Grief Taught Me How to Love a Little More Like Christ

All of us who have been touched by death have days of the year that are a reminder of who we lost. August 8th is one of those days for me. It is the Feast of St. Dominic. On it, two years ago, my husband and I found out that we had lost our fourth child in miscarriage. It came as even more of a shock than the other three. We had two ultrasounds showing a strong heartbeat and we thought this time would be different. Our daughter was preparing to finally be a big sister, at least on this side of eternity. Our daughter had already lost her twin sister in a miscarriage and two other siblings, a brother and a sister: Victoria, Caleb, and Marie-Therese.

After we got the ultrasound showing proper development and a strong heartbeat, we began to plan the same way we did when we had our daughter. We started purchasing baby items. We proudly and joyfully shared our ultrasound with friends and family. The risks of miscarriage goes down considerably–although it is still possible–once a heartbeat is detected. We even picked a name, which we didn’t do with the others until we learned of their deaths.

I remember it clearly. We were driving to Mass at our parish on a bright mid-summer morning. The golden rays of the sun illuminated downtown and our church standing on the hill. We both were throwing around names and then we saw our parish. My husband and I agreed that Andrew was a good choice for a first name. I then said that I wanted to name him for St. Thomas Aquinas, and we settled on Thomas for a middle name.

A week or two later, my hormones were still not showing signs of rising, even with the NaPro hormones my husband was injecting into me. Another ultrasound was done showing a strong heartbeat, but his development had slowed down. My doctor said it may be nothing and my dates may have been off. I knew my dates weren’t off, but I tried to be optimistic. Four days later the light bleeding started. Since it wasn’t like my other miscarriages, they told me to wait, but on the morning of August 8th, the Feast of St. Dominic, the bleeding started in earnest. I already knew, but the ER confirmed that Andrew had died.

My husband and I were heartbroken and my first thought was of having to tell our daughter that he had died. She has wanted a sibling since she could talk, and for reasons that are entirely mysterious to us, that hasn’t happened. In fact, it probably won’t. I’ve come to accept that fact. I’ve put my body through a lot over the last few years. I’ve experienced grief of previously unimaginable depths and endured great agony. I finally had to accept God’s will. I’ve done everything I could possibly do and I now live with even more difficult hormone issues than before I started NaPro years ago. For whatever reason, this is the path God has asked my family and me to walk together. Not someone else’s path. This is the path God has asked of me.

If there is one thing that I could say about all of the suffering and the profound agony that I have endured through four miscarriages, I would say that it has taught me to love more like Christ. I still have a long way to go, but it has taught me that in order to love, and to love deeply, we must be open to pain and suffering. Love is joy and sorrow, because no matter how much we love someone in this life, we will eventually be parted from them. Loss is a part of this life. And while we hope that separation is temporary, it is still difficult to endure.

Losing these babies has taught me more about fortitude and self-sacrifice. It has shown me that the Cross is truly redemptive and that when we open ourselves up to suffering and give it back to Him the world is transformed. Our Lord took my immense pain from losing Andrew and used it to save another baby boy from an abortion. Since I was willing to open myself up in love to someone else, even though it hurt in ways I never thought possible, great good came out of my suffering. It doesn’t take away my loss or grief. I still hurt, even two years later. I miss all of my babies, but I now see what love is supposed to look like and what is required of me. Through it, I’ve been able to move into greater depths and to learn to accept the mystery of God, a mystery we all must eventually stand before in awe and silence.

There’s no answer to the “why” that I have uttered in agony as I bled out my dead children, except the Cross. It didn’t seem like an answer in the moment when my husband was picking me up off of the bathroom floor because I was crying so hard that I couldn’t breathe or even stand without his support. God had to cut me all the way through and allow my heart to bleed inwardly in order for me to understand the Cross, in order to understand love.

That is what He did with each of my miscarriages. That is what he did as I stood with 400 family members who were grieving their dead loved ones who had been murdered in the attack on the Pentagon on 9/11. That’s what he did when I sat by my husband’s hospital bed, wondering if I would be planning his funeral Mass soon. It’s the same thing He does when my daughter cries in pain and grief over the suffering she endures in this life. It’s the same thing He did when he asked me to help a woman who was going to have a baby at the exact same time that I was supposed to have Andrew. He cut me open and through that agony He has taught me how to love.

