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.



Filed under Motherhood, Our Family, Religious Ramblings, Stillbirth and Miscarriage

14 responses to “In Thanksgiving For The Life Of Charles Donald Marchand

  1. Veronica

    I can’t see the computer screen very well through the tears. This is post is absolutely beautiful. I love you!

  2. Jean

    Ditto Veronica.
    You make me so happy to be a member of the family of God with people like you, Caitlin. Thank you for a very special Christmas message of Peace.

  3. Carolyn

    Firstly, you are wrong. God does not give us things we cannot handle. Don’t try to put new spins on Catholic spirituality. God’s gift of suffering is a mystery, and it belittles it to reduce it to secular ideas about family and community coming together to help the sufferer. Second, I am continually surprised by the self-pity of Catholic women who suffer miscarriages yet already have children, and can have more. Try praying for all the women who suffer from complete infertility or multiple miscarriages who do not have any children.

    • Wow. Well, I think there’s not much point in responding to this, your tone at least reads very aggressive so I’m expecting you don’t really want to hear my reply but I do want to clear up some misunderstandings you seem to have.
      1) I by no means am reducing the mystery of suffering and God’s aid therein to family and community coming together. I think an honest and fair reading of my essay would reflect this. I mention the miracle of strength in faith and lack of anger or doubt at the will of God. As a sinner and a human being those emotions are easy to feel, and I’ve certainly felt them many times with much less cause. It is MIRACULOUS that I, a weak woman, have felt peace and acceptance. However, there are many ways God provides in time of grief, including in the corporal works of mercy of our neighbours. Indeed Jesus demanded that we comfort the sick, clothe the naked, feed the hungry. These are not actions divorced from religion and God. So I am grateful to those who helped me materially and also to those who prayed for me. As a Catholic I believe in the Communion of Faith, and that the prayers of others, including those who have died, are also important. While that is “community” it is by no means secular nor trite. This isn’t a new spin on Catholic spirituality. God gives you more than you can handle ALONE, without his grace. His gifts of grace range from the small inspiration of a neighbor to bring soup all the way to intangible gifts of strength and faith in the midst of sadness.
      2) Speaking of amazed, I am amazed when somebody accuses me of being unfeeling in the same sentence of belittling my loss. Yes I have other children. Each is a unique and unrepeatable gift from God. EACH. So to treat my dead son as a number, oh number 5, who cares, is to deprive him of his human dignity. He was a human being with limitless potential who I looked forward to knowing and loving as a gift loaned to me by God. He was a child of God. His life was never mine to give or to take and I must accept that I was not meant to know him in this world. Whether you think I deserve any pity for what I suffered in losing him is seperate from the fact that HE deserves respect as a person not was apparently an excess, disposable child since apparently you feel I’ve already got spares.
      3) I am grateful to have other children they give me much comfort and I know that I am very blessed to have them. I certainly can’t imagine the pain of the infertile or of those who suffer many miscarriages. But you basically accuse me of feeling only for my suffering and for nobody else’s. In fact I pray ever day for such people, many of whom I count among my dear dear friends. These women pitied me and gave me support and prayer despite their own pain. What a gift. I have always prayed for them, and now more than ever and I prayed for them during my own labor. To deprive someone of the right to talk about ANY sorrow just because they don’t know about ALL sorrow is ridiculous. I speak here of my own personal experience and I don’t think it is no sorrow at all to have born a child in my womb for four months, felt him slowly grow weaker and weaker, see his dead body on an ultrasound, and deliver that dead child into the world alone, hold him and bury him in a grave. Is it the worst sorrow in the world? Probably not. But comparing one person’s pain to another is impossible and I have every right to express that pain without someone attacking me because other people have other pain that rates higher on your scale.

    • Matt

      Real nice, Carolyn.

      You should stay off the internet. You might get yourself into trouble.

