If you haven’t lived through the experience of holding your child in your arms as he dies, you most likely would find imagining what it’s like practically impossible.
The dizzying mix of emotions led (for me, at least) to something like an out-of-body experience, a moment of desperately trying to be completely present despite the brain attempting to escape the overwhelming terror of it all by making reality seem more like a movie.
The months that have followed my son’s birth and death have been equally dizzying.
I have experienced a deep love and gratitude for the opportunity to be with him, as well as an intense coldness and hardness of heart that comes from the anger and bitterness at having to say goodbye to my helpless child just 45 minutes after we first said hello.
Sometimes I simply can’t keep up, and the effort to fight off the coldness takes more than what I’ve got to give.
Looking at our world through my grief-stained glasses only pushes me closer to giving up … closer to allowing the coldness to swallow me whole.
But it doesn’t.
For some reason, moments of joy are sprinkled in with the grief. When I have a day where I feel like I won’t be able to go on, the next day somehow brings relief and the comfort of truly knowing God cares about me and loves me.
I’ve thought a lot about why this happens, why moments of relief seem to come when I need it the most, and I have realized there’s a bigger truth here. A truth that goes beyond the pain and suffering.
As my son’s due date was rapidly approaching, we got a visit from a couple at our parish who said they had a small gift to give us. When they arrived, they handed us a beautiful book filled with photos of each and every church and holy site they’d visited on a recent trip to Italy. It was a colorful and well put together scrapbook of a journey they had taken to see Rome and the surrounding sites. Upon a closer reading, my wife and I slowly realized just why they gave us this gift.
Along with each photo was a little description of how they prayed for our son and our entire family at each and every site. Every beautiful and ancient church, every tomb with the remains of the holiest men and women who walked the face of the earth, every spot that Catholics around the world only dream of visiting: they didn’t just stop in and admire the glory of our faith, they stopped in, knelt down, and offered up a prayer for my boy, his siblings, and my wife and I.
It was such a touching gift, and it was touching precisely because it reminded us of the bigger truth: We all need each other.
I need you. You need me.
Without each other, we simply can’t survive.
Without you, your support and your prayers, I would be absolutely destroyed by my grief.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul beautiful reminds us of this bigger truth:
“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I do not need you. Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary, and those parts of the body that we consider less honorable we surround with greater honor, and our less presentable parts are treated with greater propriety, whereas our more presentable parts do not need this. But God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy. “
If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.
We are in this together. We need each other.
Let’s make an effort to remember this bigger truth as we continue to go about our lives.