Three weeks after Evie went to Heaven our son Gabriel was born under very harrowing circumstances at 32 weeks gestation. What began for me as a kidney stone turned into double pneumonia, low blood platelets, an emergency c- section under general anesthesia, followed two days later by surgery to have a temporary kidney stent placed and the stone removed. Gabriel spent three weeks in the NICU but thanks be to God he came home healthy and thriving.
Since then, threads of joy and sorrow are woven together into the fabric of my days.
Gabriel is so much like Evie in appearance and personality. When I look into his beautiful blue eyes I am transported back to those sweet little moments of Evie’s baby days. His bright smile and infectious laughs bring much joy to our family, but with each one a sword pierces my heart again because I miss so deeply the one who is not here on earth with us. I wonder how she would have interacted with him. I think about what her face would look like as she watched him smile and giggle at her.
Evie and Gabriel at six months
There are so many other moments like that in my days. It fills my heart to see Eden and Cecilia get along and play together but it breaks my heart that Evie isn’t here to play too. When I go to the construction site of our new home and see the bedroom that was designed for three girls it brings me to tears knowing that there will be many happy memories made but they will not include her. Simple things that should be fun like helping Eden pick out new clothes or taking her to the craft store can trigger the torrent of tears because I see all of the things that I am not purchasing for Evie anymore. When Cecilia utters something hilarious or adorable I feel the tightness in my chest as I imagine how Evie would have laughed at her and appreciated her cuteness. I cried when Cecilia lost her first tooth because Evie was not there to experience the moment and be proud of her little sis. Swimming at the pool, family vacations, milestones… I can’t even begin to imagine how many more moments of joy mingled with sorrow I’ll experience in this lifetime. This feels like the tip of the iceberg.
Yet, this is the paradox of the world we live in…a world permeated with pleasure and pain. Where joy and sorrow are partners in a cosmic dance.
So what’s a girl to do with all this pain and sorrow mixed up together? How does one bear it?
The world seems to be saying, “keep busy, seek pleasure, and do whatever makes you happy” even at the cost of hurting myself and others. Society wants to turn away from what is painful or inconvenient. Aversion to failure and suffering abounds.
But what if something catastrophic occurs in our lives? We lose our jobs, our homes, our marriages? What if the most horrendous thing happens and our child dies? Is it possible to run away from such incredible sorrow and live the “good life”?
Because perfect joy is not wrapped up in our circumstances. It is not manifest in distraction or pleasure. It’s not even a feeling.
“True happiness is not found in riches or well-being, in human fame or power, or in any human achievement-however beneficial it may be-such as science, technology and art, or indeed in any creature, but in God alone, the source of every good and of all love.”
Catechism of the Catholic Church 1723
The great paradox is that the Source of all joy entered into our suffering and through suffering brought joy to the world.
Pain and suffering are not always the enemy. In fact, they can be quite the opposite. Jesus, through His cross, paved the way to show us that we can lean into our own suffering and even embrace it as a means to unite us more closely to Himself. In suffering we become more detached from the world and more sensible to our calling and purpose in life.
Saints and Christian martyrs have been privilege to this great mystery for ages. They welcomed pain when it beckoned and even hoped for it as a means to bring them to greater joy.
Consider this poem from St. Thérèse:
“My joy I find in pain and loss, I love the thorns that guard the rose, With joy I kiss each heavy cross, And smile with every tear that flows. …
‘Tis all for Thee, dear Jesus mine, Yea, suffering is my gladsome choice; My joy on earth-my bliss divine- Ah, ’tis to make Thy Heart rejoice!
Since love’s divine, celestial breath Is all I need my heart to bless, What matters life, what matters death? Love my peace, my happiness!”
I don’t mean to say, however, that suffering well is an easy task. It takes an extraordinary amount of perseverance. Surely Jesus wasn’t having a good time when he was beaten half to death and forced to carry a large wooden cross up a steep rocky hill. In fact, in the Garden of Gethsemane his prayer to the Father was “If it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39) The suffering is very real and difficult.
Just as Jesus fell to the ground on His way to Calvary. We too will fall. Many times. But we do not suffer alone. Jesus is always walking beside us. When our strength is gone He carries us. And just as Simon helped Jesus carry His cross we too can help one another make the difficult journey.
If I really love Jesus more than anything else I can accept my crosses knowing that no matter what happens in this life, my joy can never run dry because its source is an eternal spring of living water.
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”