In Thanksgiving For The Life Of Charles Donald Marchand

When tragedy strikes often we’re left with nothing left to say beyond clichés. This November, our family was touched by tragedy when within the span of two weeks we went from happy anticipation in an uneventful pregnancy to heartbreak when our son died at 21 weeks gestation. What is there to say? It seems only human to try and say something, anything, of comfort and so we fall back on the lines we’ve all heard before. Cliché or not I take these words in the spirit they are given, but one phrase I have heard often in the last month has proven entirely false. People say, “God never gives you more than you can handle.” It’s just not true.

We had about two weeks notice that “something was wrong” before Charlie died. The worry was exacerbated by the fact my husband was deployed. My marriage has also carried me thousands of miles and an international border away from my own family. I felt so completely alone. Alone in the ultrasound room talking with grave doctors. Alone with the children trying not to let on that I was falling apart. Alone at night wondering what would happen next. Alone at Mass, tears streaming down my face and telling God, I think this might be it. If you take him from me I do not think my faith can survive.

Then I thought, if I truly believed all the things I have said I believed all these years, right at this moment I had to decide that no, this would not be too much. I could do this. After all “God never gives you more than you can handle,” so everyone told me. I just had to choose. Alright Lord, I’ve decided I will trust. I don’t see how this will work, but it will. I decided to pray through the intercession of my childhood priest, to whom my family owes our faith, not just for the best outcome for our child but for my spiritual strength.

For the next appointment I called my husband’s aunt, a dear friend of mine, and asked her to come with me. We got in the van with a list of questions to ask about bed rest, testing options, premature delivery, hospitalization and c-sections. But then everything on that list became useless. There was no heartbeat.

That night, I told our family and friends the news, and another dear Aunt happened to be driving through our town at the moment she found out. She immediately came over and promised to help with the children while I was admitted to the hospital. My doctor arranged to have his most experienced nurses care for me during the delivery. Everywhere, all over the country, and in my homeland of Canada, friends and strangers sent word they were praying. As I went into the hospital, an early morning mass was said for me just down the road.

My Aunties took turns keeping me company in the hospital until it was time to deliver, at which point I asked them to leave because this moment was between myself, my child, and his father who could not be there because of the deployment. There followed the most painful and yet beautiful experience of my entire life. I delivered my stillborn son, holding a note from my husband in my hand and a picture from our wedding day. Then my friends returned to help me say goodbye to him. I was able to hold him, see his perfect little body, whisper everything I had hoped for him, and kiss him goodbye.

Throughout this day I was filled with an inexplicable peace, peace that has continued in the weeks following. I am not angry or in doubt. I miss my son fiercely. I wanted to know him so much! Yet I am unaccountably sure everything is as it should be somehow. I keep gently pushing at the edges of this sense of peace, testing it to see if it will hold. By now I am know it will. While it is not the miracle I had hoped for, it is certainly a miracle.

It turns out God gives you things you can’t handle all the time. I look around today and see so many of my friends suffering a hundred different heart aches, each too painful to understand. All these insurmountable troubles and yet we go on living. We go on praying and believing and loving and trusting. How can it be? Because God gives more than we can handle, and then He sends others to help carry the burden.

Even Jesus needed Simon to help carry his cross. Even Jesus begged his disciples to stay with him and pray. When I had to leave my children, God put others nearby who could come to love them, feed them and tuck them in. When I couldn’t sleep he sent friends to watch through the night. He sent doctors and nurses who delivered my son with deep respect and who took great care of my health. When I couldn’t be alone in grief others grieved with me. When I couldn’t find the words to pray, others prayed for me. I felt my husband’s love sustaining me all the way from the other side of the world. I felt strong in my faith and thanked a priest dead more than ten years. We may indeed be given more than we can handle; but in the Body of Christ, surrounded by the Church militant, suffering and triumphant, held up in a great sea of prayers, we can do all things.

This Advent my family has been saying the St. Andrew’s novena every night. At first I was stumped as to what intention I would pray for. I have received my miracle. My beautiful boy never knew a moment’s pain or suffering nor was he ever tarnished by the world. My family has been blessed with a deeper faith, profounder love for each other, and a greater appreciation for the gift of life. What more can I ask? I pray that God will use our prayers, wherever they are needed, to help someone else bear up under more than they can handle.

Do works of mercy and pray for each other. You do good you may never see. And ask for help. Especially ask for prayers. Nobody makes it alone.

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Suffer The Little Children

And they brought to him young children, that he might touch them. And the disciples rebuked them that brought them. Whom when Jesus saw, he was much displeased, and saith to them: Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of God. Amen I say to you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, shall not enter into it. And embracing them, and laying his hands upon them, he blessed them.

