Behold Your Mother


I discovered this image of the Sorrowful Mother shortly after Evie died. It spoke to me in so many ways, and I decided to make it the wallpaper on my phone. It was the first image that I beheld in the morning as I opened my eyes to check the time and the last image to fade away as I plugged my phone into the charger before retiring for the night. It flashed before me numerous times throughout the day as I responded to texts and phone calls, listened to music, checked lists, and utilized my phone in various ways.

At that moment in time, it was the only image that I could bear to glimpse repeatedly throughout the day. I could only look at photos of Evie in small doses and only when I was feeling strong. Pictures of my other children were a cruel reminder of a fragmented family. I knew that hidden behind the smiles was indescribable and confusing pain. Pain that little hearts shouldn’t have to feel.

But this image was one to which I could relate. This image represented everything that I was feeling inside. It was bold, unashamed, and true. It depicted a mother’s heart, exposed for all the world to see…burning with pain and love and stabbed repeatedly with the sharp daggers of sorrow that only a mother who has held her dead child in her arms can feel.

I couldn’t relate to the Virgin birth, Mary’s Immaculate Conception, her perfection, or her struggles to raise the perfect Son of God. But I could relate to her grief. This image of the Sorrowful Mother became my mascot because there was no room for anything but pain. It consumed my mind and my thoughts. My energy was sapped as my heart bled from the wound. Every new experience without Evie twisted the swords in deeper. I wondered how one could survive that kind of misery. Daily, I questioned whether or not I wanted to survive it. Sometimes, I begged God to please let me go to Heaven. I wasn’t sure I had the fortitude to keep getting up in the morning.

But each morning, His mercies were new. He gave me the grace that I needed for that day. Each tear shed, word written and prayer uttered brought healing. Jesus fed me with His very body and blood and brought dear friends into my life who simply cared, listened, and allowed me to express my pain in all of it’s raw ugliness, no matter how uncomfortable it made them feel.

In time, I found myself changing the image on my phone to pictures of Evie and my other children as I worked through my grief and learned to make room for life and joy in my heart again. The pain itself was no longer the center of my existence.

Today, as I examine the image, I am able to look beyond the pierced burning heart of Our Lady. I see her face clearly now. It is not the face of a mother who has just held her dead child. It is not a face twisted in horror and anguish and seething with the sting of death. Although the small trickle of tears unveil the anguish in her soul, her expression does not match the shocking state of her wounded heart.

As a grieving mother now further removed from the epicenter of her grief, I can appreciate the juxtaposition between Mary’s heart and her visage.

My face is no longer always twisted in sorrow. I smile, laugh, and celebrate life. I make plans and look forward to new things. The raging torrent of tears, have mostly given way to a small trickle.

But I live life now with a wounded heart. An innocent question from a stranger about how many children I have are a reminder of that fact. As my other children grow, I am faced with the constant reminder that Evie will never grow older or meet the two newest members of our family. The simple act of taking a family photo becomes a heart-wrenching experience. Family life is complicated as I help my children through depression and anxiety. We often stumble over one another as we attempt to spend time together as a family without the glue that held us all together. I will never have all of my children together at once. The hopes and dreams that I had for their childhood and even their futures has diminished and been replaced with a longing for God to somehow, in His own timing, draw them back to Him, mend their brokenness and make them whole again.

Through my own suffering, I’ve become more acutely aware that a mother’s outward appearance doesn’t always reveal the agony inside. Whether it’s child loss, a difficult marriage, a wayward child, a diagnosis, infertility, or a host of other hurts, the wounds she carries are very real and very difficult.

It would be easy to admit defeat when carrying this level of pain, to become bitter and cynical, even to push it away and to trick ourselves into believing that we shouldn’t feel it.  The Enemy wants us to believe that our sorrow negates our faith.

But in the image of our Sorrowful Mother, we see both devastating pain and a countenance of quiet resignation and prayerful contemplation. Her open hands are cradling her burning and pierced heart in a gesture of motherly tenderness and protection,  ready at any moment to present her suffering to the Father as a sacrificial offering.

And herein lies the ineffable mystery of our faith; that suffering, peaceful surrender, and redemption can co-exist in the human heart. Our Lady is a flawless example of this truth and a perfect example for all mothers.

Through her example, we encounter a mother who emptied herself and humbly accepted her suffering as a means to bring Salvation to the world, even at great cost to herself. We witness a woman who stood by her Son as he appeared to fail miserably when He hung upon the cross. We see a mother who does not give up on Hope but ponders all of these things in her heart as she waits for the coming of the Holy Spirit after her Son’s miraculous resurrection and ascension into Heaven.

