Recently I was at a park with some of my grandchildren. A woman arrived with a couple of her grandchildren. We started talking. At one point, she revealed that she lost a grandson to heart disease when he was only seven. Needless to say, I was stunned.
As we talked further I discovered that she turned her grief into positive action through starting a charity to raise funds for research, education and to offer support to families of children with heart disease or who have lost children to it. This is a wonderful example of turning a negative into a positive — a terrible tragedy into something good.
Her grief was recently compounded when she lost an adult daughter (to what I do not know), but Grandma is now raising her daughter's children.
Upon learning this, I simply did not know how to respond and simply said, "I'm so sorry. I don't know how to comfort you."
She looked stoically out at the playground and replied, "That's okay, there's nothing you can do." We chatted a bit longer before she called her grandchildren. It was time for supper.
The thought of losing a child is such a deep-seated fear for me; it is far worse than personally facing a serious degenerative disease. I am reminded of King David's words when his infant son died: "I shall go to him, but he will not return to me" (2 Samuel 12.23).
In this passage of Scripture, Christian parents of infants who die can find a modicum of comfort to know they will be reunited with their babies after death.
We know that God loves children. Jesus said, "Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it."
Then he embraced the children and blessed them, placing his hands on them (Mark 10.14-15).
If the kingdom of God belongs to children and those with child-like faith, then grieving parents and grandparents can take solace knowing their babies rest in the loving care of Christ beyond the grasp of pain or sorrow.
A few days after meeting the woman at the park, I was at Mass (July 10). The Second Reading contained a verse that has often comforted me.
"I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory about to be revealed to us" (Romans 8.18).
The reading went on to say that "creation itself will be set free from its bondage of decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God." Although we groan, we await the redemption of our bodies.
St. John said that those who receive Christ and believe in his name are given the right to become children of God. We are told elsewhere that through faith and Baptism in Christ, we are all children of God.
There are no distinctions: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3.26-28). The free gift of salvation is open to all.
To grieving parents and grandparents, we can say with confidence that our hope is not futile. Christ has conquered death. He is the resurrection. He said that even though a person dies, he will live. Our souls live with him in paradise before the resurrection; we who die in Christ will yet be united with our glorified bodies at the resurrection.
The Church teaches unequivocally that at death the soul is separated from the body. The soul goes to meet God while the human body decays. At the resurrection, God "will grant incorruptible life to our bodies by reuniting them with our souls, through the power of Jesus' resurrection" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 997).
This is not wishful thinking. It cuts to the heart of Christian faith and we proclaim our belief in the physical resurrection of the body each time we say the Creed. If it is not true, then Christ did not rise from the dead either and our faith is futile. But it is true.
Read 1 Corinthians 15, and the Catechism, 992-1001. What a blessed hope this is for those who live and die in Christ! Present sorrows at the loss of loved ones will turn to joy. There will be no more sorrow or death.