I still fail at loving as He loves every single day. I am impatient, self-centered, short-tempered, and distracted. I fail to love the people around me as I am supposed to. I fail to see the people around me as Christ sees them. I don’t see Christ in people on the average day. I forget to look. I forget to see. Even so, I understand more now because I have loved and lost so much. I loved each one of my children from the moment I found out that I was pregnant.

If we are going to love as Christ loves and to see as Christ sees, we must be willing to suffer. The Cross is God’s complete act of self-emptying love. He pours out everything, every ounce of blood, for our salvation. The Cross is not only our salvation, it is an invitation. It is our call to enter into the Trinitarian communion, and the Cross is what the love between the Divine Persons looks like. We have to be willing to walk with others in their suffering and pour love out upon them. We have to be willing to love other people completely and that requires great vulnerability and self-forgetfulness. When we love someone, they have the ability to hurt us, but that’s the price we must pay.

There isn’t any other path worth walking. Even with all of the pain, suffering, and agony of loss, if we want to love, truly love, then we must be willing to embrace the Cross. The Cross and the Resurrection go together and we cannot have one without the other. We must be willing to bleed inwardly, to be wounded by God, in order to follow Him in love. We can’t love others if we aren’t willing to be undone. So yes, the agony has been worth it, because it has taught me to love as Christ loves, a little more each day.

Mass is being offered for Andrew Thomas at my parish on August 8th, Feast of St. Dominic. I will be praying for all families who know the great pain of losing a child, born and unborn.

Catholic Exchange: How is Mourning Blessed?

This week we will examine the second Beatitude: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). This Beatitude may in fact be the hardest for Fallen human beings to understand. Suffering, pain, and affliction are aspects of the human condition. We have all experienced—or soon will—the devastation of losing someone we love. Mourning often comes with intense agony that is spiritual, psychological, and even physical. It shakes us to the core. It is in death that we come to see that this was not God’s original plan for us. He did not make us for death, but the Fall has made death a part of our existence. Even though Jesus conquered sin and death through the Paschal Mystery, we must all die and we must all bear the burden of losing people we love.

We must also keep in mind that mourning is not only related to death. It is also an essential aspect of the spiritual life. We must learn to mourn our sins. In coming closer to God, we come to see the horror of our sin and realize how weak we truly are and that we are wholly dependent on God. The Holy Spirit reveals to us the deep pain of our sins so that we may become repentant in order to turn back to God. It is this sorrow for our sins that pushes us to return to the Confessional regularly and to seek God more ardently. Why does Christ tell us that mourning is blessed?

We mourn in hope.

In looking at two types of mourning–that which arises from the death of a loved one and that which arises from sin—we can begin to understand that Christ’s message in this Beatitude is one of hope. The Paschal Mystery destroyed the despair of sin and death. We now have reason to hope. Death will not have the final say and our sins can be forgiven. We now live in the hope of Christ through the supernatural virtue of faith.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access [by faith] to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us. For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly. Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. How much more then, since we are now justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath. Indeed, if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, once reconciled, will we be saved by his life. Not only that, but we also boast of God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Romans 5:1-11

Even as we continue on the arduous journey of this life, we can hope in Christ Jesus who has overcome sin and death. When we fall into sin, we are able to return to Christ through the Sacrament of Confession in order to be healed and strengthened for the road ahead. Christ turns the evil we commit into joy as we return to him with a contrite heart.  When a loved one dies, we feel the agony of the loss at the deepest level of our humanity, but in the midst of that suffering we can hope in the promise of eternal life for our loved one and for ourselves. Mourning is blessed because it is marked by hope in Christ.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: Confronting Death in a Culture of Avoidance

Death comes to us all. It is a hard reality, but it is a reality that we can face with hope through our faith in Christ Jesus. Meanwhile, we live in a culture that largely ignores death. We hear mantras such as “You only live once” or “Live today like it is your last”, but these are typically expressions to assuage guilt over leading an immoral life. The reality of death is also ignored by the majority of people because death is something that is hidden or locked away in Western culture until we are faced with it. The only time it seems to be discussed is when a group is pushing for “mercy” through euthanasia.

