I have two daughters. One of them lives here with me and her dad. The other one, our second child, lives with her Father in Heaven. My first daughter was born after a nearly perfect delivery that was full of joy and culminated in holding her warm, wriggling body. My second daughter was born after a horrible labor and emergency c-section. Her birth story ended thirty-five minutes after delivery with the doctor’s breathless “I’m so sorry” and me cradling my baby’s motionless, rapidly cooling body.
In those first days after my daughter died, it was hard to understand why God would create such a perfectly formed little girl only to allow pneumonia to end her life moments after birth. I thought about the lessons that her life and our response to her death might teach. I considered the ways in which those lessons might benefit me and others. However, as a mom who longed to hear her baby’s heartbeat, none of those lessons appeared to make her short life and my suffering worthwhile. When I shared these thoughts with my family, they reminded me that we were each created to bring glory to God and that our daughter would continue to do that in Heaven. Her life was not over.
God’s creation joined with my family in reminding me of the life to come. My daughter died as the leaves turned majestic shades of red, orange and gold. In spite of their splendor, I realized that their final burst of color signaled their death and heralded the approaching cold of winter. If life was never going to return to the trees’ branches, then all of their beauty would vanish, overshadowed by the sadness of death and the finality of the impending loss. Yet, because there is life to come, their death holds beauty. I was reminded that my daughter’s brief life and death held beauty because of the eternity that God made her for.
Later, I was reminded of the hope of resurrection by the words of St. Zelie Martin, a deeply devoted mother who lost four young children.1 She wrote:
“When I closed the eyes of my dear little children and when I buried them, I felt great pain, but it was always with resignation. I didn’t regret the sorrows and the problems I had endured for them. Several people said to me, ‘It would be better to never have had them.’ I can’t bear that kind of talk. I don’t think the sorrows and problems could be weighed against the eternal happiness of my children. So they weren’t lost forever. Life is short and full of misery. We’ll see them again in Heaven.”2
St. Zelie knew that her suffering and trials were worthwhile because they were an insignificant price to pay to have her children in Heaven. She new that their lives did not end when their hearts stopped beating on earth. Instead, their death marked the beginning of their eternal life in paradise.
What does that mean for those of us who are left here while our loved ones, perhaps even our children, are living in Heaven? For me, it means that my grief is mine to bear and is not shared by my daughter. I grieve my own loss because my daughter has only gained! It means that I have the hope of sharing a wonderful eternity with those I love and have temporarily lost. It means that I have a new understanding of how important salvation is and a deep, aching desire to reach Heaven. It means that I hold this world more loosely and am ready to move on when God decides it is time for me to do so. It means that I did not birth death, but life. By God’s grace, that life is eternal – it will never end.
Before my daughter was born, we named her Noemi Christiana which means “the pleasantness of following Christ.” I prayed that Noemi would know Christ’s pleasantness in her life and would follow Him faithfully. I believe that God, in His goodness, has more than answered that prayer. My daughter truly knows the pleasantness of Christ because she followed Him into His kingdom. Her life and death have shown me that the pleasantness of following Christ on earth is only the beginning of a truly pleasant eternity.
2Piat, Fr. Stephane-Joseph, O.F.M., A Family of Saints: The Martins of Lisieux‐Saints Thérèse, Louis, and Zélie. Ignatius Press, 2016. EBook.