For The Love of Ruth
Wednesday 18th April 2012- On The Prospect of Having a Daughter Again
So Louise is pregnant, didn't you know? We are going to be parents for the fifth time, though we'll only have four children (a fact that causes all kinds of problems when meeting new people). We have been trying to conceive for a long time without success, there will be a nine year gap between John and the new baby. We had left it in the hands of the Lord, but a new desperation entered into the venture after we lost Ruthie. All this was to no avail, despite the fact that, as Catholics, we've used natural fertility to plan our family and thus are rather good at knowing the important parts of the fertility cycle. To be honest, we had all but given up and decided that it was not in God's plan that we should have another child. I have to say that I took this really quite badly, rightly or wrongly, I considered it some kind of judgement on what had happened, or on me as a parent. The desire to be parents again had become part of a regular prayer of petition, a petition which had become more desperate as time rolled forward. Last October we visited the island of Gozo in the Maltese archipelago and visited the wonderful shrine of Ta' Pinu. We all entered the church and Lou & I both found the atmosphere particulary conducive to prayer for some reason, more so that on previous visits. Perhaps it was the heaviness we carried in our hearts. You see that was our first return to Gozo since we lost Ruth. She loved the island and we had visited many times over the years. One of my happiest memories is visiting when Lou was expecting my little princess.
We both fell on our knees in that church and prayed. My prayer was one of submission. You see I had been praying, I think, for Ruth. I was praying for a baby, but I had put lots of conditions on my request that basically meant that I wanted Ruth back, or perhaps again.
We had considered what would happen if we had another child. We were certain that we could not try to replace Ruth, that this would be a bad reason for having another child. And yet, how could I not long for her with every breath? By the time I reached Ta' Pinu I had nothing but a forlorn hope of ever being a parent again, and this was the prayer on my lips. A prayer of acceptance of God's will and of a hope that through God's plan for us, I might grow to understand why it should be so. Part of that was a long hard look at the gifts I have been given; my amazing wife who I love so much. My fabulous sons who mean so much to me. How could I reject another son if he was like these three? I threw myself on God's mercy and said "thy will be done."
After a time, we exited happy to have had the opportunity to enjoy so prayerful a reflection, and husband and wife, we discussed what we had put before God in that church. We had not planned to pray, we had not discussed what we might say, yet our prayers were surprisingly similar. Lou however, was aware that her cousin was in a lot of pain. She had lost a child prenatally about 18 months earlier and had been unable to conceive again. Lou is a deeply thoughtful person who naturally puts others before herself. She has been painfully aware of others falling pregnant while she, and her cousin tried. She knew that her cousin's pain was unbearable, never having held the baby she'd carried in her womb. So Lou's prayer was that God would bless us with a child, but that He wouldn't until her cousin did too.
It is often said that the real knowledge of God's existence, of His loving care and action in our lives, only occurs in the context of the particular. The huge, incredible miracles, Fatima, Lourdes, Lanciano, don't touch us in the same way as those tiny interventions in our own lives which, intensely personal as they are, speak to our most intimate prayers.
When we got home we found out almost immediately that Louise was pregnant. Very soon afterwards we found out that her cousin was too! It is hard to explain how this made me feel. If I said "saved" would it seem too strong a term? In any case I felt that my God had stepped into my life once more and lifted me up. I felt that my amazing wife had done something miraculous for me. I felt that my little girl in heaven was dancing on the clouds 'cause she's going to have a baby sister. Yes that's right we are having a daughter, and I am going to experience all that stuff that fathers only learn when they have a little girl; stuff about their wives, their sisters, their mothers. Lou thought she was programmed to have boys and that Ruth was a beautiful blip. All the signs (morning sickness, etc) were for a boy and bearing in mind the prayers of acceptance at Ta' Pinu and the subsequent pregnancy, we had decided that we were having a boy. When the scan lady told us we were having a girl we both just started bawling crying with joy. We had to explain the whole thing to her because I don't think she knew what was going on!