I know I have largely lived as if death was some far-off reality. This makes little sense since I was a 9/11 relief worker and confronted the hard realities of violence and death at 20 years of age. I profess, along with my fellow Catholics, the teachings of the Church each Sunday which discuss the Last Things. It was not until recently, when my husband’s health took a dramatic turn, that I began to confront death. We are confronting it together, as married couples must.

Two months ago, I woke up at 4:30 AM to my husband yelling for me. He was standing over our sink coughing up a large quantity of bright red blood. He had coughed up blood a few years ago and had a lesion on his lungs, but it healed and we thought it was some kind of fluke. It wasn’t. Instead, what happened a few years ago was the first sign of symptoms of a mysterious disease. Over the course of the last couple of months, doctors have ruled out every normal possibility from tuberculosis to bronchitis to fungal infections. He’s been negative on every single test and more cavitary lesions (holes, for lack of a better word) continue to form in his lungs. We are now faced with a series of intense tests to definitively see if my husband has a very rare disease known as pulmonary vasculitis. He will have an open lung biopsy performed by a thoracic surgeon in the next couple of weeks along with a MRI, MRA, even more bloodwork, and the list goes on. A neurologist has also been brought in to begin seeing if he has the even rarer form of brain vasculitis. It’s a difficult disease to diagnose and treat. It comes with serious risks, including premature death.

This period has been marked by immense grace. God truly gives us the strength we need to confront the hardships of this life as they come. It doesn’t mean any of this is easy.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Public Discourse: Abortion’s Miscarriage Problem

The topic of miscarriage is one that is still largely taboo in our culture. It has only been in recent months that women and men have come out of the woodwork to publicly share their grief and anguish at the loss of an unborn child. Their bravery is often met with scorn, derision, or apathy.

I know, because I am one of these women. I have had four miscarriages. The most recent occurred just a month ago.

The sad reality is that many people are either afraid or unprepared to deal with the grief of miscarriage publicly. In a culture that lauds abortion on demand and dehumanizes the unborn child, this is understandable. Why talk about it? Until our society acknowledges the humanity of the unborn child, the pain of parents who lose their children before birth will continue to be ignored.

My Battle with Recurrent Miscarriage

My husband and I have one living daughter, and we have lost four unborn children in the first trimester. Each time, we have shared our pregnancies with family and friends immediately upon receiving positive pregnancy tests. It seemed completely natural to share the joy of our pregnancies, since a new life was created each time. A unique person of great dignity and worthy of celebration was coming into the world. Yet our openness meant that we shared the heartbreaking news of losing a child on four different occasions.

I cannot say that I knew the risks of miscarriage with my first pregnancy. It did not become a reality until we lost our daughter’s twin, and then we began down the path of recurrent miscarriage. Most doctors do not begin testing until two or three miscarriages occur. This makes it difficult for families to get answers early on in order to prevent recurrent miscarriage. After my third miscarriage, I went through a myriad of tests with a Catholic physician trained in Natural Procreative Technology (NaPro) and discovered that I have estrogen and progesterone deficiencies, which are usually treatable. For me, however, the treatment has not yet made a difference. I lost my most recent child while on natural progesterone and HCG injections.

Read the rest over at Public Discourse.

The Strange Ways God Heals Our Sufferings

**I will be on Al Kresta’s radio program, Kresta in the Afternoon, on Wednesday, October 19th at 4pm EST.**

To be a Catholic is to live paradox. We may not be consciously or intellectually aware of this fact, or refer to it as paradox. Our Faith is centered on the greatest paradox of all, namely, the Cross. It is death that brings new life. Christ’s bloody, tortuous self-gift on the Cross brings about salvation for all of mankind. Saint Paul says it best in 1 Corinthians 1:18-25:

The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the learning of the learned I will set aside.” Where is the wise one? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish? For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom, it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith. For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

While I study and marvel at the paradoxes of our Faith, it is only recently that I found myself living paradox at a visceral level. In fact, when the world looks at someone in my circumstances it sees either “folly”, envy, or hatred. The truth is always stranger and much more interesting than fiction or perception.

