Sunday, September 15, 2013

Our Lady of Sorrows

This  excerpt from a sermon by St. Bernard of Clairvaux  (Sermo in dom. infra oct. Assumptionis, 14-15: Opera omnia, Edit. Cisterc. 5 [1968}, 273-274) is  used in the Roman Office of Readings for the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows on September 15. 

Perhaps someone will say: “Had she not known before that he would not die?” Undoubtedly. “Did she not expect him to rise again at once?” Surely. “And still she grieved over her crucified Son?” Intensely. Who are you and what is the source of your wisdom that you are more surprised at the compassion of Mary than at the passion of Mary’s Son? For if he could die in body, could she not die with him in spirit? He died in body through a love greater than anyone had known. She died in spirit through a love unlike any other since his.

So, on this feast of Our Lady (again...she is with me constantly), I thought I would reflect a bit on my latest sorrows...and the grace that flowed through our Blessed Mother from her Son to me, in my very hours of need.

I like the passage above because a.) it's from St. Bernard and b.) it is so true. You can know something is going to happen. You can know that pain and sorrow are about to overtake you. You can know that good things will come from that pain. Yet, you have to walk through the sorrow to move into the good...from dark to light. It is a rare person indeed that is permitted the joy without the trial. If Our Mother suffered this intensely, how can we expect better treatment? It should be with joy (later, if not at that exact moment) that we realize the blessing of suffering with Christ and His Mother.

Three days before we left for Europe I had an OB appointment. It was the "first after the positive test" appointment which I had put off a while since I knew this pregnancy was different from all the rest (and because I didn't feel like dealing with all the stress of the nonsense involved with being pregnant at 44 - see my previous pregnancy posts). Still, I moved it up a week since I figured I should see someone before, rather than after, traveling 5000 miles away.

Because of the changed appointment, I was unable to see my regular OB and saw one of his colleagues instead. It's funny how you get used to someone so, when she did things differently, I guess I was taken aback a bit. (That and after "how did this happen" and "you know most women your age can't get pregnant" I kind of stopped listening.)

When she proceeded to send me on my way with no sonogram, I realized it was a really unusual situation. Why, when it's sitting 10 inches away, wouldn't you take a peek before I get on the plane? Now my husband asks why I didn't ask her to do one and, truthfully, it would have been a more responsible thing for her to do. Still, at that moment, I was totally at peace. I felt like I wasn't supposed to know right then what was going on inside.

Off we went. As I said, I was pretty sure this pregnancy was different and not in a good way. Knowing that, I was sad but not exactly surprised when the bleeding started after landing in Vienna on Friday...and continued during the 5 hour drive to Levoca, and got worse over the next three days. I am so grateful to the friends I had here, praying me through those days.

Here is where God and the grace part come in. On Sunday, my Aunt, brother and I were escorted to the family cemetery in Siroke. We were able to pray at the graves of our relatives and learn more about our extended family. When we got to the top of the cemetery, where the babies are laid to rest, we stopped in front of my Aunt Margitka's grave. I asked my Aunt who was with us how old Margitka was when she died and she thought less than 2 years. (Truly, now that I have kids, the plots are so striking up on top of the hill. The graves are elevated and they are so very tiny).

So it was there, in that moment, that I asked God to let my baby rest with her great aunt. The baby that my grandmother had to leave behind over 90 years ago when she came to America.

The bleeding continued and I continued to press on. We spent Monday just walking around the town of Levoca and staying local. I was blessed that afternoon to take a small journey with my husband and our two youngest to Mary's Chapel, just down the trail from the shrine on the hill. This is the place with the stream that runs up hill where pilgrims come to pray and ask for blessings.

When I drank the water that day, I asked that Our Blessed Mother be with me and help me to gratefully accept God's plan. I knew things weren't going to end with a happy, healthy baby. I wasn't praying for a miracle. I was praying for the grace and strength I needed to get through the next week.