    • Also, I am pretty sure I recognize your name from nasty angry comments you left for me on an article I wrote for another site last year. There also you completely misconstrued my words in a way nobody else did, demeaned my life choices and my family and baselessly accused me of not caring about other people as if you know anything about how I spend my life. Clearly you don’t understand or appreciate my style. SO STOP READING IT. That’s the glory of the internet. You don’t have to read anything to which I put my name. Oh that Caitlin Marchand, she stinks, I refuse to read her drivel. I don’t appreciate your style either. And I won’t be putting up with any more of it. At first I decided to respond in a conciliatory way but now that I am fairly sure this is the second or third instance of you attacking me and that you’ve followed me from another site to my personal blog I will not be putting up with any more of it. Charity does not mean I have to be put up with abuse.
      I really recommend you examine how you interact online. You’ll see here, I’ve had interactions with several people who disagree with me fundamentally on many things but they treated me with respect and were treated with it in return. This happens all the time all over the internet. If you’re constantly getting banned from sites or getting hurt and defensive replies maybe you are the one that needs to fix something. If you are as angry and cruel as you make yourself look online I am sorry because your words here and previously seem to reveal a lot of hurt and suffering. If you aren’t then I am here to tell you you are making yourself look that way. You’ve said your piece and I’ve said mine. Now let’s go our separate ways. I will be deleting any further comments from you without reading them. This cycle is over.

    • Jackie

      Carolyn, “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle” isn’t gospel; it’s a cliché. Unless, of course, you subscribe to the Church of Chicken Soup for the Soul.

      Caitlin isn’t trying to rewrite doctrine here. She’s offering a very personal reflection. To offer anything but sympathy to a grieving mother is at best callous and at worst cruel. To presume to know the scope of her suffering or compare one person’s to another’s is absurd.

      I have many family members and friends even now going through horrible situations. I fear that some of them may have succumbed to despair were it not for the prayer and kindness of others.

      The Bible is rife with examples illustrating that God does not want us to suffer alone. In His dying moments, Jesus did not want his beloved mother and disciple John to suffer his loss alone, and so bequeathed them to one another.

      Going a bit further back, like to the beginning of time, God reflected regarding Adam, “it is not good for man to be alone. ” So He created woman. He did so with knowledge of the suffering they would endure after the Fall.

      As for the idea that a lost child could be replaced like a torn book or a broken toy… that’s simply wrong. I’d refer you to the title of this blog, which is derived from the quote “each child is an unrepeatable gift from God.” When a person is gone, no other can take his place. Charlie had a role that no one else could fill, and any child Caitlin may be blessed with in the future will be an amazing and unrepeatable gift as he was. He has touched many lives, including mine in a special way, and I miss him.

      I will be praying for you as your comments show a deep hurt and bitterness that I don’t understand. But please refrain from leaving hateful comments in the future. It does no one good.

    • Good thing Christ doesn’t respond to our suffering like you have! When someone is happy do you say, “you have no right to be happy because so-and-so has more of a reason to be happy? And what in the world made you so bitter and callous?

      • What a really insightful way to flip that question it its head. So often we hear we’re not allowed to be sad because someone else somewhere is sadder. I’ve never heard such a simple clever way to show why spending our time competing and comparing is such a silly thing to do. Love it!

  4. Branwen

    This is absolutely beautiful Cait. Thank you for being willing to share your story!

  5. Dear Caitlin,
    I just wanted to write to tell you I’ve been thinking of you and praying for you, especially over Christmas, which I personally found very hard after losing baby Josephine. I wrote a post recently with beautiful advice my sister gave me on grief, and I’d like to share it with you, too, as you continue to mourn the loss of your littlest unrepeatable.
    With affection,
    Anna Eastland

    The Ever Changing Tides of Grief | Just East Of Crazy Land

  6. contemprisma

    Thank you Caitlin. I came to this site via reading Jesus’ famous unanswered prayer on Catholic Exchange. The juxtaposition of the two posts is meaningful. Charlie’s story is heart wrenching. But it was good that you posted it for others who needed the post. And I think it was good to keep Carol’s nasty comments in too. You handled her comments very well. God bless.

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