“Those who know the deepest sorrow will know the greatest joy!” The words of this quote came to me on the front of a card which I received a few days after my baby boy was buried. The signature of the sender was unknown; however those eleven words were etched in my memory forever. This act of kindness from a stranger was one of the many graces my Heavenly Father sent my way when my baby left for his Heavenly home, way too soon!
I cherish in my heart all those who have chosen life, a life that was treasured and carried and welcomed, but left way too soon. My husband, Patrick, and I have danced through this valley together on the journey of grief. Some of you may have carried your miracle baby, knowing that your daughter or son would leave for their Heavenly home way too soon. Yet you bravely marched onward with your miracle baby within your womb. You have become a voice for the unborn who cannot speak for themselves.
You understand and treasure all life, not just the life well lived of one who dies at the ripe old age of 80 plus. They have seen their children’s children accomplish great things, and make a difference in this world. My hat is off to the elderly, who pass their wisdom down to the next generation and are willing to lend a hand. A life well lived should be applauded.
No, today I write about another life; a wee life that never had the opportunity to serve the poor like Blessed Mother Teresa, or become a President or write a book like St. Teresa of Avila or formed a generation like Saint Pope John Paul II. Today I applaud a life well lived who traveled a shorter route home to glory. These tiny souls had the “Fast Pass”, the short cut to our Heavenly Father. These little babies we carried in our wombs and loved in our hearts from the very moment we heard the good news, “You’re pregnant!” These are babies that took their moms and dads on the adventure of a lifetime. A trip we never expected, nor anticipated. An adventure so unknown, that we probably would have not bought a ticket for it if we had been given a choice. For whom among us moms would have chosen sadness, suffering and grief over joy and peace?
Not I, I must admit, but life often hides what is ahead for us; a way of blinding us to the way ahead for fear, that if we knew the future, we may not find a reason to get out of bed. Some days, the dark clouds of unexpected trials begin to fill our eyes with tears of sadness and a storm begins in our heart with rain drops that have forgotten how to stop falling. Sometimes these trials cause us to forget even how to let the sunshine in. When the storms of life hit my life, I have learned that I must always have an umbrella of God’s protection handy to keep from being drenched in life’s storms. I like to think that a ministering angel is sent by God to cover my eyes so that I do not look too far ahead. If I do I am afraid that I will be paralyzed with panic and fear. I have found that some Crosses in life seem just too heavy to bear. These Crosses leave a scar on my shoulder that never fades. That is the way it was with the birth of our miracle baby, Zachary Luke John.
Zack came into our lives as a complete surprise. He was our eighth child and our eighth blessing. I do not have to tell you that I was overjoyed! Babies in the womb have a way of making a mommy come alive with expectancy. It is the joy of having a new life that gives us the grace to go through the nausea, the pain, and the mood changes during pregnancy. If I remember correctly, we were not trying to have another child. Babies just seemed to want to join our family. I do know that I could not stop smiling. I should have known that Zachary had implanted residency in my womb when I felt I was going to faint a few weeks. Even though Zachary was my ninth pregnancy, a miracle baby had arrived and I was unaware. Zachary Luke John Mongan would be the baby that would change our family’s lives forever. As with every baby placed in a mother’s womb and carried with a mother’s heart, I loved Zachary before I even met him. This beautiful flower of a child was just a rosebud that would be presented to me as rose stem filled with thorns. I accepted the rose.
Isn’t that the way with love? Whenever we open up our life to love another, we are presented with the beauty of the flower and we hardly notice that the stem has thorns. Beauty and joy, pain and suffering accompany us on the journey of sharing your heart. How many voices would shout out to us, “Don’t accept the rose?” They would point out in discouragement, “Do you not see that this rose carries with it thorns, many thorns?” They mean well I’m sure, but courageously, we all can agree that a mother’s heart is large enough to love no matter how many thorns prick their hearts. I say with confidence that it is the thorns in life that are the treasures. They are often hidden treasures. You see a life well lived and a life willing to love well, has many thorns presented to them. As we look at the beauty of the flower, and take the time to smell the “aroma” of the moment, we hold its beauty forever. We accept the rose, thorns and all. We accept the gift with tears in our eyes and a glorious grief in our hearts. This gift, unknown to me, would sail away way before I was ready to let it go. The “way too soon goodbye” to the gift on loan to me by my Heavenly Father, my baby, my boy, would be remembered forever as a blessing in disguise.
Miracle babies “waltz” into our lives full of surprises, like the last dance that you thought you would have to sit out, but then out of nowhere someone taps you on the shoulder and you are swept off your feet. As your dance partner takes you in his arms, you hold on tight and glide across the floor together. Your heart leaps as you spin so fast that you feel as if your feet have not touched the ground, for the entire song. You pinch yourself to see if it is a dream. But unlike a good surprise like hearing, “You’re pregnant!” filling you with overflowing joy, so you tell the entire world, perhaps twice, a bad surprise replays in your mind over and over again. You do not know how to push the stop button to end the nightmare! You ask yourself almost out loud, “Is this really happening to me?” Too quickly you awake to the reality that it is indeed. This is not a nightmare at all; this is your life!
