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
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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:
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.
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Where shall I place this pain that I endure? No one can see it, not even me… some say that I should wear something that will help to relieve it but since the pain is everywhere that special something would have to cover my entire body.
So, what are the answers to this pain?
Why does God send it?
What is it for?
One day after I had gone on retreat, I had received such great blessings. There were moments that I knew somehow I had touched the hem of Christs garment and I was being healed. I had no pain… 11 days since this retreat I find myself enduring this pain and struggling with disciplined prayer time and I begin to realize that it is Christ in His passion that is so very close to me right now.
In our brokenness are we truly broken?
In our pain physical or emotional are we alone?
We are never alone as our great faith in Christ Jesus has set us free!
It is in my pain that Christ Jesus is so very near and uniting his heart with mine.
When I found out that our unborn baby was unlikely to live after birth, I truly believed God could heal him. I knew He had the power to fix Thomas’ diaphragmatic hernia and save me from so much suffering. But would He?
I pleaded with God. I prayed and prayed and prayed. I threw myself down before Him and asked Him to have pity on me. “I am not strong enough for this, Lord. I am so weak. I will never survive.”
But although I had full confidence in God’s power to perform miracles, I had to face the fact He might not grant one to me. I might have to give birth to my child, hold him as he died, bury him, and then grieve. In some ways, this seemed the most likely thing to happen.
And that’s what did happen. God chose not to heal my baby, Thomas. He chose not to spare me the deep pain of bereavement. He chose to let me, in all my weakness, suffer.
I look back over the years to Thomas’ death. I remember the crushing weight of grief, the black sunless world I lived in for a long time, the near-despair that threatened to consume me. I think about the pain that still lives hidden deep within me. And I look at God and I say, “Thank you.”
Thank you for not granting me a miracle and letting me suffer.
I could never have willingly asked for suffering. God knew this but He sent it anyway. And through that suffering He has drawn me closer to Him; suffering has changed who I am; suffering has made me so aware of God’s love for me… I could write so much about how the pain of losing a child has affected my life.
I imagine going back in time, and God saying, “ I could grant you a miracle or … if you are willing to trust Me, I would like to take you on a journey, filled admittedly with deep pain, but also overflowing with grace and love. Don’t worry about being weak as I will be there to give you My strength. What will it be?”
And I hope I could say, “Give me Your strength, Lord. I am willing to go where You lead.”
I wish I could have said that years ago. But I couldn’t. I was far too afraid.
Telling the end of a story is not always helpful to those in the middle of the journey. “That’s all right for you, Sue. You’re no longer bowed down by the great heavy weight of grief. You no longer wonder if you’ll get through each day. You know you survived. But me?”
I reply, “Keep trusting.”
The words “Jesus, I trust in You” were constantly on my lips while I was grieving. Trust God who loves you so very much. Everything that He allows is in His plan for you. Accept, trust and you will survive. Will it be easy? No. But then nothing of value ever is. And God is the greatest Gift of all.
By receiving suffering, I lost Thomas. Or did I? No, I still have my child. Of course, Thomas is not here with me but he is waiting.
And one day I will be with Thomas. I will be with God. I will have everything.
Please share more of my grief stories on my blog Sue Elvis Writes
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
When I was a newly bereaved parent I went along to a grief support group. Every month a few mothers would gather and we’d share our stories and our pain. Every month we talked about the same things. We went round and round in circles, going over the same ground and we never seemed to progress a step towards healing.
And although I appreciated the time the volunteers gave to the group to help mothers like me, eventually I had enough. I didn’t want to sit still any longer, wallowing in my misery. I wanted to move forward. I wanted once again to know joy and to smile. To do this, I had to find some meaning in my son’s death. I pondered: Did he live and die for nothing? And so was my pain worthless? Or could I make some sense of the whole situation?
In my search for an answer I found myself thinking about God’s plan for my life, acceptance and trust, the cross and the value of suffering. My baby died and I was suffering. Was this suffering of value? Could I accept it? Could I trust God was looking after me? And would God eventually lead me to healing?
Does anyone else feel the need to move forward towards healing? Are you pondering such questions as mine?