A couple of days ago, I was praying the Way of the Cross:
I imagined Mary standing at the foot of the cross, unable to relieve the suffering of her Son. She wasn’t able to reach up and wipe away the blood and dirt from His face. She couldn’t give Him the comfort of a mother’s touch. She couldn’t do anything but stay near Him and suffer.
I thought of Thomas and his birth, and darkness descended...
Thomas slid from the warm safe muffled cocoon of the womb, into the bright fluorescent world full of distinct and strange sounds. Instead of being placed into my safe and welcoming arms where he could be held close and hear my voice and heart beat, and adjust to all these changes, he was taken by a sterile stranger who immediately thrust a breathing apparatus over his face.
“Wave goodbye to Mum!” the nurse cheerily cried, as Thomas was wheeled swiftly out of the delivery room to the NICU, a stream of medical staff following close behind. I was left alone with empty arms and my tears.
The next time I saw Thomas, he was hooked up to the life support equipment. He was lying motionless, half-hidden under the wires and tubes invading his tiny body. My first instinct was to touch him, to stroke his arm and let him feel the comfort of my touch.
“Don't touch your baby! Touch the bed your baby is lying on,” the nurse ordered. Touch the bed? How would that connect me to my baby? But I held the bed. What else could I do?
“We’ve paralysed your baby to reduce trauma. He can hear and feel, but he can’t move.”
I think of a baby lying still, feeling and hearing but unable to cry or move or see.
Babies are born ready to suckle and nuzzle against warm skin. They want to hear their mother’s voice and her heart beat, fill their tummies with milk. They need to be able to cry to express their needs. And Thomas could do none of that. He couldn't even breathe without the aid of a machine.
And I, like Mary, had to stand to one side unable to help him at all.
There were many moments in Thomas’ 28 ¼ hours of life that I wanted to say, “Enough! Let him die! I don’t want him to suffer any more.” But I didn’t. I knew I had to stand silently by and suffer with my baby until God saved him or took him.
Thomas died. The wires and tubes were removed. His tiny pierced body was placed in our arms. His suffering was over. Ours had barely begun.
Later, I was so angry with God. How could He have taken Thomas when I’d prayed so hard and tried to be faithful? How could He have allowed a baby to suffer so much? I felt abandoned and unloved by God. A God who would inflict such sorrow on anyone couldn’t be loving, could He?
I think again of Mary standing by the cross watching Her Son suffer and die. And I know the pain Thomas and I suffered is only a pale reflection of that suffered by Jesus and Mary. But how could any pain be greater than that which I experienced? I can't imagine such pain. Why did Jesus endure such suffering? Out of immense love for us.
And why did God allow me and Thomas to suffer? Not because He doesn't care, but because He loves us so very much.
And although my words might sound a little muddled, deep in my heart I am so very sure of God's overwhelming love for me.
The darkness... Why do I cry? For myself? No, for Thomas as I think of the pain he endured. Babies should be protected and kept safe, but sometimes we are unable to do that. We have to stand by silently with our tears and suffer.
Tonight the Triduum begins. In three days’ time Easter morning will dawn. The sorrow of the cross will be transformed into the joy of the resurrection.
And I pray the darkness will roll away and be replaced by the Light, not just for me, but for all those who are grieving.
Jesus and Mary understand. God loves us to a depth we cannot imagine. And our sorrow will be transformed.