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A child’s death and the loss of innocence


Uliana Kucherenko/Shutterstock

Tommy Tighe - published on 03/13/17

There is no carefree naiveté anymore, but maybe that's a good thing.

They say the death of a child changes you forever.

That has always scared the heck out of me.

Along our entire journey, from receiving the diagnosis when my wife was just 20 weeks along to holding our beautiful son and saying our goodbyes last May, I have constantly been concerned about exactly how this experience would change us forever.

Would the pain and suffering so closely linked to that of Jesus and His Blessed Mother forge my wife and me by fire? Could we be pulled so close to God through this ordeal that we would automatically be sent along a path of holiness and eventual sainthood?

Or would this experience ingrain a sense of bitterness and coldness so deep within us that we would become those people who “used to be fun,” who always seem jaded, never able to quite reclaim an ability to just feel happy?

In reality, it’s been one of those classic both/and situations — fluctuating between both ends of this spectrum, with neither being exactly our experience.

We find ourselves deeply committed to embracing the will of God, ready for any sacrifice, certain in our hope, but knowing that even if we only had a mere chance to be with our dear little son one day in Heaven, we’d do whatever it takes.

We also find ourselves feeling so very dark, so very bitter, and so very tired of it all.

I sit and wonder sometimes where the lot will eventually fall. Then I remind myself that my own choices will little by little determine the answer.

While time passes, though, I am excruciatingly aware of one change that has already settled in, one difference in our outlook on life since the death of our lovely little Luke:

We have completely lost our innocence.

Not innocence in the moral sense, of course. But the kind of innocence a child loses when he learns of the existence of things like slavery, war, or abortion.

That’s the innocence we lost through a pregnancy where the happiness was ripped away. A trip to the hospital, only to come home empty-handed. The fate of a future that will be spent watching the children play, only to constantly think about the one who isn’t there.

This is our life. This is our daily cross.

There is no carefree naiveté anymore.

We are no longer able to celebrate the news of a friend’s pregnancy with unbridled joy. We know what can happen. We are no longer able to celebrate the birthday of one of our children with the same excitement. We live in fear that they might die too. We are no longer able to look at the news with shock when we hear of another tragedy. It’s all too familiar.

But we should have known this all along. Those words from Simeon’s mouth when Jesus was just a few weeks old made clear that the future was under a dark shadow.

Just the thought of Mary standing under the Cross on the first Good Friday should have been enough to wake us up to the fact that this world is filled with evil, death, suffering, and tragedy.

This is undeniably the path of humanity, if we were only willing to admit it.

And yet.

“Blessed are those who mourn, Blessed are those who are persecuted, Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you.”

We are an Easter people, and there is a silver lining to all of this. It may sound cliche, especially to those mired in incredibly difficult trials, but Christ has overcome evil, death, suffering, and tragedy. He has faced it all and prevailed, giving us a light at the end of the dark tunnel that life so often becomes.

Maybe we’ll never regain the innocence that was so brutally stripped away from us, and maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe our new realism is the one thing that will finally teach us we have no other choice but to completely abandon ourselves to God. This God who has conquered death and who aches to give us life.

If we can figure that out, perhaps the death of our son will change us forever, and that change will be exactly in the way God wants it to be.

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