To Whom Shall I Go?

The day after Thomas’ funeral I visited Father F.

“I feel so angry with God,” I confessed. “All the doctors told me that there was little possibility that Thomas would live after birth, but I refused to accept that. I told them that there was a greater Power than them. I insisted God could heal our baby.”

I had on many occasions voiced my faith in God. The doctors had looked at me with pity. Why wouldn’t I just accept their prognosis? Why did I keep burying my head in the sand, unable to accept reality? They didn’t think God would help me. I hoped so much He would.

But the doctors had been right and I’d been wrong. God hadn’t come to my rescue.

“God just doesn’t care about me,” I said to Father. “He doesn’t love me. Why did He allow such suffering when I was willing to profess my faith in Him? It wasn’t easy going out on a limb telling those doctors I had full confidence in God. Maybe they thought I was crazy.”

And then I said, “I’ve decided I’m never going to Mass again.”

Father told me a story. When he was a seminarian in Vietnam, he was imprisoned with other seminarians and priests. All he’d wanted to do was give his life to God and God had allowed Father F to be imprisoned. It didn’t seem fair. He wanted to do good work for God and there he was shut up in a cell. He had survived by eating rats. He had suffered. And he felt that God had abandoned him. “I thought that God didn’t care about me at all,” he finished.

Then Father gave me a hug, a hug from one sufferer to another. Tears flowed down my face and my body shook and Father held me. He understood.

A few minutes later, I dried my eyes and attempted a smile. “Well, I guess I’ll see you at Mass on Sunday after all,” I said.

Father smiled. Yes, he understood.

I think about the apostles when Jesus said they must eat His flesh and drink His blood if they wanted eternal life.

After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him. Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” 

“To whom shall we go?” The apostles didn’t understand but they knew Jesus alone had the words of eternal life. He was the Son of God and they believed.

I also didn’t understand. Why did God allow Thomas to die? I had tried so hard to stand up and proclaim my Faith in Him. Why was I suffering? I had no idea but I knew I had to trust Him.

So I turned to God. There was nowhere else for me to go. For who else could bring me through the pain? I knew I couldn’t survive on my own. I needed God.

And He didn’t let me down. I survived.

One day, I am sure, just like the apostles, I will understand why God allowed Thomas to die. Even now, I catch glimpses of the meaning of God’s plan. But to understand fully is no longer important. “You have the words of eternal life and we have believed.” I believe. That is all that really matters.

If you would like to share more of my grief stories, please visit my blog Sue Elvis Writes

God Can Do Anything

A few weeks after our baby died, we took our other children to the beach in an attempt to relieve the heaviness of grief. Just for a few hours we wanted to forget the pain and do something normal and happy, and see our children’s faces light up with delight.

As they splashed in the lagoon and built sand castles, I wandered to the edge of the sea, and stood quietly by myself. I watched the waves rolling in one after another, breaking onto the shore and over my feet. The bright sunlight glinted off the water. A refreshing salty breeze lifted my hair.

For a long time I stared out at the horizon, oblivious to everything but the ocean. It was so vast and seemed unending. It was magnificent and powerful and beautiful. And while I stood there on the sand, I saw God:




and eternal.

I was a mere grain of sand standing before a God who is so enormous, He goes on and on forever, without end.  I am one tiny soul in the universe of creation but despite this, I was aware I was still important. God was looking at me, and He knew all about my grief.

My whole body throbbed with pain. I could do nothing about my suffering. But I knew that my all-consuming grief was nothing compared to God. All He had to do was blow one tiny breath, very gently over me, and I would be healed. God could do that. He can do anything.

God reached down, scooped me up, and wrapped me in Love. And hope washed through me. I prayed.

Of course, my grief didn’t vanish in a moment while I stood on that beach looking out at the waves. I wasn’t healed in an instant. But I began to hope. Whenever I was tempted to believe that nothing would ever defeat my grief, I thought of the never-ending ocean and I remembered…

God is the Creator of everything,

For He made all things from nothing:

He is the Holy One,

A Mystery Awesome and Wondrous,

The Supreme Being, the Supreme Spirit,

All-knowing, All-loving, Almighty and Eternal.

God can wipe away any pain. God can heal. God can do anything.

I blog at Sue Elvis Writes. Please feel welcome to visit and share more of my posts.

