Funny, in an ironic way. The same night last week that I was pondering my father’s death eleven years earlier–kneeling in the same spot in the living room where the hospital bed had been–but I hadn’t been–unbeknownst to me, another family was keep vigil for their dying daughter, comatose for the same eleven years.
At the time that the grandparents had rushed to the hospital with the child, who had been treated the day before for an apparent middle ear infection, the rest of the family was at Mass; the mother leading the music worship. At the time that the child died from the after-effects of meningitis, her sister, whose eighteenth birthday it was that day, was singing and playing the piano, accompanying the child’s dying with twice-praying.
During all the intervening eleven years of agony, the family did not lose faith, hope, or love. And God provided many faith partners to help them prayerfully, lovingly care for their daughter and themselves. “Their daughter” who first, last, and always is daughter of the Blessed Trinity. She is God’s beloved daughter, entrusted to their care. Both cross and crown for that family.
Death always is mysterious–why it happens when it does–there never are answers, even when death is imminently expected. With great faith, love, and hope, the mother sent an announcement of the child’s passing into Jesus’ waiting Arms. No bitterness. No hatred. Just the deep sorrow of a mother who has surrendered her child back to her Creator–back to God.
Why it is that our lives have intertwined as they have–that I know not, either. I remember when my father died receiving a loving message from the mother, who commented that my father shared a birthday with her older daughter. His into eternal life; hers into the beginning of her seventh year…Who knew or expected that eleven years later, the younger dearly departed daughter would enter into that same birthday union.
Cruel that the younger daughter died on her “big sister’s” eighteenth birthday? Surely, some would see that; would think that. Since nothing happens without God’s ordaining or permitting Will, and since God is Good–all the time!–I prefer to look through eyes of faith.
I prefer to see that with less than one hour left to the day on which her big sister turned eighteen–reached adulthood, legal “emancipation,” the younger sister entered into that joy with an adulthood, an emancipation of her own. While chronologically in “Earth years,” she died at thirteen, as a birthday into eternal life, she is fully mature now, fully alive, emancipated from the suffering of being trapped in a body that was severely compromised.
Please join me in praying for this beautiful family of faith–a true domestic church. Their “loss,” their pain is tremendous. Tremendous, too, is the witness they have given about carrying one’s cross with dignity and love, trusting totally on Jesus, Who alone gives the kind of strength that allows weak humans to respond lovingly to that kind of family agony. By God’s Grace, someday when the family is reunited, their ecstasy in the Loving Presence of God surely will erase all memory of the agony they have known in this life.
The photograph of the little girl that was circulated among prayer groups, Adoration chapels, newspapers, and so forth, from the time of her emergency hospitalization is the same photograph that appears in her funeral announcement. In that last healthy birthday photograph, she is dressed so prettily, wearing a crown. I think of that crown as a martyr’s crown for her and her family, as well as a crown of a daughter-princess of the King Who welcomed her home to the place He had prepared for her in His Kingdom.
Someday, God Willing, we’ll all get to celebrate her life in heaven. Someday, you’ll get to meet her! …Meanwhile, united as I am with her in the day the Lord chose to take her home, I will never forget her!
Please, let us remember all the families suffering with terminally ill or departed children. Thank you. God bless you.