This incident of Jesus and the children is recounted in Matthew, Luke and Mark and has certainly helped me through many trials of motherhood.  In the past I’ve always quoted them to myself in high outrage after some grouchy curmudgeon has made my family unwelcome somewhere because of our kids.  I should say before I go on, we are a middling family as regards church behaviour.  Everybody stays in their pew and faces forward.  And they aren’t loud.  But my word the squirming!  Mass is one long stream of corrections being meted out amongst the four of them.  Then there’s the behavioural review on the ride home:

 “Next week we expect less squirming, no more asking how much longer it will be, kneel at kneeling time and stand at standing time…” etc etc etc.  

In the kids’ minds this comes down to “were we good enough for donuts?”

“HOW MANY TIMES MUST I TELL YOU YOU SHOULD NOT BE GOOD JUST SO YOU CAN GET DONUTS?!… but yes, yes you were.”  

No saints are we.  Yet my children are not little hellions either.  And really the times I’ve been truly bowled over by horrible people were times the children were blameless.  Like the mass where our 9 month old, just discovering the glory of his own voice, was babbling to himself.  We of course removed him to the vestibule immediately.  Through the doors of the church the faint sounds of bubbly baby laughter could be heard.  A man actually came out to chastise my husband in the vestibule, explaining: “God doesn’t want your baby here, your baby doesn’t want to be here and nobody else wants him here, you are ruining a beautiful and special mass.”  Whaaaaat?   He then left mass entirely despite it only being half done because clearly, his Sunday obligation was removed by the unbearable conditions.  Wow.

So yes, in the past I’ve seen these words as addressed to the meanies that hate kids.  Don’t make families unwelcome. God does, in fact, want them here.  But as I sit here, completely exhausted on a Sunday night, I have begun to see them as addressed also to me, and to other parents.  Since my husband deployed I mark time in Sundays.  Because Sundays are by far the hardest days.  I’m not talking about emotionally.  I’m way WAY to stressed and tired on Sundays to actually feel any kind of soft violin-playing-in-the-background-dreamy-I-miss-my-husband-montage feelings.  I just mean they are practically speaking really really HARD.  I begin thinking on Saturday about how we will possibly accomplish our trip to church.  Sometimes we go to the anticipated mass, because it’s at the best time for baby behaviour and because then the nightmare trip is over.  This is not how I like to think about church.

But there it is, I’ve got one child at that worst possible age where they truly believe if they scream and flail enough you will just give up and take them home.  If only that were true!  Meanwhile I have one child possibly old enough to sit and behave in church without his mother giving him The Look every few seconds, but certainly not old enough to control the other two younger ones.  So it’s all of us in a pew or none of us for now.  Every mass we attempt to enter the church.  Sometimes the baby goes off the moment we walk through the door.  Other times we may make it into a pew for a time.  Sometimes we make it to a pew, sit down and immediately spring up and leave again as the baby goes off just as we exhale.  Anyhow, the final score is ALWAYS Dulcie 1 Mum 0 as we all stand in a row in the back.  It’s much harder for the older children to behave back there.  It doesn’t really feel like they’re in church I think.  Anyhow it’s all disastrous and exhausting and not the least bit prayerful, except for the “Lord, give me strength” that I am praying continuously with, I assure you, deep and sincere fervour.

Why am I doing this?  Why don’t I just leave them all at home with a babysitter and go myself?  I probably will do this on occasion.  I think it would be nice to just bring the eldest and be able to pay attention a little bit for once.  Nothing wrong with leaving a baby at home or in the nursery now and then.  Still, now those words seem to be speaking to me.  I mustn’t hinder my children from coming to Him.  Even if a large part of the hindrance is the children themselves.  I can’t hinder them because they embarrass me or tire me.  I can’t hinder them by leaving them at home and I can’t hinder them by loading them up with handy distractions so that their bodies are at mass but their minds don’t have to be at all.  I can’t hinder them by failing to do my best to teach them how to behave and more importantly how to pray.  I can’t hinder them by using them as an excuse not to go myself.  Suffer the little children, and boy do I suffer.

They probably feel like they’re suffering too sometimes.  Since having children I have become newly grateful to my own parents for knowing that children belonged in church and always including us.  Now, as an adult I feel a strong sense of peace at church, funnily enough even while wrangling a pile of monkeys.  If there is one place where I know I’m home and one time in my life where I know I’m doing what I should be doing and everything is ok it’s Sundays at Mass.  There is one place you will always be welcome, always be loved, always be wanted and that is before Jesus.  Heaven help me I’m going to give that gift to my kids.  And afterwards, if they behave, maybe there will be donuts.

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