So if your heart is hurting this Mother’s Day, if the tears threaten to trickle down, if you can’t bring yourself to enjoy the earthly fanfare and Hallmark nature of this day, take heart that you are not alone. Jesus sees your broken heart just as surely as He sees the broken heart of His own beloved mother. Offer all of it to him, and receive the peace of knowing that in sharing His suffering, no tear is wasted. You can lean into your pain while also clinging to hope, knowing that perfect motherhood is not defined by the outcome, but in remaining obedient to your vocation as a mother and allowing the mystery of that experience to transform your own heart.

And when your wounded heart is tired, know that can find rest in the loving arms of a good, good God who loves His children, your children, more than life itself.







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.



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.











On Fighting Dragons

Evie's Headstone.JPG

From the time our children were small, we have made reading aloud to them from good literature an important part of family life. We’ve always believed that children learn valuable moral lessons when exposed to stories in which good conquers evil and living a life of courage and heroic virtue is honored above vice and self-interest. When Micaiah was four, we read through the Chronicles of Narnia and again when the girls were old enough to enjoy them as well. We’ve read countless picture books, chapter books, and short stories. My husband’s favorite stories to read to our girls were the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm. You could often find all of them curled up by the fire on a cold winter day listening to a tale from one of these collections. Since Evie died, though we continue to make an effort to read aloud, it has been a difficult and often painful practice to revive in our home.

The other day, Cecilia brought me a book, snuggled up beside me, and asked me to read it to her. It was the story of St. George and the Dragon. This particular picture book is one of my favorites. It begins with St. George journeying through the forest on horseback alongside the princess of a kingdom in dire straits. The princess is veiled and wears a black robe of mourning. Her heart is heavy with the burden she must carry. You see, her kingdom is being terrorized by a fierce, colossal, fire-breathing dragon. The dragon serves as a grotesque and immovable barrier to anyone who wishes to enter or exit the poor kingdom. Nobody has been able to fight him off and the princess has commissioned this brave knight, St. George, to conquer the beast.

Just before entering the valley, St. George and the princess find refuge at the home of a hermit living at the foot of a mountain. While the princess rests, St. George and the hermit climb to the peak, and survey the valley where the princess’ kingdom lies and the mountains beyond. In the distance, perched atop a different mountain peak, rests a beautiful, sparkling castle the likes of which St. George has never seen. It glows with pure beauty and beckons him to enter its magnificent gates. He questions why he and the princess cannot simply travel to that eternal city and forget the dragon and the kingdom that awaits its redemption below. He soon realizes, however, that the only way to reach the shining castle in the sky is to travel through the valley and face the dragon.

So with downtrodden spirits but firm resolve, St. George and the princess trudge through the ominous forest to reach the dreaded enemy. A glow up ahead and a beastly groan indicate that they have reached the barrier that no man has dared to cross. The dragon rears his ugly head and flames of fire begin to pour forth from his nostrils. St. George brandishes his sword and begins to strike at the dragon’s impenetrable scales to no avail. The dragon thrashes his tail and propels St. George to the hard earth below. George continues to fight off the dragon with all his might, but it seems he is no match for the furious enemy that threatens to destroy him. Again, the dragon knocks him to the ground but this time, it appears George is defeated. He lies still and motionless, completely flattened without recourse to fight.

As the courageous knight rests unconscious on the earth, a healing dew begins to fall from an ancient apple tree. Life begins to course again in the knight’s veins and he rises to his feet. The startled dragon, thinking the knight dead, whips his head around with a vengeance and a roar. Fire again spews from his nostrils and he opens his mouth to swallow the knight whole. But with strength and quick thinking the knight runs his sword through the dragon’s jaw and the beast falls dead to the ground with a deafening thud.

In great relief, the princess runs to the knight and embraces him. All the people of the kingdom tentatively trickle out of their hiding places to congratulate St. George and celebrate this legendary victory. The kingdom has been saved from destruction and despair. St. George and the princess are married, vows to protect his maiden and her people all the rest of his days, and eventually is crowned king.

As with most fairy tales, there seems to always be a way in which we relate to the characters, either in their struggles or their victories. As I try to process my feelings about entering year 2 of grieving the loss of my precious daughter and struggle to convey the myriad of emotions within my heart, I realize that the age-old tale of this brave knight and his battle with the dragon resonates with me in more ways than one.

The first year after Evie’s death was about survival. I was simply trying to breathe. Like the princess and the knight, I was trudging through the foggy forest of blinding grief, wearing a cloak of mourning, not fully cognizant of the battle yet to be waged. I had survived the worst day of my life and braced myself to face all of the dreaded firsts… the first holidays, her first birthday, the first anniversary of her death. I had given myself permission to simply put one foot in front of the other. As my wise spiritual director put it, I was “on the operating table” waiting for God to put me back together.

On November 1, 2016 I woke to Year Two. I don’t know how I expected to feel. I knew that I had managed to survive the most excruciating pain of my life. Surely things would be easier from here on out. The sun was shining and I was feeling hopeful.

A couple of weeks later, we got a call that Evie’s headstone had been placed. Somehow that seemed appropriate.