On the day of Zachary’s birth, I arrived at the hospital and was ready to deliver, but our doctor had not yet arrived at the hospital. A sweet caring nurse delivered our son into the world at 2 lbs. 2 oz., yet full term. We were in shock when these women rose to the occasion and after seeing the condition of our son began to shout in a loud voice, “Call the ER. Small Baby!”
I barely noticed that she was not actually speaking in full sentences. After all, I had just delivered a baby. Let’s face it, I was just glad that the unbearable pains had stopped and my baby had entered the world alive. He was full term and since my last son, my seventh, Sean, was a preemie, I figured all is well with Zach too. I guess you could say “I am not medical,” at this point, which was a good thing! I barely noticed the panic on my husband’s face. I should have wondered why my big hug and congratulation “It’s a boy” kiss was absent. I guess it was because there was a lot going on in the room at that point. My husband, Patrick, a Family Medicine physician, had already put on his doctor hat. His well-trained medical mind was discerning the situation. He knew exactly what was going on. His role as husband and dad, as well as doctor, complicated things as he tried to both comfort and protect me. Putting a pretend smile on his face would normally have fooled me, but his body language of both arms crossed over his chest, revealed that, “All Was Not Well.” The room quickly filled with medical staff and all kinds of medical equipment, as the team tried desperately to save our son's life. Within minutes the decision was made to whisk Zachary Luke John to the NICU to give him immediate care. It was way too soon, for this worried mama who had not even held her newborn son yet. He was suffering from massive birth defects because he had an abnormal chromosome, trisomy-18.
With a mother’s heart and listening to my prayer partner, Judy, who was at my side, I got dressed and rushed to find my baby boy, like a mother lion looking out for her cub. Once I arrived at Zach’s side, I mustered enough strength to call out his name. “Zachary,” I said almost in a whisper. The moment my voice hit his ears, my son, now less than an hour old, turned his wee head to look at his mother. It was a moment of grace and his way of saying, “I love you.” I think that a mother’s heart is made with extra tears for moments like this. Moms seem to have a camera in their minds that instantly and permanently records these moments, moments that happen once in a lifetime. Moms treasure that picture and freeze that picture in the archive of forever! Definitely, no rewind is necessary! It has become my screen saver for when I speak about our precious baby Zachary. I know that my Zachary turned his head because he knew his mother’s voice. It was my moment alone with my baby boy and I will always hold it dear. Not a moment too soon, the doctor brought us our newborn son to have and to hold. Zachary’s short life was coming to an end. By now the room was filled with friends, relatives, our seven children and choirs of angels. We took lots of pictures, but not enough for this weeping woman. Praise filled the room as we gave a sacrifice of praise to our God, singing Happy Birthday to our new born son.
As Zachary was passed from person to person, he seemed to stop a little longer in the arms of a neighbor. God was using Zachary to fill a hole in the neighbor’s heart left there many years before. He was later to share with us that, his firstborn baby left this world way too soon before he could say goodbye. He did not even get a chance to hold his precious wee one. Our miracle baby Zach, standing in proxy for his baby, touched that hurting place in our friend’s heart; through God’s grace healing occurred. Talk about “amazing grace!” Our God, who alone knows how to heal the broken places in our hearts, does His work His way, in His timing, and for His purposes. We are often unaware of the miracle taking place on the inside. I like to say that the greatest miracles are done in the heart. This story touched me deeply. The memory of our neighbor holding my son will always bring joy to my soul, because it will always remind me that Zachary had a mission to fill on this earth. Zachary finally ended up in the arms of his daddy, my husband, Patrick, as we sang the song “Angels watching over me, my Lord.” Then the angels came to our son, our eighth blessing, our baby boy, and carried him from his earthly father’s arms to the arms of his Heavenly Father. The song was finished, Zachary‘s work on earth was finished and his life was finished.
I will never forget the day of Zachary’s birth, and the day of his death. These “two days” became one in the same, when Zachary left our life way too soon! The music stopped and even the words to the song called Zachary’s life, faded to quickly. My dance partner, Patrick, and I sat down, and were certain we would never dance again, or sing or laugh or smile or even go on. Hundreds of people came to Zachary’s funeral, but all my husband and I could see was our baby’s life fading away just like the song in our heart which was playing as our baby breathed his last breath. Time stood still. They say time heals all wounds. This may be true, but for a mom who has lost a child it sometimes seems there will never be enough time. Life some days seems to pass by, minute by minute, one long day after another.
Every woman who has lost a child has a story to tell and a dance to remember. As you and your husband waltzed through the “valley of the shadow of death” together, you may have thought it was your last dance too. You thought that you would never dance again, or sing or laugh or smile or even go on. Your miracle baby has changed your life forever. You may be walking in such a place of grief that you cannot see the “Son-shine.” Your tears will cleanse your soul, so let them flow.