My Cross becomes heavier.

Two months ago I lost my fourth baby in miscarriage. We named him Andrew Thomas. We discovered his death on August 8th, the Feast of St. Dominic. We named the baby after my hero, St. Thomas Aquinas, on a Dominican feast day. The pain of the last couple months has been intense and filled with questions, anguish, anger, and confusion. The sorrow of this miscarriage is coupled with the very likely reality that I will not be able to bear any more children to term. The NaPro hormone treatments I was on throughout the pregnancy did not increase my hormone levels at all, and after seeing a beautiful healthy baby with a strong heartbeat twice, our baby boy died. My family and I carry the dual Cross of the death of another child and infertility. We are living proof to a world that thinks it can control fertility that only God decides family size. It should also be a reminder to Catholics who struggle with being self-righteous, that not every family with one child is using contraception.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

The Federalist: Are Pro-Lifers Who Grieve Miscarriage Merely Envious of Abortive Women?

I just realized that I never posted my most recent article at The Federalist on the blog. Please read it carefully. I am arguing the pro-life position while systematically examining a question that I have been asked many times: Am I envious of women getting an abortion because of my miscarriages? This article takes a very abbreviated Thomistic approach. Honest intellectual inquiry means examining the other side and drawing conclusions, and even, similarities. Here’s the article:

On the surface, it may seem the pain, grief, and suffering a miscarriage causes the child’s parents could blind their ability to serve at abortion clinics or within the pro-life movement in charity and truth. Some have a pronounced emotional reaction to losing a child in miscarriage. Grieving individuals can lash out at others and envy what they do not possess—namely, a child or more children.

It seems logical for a person grieving a miscarriage to turn in hate towards those who choose to abort their unborn children. These individuals of their own free will intentionally kill their unborn babies, and those grieving a miscarriage want a child. While the danger of envy and hatred exists, reality is much more interesting.

To Parents, Children Are People from Conception
From the moment a pregnancy test reveals a positive sign, the mother and father begin to plan and dream about their new child, a specific person. Men and women experience parenthood in different ways, but come together to discuss names, purchase baby items, contemplate how to rearrange the house if necessary, and plan for the future. They start to see their family with the unique person growing in the mother’s womb.

There is great joy in discovering that a new person has entered the world. Pope John Paul II’s letter to women, “Mulieris Dignitatem,” discusses the deep bond formed at conception:

“The mother is filled with wonder at this mystery of life, and ‘understands’ with unique intuition what is happening inside her. In the light of the ‘beginning,’ the mother accepts and loves as a person the child she is carrying in her womb. This unique contact with the new human being developing within her gives rise to an attitude towards human beings – not only towards her own child, but every human being – which profoundly marks the woman’s personality.”

From the beginning, a woman unites to her child in the very depths of her being and understanding. It is possible to suppress this understanding, which occurs in abortion. Those who endure the loss of a child in miscarriage, however, often profoundly experience this understanding. There is no question in their minds that a child, their child, is lost. This is precisely why the grief is so profound, even if it is done largely behind closed doors.

Read the rest over at The Federalist.

Miscarriage Grief: No We Aren’t Going Crazy

Grief is an arduous journey for all of us to walk. It is also a process we have very little control over and we have no choice but to walk it; often only relying in trust and hope that God walks beside us. Grief is a lot like being in a dingy in the ocean. The shore is somewhere off the port side, but we can’t see it. It’s foggy and dark and all we feel are the enormous swells. When periods of peace do come, they are often not serenity, but numbness. In fact, we may have days, weeks, months, years of numbness and then some trigger will pierce through and torrents of tears fall once again.