Tuesday morning we set out to Kosice, a town about an hour East of Siroke. We arrived just in time to attend Mass at the seminary where my cousin used to work. It was wonderful to see Fr. Peter (my cousin) assist with the Mass and to receive (with my husband and daughter) Holy Communion that morning. Unexpected blessing and so much grace. It was extra special since it was also the feast day of St. Bernard, the patron of our home parish.

We proceeded to tour the town, have lunch and eventually, about 5 hours later, head back toward home. Before leaving Kosice, Fr. Peter mentioned that we needed to stop briefly at his mom's house for "one more surprise". We did. It turned out to be two surprises.

We drove the hour+ to his family home and after having walked through the door and into the bathroom, our baby made her arrival. We had stopped because Fr. Peter's family was hosting a surprise party for our #1 child's birthday two days later. The joy and pain that filled me during those ten minutes was one of those life-changing experiences. I was giving thanks that eight years ago I had given birth to our first precious child while silently mourning our newly deceased baby. It was surreal on a Kubrick kind of scale and yet the beauty and grace were there. How blessed was I, after all the travel of the last few days, to bring my baby into the world in such a loving and peaceful house?

The blessings continued ...after speaking with Fr. Peter, he assured me that he would go with his pastor and bury the baby that evening. What an amazing gift, knowing that we wouldn't be able to bring the baby all the way back home. Oh, you already know where she was to her Great Aunt Margitka. See? Graces and blessings. God is so very good.

I didn't see then but now it seems so clear to me. Not having a sonogram before we left meant not seeing a baby who was already deceased or not progressing and setting up the d&c before the trip. Allowing the baby to travel with us meant allowing God to determine when and where she would be born and laid to rest. I believe to my soul that our journey and her journey were destined so that our ties to this place, the place of my ancestors, would be strengthened. Was it easy? No...but it was the right thing.

So, here I am back in my home, without my sixth child. There are moments of sorrow; deep and anguishing sorrow. There are times of self-pity; times of jealousy; times of guilt. They are very real when they come but, by God's grace, they come less than I had expected. Mainly, when I am sad, it is simply because my sweet babe is so very far from me. I know, in the end, she is in Heaven so it doesn't matter much where her body lies. I also know that the family, my family, who lives in Siroke will visit and tend to her grave much more than even I would. Still, I am missing a place to go and grieve in person.

That's my cross for this period of my life. I will grieve in my home, when we light the red candle just like the ones they will light at her grave, and remember our little one. I will also go to the grave of a friend's child, born full-term but already in Heaven. That friend has moved away, also having to leave her little girl behind. Perhaps, by tending to her, I can repay some of the kindness that will be shown to my baby.

What I know is that I am sad. The sorrow will change but it will always be there. I have lost a child and that's worth my grief. Not overwhelming though because, through this precious child, God has shown me a real glimpse of His abundant love and care for my family. He led us through every step of this process, guaranteeing my health and safety and the eternal rest of my child. How blessed we are! What joy we will have on that day in Heaven when we are all reunited with this beautiful little soul. Even now, the grandfathers who never held any of their precious grandbabies here on Earth have one all their own to enjoy. That image warms my heart.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Fr. Peter's friends, Jan and Veronika spent the whole of Tuesday  with us in Kosice . (They had come to Pittsburgh with Fr. Peter a few years ago and we had met them then.) These are two of the most beautiful people I have ever met. They were so welcoming and took such wonderful care of our children; always helping out and making our lives easier. When we were leaving them to head back to Siroke, Veronika hugged me and handed me a bag of gifts to remember them. She mentioned that one thing, a statue, had come from their recent trip to Medjugorje and she wanted me to have it. When we finally got back to the house that night, I was too distressed to sleep so Pat and I opened the gifts. The statue was just as I had suspected. My Mother, always walking with me (even on the darkest of days) and leading me to her Son.

Our Lady of Sorrows, Pray for Us.


  1. Thanks for sharing your story. What graces God gave you in having it all happen this way, and allowing your little one to be looked after by family. I'll keep you in my prayers.

  2. I missed this post somehow, so I was confused with the mention of Bernadete in a recent post. I am so very sorry for the loss of your little one, and please know that you all have my prayers as you grieve.