Suffering with the Saints

On this very day, two years ago, she played her final song.

How can it be? How can it be that two years have gone by without her beaming smile, the sound of her feet skipping down the hall, stacks of unfinished drawings left haphazardly on the table and giggles echoing from the room where she shared late night secrets with her sister? How can it be that long since I have hugged her thin shoulders, braided her wild locks, or held her hand in mine?

So much has changed in the course of two years.

In February, we received the news that our new home, All Saints Farm, was finished and we began the process of moving. I did my best to sift, sort, and pack up our things in the midst of homeschooling, chasing a very active toddler, and carrying another little one inside of me. Every nook and cranny to be packed up became a final opportunity to unearth a precious relic of her life. An undiscovered piece of art, her name written on a slip of paper buried at the bottom of a bin of toys, a handwritten note declaring her love for us, and a blonde curl that a kind nurse urged me to cut and keep on the day she died all represented the fullness of Evie’s life. As we opened the door to our new home on the Feast of Saint Joseph it felt as if we were closing the final door on so many memories of our precious daughter and crossing the threshold of a new life.

In June, we welcomed little Miriam Hope to our family. We were blessed with another little girl and God answered our prayers for a full-term delivery and healthy baby. Her arrival brought both joy and sorrow as we offered up our gratitude for this precious gift, yet mourned the fact that our two youngest children will never meet their big sister.

 

August brought another round of birthdays for the girls. Evie would have been thirteen. Again, we ate cake without her and sent balloons soaring into the sky. Her sisters are another year older. Cecilia, tall for her age, wears the clothes that Evie wore shortly before she died. By the end of this day Eden, now eleven, will have outlived her big sister. She uses many of the same school books that Evie was using before her death and plays the same songs on the piano.

September ushered in a new school year for us all. Our oldest son Micaiah headed to high school and the girls began their fifth and first grade years at home. As the month faded away along with the lazy days of summer, I told myself the anniversary of Evie’s death was not going to bother me as much this year. After all, I miss her every day. Rarely a moment goes by that I am not thinking of her. What difference does one particular day make?

But then the calendar flipped to October. The leaves began their metamorphosis and the temperature dropped. Carved pumpkins and Mums lined front porches. My Facebook feed began to trickle with pictures of children dressed in costume. I couldn’t even enter a store without bumping into plastic spiders and creepy skeletons. Despite my attempts to shut my eyes and ears to the scene around me, my body remembers the trauma of that day and I feel the heavy cloak of sadness envelop me. My kids feel it too. They cry more than usual and refuse to go places and do things that bring back those painful memories.

In the wee hours of the night, when all is dark and still, I relive her death and the truth of it still shocks me and takes my breath away. She is dead. My daughter is dead. How am I still alive? Each day, for the past two years I have wondered how I will carry on without her. How can I survive the unthinkable?

Yet, I wake, pull the covers off, and put two feet on the floor. I change diapers, fold laundry and clean toilets. I gather eggs, wipe counters, and cook meals. I make mistakes and ask for forgiveness. I laugh at my toddler’s silly antics and kiss my baby’s soft cheeks. I teach my children about Jesus, math, and history. I embrace my husband and relish time spent in conversation. I’ve made room for joy and sorrow in the spaces of my soul.

I’ve learned to live again because He lives. This life, with all of its pain and suffering is my path to holiness and heaven is my final destination.

Today, while the secular world is celebrating costumes, candy, and plastic skeletons the Church begins to celebrate the great feast of All Saints. We remember the many holy men, women, and children who lived heroic lives of virtue even amidst horrific suffering. They have reached the beatific vision and are happy to pray for us when we call upon their names.

October 31 is not about death, but life. Each morning when I rise I see this beautiful image, created for our family by an iconographer and dear friend and I am reminded that because He lives my daughter also lives.

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She intercedes on our behalf and waits for us to join her one day along with all of the saints that she knew and loved during her brief earthly life.

Today we will honor that life. We will cry and remember. We’ll plant bulbs at her grave and grieve together as a family. We will come to the altar for the great feast of All Saints and join our daughter at the place where Heaven meets Earth.  Before we retire for the night as we join in family prayer before the crucifix we will sing a litany to the saints and our beloved Evelyn, as we do each evening, asking for their intercession.

And we will continue to live, just as the saints, in eager expectation for the day when our life’s work is complete and we can join our daughter and all of our heavenly friends in the New Jerusalem.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All Hallows Eve

IMG_4488.jpgAll Saints Farm…One Year Ago

I had plans.

I had plans to convey here the thoughts and emotions swirling around in my head this past month…to somehow articulate the deep agony of flipping the calendar to October.  I mulled over how to put words to a sadness so profound that it saturates my mind and body.  How does one express a supernatural ache for eternity?

In all honesty, this past month, I have been plagued with the horrors of October 31, 2015.  I have felt helpless.  More than usual, the moment of her collapse replays in my head like a movie that I can’t turn off.  I have felt myself being nearly suffocated by a thick, heavy blanket of death and despair.

On this day, last year, I knelt on the floor of a piano studio beside the lifeless body of my daughter and begged her to breathe.  I pleaded with her and with God.  But as the paramedics worked on her and I began to pray the Rosary, I knew in my heart of hearts that she would not return to me.  Even as I prayed for her heart to beat again, I committed her to the loving care of our Blessed Mother.