Our miracle is due in July, the month that, three years ago, Ruth died.
We have spent quite some time since we found out trying to work through the connotations of this arrival. Although the baby won't replace Ruth, she will, inevitably, facilitate a great deal of healing: she already has in fact. There is a great deal of unknown territory, because there are lots of things you wouldn't expect that upset us both because they bring back particularly poignant memories, or cause flashbacks (more me than Lou with that one). Sometimes someone will express fatigue with their role as a parent; they want a break (which is perfectly natural) this always leaves Lou distraught as she is enduring a permanent break. Some of the things that Lou has said that I was unaware of are the kind of girly things they used to do together. Having someone to share that stuff with. She also found herself in a situation where her little girl would never have her First Holy Communion, Confirmation, first day at Secondary School, etc. and she longed for these events. I think that being parents again will be a rewarding experience in other ways. We are experienced, we are not as broke as we were when our first son was born. We are more patient and we really know what to expect and what to do. I am melancholy when I wonder, will she look like Ruth? Will she have any of Ruth's character traits? Certainly John, our youngest and Ruth's younger brother does; sometimes he displays the same mannerisms as her or comes out with a saying that is quintessentially Ruth.
However it turns out, I do know that it's all in God's plan and I thank Him for the wonders He has worked for me, and that He has seen fit to trust me to be a parent once again. I thank Him that Lou will have her daughter's First Holy Communion etc. and I pray that this child may go some way to healing the brokenness that is left in my family since Ruth left us.
Ruth in Gozo about to head to Mass:
Tuesday 10th April 2012- Surviving Big Events
I lost my daughter Ruth in 2009. She was seven years old, beautiful, bright, bubbly. She was my princess. I lost control of my car in a summer storm and skidded off a dual carriageway near to where I live. Ruth died immediately as a result of injuries she suffered during the crash. The accident was unimaginably freakish, the result utterly devastating, and will remain utterly devastating for the rest of my life. Every day of it.
Today is the first day back to work after the Easter holidays. Yesterday afternoon my wife and I went for a longish walk with our three sons and our Border Terrier Puppy, Harry, and we talked about how we were coping. I thought it might be worth documenting the aftermath. I don't think I could have done it before now, but I figure it may help some other people who are dealing with bereavement. I also think it will be cathartic in some sense, and maybe allow me to look back at my journey at some point and understand the route a little better.
This post has been prompted by a big weekend holiday (Easter). At times like this, we often take a deep, deep breath, look at each other and say, gratefully,
"Another one we survived."
It really does feel like that, because it is at these times, big holidays, when the family all get together and you are surrounded by all your wonderful nieces and nephews, all your friends and cousins, all smiling and laughing and having a great time, that you really realise with that hit-you-full-in-the-face-with-a-shovel feeling that she is not here. It's not that you don't want there to be any fun. You do, almost desperately you don't want anyone to notice or to pay it any mind. I personally, am so aware of my own total grief encroaching on anyone else's life I cringe at the mention of it. It is just that you cannot help but be aware of her physical absence.
Talking specifically about the grief 'feeling'; it is as if a huge weight has been put on your chest and you cannot draw breath. The grief I have experienced every day since losing my daughter has been like floating in a sea of despair. The possibility of sinking into the depths of that sweet, sweet, all-encapsulating gloom is ever an present temptation. The good days are days when you can focus and complete some simple tasks. Being there for your children, or contributing to a meeting at work. Most of your energy is expended just fighting off the constantly oppressing ceiling of gloom you feel pressing down on you. It's exhausting and you rarely feel like yourself to be honest.
Survival is possible because of God's grace really. A weekend like this last one provides great help in that there is a constant liturgical flow to the holiday. We are together, as a family, and united in our understanding of communion with Ruth. Our love keeps our hopes and dreams of the future alive and active. We also have been blessed with a pregnancy, a new life, a daughter, is growing in my wife's womb and this will, no doubt have an effect on this whole process and this is another angle that I want to document for posterity.