One Year On...

One year on from the birth of Mary Thérèse, four years since we lost our Ruthie. It was suggested by several friends that I write something to commemorate the occasion. It was also suggested that the Catholic Herald might be interested in publishing the piece, which they were, and did! It is my hope that this will reach out to others who are struggling to deal with a bereavement and give them the confidence to put all their trust in God.

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This is the article as I originally wrote it:

As we entered the month of July, my mind began to fizz and whir in an attempt to deal with the confluence of emotions which assail it.

July is the month of the fatal car accident which killed my darling daughter Ruth in 2009. It is also the month Michael and John were born, and, on the 27th last year, my daughter Mary, the antidote to my devastation at the loss of Ruth, was born.

I can't believe this year has gone so quickly, looking at Mary I feel so blessed. Certainly the last year was really emotional and I feel as if all the emotions of the experience of finding out my wife Louise was expecting Mary, right through to the birth, have been compacted in my mind into one event.

It is and has been deeply cathartic in a way I find difficult to fully communicate. The idea that another child could some how compensate for Ruth's loss seemed so ridiculous in 2009, although we hoped and prayed pretty much straight away that God would bless us with another child. Indeed, it wasn't until October 2010 after a long process of prayer, reflection and a pilgrimage to Ta Pinu in Gozo, that Louise discovered she was pregnant with Mary. Despite how it might seem, Mary coming into our lives has achieved what might have seemed impossible four years ago and we have re-learned how to smile.

Mary Thérèse in October

There is a 9 year gap between John and Mary. Mary's conception somehow afforded me some sense of personal forgiveness, and also a sense that God had intervened in a really powerful way to heal my family. Of course when Ruth died, in such chaotic and tragic circumstances, we all had questions about how and why this could happen to us. As Fr. Kevin so put it "Where were her Guardian Angels?"

Perhaps for me this questioning took place in the context of a recollection of all the long and difficult drives I have been on; from Southend to Scotland, to Ireland, and even non-stop to Switzerland. Yet the accident that took my daughter's life didn't occur on one of these journeys. It didn't happen late at night, when I was tired, or speeding, pushing the limits to get somewhere, or on the way back from a night out after I had been drinking. It happened on a rainy summer afternoon, a few miles up the road on a road I knew and had driven on a hundred times before. And yet the accident was so extreme, it killed Ruth outright and left me crawling from the mangled wreckage amazed at how I had survived...And in many ways, wishing I hadn't.

The memory of loss is as vivid and raw as it was on that day, and, in the very moment of awareness of just how devastating those few moment were for Ruth and I, I was assailed by the sense of having to share so intimate a pain with my family, and most especially my beloved wife.

Whatever the excruciating effect such a deep loss had on me, I was acutely aware how it would be for my wife; this is a universal truth, for maternal empathy is the heart of civilisation.
“A voice was heard in Ramah, Rachel weeping for her children” (Jeremiah 31:15). 
Stifle the mother, and you stifle the child, and the world dies. Enduring my wife's agony in solidarity with my own was a double devastation. I had failed as the father who protects his children. I had equally failed as the husband, who prevents his wife from suffering.

Louise with Ruth as a baby.
Since then, I feel like a creature who has crawled out of the quagmire of that disaster, utterly broken,  and gone through some kind of evolutionary process, to the point where I resemble, to some extent at least, the person I was before all this happened. A big part of the healing process has been Mary, but it is my capitulation in the face of insurmountable agony to God that made it possible. The closeness of God throughout this process has been extraordinary and has led me to a place where I wonder how I ever entertained doubts that He might not exist. God enfolded and enveloped us, was manifest to us in every sense, sustaining us in the Sacraments and ministering to us through the community.

Our lives are about risk. There is an essential and inviolable link between risk, reward, choice, and freedom. Modern society has done its level best to sanitise our lives and in safe, western countries, we no longer understand that death is an every day occurrence, part of our human existence. That's not to say we should be numb to it, of course not. But I do wonder if we have lost the mechanism to cope with death as a natural part of life?

Or can death ever be a part of life? Does our refusal to accept it, in fact, speak to the reality of our supernatural destiny? If it was, in fact, so normal, why do we rage so against the dying of the light? Why does it feel like such an un-natural wrench?

Immediately after Ruth's death, I found myself in a relationship with the book of Job. Job demonstrates that encountering God is the most essential component in our search for meaning. The book teaches us that divine truth becomes manifest through relationships: both relationships with ourselves and those we love, and our relationship with God. The dynamics of both types of relationship help us to appreciate how knowledge of God grows out of personal encounter.

My relationship with Ruth was incredibly special. It was full of a deep, unconditional love, and was full of an unconditional exchange of reciprocal affection. Loving Ruth taught me so much about relationship, and taught me so much about God. When Ruth was with us, I felt I had everything and that my life was perfect; complete. So much so that my prayers constantly included emotional expressions of gratitude, and my constant offering of her back to Him. Then one day He took her.
"Shall we not receive good at the hand of God and shall we not receive evil?" ~Job 2:10.
My sense of this was not that she was taken by God though. It was that a series of choices I had made led to this horrific situation, and God did everything He possibly could to make it as bearable as such an experience can possibly be (that is...Not very bearable). There were lots and lots of little coincidences, little preparatory things before and little healing connections afterwards. They were pretty blatant and impossible to ignore to be honest. And they were the breadcrumbs that kept me following His path, and trusting His plan. Even though, in the depths of my grief and pain, I could not see how this could be turned in any way to any good, I trusted to God, and followed the path clinging to Him, like in man in the Footprints story who is carried by God.

Now, with time, and the grace that has been poured out on us, I can look at these events with some perspective. I feel it has been given to me to know I will see Ruth again; our bond of love is something so strong I know that neither time, nor distance, nor even death, could ever break it. I mourn for me, for my lack, and for the lack my family have suffered, my sons have lost their precious sister, who lit up all our lives with her effervescent love, her care and her spontaneous sing-song way. And most especially my mum and my amazing, beautiful wife. And the result has been Mary, a child given to us as a direct result of prayer. As a direct result of an impassioned plea made to the Mother of Our Lord and Saviour to intercede on our behalf, to mitigate our pain. There can be no doubt that we understand and appreciate this gift in a way that would not have been possible before the accident.

In conclusion, what I am trying to say is that we all have crosses. Some have harder ones to bear, some lesser, but they are all a challenge. The tough stuff does make us better, even if we can't see that when we are in it. Even if it makes no sense to us and we feel like we can't go on. All we have to do is reach out and take God's hand. He will always be there, and He will always bear the weight of our burdens if we but let Him.
Mary Thérèse


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