It’s almost funny to me how, as a college student, I think of my suffering as being a big deal. I can be a little dramatic sometimes, and when I suffer, I tend to lose sight of “…for they will be comforted”. I think many people do, and it’s difficult even to cling to Scripture sometimes, because it sounds so vague. “They will be comforted” is passive, and sounds more like placating a distraught person with platitudes than an actual assurance of relief. Who will comfort? When? How? It’s all a big and seemingly unnecessary mystery. As the mourner waits in silence for their comfort, they cannot help but wonder these things. I want to relay the story of a friend of mine, a woman of singular faith, and the beautiful comfort she received from the Lord.
I would like to start by quickly reiterating that last sentence: she received comfort from the Lord. I mentioned that the second half of the beatitude is passive, and indeed it is. That kind of passive voice in Scripture is referred to as the “theological passive”; it is a reference to Isaiah 61:2, which says “God will comfort them”. The beatitude, then, implies that those who mourn will be comforted by God Himself. My friend believes, as do I, after hearing her story, that it was God who comforted her several years after she had finished formally mourning the loss of her four-day-old son.
Her story starts in Connecticut 35 years ago, when she and her first husband conceived their first child. They were ecstatic, her especially, to welcome this new life into the world, and into their family. The pregnancy was difficult, but she was able to carry it to term, and gave birth to a healthy boy, whom she called James*. For four days he was the light of his parents’ world, and for a reason known only to God, that was all the time baby James would spend on earth. My friend’s doctors could not figure out why the baby had died, and they told her so frankly. To say she was devastated would be a gross understatement. She mourned her son for months, and to this day speaks fondly of him to those of us who know her well enough to know the story. After a few miscarriages, she gave birth to a daughter and two more sons. Her husband eventually left her, and she married her current husband, adopting his daughter, as he adopted her three children.
It was several years before my friend told her husband about James and his tragically brief life. She was unsure of how he would respond, but he showed her the utmost compassion, and expressed deep regret for her loss, and the loss of the three children he now treated as his own, who would never know their older brother. My friend had kept baby James’ ashes with her in her house in Pennsylvania, by then one of the family’s two homes. In time, she and her husband decided that they would bury the ashes and erect a small headstone for James as a proper grave. Her husband took it upon himself to design the headstone, and its centerpiece was a deer and her fawn, a commemoration of his wife’s bond with her first child.
That same day, my friend had been out in town, and had purchased a small cast iron angel figurine. She said it reminded her of baby James, and that she would place it on her hearth as a symbol of the little angel who watched over her from Heaven. When she arrived home, she placed the angel on the hearth as she had planned, and her husband showed her the design he had drawn up for her son’s headstone. She was delighted with it, and thanked him earnestly for the beautiful work he had done, and the love he had shown her and the child he never knew. At that moment, the two of them turned to look out the front bay window of their house, and my friend says that she will never forget what they saw as long as she lives: Standing at the edge of the woods by their house was a deer, and trailing a short distance behind her was a fawn. It was almost an exact replica of the design for baby James’ headstone. In shock, she began to cry. She had spent many years wrestling with herself, and trying as hard as she could to keep believing in God, and in front of her eyes was proof positive that He had heard her prayers all that time.
When she had recovered enough, she looked back at the hearth, and decided she had to go back into town and buy the angel figurine which matched the one she’d bought earlier. She did that, and when she got home she took a sharpie and wrote James’ date of birth on the bottom of the first angel, and that day’s date on the bottom of the other. They both sit on her hearth today, and anyone who goes to the house can see those two little angels sitting above the fireplace, a testament to this woman’s extraordinary faith, hope, and love. When she finished telling me this story, she said, “Anyone can say anything they want about those angels or about my baby, but nobody can tell me that wasn’t a sign from God, letting me know my baby was in Heaven with Him.”
It took my friend several years to come to terms with her first son’s death, and then some more to receive any kind of comfort. During that time, she hoped and prayed desperately to know that her baby was in Heaven with God, and in spite of not receiving that sign she listened when her parish priest told her not to give up. He assured her that when the time was right, God would let her know that He had her son. She says she cannot explain why, but she never did give up, and to this day believes that as long as a person continues believing that God will comfort them, they will never be disappointed.
*The baby’s name has been changed to guard his mother’s privacy.
Christina is a college student and a member of #CathSorority