On Losing a Child: Ten Years Later

Dear Friends, I want to thank you so much for all of the wonderful and heart-warming comments about our Cecilia Rose (this past Tuesday) and what would’ve been her tenth birthday. For whatever reason, we felt more at peace with her absence than ever before. No matter what, pain and anxiety always come that day, and always will. Such is life.  For the first time since her death, however, I, at least, accepted it, even if I still hated it.

A couple of you expressed how impressed you were at our faith. All credit to Dedra for this. She’s the strong one, and she’s the one who keeps (through God’s grace) our faith as a family at its best.

I’ve spent close to the last ten years being VERY angry with God. My main thought was, how could God give us children ONLY to take them away? As parents, we have one main job: to protect and nurture our children. How can we do that when we’re not even given a chance?

I was on sabbatical when Cecilia Rose passed away, meaning that I spent the following year working alone  (and very lonely is the writing process, even if a gift) on my biography of Charles Carroll. During writing breaks, I would walk over the Cecilia Rose’s grave (she’s buried across the street from our house), lay down across it, and just scream at God. Streams of words that really even cross my mind flowed from my rage.  Yes, I’m sure I’d gone a little crazy.

In addition to some of the best friends a man could ever desire (and more than one deserves) helping me, I also turned to The Lord of the Rings, to T.S. Eliot, to St. John, and to Marillion (a band) for comfort and calming.  How many times did Sam looking up at the white star or the chapel at dusk save my life and soul?  Too many to count.

Throughout that year, Dedra kept her strength. I have no idea if the Scotch-Irish McDonald (Dedra’s maiden name) side, or what, gives this her strength, but she became fully Dedra that year after Cecilia’s passing, and I became much less Brad. I’ve never experienced such depression in my life as I did that year.  I always go on daily walks, and during that year, I would dream of just falling into the cracks between the blocks of sidewalk concrete, disappearing into nothingness.  It wasn’t scary to think about falling in, just final.  That’s how bad the pain was.  There was one night, after a Saturday evening Mass, in March, 2008, that I sat in my car for a very long time, trying to decide why life mattered.  I had the presence of mind to call a close friend—who immediately met me in the parking lot and hung out with me until we’d gotten that out of my system.  I won’t name him here, but he’s well known to everyone at Hillsdale, and I consider him one of the finest and most charitable persons God ever created it.  I don’t deserve his friendship, but I have it.  That March of 2008 was the worst, for whatever reason, and it never quite got that bad again.

When I see posts on Facebook or elsewhere blatantly expressing no sympathy for those who commit suicide, I am thrilled that that person has no clue what such depression really feels like.  Be glad you’ve not experienced that.  And, I know what the Church teaches about suicide.  Honestly, though, I also can’t imagine God not feeling anything but absolute pity for the suicide.  There is no greater moment of absence from God than that moment.  Don’t ever commit suicide, of course, but do, please, rethink your position on those who do.

This summer, Gretchen (age sixteen and every bit as strong as her mother) and I were hiking along Redhill Ridge in Colorado. We were talking about faith, and she suddenly asked me: “Dad, don’t you think ten years of anger with God is more than enough?” Out of the mouth of sixteen year olds. . . .

I have to add one very important, critical, and personal note. When Cecilia Rose was born (already dead; she had strangled on her umbilical cord, two days after coming to full term.  Had we induced on her due date, we would still have her with us.  Anyway, the morning after the delivery, Gretchen (already quite mature) ran into my room and asked if we’d had a boy or a girl. I had to tell her that Cecilia had passed away. If the loss of Cecilia was the worst moment of my life, having to tell Gretchen this was the second worst of my life.

So, Gretchen knows about my anger, and she’s kept quiet about it for 10 years. Now, a young woman, she called me on it. Her questioning me was one of those profound moments in my life–a wake up call to all that is good, true, and beautiful.  “Dad, don’t you think ten years of anger at God is more than enough?”

Yes, I had to admit (and came almost immediately to believe), 10 years is more than long enough to be mad at God.

If you’ve made it this far in this post, thank you. Regardless, thank you, \ thank Dedra, thank Gretchen, and thank God. Life truly is precious beyond description.

And, once again, thank you for so many kind notes on Tuesday.  August 8 will always be a horrible day, but I’ve come to realize it’s not “a hell of a day,” but “a heaven of one.”


5 Comments on “On Losing a Child: Ten Years Later

  1. Brad,

    God bless your family on Earth and in Heaven. I can’t wait to see the joy you share with Cecilia when you are united in Heaven with her. I’m sure our Lord and our Blessed Mother share your anticipation for that time as well! ( I know theologically I shouldn’t describe this in terms of time as we understand it.). But in you, molded by our Lord in union with His pains and sufferings, Cecilia will meet the best dad for whom she could ever had hoped.

    God bless.

  2. Brad,
    Thank you for articulating so much of what I’ve felt over the past 21 months since my son died. I have lain on his grave and wished I could be underneath the ground with him. I have wished to be taken, even though I have other children and a loving husband. The hardest part of grief for me has been the loneliness. If you’ve never lost a child there is no way to understand the agony and despair, so even when you’re with others, you feel alone. There is also depression, anxiety, and loss of any sense of security. If the worst nightmare possible can happen, then what else can happen? I have questioned God; I’ve never been angry with Him, just at a loss to understand why He would allow one of my most precious treasures to be taken from me. The only conclusion I can come to is He spared my son from something worse. God’s plan for me must include knowing this pain.

    • Dear Maya, first I am so sorry that I didn’t check my comments until this morning. Your excellent post deserved recognition weeks ago. Please know that you are in my prayers. I think, for what it’s worth, that your own understanding of God preventing him for worse, is right on. I’d never considered that for our Cecilia Rose, and, now that I read this from you, it makes perfect sense. Thank you.

  3. Very touching. What you said about suicide is true.

    Be thankful your daughter wasn’t four and burned to death. That’s what my parents went through.

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