Updated: Dec 29, 2020
Through suffering, there can be salvation.
My beautiful baby niece is a wonderful, blessed miracle from God.
You may wonder why I keep calling this child a miracle. After all, you may reason, her congenital heart defect was repairable (it might have been dangerous and difficult to repair with an arduous recovery, but it was not impossible). Surely, you might add, for something to be classified “miraculous”, it must first be classified “impossible” to rectify through human intervention alone. Accordingly, you could conclude, it is categorically inaccurate to call my niece a wonderful, blessed miracle from God.
And yet, the miracle of my niece is the greatest miracle I have ever known in my life.
Like many people, I carry tragedy and sorrow in my life. Five years ago, a terrible tragedy befell me, made all the more terrible because it was so seemingly small and unimportant to others that it was trivialised. How could such a tiny thing cause so much misery, sorrow, sadness and grief? Endless grief.
Well-intentioned misunderstanding was at times worse that the actual tragic event that preceded it.
For five long years, I grieved alone. Entirely alone. And the suffering caused by the grief, tragedy, despair and loneliness was unbearable.
Those who know me know that my greatest vice and sin is pride. Humility is the hardest of all virtues for me. For five long years my pride took a battering, as people commented on my apparent inability to cope. I was a bad mother, a bad wife, a bad sister, a bad daughter, a bad entrepreneur. I was not coping, not grateful, not happy. I was angry. I was in essence, a failure.
These are not easy things for a proud overachiever to hear.
Throughout this very long and dark time, I plastered a smile on my face and went about my work. I sucked it up – so to speak. Everyday things that we all take for granted, broke me – I mean broke me entirely. I had to learn to forgive – my loved ones, myself, God.
I learned to deal with my grief privately (I still do). I was alone – surrounded – but alone. It is very easy to be alone in a crowd, surrounded by those who love you most. Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta said “The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty -- it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There's a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”
I was a bird inside a cage. The door was open, but I was so afraid and worried about this terrible God who would allow such meaningless sadness into my life, that there was no way I was going out through that door. I hopped around on my perch inside those bars and I watched the world outside, catching glimpses of it from my prison – but I was never tempted to move out through the door and beyond – no matter how unbearable the cage itself became to me.
Then came my niece. A tiny little baby who suffered and struggled while my sister, her mother, watched helplessly. There were no guarantees. There are still no guarantees. Just wait and watch and pray.
When you really have nothing left – and I mean actually nothing, when a team of over twenty medical personnel tell you that it is going to be “rocky” for days and days and days and nobody knows if this tiny child will live or die. When you have no hope, no future, no nothing.… When that really happens, I guess there are only one of two ways you can go. You can either chose to give up and bounce around on those rocks that the doctors keep talking about – or you can storm Heaven and pray pray pray.
That Thursday 20th August 2020, with our backs to the wall and the unthinkable, the unspeakable ahead of us, with my niece’s life (not mine) hanging in the balance, I made a conscious decision – to pray – not for me – for her.
Five long years of trying to get it together for myself, sorted themselves out in an instant for that little baby. Those prayers for my niece were selfless, I like to think, humbly, that they were perhaps in some way mimicking the prayers of Christ and His Blessed Mother as they pray for us, because with my niece the odds were so terribly stacked against her that there was no option but to pray for her.
That day and through the long long night, as I stood at my kitchen sink at midnight and beyond, scrubbing it down and praying my rosary – because there was nothing else to be done. That night, through those prayers, God allowed me the Grace to close my eyes and finally to fly out of my cage.
I have been soaring ever since.
My grief remains. It will remain with me forever during this Earthly life – but it has purpose now, and I am not afraid. Without fear, the grief is as nothing to me – a cross that I can most easily bear.
In reflecting on my own personal experience of suffering, I think the greatest human suffering is to suffer alone and in vain, afraid. I wasted five years of my life suffering fearfully, alone and in vain. How much comfort could I have accepted from God during that time? How many lost souls could I have saved during that time? If only I had chosen to. What a waste. A terrible waste.
Today, nothing has changed. And yet, everything has.
In this lifetime, nobody will ever understand this suffering in my heart – just as I will probably never understand yours. There has been no resolution, no revelation, no apology, no different words or deeds.
Yet, now, through prayers for my niece, I am not alone at all.
My suffering is not in vain, my life has purpose and I am unafraid. As when Jesus cured the blind man by making a paste of spittle and dirt, he has caused me too, to see.
Today, flying outside that silly little cage, with my wings spread on the wind, I finally understand that I can use my suffering for others – I can use it to try to redeem others (and through this, to redeem myself).
This is as God did on the Cross. This is as my niece (who is entirely without sin at this time) has done by living and improving and continuing, when she can see Heaven just a glimpse away, beckoning, surrounded as she is by the angels and saints. This is as my sister has done, in accepting God’s will, hidden in all the temptations and in all the messy practicality that this entails.
Through this suffering, through this grief, which God was so kind as to bestow on me – His least faithful servant – there is a lifetime of Grace to be had – if only I have the courage to accept it.
With my niece. Through prayers for her. I can. I have. I will.
With her we stand on holy ground. Here. At the Foot of the Cross.