They were quiet, decent people who were new to the parish. It was Easter night, and their much-wanted second child was anxious to be born. The nursery was ready. The toddler was excited, although he wasn’t exactly sure what he was excited about
But a terrible complication arose, and the baby lived for only 10 days.
During those 10 days, while the mother was in the hospital recuperating from emergency surgery, she was anxious to talk with someone – anyone – about her grief. Unfortunately, she and her husband were so new to the area that they hadn’t made any friends yet, and their families lived across the country. The husband didn’t know what else to do, so he contacted the coordinator of the parish Young Mothers Group and begged her to send women to visit his wife. Anyone. Please.
So the young mothers came, their palms sweaty and their mouths dry, wondering what on earth they could say to a stranger whose baby was dying. The answer, of course, was "nothing." But they could listen, which they did. They could send meals and call to encourage and scoop up the toddler for a few hours so the mother could rest. And they could pray that the family would begin to heal.
That’s what they did.
Some of the women couldn’t face the prospect of visiting the hospital so they provided childcare for those who could. It became a team effort.
It was my turn to visit on the second day. I entered the hospital room nervously, introduced myself, then listened quietly as the mother poured out her heart about the beautiful baby boy down the hall, so perfect and yet so near death. Together we wept.
Ten days later the mothers attended the funeral. It took my breath away when the tiny white coffin, no bigger than an end table, was carried into the near-empty church. Thank God the mothers were there.
Many years have passed and the family still grieves. Nevertheless, they’ve never forgotten how the Body of Christ wrapped them in kindness during the worst days of their lives. It’s funny; at the time we didn’t think of ourselves as the Body of Christ. We were just a bunch of terrified moms trying to soften the grief of two broken hearts.
A year or two later another couple in the parish learned that their unborn child had a fatal heart defect and would likely live for only a few days. Despite strong pressure from doctors and "friends," the couple was adamant about continuing the pregnancy. For two long months, the mothers group was their link with sanity, once again enveloping the family in love. Moms brought meals, sent notes, helped them contact other couples who had suffered similar tragedy, and prayed around the clock.
When the woman went into labor, the phone tree sprang into action. And then, in silence and with desperately heavy hearts, we kept a vigil with them as their baby died.
Fortunately the mothers group shared many celebrations as well. We nearly burst with joy when a tiny redheaded baby girl was adopted by a couple whose wait had seemed interminable. A woman who’d been told she would never bear children gave birth to two tiny miracles. A teenage mother was cared for beyond her wildest dreams as women provided clothing, a car seat, babysitting and moral support.
In jubilation and in tragedy, the mothers have cared for one another, sometimes across many miles. Years ago, I miscarried a twin and was confined to bed as we moved out of the area, so women from that mothers group arranged for meals to be delivered to us half a state away. Such kindness is not easily forgotten.
But perhaps the mothers’ greatest gift has been the love offered to grieving families. People often don’t know what to say in such situations, so they stay away and do nothing at all. The young mothers, who lack words just like everyone else, simply offer love. And never is it more needed than when dying comes before living.
Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer.
At the Spring Assembly of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Joseph Tobin suggested that a delegation ofbishops go to the border to see for themselves what was happening to newly arrived immigrants, families and children. On July 1 and 2, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops conference, and five other bishops conducted a pastoral visit to the diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Stops included Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle with the community, a visit to anHHS/OBR Shelter and Mass for the families there, a visit to the Customs and Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, TX, and a press conference at the end of their visit. Catholic News Service accompanied the bishops on their border trip.
At final press conference, Cardinal Daniel Dinardo said the church was willing to be part of any conversation to find humane solutions because even a policy of detaining families together in facilities caused “concern.”
Bishops serve soup to immigrant families at a center run by Catholic Charities and listen to their stories. Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera said he found hope in hearing the people in the room talk about what’s ahead. They didn’t speak of making money but of finding safety for their children, he said, driven by “the most basic instinct to protect your family.”