, Health, and Weak Empathy
A hundred years ago, and in many parts of the world today, the deaths of mother and child during childbirth was a much more common occurrence. The same for childhood death, workplace death, death in war, death from diseases, and so on. Alongside death, there were a great deal more “hard knocks.” Hail storm destroy
“…empathy is learned in a culture that knows how to suffer well.”
your crop? It may be a hungry winter. Can’t pay back a loan? Debtor’s prison. Injure yourself on the farm or on the job? Unless you have neighbors or family who will step in, your family may become beggars.
Today in our abundance we as men can not only be soft physically but weak when it comes to empathy, because empathy is learned in a culture that knows how to suffer well. It is not as if we made a conscious choice to be blind to the suffering and pain in the world. Instead, it is the outcome of a world where the death of children and spouses, starvation, hunger and disease have been so greatly reduced that you are the exception rather than the rule if you experience them. Many of us are “out of practice.”
So here comes one positive outcome of grief—it cuts your heart and reveals love. A love that you may have known was there but did not know was that deep. You did not know it was that deep because you had never been cut that deep. Once cut, the love flows more readily. This is what redemption has revealed. St. Paul says: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col 1:24, RSV). What is lacking is not Jesus’ suffering, for that was accomplished “once and for all.” As Christ’s body, it is our afflictions that must come to fruition. Properly conformed to Christ, they make us more like him, which is indeed the entire goal of the Christian life. While not pleasant, cuts and wounds reveal love. This is the point of the crucifix in your church.
Moving into the Wounds
At the funeral Mass for Abigail and Chiara, an insight came to me in the midst of great sorrow. I had received Holy Communion and was back in my pew praying the Anima Christi prayer as is my custom after receiving our Lord in the Eucharist.
A prayer like this can become pretty routine, but this time instead of trying to affix my attention on the crucifix I was looking straight at golden Urns housing my precious daughter’s earthly remains in the Sanctuary. In that moment the words “Within thy wounds hide me” hit me so hard that I could not get along in the prayer any further. I always thought of Jesus’ wounds in terms of how they atoned and healed my sins, and to be sure, this is true. But in this moment I realized that I was being hidden in the wounds of Christ not only for remission of sins, but for a sharing in his own sorrow, pain and passion. Until the death of Chiara and then the death of Abigail the degree of sharing in Christ’s sorrow for me had been relatively surface-level. But now, here, immersed in sorrow, I literally felt I was “hidden” within the wounds of Christ. His own sorrow, pain and passion now included sorrow, pain, and passion for our loss.
Truly in his wounds we all our sorrow can bear. The wounds of Jesus are the result of death—but paradoxically they have defeated death. The very thing he hates he endured himself in the most horrific kind of way. Could God have accomplished redemption in any way he chose? This is an interesting theological speculation, but the fact remains, he chose to do it by tasting the very consequence of sin itself: death.
And let us not forget our Lady—the sting of death is a double edged sword, one for those who experience it and the other who must watch them experience it. This is amplified when it is your own child who experiences death. And is there a more horrific experience than to not only watch your child die, but have his body beaten, torn and left to hang before your eyes? God the Father experienced this as a true Father in all his divinity. Mary experienced this as a mother in her humanity but with the divine gift of faith. Yes, she was sorrowful beyond words. Yet in her sorrow she persisted in trusting God. Her act of faith in the Annunciation continued right through his passion. We ask that we might follow her in trusting her Son, even through the Dark Valley.
Our God is not One who is more distant in tragedy but who is closer, for he has gone before us in death so that while we too must die, we will one day put on immortality as he did. Yet those wounds will still be there—but his wounds, as hymn writer Charles Wesley puts it in “Lo He Comes” are now “glorious scars.” Some day these wounds from losing our children will also be made into glorious scars.
In the meantime, I am hidden in his wounds in a way I never have been. This is why as I start to return to my duties I will not seek to “move on” but “move in.” Move in, that is, to Jesus’ wounds. Every time I see a picture, hear a song, or have a memory that triggers grief, I am not going to run away. I will resolve to run into his wounds. I cannot say that I will always do this as I should, but I am resolved to follow Christ in this way.
Sharing Grief as Men
St. Paul tells us that “If one member suffers, all suffer together” (1 Cor 12:26, RSV CE). Seeing other men share in your grief is a strange but comforting experience. Our pastor during our time in Charleston, Fr. Patrick Allen, was with us at each moment of tragedy. As the time drew near to us release Chiara, he came to bless her body. Before beginning the liturgy, he spent time gazing lovingly and with sorrow at the face God gave her. Herein he witnessed to her dignity and shared in our grief. By praying the liturgy of the Church in this rite he served as an instrument of Christ. Christ blessed us, shared in our sorrow, and gave us hope through him. Just three days later he was with us during those first minutes after learning of Abigail’s death, sharing in our tears. Scarcely 48 hours after baptizing and confirming her, he returned to bless Abigail’s lifeless body, just as he had with Chiara. I can still see the sorrow in his own eyes.
What a calling our priests have—to stand in the person of Christ, not only at the altar, but at the grave. Fr. Allen’s homily was no “canned” funeral homily about bad things happening to good people but a lovingly composed message to witness to the truths of our faith. The same is true of Fr. Duncan’s homily and his care for us during the funeral Mass and internment in Greenville. We also experienced great kindness and pastoral care from our pastor in Greenville, Fr. Newman.
