by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM March 6, 2020
There are stories that delight us, stories that touch us, and then there are stories that grab our souls and won’t let go. Such stories haunt us. Such stories compel us to enter into deep inner soul work. Such stories challenge us to transform attitudes and behaviors. This is one of those stories. Because of the sensitive, personal nature of what’s being shared, names used in this true story have been changed.
Michael and his wife, Cathy, shared every expectant parent’s joy: waiting for the arrival of their first child. Cathy had a pregnancy that seemed perfect and reassuring in every way, but towards the end of nine months, she noticed a subtle change, the kind a mother would immediately recognize: it seemed that her baby was no longer moving. Her worst fear was confirmed by her doctor, and that devastating news was followed by a second shock. Even though this baby—this child of their hopes and dreams—would be stillborn, Cathy would still have to endure labor and delivery. The child of their longing would come into the world lifeless and without breath.
Michael remained with Cathy all through the hours of pushing and pain until the moment when they could both hold their beautiful little girl. Through tears and self-searching, they wondered how this could happen. They had done everything possible to insure the safety and well-being of their baby. How could she be dead when she looked so perfect and blissfully asleep? It seemed the only response to their unanswerable questions was mourning and weeping.
That evening, Michael left the hospital, beaten down, emotionally drained, exhausted. He stopped at a supermarket to pick up a few items for Cathy. Lost in grief, he parked his car and threw the door open, accidentally nicking the door of the car parked next to him in the lot. The owner of that car happened to be sitting inside, got out to inspect the small dent, and launched a torrent of accusations at Michael. Threats about carelessness, damage done, and the cost of repairs. Angry words poured over Michael as he stood there, numbed into silence. As the barrage continued, he began to cry, to weep for the enormity of his loss, to grieve for promises shattered, to lament the unfairness of it all. The other man, taken aback, stopped shouting long enough to ask, “Are you okay?” And Michael choked out the only response he could manage, “I just came from the hospital. My baby is dead. My baby is dead.”
What response is possible in the face of such naked truth? What hardened heart could compare the two losses as equal: a barely perceptible nick in a car door and a dead, lifeless baby? Shamed into silence, the angry driver mumbled his condolences, jumped into his car, and departed as quickly as he could.
For some thirty years I have carried that story around with me as a reminder of the fragility of us all. A reminder to approach others, those familiar to us and those we’re just meeting, with great care and tender reverence. A reminder that we are all broken, wounded, and in some way carrying loss around with us. Our scars may be years old or terribly new and fresh. They may be wounds barely acknowledged and not easily seen or discovered. But I believe this is one of the few instances when we can and should presume, presume that side by side with experiences of the beautiful sit stories of grief or shame or failure or dismissal in the hearts of those we encounter, in their often untold histories.
May we walk on this holy ground in the company of the Holy One who walks beside and among us. May we be open to and recognize the beautiful yet wounded world we each carry within. May we be compassion.
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Call to mind the pain of a person(s) you know and for whom you have concern.
Bless them and ask for healing energy for them.
Ask the Holy One to also bless the many in our world who are struggling with suffering of any kind.
Give thanks to the Holy One for the gift of accompaniment.
Please hold in your prayer all who will be part of this event:
March 6-8: It’s my privilege to be one of the guest directors for a Directed Prayer Weekend at the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth in Wernersville, PA. Thank you.
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