The World Meeting of Families held in Philadelphia this September had a profound impact upon me. There were key moments that I truly think were the saving of me. I didn’t realize how I had begun to slip away.
It was in listening to Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle’s keynote address at the World Meeting of Families Congress and a chance encounter and blessing from a Nigerian Bishop the day before that caused me to stop in my tracks. I realized that I was hanging on by a thread. (You can watch Cardinal Tagle’s address here.)
Grief has a funny way of quietly robbing you. The most obvious of its loot is your joy, but it often places your true self into exile. This September, I suffered my third miscarriage. In 2012, I had a late missed miscarriage that ended up being a partially molar pregnancy, which comes with a whole host of worries. To say the least, that experience was rather traumatizing. To say the very least. After 9 months of close monitoring and one surgery later for an unrelated mass on my Fallopian tube, I found myself overwhelmed with joy as I was expecting again! Thanks be to God I gave birth to a healthy, beautiful baby boy (at 41.5 weeks gestation, but, hey- who was counting?). We named him Gerard, after the patron saint of expectant mothers. He is hurrying his way to two years of age and brings us such joy every day.
After this rather miraculous occasion, I believed myself to be immune to this sort of loss again. After all, it is rare to suffer more than one miscarriage, so they say. Shortly after my son’s first birthday, I was pregnant again. I was so happy. So overjoyed! My son would have a sibling- close in age, too! What a gift! On Valentine’s Day, which marked the beginning of my 6th week, I miscarried. I was heart sick. I became numb. I felt so hurt. Why would God allow this to happen to me not only once, but twice? I fell deeply into a world of disillusion.
My faith suffered greatly. It wasn’t until after several financial miracles and a family pilgrimage to Medjugorje, Bosnia and Herzegovina did I fully regain my hope, my faith. In the stillness of my heart, I knew that God would take care of me. That he knew the desires of my heart (Ps. 37:4). I received so many graces on that retreat, so many glimpses of pure joy. In September the joy continued, as I found out that I was pregnant once more! Oh, happy day! Surely, I would be blessed enough to meet this child face-to-face.
It wasn’t so.
At 5 weeks, I lost that baby as well. Three? Three miscarriages? How could this possibly be? How could I possibly have three children so cruelly taken from me? Taken from a mother who loved them so deeply from the very moment I knew they had life! Especially to be taken from a woman who so desperately wants a home brimming with children in a world in which so many babies are unwanted and cruelly treated as such. How could God allow this?
Absolute silence. I have realized that sometimes there is no rhyme or reason. Sometimes there is both rhyme and reason, like my very first loss. The two consecutive losses just were. They occurred because they happened. They were sensical only in the realm of genetics, but remain entirely nonsensical in the heart of a mother.
Fast forward two weeks to the historic World Meeting of Families and Papal visit in Philadelphia. I am completely shattered. Coming apart at the seams. I pray, but only from a place of anger. I lament having any faith or hope, as it has only allowed me to have heartache. What a fool I was to have hope in something completely hopeless. Yet, still, I am there. White knuckled. Clinging onto hope.
I took the train into Center City for the World Meeting of Families event that took place at the Convention Center. I went alone, so desperately hoping to catch up with friends. I was unable to find any one. I felt so horrifically alone. Not only was I alone with no life growing in my womb, but I felt so alone amid hundreds upon hundreds of people. And then, I saw her at the end of Mass: the woman who has been my saving grace ever since I lost that first little love: Sr. Veronica Susan, the beggar for the Little Sisters of the Poor.
I don’t believe my feet could have carried me to her any faster. At the moment of her embrace, my hurt subsided. We decided we were going to spend the day together. We chatted and decided which of the talks we would attend as we sat within the main hall where Mass had just concluded.
A jovial man in a collar walked past and greeted us and thanked Sister for giving her life as a religious. We stood and talked to him for so very long. He was a bishop from Nigeria! In the middle of our wonderful conversation, Sister spontaneously interrupted His Excellency and explained my story and my pain and asked that he give me a special blessing.
His words broke the silence of my heart.
He said, “the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, and we have no idea why… but maybe one day, one day, it will be clear… and it may never be while we are on this earth… it’s all in the Lord’s time… but He knows… He knows.”