God did not consider me unworthy

Thomas was born one day and he died the next. I came home to grieve amongst friends. Many of those friends had babies in their arms, and I couldn’t help wondering why God had given them the gift of healthy children, and not me. Had I done something wrong? Did He really love me? I felt abandoned and worthless.

One day, I came across some words of St Clotilde. She wrote them at the time of the death of her first born child, immediately after his baptism. She said:

“I give thanks to Almighty God that He had not considered me unworthy to be the mother of a child admitted into the celestial kingdom. Having quitted the world in the white robe of his innocence, he will rejoice in the presence of God through all eternity.”

I thought about these words for a long time. Could it be that God wasn’t punishing me at all? Did God in fact choose me to be Thomas’ mother? Had He considered me worthy enough to be the mother of a saint?

Yes, God sent me a beautiful, precious, innocent soul, to grow within me, to be born, to be baptised and confirmed, and then to be returned back to Him. God gave that difficult task to me. Although I didn’t think I could fulfil that task, with God’s help, I did.

When Thomas died, many people tried to console me with the quick and thoughtless words, “But you have a saint in heaven!” I felt so angry. What was a saint compared with a baby in arms? I wanted to be like my friends. I wanted to be the mother of a live and healthy baby.

That was then, but now…

I think about having a saint in heaven. Thomas is already rejoicing in the presence of God. He is waiting for me. God gave me a great gift. Knowing this doesn’t take away the pain and the grief. My heart still yearns for my son. But it does remind me that…

God does love me. God did not consider me unworthy.


Prayer to St Clotilde:

 Hail, gentle and loving St. Clotilde, sweet illustrious Queen of the Franks, who by thy faith and perseverance in the Lord didst convert thy husband and made France for many centuries a venerable stalwart of the Catholic faith, I implore thy powerful intercession in this my great need.

 Assist me, holy St. Clotilde, from thy height of glory in heaven. Thou, who during thy earthly sojourn, didst drink deeply from the Saviour’s chalice of sorrows, have pity on my dire distress, especially . . . (Here make your intention).

Grant also that through my sorrows I may, like thee, purify my faith and never lose hope in the mercy of God. Amen.


Perhaps you’d like to share my story My Starring Role and other grief stories on my blog Sue Elvis Writes. Please feel welcome to visit.


One Day at a Time

I open my eyes, and I immediately realise that nothing has changed overnight. There is still a huge ache in my chest, and one all-consuming thought in my mind: Thomas. Although it is still very early- the sun has hardly risen – I know I have to get up. If I stay in bed, I will start to think about my baby. I will wonder if I will survive Thomas’ death and the tears will again begin to flow. I don’t want to start the day in a melancholy mood without hope, so I swing my legs over the side of the bed and get moving.

I shower and dress and eat breakfast automatically, and soon I find myself standing in the kitchen. A wave of grief sweeps through me, but I set my lips firmly together and I banish all thoughts of my baby. Instead, I think about washing the dishes.

But a voice says, “Give in. Cry!”

And the tears start to seep from my eyes.

“Who can be expected to shoulder this burden? It’s too much. No one cares that you’re hurting so much. Give in. It will never get any better.”

The tears are flowing freely now and I sob. I want to sink to the floor, allowing my misery to overcome me. I want to cry, “It’s all too difficult. I’ve had enough.” I want to despair.

But I don’t.

I start to say, “Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in the battle.

Be our protection against the malice and the snares of the devil…”

I put one foot in front of the other and keep going, and somehow I make it through this difficult moment.  I call upon St Michael the Archangel many times, and I keep moving through the day, until it finally ends.

As I climb into bed, I think about the next day and the next and the next… How long will I have to keep struggling through this dark grief-filled world? Will it really get any better?

And then I realise something. I have survived another day.

I hear a voice, “Don’t look ahead. Take one day at a time. That’s all you have to do. You’re doing well.”

And I reply, “Jesus, I trust in you.”

Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in the battle.
Be our protection against the malice and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host,
by the Divine Power of God,
cast into hell Satan and all the other evil spirits
who roam through the world seeking the ruin of souls.

Please share more of my grief posts at my blog, Sue Elvis Writes

Sin and Suffering and Finding Peace

I can remember looking at my newborn son in the NICU, his little body pierced by tubes and needles, connected to his life support system, and thinking, “Thomas, you are suffering because of sin.” A day later, I knew sin had caused his death.

