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.