I received a great deal of peace on Christmas Eve, before Midnight Mass. I came early for lessons and carols, but I decided to slip out to the Adoration chapel during the songs. As I knelt in prayer, I told Jesus honestly that I just didn't know what to pray for - I didn't know what I needed and I couldn't even begin to think of how to ask. But all I wanted was to do God's will, and I knew that even in my grief, I had to remain focused on doing the will of God.
The Apotheosis of St. Thomas Aquinas by Francisco Zurbaran; he is the champion of reason, even if he knew crap about women!
And it occurred to me that although there is a proper time and place to grieve, self-pity is never acceptable. I know that within my heart, some of my genuine grief over the loss of my darling Frances had turned to self-pitying indulgences. No longer were my eyes stinging because I so dearly wanted to hold my child, but just because I wanted to be miserable - and I was glad to have a reason to do it. Tasks I knew I had the strength and energy to do, I was excusing myself from simply so I could be idle and depressed. And as I knelt and prayed, I felt Jesus quietly admonish me: the most virtuous woman would not allow her feelings cloud the reality and truth of the situation, tragic though it may be. She would continue to love God, despite her pain and sorrow. My favorite theology professor always said, the most virtuous man does the best good the most promptly. And I have always been comforted by facts, for they help me reason and draw me closer to Jesus who is Truth itself.
Me, praying in front of the altar in the Basilica of St. Paul in Daytona Beach, FL
It occurred to me then that the entire goal of parenting is to get one's child to Heaven, and that with our first child, Tom and I have already succeeded. What a blessing! Indeed, before Frances was given to us, I fear that Tom and I had begun to doubt God in a very subtle way. We knew that children might be a long time in coming, so although we prayed for them, we doubted that God would give them to us; we figured that when we were tired of waiting, we'd take the fertility drugs recommended by my doctor and have a baby then. We had begun to think of ourselves as the authors of life, not as participators in creation with Almighty God; it was almost a contraceptive mentality in part. Although we thought we were trusting God with our fertility, we originally expected many children; we were not ready to receive no children, or just a few children, or perhaps four children very far spaced out. Once it was apparent that we would not get pregnant right away, we thought we controlled the process; we thought we would force God's hand, when we were ready. Never did we say at each stage, "this is where you want us to be, Lord, for you are the author of life; thank you God for giving us what you know we need, even if we don't know why we need it."
Eucharistic Adoration at a parish in St. Louis; photo taken by Jeff Geerling
This is one of the many gifts my darling Frances has given us: a realization that we have to have faith in God - both hopeful faith that He will grant our prayers in due season, and grateful faith that what He is giving us is for our best good. Trusting God with our fertility means taking whatever He gives us: many children in Heaven, or on Earth, maybe no children, maybe many adopted children. I am not sure how else we would have awoken to our turning from God in our hearts if not for Frances, if not for realizing how precious life is and how much we desire to welcome a new one into our home and hearts.
With these sweet thoughts and reflections, given so generously to me in prayer, I went back to the church with a quiet peace. It is not to say that I am not still sad, but I feel a great deal more hope and joy at the will of God. I dwelt so much upon the loss of Francis, but I feel so much closer to my child now - knowing that he must pray for us, cheering us on to reach Heaven too, to be rejoined as a family.
Some of my family, a few years ago...that's my dad on the far left, my mom in the middle, and me on the end.
With this peace in my heart, Christmas Day was pleasant and peaceful - and I didn't cry (at this point, a milestone). We had our big meal when Tom got home from the last Mass (he walked in the door around 12:40) and then opened our presents in a leisurely. We were blessed with many wonderful things, but I was most grateful to lay in my husband's arms, talk about our dreams for the future, and be grateful for the life we got to witness, right before Christmas, our darling Francis child.