If you had asked me as a teenager what my life would be like in thirty years, I can guarantee you what the reality is versus what I thought it would be then, the two would be so different you would wonder if I was on the planet earth. I knew I wanted to be married. I knew I wanted to be a mother. Heck, I even knew I wanted to be a stay-at-home mother like my own mother was. My kids would have gone to Catholic school like I did and life would have been a series of PTA meetings and sports events, followed by church and family.
I had it all figured out. Then life happened and before I knew it, I was married and a mother of two. One had a genius IQ and kept things very close to his heart and the other seized everyday and could not see, walk or talk. I spent my days changing adult diapers and blending food for my daughter G-tube, all while encouraging my son to go out and conquer the world, even when he was terrified to open the front door.
My marriage had been through the wringer but had withstood all the crap the deceiver threw at it. Jerry and I had rebuilt our relationship from the ground up time and time again. We were both broken and deeply flawed people but with God at the center of our marriage, we both felt safe and loved. The trust runs deep and I would not know how to breathe without him.
Jerry loved our daughter fiercely. Courtney was Daddy’s princess, his favorite couch buddy and the light to his days. When he would arrive home at the end of the work day, he would put down his briefcase and go right to Courtney. There would be kisses and giggles and they both delighted in it.
He was her first boyfriend and her last. Courtney would look toward her Daddy and when he read to her, the smile would stretch from here to Texas. The only other person she ever did this for was her big brother Jonathan. The two men who loved her most, wept the hardest when God brought her home to him.
The night Courtney died is a very precious memory to me. It is a moment in time that is burned into my memory forever. When she took her last breath she was smiling. She knew that when she opened her eyes, Jesus, her beloved, would be standing there arms stretched out waiting to embrace her. She was ready to go home.
When the funeral home arrived to take possession of her body, my husband gently carried her to the gurney and laid her out with such care. He was so very gentle and loving, tears pouring down his face the whole time. I was taken back in time to the day our Courtney was born. Jerry held her the same way then, so careful as if she would break. His precious daughter, the jewel of his life, was now home with God.
We held one another that night. We wept the hard weeping that racks the body creating a deep ache within our muscles. Jonathan wept with us, all of us together and confused with what to do next. Who were we without our Courtney? What would our family be like without our sunshine? How did we move forward when we were missing a member of the team?
So many questions. So many tears.
I was awoken the next morning when I heard a sort of gasping in the baby monitor next to my bed. We had not turned off any of Courtney’s monitors. It just never crossed our minds to do so. The reality of life without her was like a cold bucket of water tossed into my sleeping face. It left me heart sick and scared. I listened for a minute or two more before realizing that Jerry was not in bed with me.
I raced down stairs to find Jerry standing next to Courtney’s empty bed with her morning meds in his hands. He looked at me and the tears rained down hard like hail. I held him as he wept “I came down to give her her meds and she’s gone Mar. She’s gone.” I held him and did not let go as his body racked with grief.
We walked through the next few days in a fog. We had prepared as best we could knowing that her time was short but still. Knowing your child is going to die and actually living through it are two very different things.
As I sat with my daughters coffin waiting for the funeral Mass to begin, my mind went to Our Lady of Sorrows. I was sitting right next to the Pieta that is in the side chapel at our parish. I studied her face, so much anguish and sadness, yet he hand still reaching out as if to ask the world to join in her grief. On that day, in that moment, I was right there with her.
To lose your child is to permanently lose a piece of your heart. Life will never be the same. It’s not something you ever get over, you just learn to rebuild your life without them. I have leaned into Our Lady’s arms every single day since Courtney died, seeking solace and comfort from the grief. There are days my feet are firmly planted here, this side of heaven and there are days that all I want is to be with her, holding her once more in my arms.
I ask the Blessed Mother to hug my girl for me. I ask her to whisper love into her ears. I ask her to cheer her on as she runs free and wild, as she was meant to. My sweet Mother whispers into my heart every time that Courtney is well and knows nothing but love, just like when she was with us here. She knew nothing but love, She could show nothing but love. The blessing of being her parents still bears fruit to this day.
I pray it always will. To lose a child requires a fortitude of spirit that I did not know I was capable of. It requires a perseverance in prayer and a trust in the Almighty’s plan that goes deeper that I thought possible. It requires me and my husband to rebuild our family’s life all while honoring the one who has gone home before us.
No. I never imagined it turning out this way. But I also can’t imagine it happening any other way. We learned. We loved and now we wait to be reunited with our daughter.
Pray with me won’t you;
Dear Mother Mary,
You wept when your son died. I wept when my daughter died. Death exists because we live in a fallen world. But you know the truth. You walked with me as I wept for my daughter and laid her body in the ground. You showed me how to grieve with grace and still live and helped me find joy once more. You showed me how to trust in God’s plan even when I cannot understand any of it, even when I don’t want any part of it. You showed me how to walk through the minefield of emotions that comes with death. Stay close my dear Mother. Life goes on without my sweet daughter. God still has plans for me and a job for me to accomplish. Please be with me as I continue to seek joy and to love with my whole self as you have shown me to.
We ask this in the name of your son Jesus,