by Cathy Deeds
June 11, 1999
The sudden or unexpected death of a newborn child is one of life's great mysteries. We immediately question: Why did God allow this to happen to a sweet innocent child? Why didn't He "answer" our prayers for healing? But often our expectation of healing is limited to the physical. We can fail to recognize God's broader plan to bring us closer to Himself, and to heal hearts and souls even through the illness and loss of a loved one.
Also, we must remember that God creates each person for a special and unique destiny on earth and gives each of us as much time as we need to fulfill that destiny. I was profoundly reminded of this when my friend, Ann Marie, recently told me about the loss of her little niece, Emily, just ten days after her birth.
Her parents, Natalie and Matt, happily prepared for the birth of their second child. The pregnancy progressed normally and Emily was born apparently healthy on May 12. When she was just two days old, though, Emily was taken to Johns Hopkins hospital. Something was seriously wrong. Her parents had her baptized to give her strength. Emily's condition then seemed to improve and eventually took a negative turn. The finest doctors at one of the nation's finest hospitals could not identify the problem.
As Emily's time shortened, her parents called their family members to the hospital to give her kisses and to say goodbye. That evening, Matt prayed in thanksgiving for the gift of Emily and expressed the hope that her life would make a difference for other children who might suffer in a similar way. There was no blaming God, only surrender and faith.
During their last evening together, Emily squeezed her parent's hands and opened her eyes, something she had not done since arriving at the hospital. Her parents read to her all night from Bible passages and children's books and told her stories about her family. They told her about God, Heaven, and angels and told her over and over that they loved her and that it was okay to go to Heaven. Emily opened her eyes one last time and died peacefully in their arms.
In a moving homily at the funeral Mass, Rev. Richard J. Bozzelli spoke of Emily as a special messenger of God's love: "God's angels are really messengers," Father explained. "The Bible tells us that angels are the only ones who get to look upon the face of God. And the angel's share with God His deepest thoughts, His greatest care, and His love for all of us. God sends His angels to deliver His important messages to us. In her ten short days on earth, Emily has delivered the most magnificent message that God has for all of us. And, while our hearts might be breaking, there is still love, so much love around us and being shared among us. Only God can make hearts that can break and love at the same time. Only God can allow us to find strength in weakness, gain in loss, life in death. We learn that today because of God's little messenger, God's little angel, Emily, who came to teach us of that love."
Knowing that Emily was going to die so soon after her birth, some in our society would say it would have been better had she never been born or, perhaps, better had she been aborted, in order to alleviate her "pain and suffering." But those whose lives' Emily touched, both directly and indirectly, know differently. Natalie expressed these feelings at the funeral: "As we were leaving the hospital, I realized how lucky we were as parents, that Matt and I made Emily together, brought her into the world together and let her go to Heaven together . . .. I would say to each of you please do not be sad. Today is a day to celebrate, to celebrate the life and miracles of our little Emily."
Catherine Deeds is a public policy analyst in the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.