My baby didn’t die as a result of a sinful act. He wasn’t the victim of violence or evil. He died a natural death caused by a health problem: Thomas was born with lungs too small for independent breathing and so he could never have lived. So why did I think my son died because of sin?

As I watched Thomas’ chest inflating and deflating, a machine taking the place of his inadequate lungs, I thought about what should have been, what would have been… if sin had not entered the world and upset the balance of nature. There would have been no disease, no pain, no newborn babies fighting for their lives, no mothers sorrowing, no tears, no death.

But there is sin and Thomas did die and I suffered.

I have always been a reader and I searched for books to help me cope with my sorrow. But in those early weeks of grief, I found it difficult to concentrate. Every time I opened a book and started to read, my mind almost instantly drifted away. The words were just a blur on the page. And then one day I picked up a book called Looking for Peace? Try Confession by Mary Ann Budnik. From the very first page, the words grabbed my attention.

A book on confession? I would never have imagined such a book could have helped me, a bereaved parent. But it did.

It’s been 12 years since I read that book and so the details have faded. But I do remember how engaging and easy the book was to read, and how it re-ignited that dying spark: my interest in life. Perhaps the book made me realise that the problem of evil in the world can only be put right by each and every one of us taking responsibility for our own sin.

I thought about Thomas dying in a world upset by sin and Jesus dying on the cross because of sin… and I didn’t want to sin. I also didn’t want to suffer but I realised that I was able to offer my sufferings to God, and this gave them value and helped me bear them. I knew I could unite my sufferings with those of Jesus to atone for sin.

Looking for Peace? Yes, I wanted to find peace.

I still struggle with sin. I know it will be a lifetime battle. But I did find peace. I found it in an unexpected place. I found peace in the confessional, in the sacrament of reconciliation.

Please visit my blog Sue Elvis Writes to share more of my grief posts

The Gift of Grief?

I found this post this morning browsing through facebook.  I think this is something that we can all grow from as we all go through moments of “GRIEF”.  

Good Grief: A Meditation of How Grief can be a Gift in Strange Package
By: Msgr. Charles Pope

As a priest I walk with a lot of people in their grief. It’s a regular part of priesthood. I remember back in 2007 how tough it was for me:
  • The Deacon of my parish, Nerus, like a father to me, died after a long battle with cancer. His final words to me were, “I’m not so good right now, but I’ll be better soon.”
  • My administrative and pastoral assistant, Catherine, like a mother to me, developed a rapid form of Alzheimer’s and within that year went from being at the top of her game to no longer recognizing anyone, within a year she was gone.
  • My Parish bookkeeper, Shirley, also like a mother or an aunt, died suddenly.
  • I was transferred from a parish I loved. This too was like a death, death by a thousand cuts.
  • My father died shortly thereafter, after a long illness.
  • A new parishioner lost her 4 year old nephew when, climbing on a dresser, it fell over on him and he was killed
  • Another parishioner lost her 25 year old son, know well to us all, when he was shot to death.
All in a year. I remember telling God it was too much. And though I got no answer, I haven’t had a year like that since.   (story continued here)

The Very Lonely Experience of Grief

By Sue Elvis
At an 18 week ultrasound our unborn baby was diagnosed with a diaphragmatic hernia. We were told our baby would probably not survive after birth because there was not enough room in his lung cavity to allow sufficient lung tissue to develop: he wouldn’t be able to breathe without the aid of a respirator. We prayed for a miracle but Thomas lived only 28 hours. He was born on 9th November.
From my diary
26th November
I saw Dr M. for the first time since Thomas died. I don’t know if she was going to say anything about our baby but I got out my photo box to show her anyway. Dr M. cried as she looked at the photos…
The receptionist, Jenny asked me how I was, on my way out. I told her we’d had our baby, and it was obvious that it hadn’t crossed her mind all was not well. She’d forgotten we’d had problems during the pregnancy. She was taken aback when I said, “He died two weeks ago.” Jenny also looked at the photos and she also cried. I was quite calm and dry-eyed and felt like the only person in control.
However moods change quickly and this afternoon I am weepy…

