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Theoni Bell shares a moment of consolation she experienced at a retreat during a time of intense grief.

In 2020, I delivered my sweet baby girl stillborn and almost died from complications. In the following weeks, I lived in a haze, in shock and unable to even start grieving yet. Yet it was a time of immense love and blessings. Friends and strangers held us up in prayer and with memorials and meals for my family. We raised more than $5,000 for the funeral. We were welcomed into a "club" of families who have lost children that, though it has a huge membership, we never knew existed.    

The day after the funeral, when I knew that the only part of my baby that I could touch was in the ground forever, was the darkest day of grief yet. It felt as if my daughter had died all over again. A few weeks after the funeral, I went to a retreat at my parish. We were under a tent outside. A wooden altar had been erected there when Covid started, so Masses wouldn't have to be cancelled. Jesus was exposed in the Blessed Sacrament, and the incense gently swirled on a breeze.    

I was meditating on a book called Praying with Our Lady of Sorrows: Meditations for Grieving Mothers by Eileen Tully, a mother who lost twins. I felt Our Lady had a hand on my shoulder, helping me face the grief. In that beautiful stillness, I began to break. So I prayed harder and held back my tears. Then a baby started to cry a few seats away. I wanted to snuggle and comfort him. The sorrow was crushing me. I wanted so badly to go weep in the front of the church alone at a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe, but I felt bad leaving Jesus exposed on the altar.  




Behind the altar hung a tapestry of Our Lady of the Angels by William-Adolphe Bouguereau. In it, Our Lady presents the Child Jesus to the world, surrounded by angels. I begged for solace and then glanced up at Our Lady. In an instant, I was struck! All at once, the image was alive, and Our Lady was holding my Sloane and floating toward me. She was holding Sloane with outstretched arms, and some deep part of me heard the words, "Look I have her. It was I who gathered her up."  

I was immediately comforted. I felt permission from Christ to go weep at Mary’s statue. Later, when I was interviewed by Christine Rossi on the radio show A Light in the World, she told me, "Where Jesus is, Our Lady cannot fail to be. They are always together." Never again have I felt guilty yearning to go to Our Lady. 

The only way I can make sense of what I saw is to recall Our Lady of the Smile. This is the title for Our Lady in a mystical experience St. Thérèse of Lisieux had. When Therese was young, she fell unexplainably ill. She hadn’t been able to leave her bed for almost two months, so a statue of Our Lady was placed at her bedside. One day, she turned toward the statue to pray and saw Our Lady smile. This cured her!  

In my own moment of grace, God also chose to send Our Lady, and my heart began to heal. 


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20240403 Theoni Bell 1Copyright 2024 Theoni Bell

Images: William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

About the author:

Theoni Bell is the author of The Woman in the Trees: a novel based on America's first Marian apparition (TAN Books). She wrote Jellybean: A Baby's Journey to God (Holy Heroes) with her husband, Bastian, after their daughter was stillborn. Theoni homeschools her three children and teaches literature to 5th graders. You can find her at TheoniBell.com.