God did not choose to answer my prayer that day in the way that I saw fit.  These were not my plans.  My perfect family does not include a dead child.

Here we are, one year later.  I still haven’t wrapped my mind around this new reality.  I’m still fighting against it.  I’m wrestling and hurting and longing.  And this October, I nearly lost sight of the small flicker of light in the darkness.

But yesterday, I was reminded again that Jesus meets us in the storm…that Love lives and beauty, pain, and hope can coexist.

As the rain poured down, Evie’s friends and family poured into the barn at All Saints Farm to pray together in the Mass, celebrate her life, and plant daffodil bulbs in her honor.  It was an amazing testimony to the power of love and prayer.  It lifted me out of the mire and reminded me that Heaven is nearer than we can imagine.  I felt Evie’s presence so keenly as my heart was filled with hope once again.

memorial-massPlanting Daffodil Bulbs by the Pond

 

And I was reminded that Evie’s death is not all about horror and pain but rather a beginning of eternal life.  For one day, I was able to stop thinking about death and remember her beautiful life…a life lived for Jesus with a heart prepared for life beyond the grave.

Yesterday, by the grace of God, I was able to share the following thoughts with those in attendance:

It seems impossible to me that it has been one year since our beautiful Evie flew to Jesus.  I feel like I have lived a lifetime without her already and yet it seems she was just here yesterday.  So much has happened in the course of a year and we have grown accustomed to life in her absence.  That is not to say that we accept this new life yet or that we are not grieving deeply.  I’m sure some day the pain will dull and be woven into the fabric of our lives, but we will never stop grieving her loss or missing her until we see her again.

There is much to miss about this extraordinary little girl and I wanted to take the time here to share a few of them.

As a mother, I miss the every day things.  I miss buying huge cartons of Goldfish crackers at the grocery store.  Evie lived on them.  She was a picky eater and her diet seemed to consist of mostly carbohydrates.  I miss helping her put on her swim cap at swim practice.  I miss seeing her sitting at the kitchen table, drawing or reading intently.  I miss hearing the constant sound of the piano being played or her guitar being strummed.  I miss watching her do cartwheels, swimming, and climbing trees.  I miss the sound of her giggles as she played dolls with her sisters.  I miss her creativity in inventing new games and activities.   I miss the way she eagerly answered all of the questions during our morning group time.   I miss the Evie and Eden duo…the way they balanced one another out and seemed to always know what the other was about to do or say.  I even miss the messes she made all over the house and the math meltdowns because they meant that she was very much alive and with us.

I miss her physical presence…the way her skinny body felt when I hugged her goodnight.  I miss curling her hair.  I miss the way she seemed to float down the hallway instead of walk.  I miss the way she would rub my back during Mass.   I miss the way she would look up at me with her head tilted seemingly seeking my approval.  I miss her beautiful slightly crooked smile.

The things I miss the most are the things that made Evie exceptional.  If you knew Evie as a toddler, you knew that she was a handful.  At one point, I actually wondered if she had a conscience!  She would be so embarrassed to hear me say that right now, but what made her so extraordinary is this very thing.  You see, Evie wasn’t always a virtuous child.  But as the years progressed, she grew in virtue.  She had a deep and abiding faith in Jesus and an intense desire to please him.  As you likely know, she had a devotion to St. Therese.  I bought every book I could find about her written for children and Evie gobbled them up.  I’m convinced that St. Therese and her “Little Way” was the inspiration for Evie’s development into a loving, tender-hearted, sacrificial young lady.   

Evie was always the first to jump up and help when a need arose.  She was known to do other people’s chores around the house and often anticipated a need without being asked.  She was a mother to Cecilia and a mentor to Eden.  She always made everyone feel like her best friend.  She hated to see people excluded from the group and always worked hard to include anyone feeling left out.  She was tender-hearted towards those who were different, lonely, in need of a friend, or hurting.  She was always writing little notes of encouragement and love.  We found one of these notes in the bottom of a Kleenex box after she died.  It said, “Dear Mom and Dad, I love you so so so much.  Thank you for everything you do for me.”   She made sacrifices.  She let other people choose the game, the color, or what have you and would often take whatever was left with a happy heart and without complaint.  She was amazing with little children and loved babies.  Every day she would tell me how excited she was to meet her baby brother.  When we told her I was expecting she commented that she had been praying for me to have a baby.  Evie was committed to prayer and cultivated her own spiritual life in a way that is surprising for a girl her age.   She would get quite upset if you failed to bless her before bed.  She grew irritated with me on one occasion when I allowed her to sleep instead of waking her up at 5 am to take her to adoration with me.  She had a deep love for Jesus in the Eucharist.  In her prayer book, she commented that First Communion was the best day of her life.

It’s impossible not to miss this girl who brought such light to everyone around her.  We love her beyond words and are so proud of who she became.  It’s excruciating to think about how many more years we might have to live without her.

Yet, we know that she is in the arms of her Heavenly Father and our Blessed Mother.  She is holding the babies that we never got to meet.  She is helping many who call on her intercession on Earth.  Her wish was to go to heaven just in time for All Saints Day and God gave her the desire of her heart.

But it’s much too soon for our liking.  So God is asking us to trust in His perfect plan, to walk in faith, and to have hope that we will see her again.

Come Lord Jesus.