I have been in a period of numbness for a couple of weeks. Once the miscarriage finally ended the initial intensity subsided and the numbness set in. The miscarriage itself stopped and started over a period of 2.5 weeks, prolonging the initial agony. It now seems to have completed and the numbing–somewhat zombie like–period has begun. I started to wonder why I couldn’t seem to cry. I cried for days in the beginning, but then I couldn’t cry anymore and the ache turned to emotionless nothingness. This numbness is often worse than the intense suffering. Numbness leaves me wanting to reach out, but I can’t seem to grasp anything solid.

The numbness lifted temporary in the last few days. The tears began anew. Every mother and father grieving a child lost in miscarriage has different triggers. In the past, an infant Baptism at Mass would reduce me to a blubbering mess. I battled mightily in my first three miscarriages with the pain caused by my inability to baptize my babies before they died. Years of theological study and my trust in God’s mercy finally lifted that burden. Through the direction of different priests  and theologians, I was guided to a place of trust, even if I lacked solid answers. God assuaged the pain I felt because my babies died unbaptized.

This time the trigger is toddler and infant boys. My husband and I believe our most recent loss was a son, Andrew Thomas. Named for St. Andrew and my hero St. Thomas Aquinas. This past weekend, I once again returned to tears after attending Mass where five male altar servers served with great reverence in the more traditional cassock and surplice. This is such a rarity in my Diocese that the beauty from seeing it alone would have reduced me to tears. Instead, watching the youngest boy serve with the teenage boys reminded me of how much I miss my sons Andrew and Caleb.

The youngest boy serving must have been 7 or 8. He clearly had just received his first Holy Communion this year and the teenage boys towered over him, but they treated him with great care and guided him through the Mass. This young boy followed the great dance of the Liturgy (no I didn’t say liturgical dance….shudders) beautifully. His reverence and attention were remarkable in one so young. He did just as well as the older boys.

The second time I ached for my children was while we were at a park. My family and I went camping this past weekend. On our way home, we stopped at a park so our daughter could play. There was a little boy toddling around the playground. He clearly had only been walking for a short time. He was trying to keep up with the rest of the children playing around him. He was adorable.

My husband and I sat watching our daughter and the other kids play while we discussed adoption. We greatly desire more children, but it does not seem to be God’s will that they come from us. We have been contemplating adoption for over a year, but we are taking our time discerning when to put in our application. We want to make sure we make a clear-headed decision because we are grieving so deeply at this time.

Adoption is a long, invasive, and difficult process. We have four adopted nephews, so we know it is a rough process. It is also extremely expensive. It will cost us $15,000-25,000. Yes, you read that right. That’s for a domestic adoption. We have already been through orientation at our local Catholic Charities, so our decision will be made understanding that we will have to cut back tremendously, save a lot of money, and probably stay in our current home for a few more years rather than buy our dream home, which is a small farm. It’s a matter of choosing greater goods, and a human being is always a greater good. Pray for us as we discern God’s path for us.

Grief is a long process and it never fully goes away. There is always that slight prick whenever the lost person or persons is remembered. The ache to hold my children will never fully dissipate until, Lord willing, I meet them in Heaven. My daughter’s loneliness serves as a reminder that I have not been able to give her a sibling. And I even battle the pain that my writing has expanded to wider audiences because of my suffering. Writers often expand their audience because they are willing to enter into suffering. I would give up writing another word to have my children back, but that isn’t possible. Instead, it appears that for reasons not entirely clear to me, God has called me to bring attention to the miscarriage-abortion connection. Doors keep opening that I never imagined or thought possible, even as I sit in my dingy off the shore.

If like me, you are journeying through grief, you may have moments when you feel like you are going crazy. It seems like small things set you off and torrents of tears come streaming, even in public. There may be times the sobbing is uncontrollable and the wound that seemed to heal ever so slightly is gaping wide open once again. This is a part of grief. The senses are how we understand the world around us, which means our senses will trigger memories. Seeing a baby, hearing their laughter or cries, or any other type of sensory response can remind us of the lost child we miss so deeply. All we can do is ask for God to walk with us during this time of intense suffering. We have to hope that good will come of all of this, even if we don’t understand it on this side of eternity. Know that I am praying for all of you grieving. I know that I am not alone in my pain and so you remain in my thoughts and prayers. Pax Christi.