This post is dedicated in loving memory of St Courtney Lenaburg, St Rebecca Irene, and St V.G.W.
and in honor of Shelby, G.E., the mothers mentioned (R., A., Beth), my mentor in being a mother of a special girl, Mary Lenaburg, the Blessed Virgin and mothers everywhere.
…have been difficult. And not because we’re in week two of a long stretch with no break until Memorial Day. Not because I’m sick either. Not even because Joseph’s First Communion is coming up this weekend.
Back in October, a dear friend and former co-worker’s three-year-old daughter died. She was in a car accident with my friend driving and her older sister when the SUV they were in hit water on the road and flipped three times. All the safety restraints failed and threw both girls out of the back. Understandably, my friend is not having the easiest time living through the nightmare of losing one of her children, nearly losing the other (who has lasting neurological, physical and psychological issues from the accident, although just looking at her you may not see all of it), recovering from her own injuries, oh, and caring for her other two children who both have special needs. And helping her husband cope as well.
My friend is a convert to Catholicism from the LDS church (aka Mormons). She’s lived through some pretty hellacious things in her life before the accident. Watching her break, shatter, put back together, shatter again these last few months has been heartbreaking. All I can do is pray.
But I’ve seen the way others react. Some try to build her up and tell her what an awesome mom she is and how blessed her kids are etc. They sometimes acknowledge the loss but try to keep it very, very positive. Mostly, they are helpful. Another mom who lost a daughter as a young child constantly a shoulder to cry on and a voice of reason. In a very practical sense, she is THE best friend ever.
Then there are those, when my friend asks God why and rails at Him in anger admonish her lack of faith or throw out the platitudes “God knows why,” etc. I can’t imagine how she feels reading those comments because I want to grab them by the shoulders and stand nose to nose and yell, “NOT HELPFUL!”
In the midst of this, I hear the story of an acquaintance’s daughter. This acquaintance also has a son with cystic fibrosis. This little boy has endured so much in his body in eight years and continues. I met him when he was in a class with my son a few years ago and his courage and dignity and refusal to complain and to embrace all that God has given him stand out to this day. The acquaintance’s daughter had an incident where she was talking about her brother to a friend who cut her off because she didn’t want to talk about someone dying. This shook the little girl to her core because she needs friends who will stand with her as she lives with the uncertainty and constant procedures and surgeries associated with her brother’s life and eventual death.
My heart has been so heavy thinking of two mothers dealing with losing a child (one already, one a matter of time undetermined but most likely before her own death). With the stories of the siblings left behind.
These are both Christian women and both have admitted to feeling swallowed by grief and loss and not dealing well over the past year.
Then today I realize we are upon a sad anniversary. The passing of St Rebecca Irene. I’ve been re-reading posts that Beth posted regarding the first anniversary of Rebecca’s death last year and the posts surrounding her death, her brief life, and going back to diagnosis. I could see in them the same emotions as I had heard from the acquaintance in my dealings with her. I could feel the loss my friend is currently mourning. I first heard of St Rebecca Irene shortly before her birth thanks to Mary, mother of St Courtney, who knows a thing or two about losing a child.
My friend attended Mass last weekend and she said she barely made it through. I encouraged her to keep going. It’s the one thing I’ve not seen or heard anyone do thus far. I shared with her something our DRE said last week at a parent meeting. He was speaking of Eucharistic adoration but the same applies to Mass. He talked about being sunburned on an overcast or cold day. He talked about how we couldn’t hear or feel the sun but were changed by it anyway and how the same is true in Adoration. I know well her anger at God at losing her baby. I understand it well. It makes sense. And she hasn’t stopped talking to Him, even if in anger. I’ve told her many times that is good. He is big enough to carry her hurt, pain and even anger. She’s told me I’m the only one who’s encouraged her specifically. It was advice a priest gave me in confession once.
There is a reason God has given me insight into all this grief and I’ve thought about it a lot in the last 24 hours. I believe it is in large part to help my friends.
I was planning my lesson plans for tonight and since we’ve completed the text book, I have had to think long and hard about what to talk about. Finally, I settled on World Youth Day and Polish saints as we just had a talk before Masses on Sunday from teens making the pilgrimage this year and Monday was the feast of St Stanislaus (we also have a parish in our town in his name). The suffering of so many of the Polish saints struck me. The deaths of St Stanislaus, St Edith Stein and St Maximilian Kolbe alone are so indescribably awful and while we remember them as brave and wonderful, I am sure they had their moments of doubt and fear. And as I wondered about all these saints co-mingled with wondering about these mothers suffering now, I thought of something. Many of the Polish saints had and spread devotion to the Blessed Mother. St John Paul II, St Maximilian Kolbe, St Hedwig…they all turned to the blessed mother and relied on her intercession. Then I remembered that on Good Friday, my friend decided she would fast despite the many medications she takes, some as a result of the accident, that say to take them with food. She even publicly said she was focusing on Mary and trying to unite in the suffering of the loss of her child. Beth, a convert to Catholicism, during her pregnancy with St Rebecca Irene received her first ever set of Rosary beads. She had prayed it before but never owned her own Rosary and the story of that Rosary is a story only the Blessed Mother could inspire. My acquaintance is Christian but not Catholic. She is a prayerful woman and I have heard her mention Mary and I pray that she finds comfort in our Blessed Mother even if she believes she cannot ask for her intercession.
Mary, motherhood, suffering, loss…even the Polish saints. It’s all so intertwined that it is impossible for our hearts and minds of those who believe to untangle them. Wait, Mary, she’s also the undoer of knots…
Two years ago as I watched friends put veils on their little girls, my heart ached that I couldn’t have that, might never have that with Shelby. I’ve always believed she gives God her best and God knows that but still, this special moment, like many others, wasn’t to be for my girl. Even her Godfather, our priest, desperately wants her to receive but is caught in the conundrum of her physical age not matching her mental age and her inability to receive properly as a result prevent her from doing so. I leaned hard on Mary and came to see the things she did not experience with her Son still hurt her mother’s heart, even if she knew what was to be. That’s when I read Beth’s story for the first time. My heart broke for her and I offered up Shelby not making her First Communion and the heartbreak for little St Rebecca Irene, a little saint who would not receive the sacrament in her lifetime. I offer it now for my friend’s three-year-old who will always be three and never reach the age of reason and therefore did not make her First Communion before returning to the Father. And for my acquaintance’s child who will miss many things “normal kids do.” But as I prepare for my son’s First Communion this weekend, I am reminded of these mothers, their children, the Blessed Mother, her child and I realize that for all us mere mortal moms out there who deal with the sometimes unbearable pain of living in a state of loss either of our child’s life or what we thought might be our child’s life, we truly can lay that pain at the foot of the Cross. And if we cannot bear the weight of carrying it ourselves, the Blessed Mother, our Mother, Mary will bring it there for us.