A friend recently prayed that the space made free by death be a space freed up to encounter God. Of all the things said when grief requires attempts at consolation, this one actually stopped me in my tracks, because it was a daring prayer, a confident form of condolence, and it spoke to the possible truth, that God waits when we grieve. Yes, God waits.
There are all forms of giving and receiving. The kind of giving I write of here, now, is that total offering which we have no option to hold back. It come in the form of death, of that necessary giving what is ours so fully, that it ceases physically to be ours and become wholly God’s.
We are given briefly, sometimes all too briefly, the privilege of earthly communion with those we love– our families, our friends, our spouses, our own children. And then the Lord, in a plan we cannot fully understand, asks back what He first entrusted to us. Our limited human love suffers a tremendous blow. It refuses to give back. It is left suspended in a space of disbelief. It remains paralyzed for a while, lost, somewhere. To aim at precision here is futile. No precision could do. Grief is not precise.
A year ago today, three things happened that bear remembering: I realized I became a mother, my husband realized he became a father, and our daughter met her God. To hide this narrative behind an all too convenient silence would be to deny two changed lives, the coming into being of a third in a miracle of love made fruitful, and her birth into eternal life. How could a mother forget her child? Hide so beautiful and brief an earthly visitation? Leave unremembered, anonymous, so precious a life? Such would be impossible; unbearable.
I thought at the time that not much could be said of so brief and unknown a life as our daughter’s has been. And yet a year has gone by, and I have thought more of her than of myself each day. There has not been a single day when tears were not shed, prayers offered and a maternal heart moved by her invisible, inaudible and yet deeply palpable love.
How strange, how lovely, that so much could come from so brief and hidden a life. How strange a grace that so much could come from so deep a grief!
So how will we remember this daughter?
She is an endless source of joy, supplying for what is deficient, hidden and veiled beneath a grief-stricken love that will not die. She is a constant reminder of God, for it is impossible to think of her, now, apart from Him; love for this child brings desired union with the God in whom she rests. She is innocence; the ideal of purity that stands in stark contrast to the tainted cynicism of this earthly life. She is a bearer of hope that remains brilliant in a horizon of pain, of longing, of desires that are known well, purified, through the refining fire of privation. She is the giver of a long-desired love that frees one to newly love beyond the self, to love both the gift and the Giver of that gift. She is the portal to an ascending faith; to loving boundlessly– to loving Him who is boundless Love.
The gift of maternity received through the prenatal death of a child, is a particularly complex gift. It is to be given to love a person one has never known in life and yet intimately, truly, knows in spirit. There is a connection of loves that develops instantly, and yet remains experienced in a mysterious severance. All this is a grace, a hidden joy, a refuge for the heart. And in all this, physical as it is, there is also great pain.
It is easy to mourn what we miss in death. It is natural, in fact, to do so. But is it all just about our loss? Or perhaps, might it be worth considering what the other gains in dying? In this thought a horizon opens against which an infant faith begins to consider beatitude and it significance. Perhaps, in this is the power of a grieving maternal love: it finds in absence the capacity to love more intensely, in imitation of God, who can give more than even the greatest maternal love can give. ‘…Dying is gain ‘(cf. Philippians 1.21, emphasis added.).
To know this is to know peace — a peace which is a first gift and fruit of a maternal encounter with a graced and innocent hidden life.
Yes, this love hurts; it is raw and piercing. This love is learned in the crucible of offering. This love rises above the ashes of cynicism to inflame hearts long lost in the trenches of aimless waiting. This love directs on high– it is heaven-bound. This is a Marian love; a love that knows, and trusts, and hopes, and sees in death, the possibility of life.
To remember our dearly loved daughter, is to enter that freed space wherein her memory is a portal to the holy, the pure, the deeply true, the loveliness of truth — an encounter with God, who waits for us. In her memory, one sees as through a window, the great goodness of the One through who all things come to be. And in that rising vision, we come to know more deeply that all which comes to be also lives in Him.
From that place of peace to which you have preceded us, where light perpetual is yours, and happiness beyond measure, and the Saints your joy; from that place of beatitude and grace and life, pray for us my lovely child, my darling one, my Maria Caterina.