Five days after the funeral some good friends and fellow parishioners lost a baby boy at 9 months gestation. The week after our funeral we were all back in church for another baby funeral! Fr. Newman began his homily sharing his initial reaction to God: “What are you doing?” Herein I saw the protective nature this pastor has for his flock. His reaction was not one of the “spiritualizers” Lewis speaks of, but of a man who wrestles with God. Not who doubts, but who, like Moses, spoke honestly to God when interceding for his people. We often think of the term “pastor” as soft and gentle, but protecting your sheep is not always a soft and gentle work.
Perhaps the greatest pain of a father is seeing his children suffer. Herein I have experienced the love of my own father in a unique and blessed way. I have never seen him as sad as when he held Abigail’s beautiful but lifeless body, just days after having had his heart stolen by her when he met her in the PCICU. Yet his grief was not just at losing a granddaughter, but in seeing his son grief stricken. My mother told me that in nearly 40 years of marriage she has never seen him this troubled. I am so grateful for his love and being there for me during this time. It has visibly revealed to me the sorrow our heavenly Father has for us.
Finally, I have seen the pain in my Christian brothers. When we returned home to Greenville, I was particularly struck by one friend who greeted us after our first Mass back. He didn’t have anything to say (what could he say?), but I could see the sorrow in his eyes. I then began to see this in my other brother’s eyes. I knew that they had mourned and prayed.
Never have I been more grateful for the Fraternus brotherhood than since these tragedies. Men who scarcely knew me were praying, having Masses offered and even sending gifts. One of my Fraternus brothers interrupted his busy life and took off several days to travel and be at the funeral. When I thanked him, he simply remarked that this is what brothers do.
Well stated. I am not in this alone, or even just with my family. God has blessed me with brothers who help carry this cross.
Torn Between Heaven and Earth
Through all of this, never have I so intensely longed for the next life. The separation from my daughters is like a piercing sword in my heart that twists itself back and forth a few times each day. I love my wife. I love my children here on earth. I don’t want to be separated from them in any way, either. I cherish them more because of losing Chiara and Abigail. I enjoy my time with them, and especially with Bridget.
Yet my perspective has shifted. I have always believed in God and believed in heaven and hell. I have recited the creed at Mass, during the Divine Office, and at the Rosary thousands of times… “I believe in the Resurrection of the Body and the Life Everlasting.” It is not as if I did not believe before. I did believe, but now I believe and I long. This longing often finds its pinnacle at Sunday Mass. As we “lift up our hearts” we experience the bittersweet reality that we have joined the worship of heaven. We imagine Abigail and Chiara worshiping among the throngs of angels and saints. I often think of how they rejoice that for a few brief moments, when we receive a foretaste of that perfect and glorious communion of love they already have with God and all the saints. We are grateful for this mystical union, but rather than satisfy, it only intensifies our longing.
He Has Loved Us More…
There is no glossing over it: death stings and grief is now a part of our life. But why should we be surprised? Jesus promised crosses for those who follow him. In fact, it seems like the closer people are to God, the more trials he allows them to
“His reaction was not one of the ‘spiritualizers’ Lewis speaks of, but of a man who wrestles with God. Not who doubts, but who, like Moses, spoke honestly to God when interceding for his people.”
experience. I am reminded of St. Theresa of Avila as she cried to God in a trial:
“When wilt Thou cease from scattering obstacles in our path?” “Do not complain, daughter,” the Divine Master answered, “for it is ever thus that I treat My friends.” “Ah, Lord, it is also on that account that Thou hast so few!”
This little slapstick saintly humor reveals a great truth: many shy from true religion out of fear it will be too hard. Some might justly point out that we opened ourselves to this tragedy by having children past the early 30’s. Why would a contracepting couple want to open themselves up to such sorrow, grief and hardship? Our experience is scarcely a shining billboard for NFP and openness to life.
There is no escaping it: if you seek to follow Jesus, he will give you a cross. But here’s the rub: he took his own pill. Dorothy Sayers put it this way “He had the honesty and the courage to take His own medicine. Whatever game He is playing with His creation, He has kept His own rules and played fair.”
Not only did he play fair by going before us in suffering and death, but even at that he does not desire our suffering. He allows it because he knows it is the only way to make us become like him. And from an eternal perspective, the more we become like him, the happier we will be.
So as strange as it may sound, while we would do anything to have our Abigail and Chiara in our arms, we can take some comfort that God has actually loved us more by allowing this tragedy. As the Easter Exultant proclaims “O truly necessary sin of Adam, destroyed completely by the death of Christ. O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a redeemer!” God does not cause evil, he allows it, to bring a great good out of it. So that we can truly say he has shown his favor more upon us, and given us deeper evidence of our sonship in him by allowing the death of Chiara Luce in the womb, and then later the unexpected death of Abigail Rose in the surgery room. Our lives will never be the same. Friends who have lost children told us that while the pain may not always be this sharp, it will never be healed in this life. It will always be there. But so will God’s love. In his Word. In the Sacraments and Sacred Liturgy. In our marriage, in our family life and in you, my brothers and sisters in Christ. It is this love that will carry us through, until that day when “he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more…” (Rev 21:4a RSV, CE).