Sarah was stillborn on Tuesday. Her heart simply stopped. That certain finality almost causes our own hearts to cease beating like her tiny one: inexplicable, irreversible heartbreak for her parents, Liz and Ray, and her grandparents, my good friend Jim and his beloved wife, Margaret, parents of Liz. Sarah will never sit in their laps to be sung to sleep or read “Cat in the Hat” or draw with crayons on the kitchen table. There will be no first steps, no elementary school flute concerts, no graduations, and no walk down the aisle or Sarah’s children. Her life cut short before she drew breath. When she emerged twenty three hours after her heartbeat was last detected, her silent, little body was perfect in every way with her father’s eyes; her mother’s nose and mouth and auburn hair. Her parents and grandparents hugged her, kissed her, held her for a long time and wept over her.
The nurses, midwives and doctors at the Birthing Center of Georgetown University Hospital did whatever could be done, were extraordinarily supportive and grieved with the family for what they could not explain. Melanie and Sarah, two of the nurses, brought an outfit they picked out for Sarah. She will be laid to rest in a Catholic cemetery in an area reserved for babies. On May 12th, there will be a memorial Mass at St. Ann Catholic Church in Washington, DC presided over by Monsignor Mosley, Ray and Liz’s pastor. A second Mass is being planned in Jim and Margaret’s parish in Roswell, Georgia presided over by Father Peter Rau. These good priests and Father Henry, who married Ray and Liz, help console the family and lovingly minister to their deep faith.
With that faith, there is this:
Pre born babies have already experienced much. Sarah surely recognized familiar voices and responded to them, especially her mother’s and father’s. She felt the loving strokes of her mother’s hands through the safe enclosure of her womb. Sarah reacted and bounced when Liz laughed. She heard and responded to music. She knew joy. She knew love. She never knew cold or hunger or fear or loneliness, and now never will. Sarah knew there was wonder and mystery outside her secure, warm world. She now knows far greater wonder, wisdom and mystery than her family has yet to experience. Her joy and love are now eternal.
Margaret wrote to her friends and family, “She is now in heaven, a Holy Innocent, powerfully interceding for her family. We look forward to seeing her again one day, but in the meantime she will remain in our hearts and minds. It is comforting to know that she is where we all long to be, and that she will never suffer the hardships of this earthly world.”
John Donne wrote, “He that asks me what Heaven is, means not to hear me, but to silence; he knows I cannot tell him: when I meet him there, I shall be able to tell him, and then he will be able to tell me.” Unity with the Creator is far beyond our limited faculties to comprehend or attempt to explain, yet our faith draws us there to “our own far off country”.
Saint Augustine tells us in “City of God” that “There we shall rest and we shall see; we shall see and we shall love, we shall love and we shall praise. Behold what shall be in the end and shall not end.” C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory likens us, who still engage in this vale of tears, to a schoolboy striving through hard study to learn the sublime, “Those who have attained everlasting life in the vision of God doubtless know it is no mere bribe, but the very consummation of earthly discipleship; but we who have not yet attained it cannot know this… Poetry replaces grammar, gospel replaces law, longing transforms obedience, as gradually as the tide lifts a grounded boat.”
Sarah now knows, truly knows, what we long for: entirely, effortlessly, within her soul. The hope of us left behind is that at some joyful, future celebration we will see her perfect and complete. All guilt, recriminations, self doubt, second guessing will only impede our journey and cause us harm, and in the end slough off.
A close friend once confided to me that his personal belief is that a loving God takes each soul home at the most opportune moment for each person, the moment best suited for our own salvation. For some that means a long, tough climb. All of us will come to that moment, of that there is no doubt. “Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.” Psalm 90. Even eighty years is a blink of man’s history, and not even that when measured against eternity. Our time will come.
The name “Sarah” derives from the Hebrew, meaning “Princess”. This young Sarah is already royalty. The time of her homecoming was early on, but her outcome is certain.
Sarah, pray for us.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God. Matthew 5: 4,8