Because I soon realized that there is no magic in year two. I miss Evie more than ever. I still find her death shocking and horrific…only now the anesthesia hasworn off. Although the waves of pain and sorrow don’t pummel me with such intense frequency, when they do hit, I feel them more acutely.  Yet even with the pain still so fresh, year two brings with it a certain amount of duty and expectation that you must pick yourself up now and begin to live again.

Entering into year two was like rounding the corner to the sounds of a beastly groan and the sensation of heat on my neck. Only, my dragon is manifest in a slab of granite with my daughter’s name carved on the face.

It’s immovable. She’s not coming back. The fog has cleared and reality has firmly set in.

The infamous first year has passed and the rest of my life without my beautiful daughter relentlessly stretches out before me like an endless sea of years.

Each day I must face the dragon.

But the battle is not against death itself. That battle was won long ago by a man who is not merely a knight but Prophet, Priest, and King.

This is a battle against bitterness, despair, isolation, and apathy.

In my weakness, I am blinded by the glowing fire of the dragon’s breath. I wonder why most of the people around me seem to have healthy, living children. Why did my daughter have to die? Haven’t I had enough sorrow in this lifetime? All other problems often seem minuscule to me in light of what I have faced. Sometimes it seems everybody else has moved on while my family and I are stuck on our own island of grief. How can the world continue to spin without Evie in it?

Fear creeps in and I begin to believe that joy will never be my lot in life. Awful things are bound to happen again. Surely there is another tragedy waiting just around the bend for me.

Sometimes I feel alone and forgotten…like not a person in the world could ever understand how deeply my heart aches. Our loss feels so devastating and catastrophic that it sometimes seems like the world should still be knocking down our door to offer help and sympathy. I convince myself that nobody really cares. At times, I want to retreat to my little cave and disengage from society at large.

Each and every day I must make a choice to live and raise my feeble arms, sword in hand. I know that the grief will surely rain down and I must submit to it and allow it to wash over me. It is simply the natural consequence of being physically separated from my own flesh and blood…a little girl whom I love and miss deeply. But I must fight against the destructive thoughts and actions that threaten to undo me and stand as a barrier to being fully alive.

I’m learning that spending time each morning praying for others is one way to fight against the temptation to wallow in comparison and self-pity. Reaching out to a friend in need guards my heart against the temptation to become swallowed up in my own sorrow. When I feel like I’m the only one with a major problem I try to offer up a portion of my suffering for those around the world whose circumstances are much more desperate than mine.

Instead of yielding to fear and despair, I can recognize that although life has dished out a fair amount of sorrow and likely will continue to do so, it is also breathtakingly beautiful and holds tremendous blessing. A dimpled, toothy smile from my miracle baby, a solid and loving marriage, an unseasonably warm January day and the beauty and blessing of our farm are all reasons to offer up a prayer of gratitude to God. Time spent with the Scriptures reminds me that no matter what the future holds, God has promised to be with me. He is good and faithful all the time.

When I feel alone, I read some of the many cards, e-mails, and texts I have received over the past year and am reminded of the many people who have prayed and offered help and sacrifices. And I thank God for those few special friends that He has placed in my life as my constant companions. They are my listening ear and a safe place for me to honestly pour out my heart. Although I am a long way from unearthing the part of me that once enjoyed social gatherings, I’m beginning to make baby steps toward coming out of hibernation a little to share a meal with a close friend or another bereaved mother who understands just how much my heart is hurting. My own loneliness is a reminder to reach out to others and recognize that apart from action, my good intentions fail to bring consolation to the suffering, poor, and marginalized all around me.

Sometimes, I can do these things. I can make steps toward living again. But even though they may seem insignificant to some, these baby steps can be extraordinarily difficult. I begin many days with a tear trickling down my cheeks. Like the brave knight, I look up to the heavens and wish that I could fly away. I don’t want to face the battle again. I’m tired and weary. I just want my daughter back. I want the pain to go away. I don’t want to move forward without her.

But God has me here for a reason and He has a purpose for me here on earth. I may not always know exactly why, but I can trust that He does. He calls me to walk faithfully with Him even when the path is unclear and the way is difficult. When I am living out my vocation as a wife and mother I know that I am walking in His will. When I am loving others, I am right where He wants me. And when, like the knight, I lie bruised and broken with no recourse to fight, His grace in the sacraments is the healing dew that revives me.

I’m not sure how long I’ll be fighting this dragon. The grief of losing a child never really goes away but maybe some day I will have built a new life in which there is less battling and more feasting. Perhaps, someday I will feel lighter and simply living won’t be such hard work. I don’t know what other dragons might be lurking around the corner. But I do know that if I continue to fight, I will someday find rest in the Eternal City…that shining castle in the sky. The battle will have been won, the dragon defeated, and I will be whole once again.

The Great Paradox

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”?

Frankly, no.

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.”

Romans 8:38-39