I knew this. I’ve always known this, but as he said this, I could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit surround me. The scales fell from my eyes and I just knew. I knew that he was right. My anger subsided, my fear dissipated, and my hope was restored. I saw everything in a new light.
The following day, I had to come back. I felt my heart crying to go back to the Congress. This time, I took my son along with me. The day came with its mortifications and trials, but I was there and with my miracle, Gerard!
The keynote address given by Cardinal Tagle changed me. In his address, he talked about a gal who was separated from her family on account of a war. She was unable to return home and it caused her great pain. When disaster struck the Philippines, she volunteered herself to aid those in need. She realized, as she saw those she served, that she was “not the only one crying.”
SHE WAS NOT THE ONLY ONE CRYING.
Cardinal Tagle continued on to say that the Church is a field hospital, caring for the wounded in the battlefield of life. He repeated what she said once more, “I was not the only one crying. The Church is the home for the wounded heart.”
Despite the simplicity that all people are wounded, it particularly struck me in that moment. Perhaps it has been my journey that enabled me to truly grasp this truth for the first time.
I am not alone in my suffering.
Tears fell down my cheeks and landed on the sleeping angel in my arms. I am not the only one crying. These seven little words opened Pandora’s box of emotions within me. I am one who stuffs my emotions, in avoidance and self-preservation.
Everything Bishop Ezoukwu had said the day before was flooding back into my mind. I had been desperately clinging onto my own will. My plan for my life and my family. I left no room for God. I realized that in avoiding my hurt, I was only further adhering to my own will. I was not divorcing myself from my will and refusing to accept of God’s will, despite it being shrouded in mystery.
And, even though every fiber of my flesh screams, I realize that suffering is so very beautiful.
Acceptance of suffering is an admittance of our own brokenness and a realization that we are not in control. Losing something so precious (no matter what the loss is- child, parent, spouse) creates a certain empathy that you would not have otherwise. It is only through our wounds that we are able to unite ourselves with Christ, as it is the only time we allow ourselves to seek Him. When all is well, we remain in a state of self-reliance. It is through our suffering that He perfects us. He who endured the greatest suffering of all. God condescended Himself so that we may become more like Him (St. Athanasius). Through Him humanity is perfected. Perfected only by the way of the cross.
Never should we forget His Sorrowful Mother, who intimately knows the pain of losing a child.
Pieta painting by Michaelangelo
Suffering without God creates isolation. I have so often permitted myself to suffer silently, quietly, alone. We all have wounds, but we each have different afflictions. You see, suffering is not pointless. It binds us together and draws us nearer to the only One who can heal us. He makes us more beautiful because of our wounds. Acceptance of our suffering greatly aids others who are wounded.
Only in suffering do we become fully human. Suffering creates empathy and charity, which– in turn– creates unity.
Even though Cardinal Tagle was addressing a room full of people, he was truly speaking directly to my heart. A heart whose walls were knocked down by the Holy Spirit through Bishop Ezoukwu. I was no longer able to avoid the silence, the pain, and, consequently, God’s healing.
Bask in the silence of your heart. Do not seek to fill the void with noise. It strips you of your humanity, your ability to have empathy.
I have come to despise October, a month which I once dearly loved. I have for so long hated all of the “awareness” that comes on October 15th (I’m pretty aware that babies can die before they are born!, so let’s stop reminding me of my pain, please… I’m just going to go eat a donut). But, all of this time, I have been depriving myself of my humanity. It is in learning the beauty of my wounds that I might be able to help one other woman by sharing in her heartache of losing a pregnancy. Or two. Or three. Or share in her heartache of losing a parent, a job, a spouse, anything.
I am not the only one crying.
I pray every day that God might bless us with another baby. Or two. Or five. But, mostly, I pray that, despite the outcome of each day, I rejoice in having been created. And I rejoice in being able to experience the joys of pregnancy and taking part in God’s creation (even if, sometimes, it was just for a short while), the grit of childbirth, the unconditional love that burns within my heart each time I see Gerard; and for the love of a husband who lifts me up through all of the heartache. If I reach heaven, it is only because of his hard work.
Sure, bacon is a palatal way to happiness, but it is only through Him that we can attain true happiness in joyfully picking up our crosses, in learning how to give thanks in all things, and having empathy for all of life’s soldiers, as we are all the walking wounded.
Please pray for me, and know that I, too, am praying for you because you are not the only one crying.