I remember how reluctant people were to bring up the subject of our baby. I wanted and needed to talk about Thomas but no one said, “Tell me about your baby. Tell me about Thomas.”  I took my photo box wherever I went, in the hope that someone would want to share the photos of our son.
I hadn’t seen Doctor M. for some weeks because she’d passed my antenatal care onto a specialist. When I went to see her two weeks after Thomas’ birth about another matter, I wanted to tell her about our son. I had my Thomas box with me and I wanted to show her all the sad but beautiful photos. I wanted her to take an interest in our baby who had so recently died. The doctor didn’t immediately ask about Thomas. I thought maybe she wasn’t going to say anything but I was determined to show her all the evidence of his fleeting life. I think I wanted Doctor M. to suffer too. I wanted her to feel my pain, to leave her seemingly happy life even for a few minutes and join me in my sorrow.
I was upset the receptionist Jenny didn’t remember that our baby was probably going to die after birth. How could she have forgotten something that we’d thought about every minute of every day for the last few months? And so I wanted her to feel our pain too. I wanted her to cry even a few tears, to relieve me of a few of mine.
I didn’t weep with the doctor or the receptionist. Someone once remarked that we only cry with those people with whom we feel comfortable, those we feel truly care about us and our sorrow. Maybe this is true.
When I returned home it didn’t take long for the tears to appear again. I was back alone with my grief. The doctor had probably dried her eyes and was attending to another patient. I’d touched her with my sorrow for a few minutes but it was my pain, not hers.  She couldn’t really feel the depths of my suffering. No one can unless they have had a similar experience.
Grief is a very lonely existence.
But I found out that sharing experiences with other grief-stricken parents helped. We’ve all passed through that one way door of intense suffering. We all, without wanting to, belong to that exclusive club where the price of membership is so very high: the loss of a child. We all know the depths of the pain. And we all realise we are not alone. There is someone else who understands.
Please share my stories on my blog Sue Elvis Writes

Retreating from the Pain

By Sue Elvis
From my diary:
23rd November
… This last week has been so miserable. Only a future without Thomas lies ahead… I’ve felt like retreating within myself…
Thomas died 11 ½ years ago after 28 hours of life. But losing Thomas wasn’t our first experience of grief.
 I had already lost four babies by miscarriage, one after the other in the space of about eighteen months, a few years earlier. So many cycles of hope and happiness and then sorrow, one after another. I was on an emotional roller coaster and I felt like I was going crazy.
After the 4th miscarriage, my sister arranged to visit me. I came home from the hospital knowing we would soon have a guest in our home. I felt I didn’t have time to deal with the grief. I couldn’t cry and express my sorrow when I had a visitor to look after. I decided I wouldn’t think about the grief. I would leave that until later when I was once again alone. I stepped back from the pain. I didn’t cry. I didn’t grieve. I didn’t feel anything.
My sister returned home but the time for grieving seemed to have passed. I had retreated so far away from my pain, I couldn’t get back. Life went on. I functioned. I survived. I thought I was quite all right. It didn’t really matter that I’d never cried a tear over my lost baby, did it?
And then one day I was at a mothers’ meeting talking to my best friend. Somehow the talking turned to arguing and a torrent of anger flowed out of me. My startled friend couldn’t understand why I was crying uncontrollably and getting very upset over a trivial matter. I gathered up my children and stormed out of the meeting to the great surprise of everyone.
The anger and tears were nothing to do with my friend. She just happened to be there when the dam burst and the grief I’d kept locked up inside me for so many weeks came flooding out. It was time to face the pain. I couldn’t avoid the grief any longer.
When Thomas died, there was a great temptation to withdraw within myself again, to retreat from the huge burden of sorrow that was bowing me down. I just wanted to get away both from the grief and myself.
But this time, I admitted to a friend how I was feeling; “It would be so easy just to draw back until I can no longer feel the pain.”
“But Sue if you withdraw from feelings of pain, you will withdraw from feeling anything. You will not experience moments of joy or happiness or hope. And it is these moments, however short, that will keep you going along that long and difficult pathway to healing. Yes, you will not feel pain. But you won’t feel anything good either. You will feel nothing.”
I cannot say I never retreated within myself while I was grieving for Thomas. There were moments when I no longer cared about the future. I just wanted to escape the present. But these times did not last long. I fought my way back each time.
I had to feel. I had to have hope. I wanted to survive.
Please share my stories at Sue Elvis Writes

A Grieving Father’s Thoughts on Suffering

I originally composed the following letter in response to an inquiry from an old friend regarding the deaths of two of our children. I share it now — despite much anxiety about such public vulnerability — in hope that these words may comfort other grieving parents.