As your baby left this world way too soon, you also took a picture in your mind that you will never forget. The lives of these wee babies count. Yes, they left before you were ready to say goodbye but a portion of them will remain in your heart forever. The short passage of time that they graced our lives with their presence touched a part of us so deep that we cannot put it in words. They fulfilled the Heavenly Father’s purpose for their lives, and in a twinkle of an eye, they were gone. These miracle babies leave a “Glorious Grief” in their parent’s hearts that only those who have lost a baby can understand. “Glorious Grief” resides sometimes in the forefront of our minds where we remember with tears in our eyes. A “Glorious Grief” that sometimes we stuff down so deep that we begin to believe that if we do not let it arise in our memories, we can avoid hurting so much. No matter if our miracle babies were birthed a week ago or a year ago, seven years ago, or twenty years ago, these moments are etched in our memories forever. Our hearts will always hold our babies dear. “They are bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh.” Zachary only lived 2 and a half hours but he touched many lives in his birth, in his life, and in his death. Zachary’s life made a difference. There were over 500 people at Zachary’s funeral. His life counted. Zachary showed Dr. Seuss’ word to be true, “A person is a person, no matter how small.”
“Those who know the greatest sorrow will know the greatest joy.” Take the time to unwrap your present of “Glorious Grief.” It is a gift, I promise you. You too will dance again! Do not hide your gift by being all alone and isolating yourself. People need people. Let others be the arms of Christ to hold you and to help you. If you hide away in isolation, others cannot see your need and bring the compassion necessary to help you begin the healing process. You do not have to pretend that you are brave by stuffing your grief way down with a false smile and trying to get others to believe you are fine.
At times the journey takes you down unknown road. Look for others who have the “GPS” and have gone the way before you. They will help by lighting your path and tell you where the road blocks are along the way. They will know what to say and what to do because they have the road map. Do not be afraid, the Spirit of God will not lead you where the grace of God cannot keep you. Their bleeding heart has taught them to care.
Journal your story if you can. It will be a treasure for you in the days to come. Not only did I journal about our Zachary, writing aided me in the healing process. Everyone is different.
The entire family is grieving, even your other children. Here are some ideas of things to help in the healing process by doing them together as a family:
- Make a memory box for you miracle baby. This you will grow to treasure.
- Celebrate the life of your child on their birthday; we always do. Try to make it a family affair.
- Place a picture of your baby or child in your home. If you had a miscarriage, place a picture of yourself pregnant in your home.
We reflect upon the importance of life, no matter how short it is. Your miracle baby’s life has made a difference. Do not try to forget, strive to remember. This journey caused you to take a different view of life; a view many may miss and are too busy to see. The “GPS” has taken you to a place in your heart where you learned that moments count, that people count. You learned that no one can promise you tomorrow, but with assurance you can treasure today. You learned to “stop, look and listen” because every moment counts. You learned that after the rainstorm there is a rainbow, but you sometimes have to get your “spiritual” binoculars to see it especially if there are “clouds” in your life. I hope you have learned that tears are like rain for your “thirsty” heart; it is ok to cry. A loss tenders you. Everyone grieves differently. It is not a race. Only by the hand of God are wounds of the heart healed. Leave your heart in His hands and let Him do a miracle on the inside. “In God alone place your trust.” Grief is a journey, not a race. There is no finish line. The loss of my baby Zachary has made me be mindful of those people I meet along the way, who also hold in their hearts a “glorious grief” for their miracle baby who left way too soon!
Life has passed two decades since the day we buried our son, Zachary Luke John. As my husband and I took time to heal, people were there for us, to carry us through that difficult time. I still shed a tear or two at unexpected moments, but our life has blossomed into a thing of beauty. My dance partner and I did dance again; now we dance to a different tune. My husband, a Catholic deacon, and I are both in full time ministry. We pour our lives into speaking and writing for the faith. We are there when life hands a rose to a couple and they are not prepared for the thorns. I have received a rose with thorns, but it was not the final rose. I too have been afraid I would not dance again, but dance I did. Now we return the favor. We give them hope and encouragement that they too will dance again.
Take the time to grieve because, before you know it you will be dancing again too. Then return the favor by never being too busy to care to reach out in love and share each other’s burdens. You too will have grown an understanding heart and strong arms to carry those who do not think that they will ever dance again.
In fact I am blessed to be given the opportunity to speak to women who have lost a baby way too soon. “I care and I’ll be there” is my theme song. I will provide a listening ear, a heart of compassion and a word of encouragement. Each Tuesday night I host a show for “Miscarriage Matters” radio. If you have a question, a concern a comment, please call.
As you waltz through the valley together through “Glorious Grief,” hold your partner tight. Never let go. This is when they need their dance partner most. Some days she will be leaning on you because she cannot take another step alone; other days you will have to have her delicate hands hold your strong body erect. This is a dance that only you two can do. Waltz together through “Glorious Grief” to the music that the Holy Spirit will provide, His “amazing grace.” God will bring the music!
Copyright 2015 Ellen Mongan
Photos courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Ellen Mongan, a Catholic writer and speaker, has been married more than 40 years to Deacon Pat Mongan. They have 7 children and 12 grandchildren. Ellen is a host of WOW Radio Podcasts, a religious columnist for the Augusta Chronicle, and has spoken on both radio and television. She is the founder of Sisters in Christ, Little Pink Dress Ministry, and Women-Fests.