Saying Goodbye to Judah
If you had told me that the year of 2012 was going to be the hardest year of my life; that I would experience the greatest suffering of my life within the first two years of marriage, I might have shrugged it off. You see, my life has been filled with lots of hard things; from an absent father, to a dying mother, to dreams dashed to the ground and careers lost, and best friends dying. I would never believe you if you told me that my wife would bear and miscarry a child at 4 weeks. I would most certainly not believe you if you told me that 6 months after my wife miscarried our first, that our second child, after 19 weeks of development in the womb, would be called home by the Father as well. Then when we thought things could not get worse, my aunt Barbara passed away in her sleep. This is the story of last month.
“I think my water just broke”. These devastating words were what my wife and I awoke to on November 8th, 2012. From that moment, our life began to speed in a direction we did not want, nor expect it to go. Life became a blur of doctors, ultrasounds, blood tests, prayers, and tears. Though our little baby’s heart was still beating, the amniotic fluid was gone, and the baby could not develop within the womb, short of a miracle. After spending 40 days defending the dignity of the unborn with the “40 Days for Life” in front of a hospital where abortions took place, here my wife and I stood before “medical professionals” defending our child against the horror of abortion, an idea which the doctors peddled to us as if it were Aspirin.
After spending the day in the hospital, they sent us home, with a living baby in the womb. No bed rest and no special treatment was suggested. They simply advised us to prepare for the worst. Our doctors were more willing to kill than heal. We brought Julie home, ensuring that we kept her off her feet as much as we could and she began drinking as much water as she could muster.
Julie slept through the night but awoke to what was the beginning of contractions. After going to the hospital again, seeing the OB from the day before, hearing that the baby was still alive and the heart rate did not indicate distress, we were sent home, again. As Julie laid on the sofa, the contractions slightly intensified. This lasted for a few hours. Shortly after Julie sung to the baby in her womb, the pain suddenly dissipated. Very soon after, without pain, Julie felt the baby come. Still at home, the baby came with no issues, but was stillborn. In that moment, it was as if time stopped. I have always viewed Julie as a hero of mine, but in that moment, I saw sanctity like I have never seen it before.
The paramedics came and took Julie to the hospital for the third time in two days. They were like angels and took phenomenal care of Julie and I. The nurses were also amazing. The doctors, however, were very clinical and barely apologetic. Nevertheless, it was beautiful to see the amount of love that came to us in the midst of the greatest pain we have ever experienced.
Love at the center of suffering.
We were given the opportunity to spend some time with the body of our child. Our baby was a beautiful, 20cm long boy. Words cannot describe how perfect he was. We named him Judah Callistus. The nurses wrapped him in a beautiful knitted blanket and put a little baby hat on his head and placed him in a heart shaped box so that he could be transferred to the funeral home. They also took some pictures of him which we were able to have.
An extremely kind man named Owen from William’s Funeral Home came and took our son, wrapping the heart-shaped box in a beautiful red fabric, and in an almost liturgical procession, carried our son out of the hospital and brought him to the funeral home. Owen was amazing and no words can describe the level of care he gave us. He was such a blessing for us.
Special mention needs to be made of my mother, who was with us through every moment. She, though grieving with us, stood as a pillar of strength for us. She arranged the funeral and burial for our baby. She took such good care of us. My grandparents also took us into their home, as it was extremely painful to return to our own immediately afterward. Their hospitality and care for us was amazing. All praise to God for such a good mother and grandparents.
As we pulled into the parking lot of the church where our little boy’s funeral took place the following Monday morning, it took every ounce of strength we had to get out of that car and go inside. As we entered, we saw our baby at the front, in a little closed white casket and draped with a pall. The priest, though not our own parish priest (our parish was not cooperative, sadly) celebrated a funeral mass at the church where I grew up, for our little boy. The love and support of our family and friends who came was so appreciated. Though the support and love was palpable, kneeling in a pew, staring at a casket containing your only son, creates a desolation of spirit unknown to anyone who has never experienced that type of pain before; Surrounded by great love yet feeling so alone, but God was there.
The Mass was extremely beautiful, and the choir that accompanied the Mass was amazing. As the Mass ended, and we processed out of the church with our baby, I could not help but feel a small part of the anguish the Blessed Mother must have experienced when they took the body of Jesus from the cross and laid it in her arms. St. Therese is known to have said that it always rains on the saddest of days, and the day of our son’s funeral was no exception. It was a downpour. Laying our son to rest in the midst of a rainstorm was like a scene out of a tragic movie. As we said our final goodbyes and turned to see the small crowd gathered with us, we, though heartbroken, knew that our little son Judah had made an impact, and was, in his death, still a witness to the sacredness of unborn human life.
The Fallen Grain
After the funeral, letters of support and gifts continued to flow in. An extremely charitable gift came from my two great Aunts, Barbara and Margaret. They gave it to us with the instruction to use it on a baby’s room, when the time comes. Their gift blew us away. We were also given a card from people at our work. It also really showed that Judah’s death had made a difference. In a call center, filled with people who do not necessarily believe in God (many who are adamantly atheist), we received a card filled with condolences and people offering their prayers for us and for Judah. My Facebook blew up with condolences and prayers. Even on a small scale it was clearly evident that Judah’s death had made a significant impact on our world.
I am reminded of the words our Blessed Lord said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains but a single grain, but if it dies it produces much fruit”. It is clear that Judah’s death changed other people’s lives. The question for Julie and I was, and still is most importantly, “How will Judah’s death change us?”. It woke Julie and I up to the fact that life is too short for our short tempers, bickering, and taking ourselves so seriously. I am a very weak man, and the truth is, I fail a lot, but “I glory in my weakness”, as St. Paul says, knowing that Judah’s death has awakened me to see where I am failing to rely on the love and mercy of God and be obedient to Him, and has pushed me into the arms of the Father, knowing that I can only rely on Him to accomplish the work He has begun in me and in my marriage.
This past month has taught me more than at any other point in my life. Only three weeks after Judah passed away, we were hit with another piece of bad news: My great Aunt Barbara (Aunt Babby) had passed away in her sleep. She died only two days after Julie and I had gone to their house and brought them dinner. Aunt Babby only three weeks previous to her death gave us that generous gift I mentioned earlier. As I walked through her house, I saw the simplicity with which she lived. Her home was simple, yet, as I looked at the things she invested in, I found myself convicted by what made her rich. Her house was filled with letters to charities she supported. Though basically housebound, she was giving what she could to charity. She cared for my Aunt Margaret who was recently diagnosed with cancer, whom she had welcomed into her home after her husband Sam died a few years before.
This story does not have a fairytale ending, with a Talmudic-like lesson to conclude it, but I believe that what I have learned from the death of the my own child and my aunt in the last month has taught me more than I could ever imagine. Like the fallen grain, the question is whether I will let the events of this last month take me down, or allow it to form me into the man I am called to be. I do not know where you stand, whether you have experienced hardship, or life has been your oyster, but I encourage you, when it arises, to not let loss crush your spirit. God is good, faithful, and He weeps with you. Turn to Him and let Him give you strength. God has not abandoned you.
This Christmas, we celebrate the Incarnation. In Jesus, God’s love broke into our world and crushed the powers of sin and death. In Him, we are given strength to bear our crosses. Let us turn to the Child Jesus this season, and allow His love which emanated from the manger that Christmas night, come and transform our wounds into glory.