Thank you for your message and prayers. The past two years have been very difficult, if I may understate a little. Burying Mary Bernadette was the most painful and sorrowful experience of my life. At 19 weeks in utero, just as we learned her gender, we learned she had a terminal genetic disorder called Trisomy 18. We prayed every day for healing and/or live birth, but God answered our petitions in the most mysterious of ways: He took her to Himself and healed her without granting us the opportunity to hear her cry. Mary Bernadette was born still at 33 weeks on July 26, 2009. It was especially heartbreaking to see our sole living child, Brighid, aware of everything, having to bury her sister while she herself was almost three years old.

Mary Bernadette Victoria's casket; handmade by Trappist monks; lovingly donated by our friends.Then nine months later, we experienced a miscarriage at around six weeks in utero. While a little less devastating — because we only knew of little Innocent for two weeks — it nonetheless reopened our deepest wounds. Again, Brighid has been fully engaged: just last week she told us Innocent was a boy. We still don’t know if she had a dream about him, or what, but she speaks as if she saw him.

Mary Bernadette Victoria's grave and headstone.Regarding being less certain of things than we once were: it is the hope and hubris of youth, to impose our wills upon the world, to assert our ideas as certainties and to promote our ideals as truths. I have Faith — “the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen” — that God is Love, that Love itself is a mystery, and therefore God is the unending font of the mystery of Love. I mean to say, albeit in a wordy way, that I believe a healthy sense of mystery is not only permissible, but usually required for a mature, honest relationship with God. I’m not without my doubts, but neither was Saint Thomas, and though Jesus mildly corrected him, He did not reject Thomas for his doubt. Likewise, God did not abandon Job, even when he doubted and cried out at the injustice of being deprived of an objective good (his children).

Mary Bernadette Victoria's entry in the Book of Life at the Shrine of The Holy Innocents.I’ve been meditating on Job’s story quite a bit. One mystery I keep coming back to: God withheld any response from Job until Job demanded an answer. Granted, God’s response was a bit frightening, and definitely humbling, but also consoling (paraphrased): “I am God, the Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth. You are not being punished. I have my reasons, and they are beyond you. Humble yourself and trust me. I will restore you.” A very patient fatherly correction. Contrast that with God’s response to Job’s friends: “I am angry with you. You have not spoken rightly concerning Me, as has my servant Job. Let my servant Job pray for you; for his prayer I will accept, not to punish you severely.” Not only does He call their “prosperity gospel” a lie, He calls Job His servant, and holds Job up as the standard by which his friends should measure themselves.

Suffering, like Love, is a mystery I don’t pretend to understand. But we have found it to produce much Redemptive fruit in our lives and among our friends. Perhaps Job’s suffering and restoration was meant as much for Job’s redemption as it was for Job’s friends’ redemption. And perhaps God is working something similar in our lives, among our friends and family. I’m not certain at all, but the thought does give me Hope.

Mary Bernadette Victoria and Tiny Innocent, pray for us.

P.S. If you or someone you know is suffering the death of a child and/or infertility, I cannot overstate the consolation brought to us by:

The Apostolate of Hannah’s Tears “offers prayer support and comfort to the brokenhearted who suffer the pains of infertility at any stage of life, difficult pregnancy, miscarriage, stillbirth, the loss of a child and the adoption process.”

Naming the Child: Hope-Filled Reflections on Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Infant Death, and its companion website.

The Shrine of The Holy Innocents: “Often children who have died before birth have no grave or headstone, and sometimes not even a name. At The Church of The Holy Innocents, we invite you to name your child(ren) and to have the opportunity to have your baby’s name inscribed in our ‘Book of Life.’ Here, a candle is always lit in their memory. All day long people stop to pray. On the first Monday of every month, Mass is celebrated in honor of these children and for the comfort of their families. We pray that you will find peace in knowing that your child(ren) will be remembered at the Shrine and honored by all who pray here.”