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God, Death and Faith

 

Grief and Hope

Kyle Cupp has a heartrending piece up at The Daily Beast in which he discusses the death of his daughter and his subsequent loss of faith:

 

In the months following the death of our newborn daughter, I had remained steadfast in my faith, devout and prayerful. I had not for years imagined God primarily as a figure of power, like some cosmic orchestrator of all that is, so I did not feel inclined to blame God for our loss and our sorrow. I didn’t have an answer for it, but I didn’t look to God for an answer. I didn’t expect such a response. I let God be.

As time passed, however, my faith weakened. I lost the feeling of God’s presence and the impetus to pray, and perhaps as a consequence, the ideas I had of God began to make less and less sense to me. I lost clarity of what I believed, finally confessing to my wife late one evening that I couldn’t honestly say whether or not I still believed in God. This was not a confession that brought us peace. A cloud of unknowing separated me from the words of the creed I recited at Mass, and on that evening, sitting close to the love of my life, staring into her misty eyes, I feared that it would separate me from her as well. 

To make matters worse, I had no answers to give her. I couldn’t explain my lapse. I couldn’t point to any decisive event, something that had pushed me off the precipice. Instead, as we reflected back on the previous months and years, I felt as though once solid ground had changed into the wisps of a cloud without my having noticed, and only now did I realize that I was falling. If my broken heart was to blame, it has taken its bitter time, acting stealthily.

I hadn’t fallen into unbelief or atheism, exactly, but more of an agnosticism or skepticism about what I believed and whether I believed. I could no longer say what my faith, such as it was, meant in my life. I no longer had a sure sense of how the Christian story was true. I couldn’t answer where its myths ended and reality began. Occasionally I shot a few words of prayer in what I hoped was the direction of an unseen God, but I struggled and doubted even these simple practices of my faith. Neither Paul nor Kierkegaard were kidding when they wrote of fear and trembling.

Go here to read the rest.  Only someone who has lost a child can comprehend what a soulrending experience it is.  As a sad member of that club I can understand anyone doubting anything after going through that abyss of grief.  However, like most things in life, such grief impacts people in different ways.  For me, my faith was how I made sense of that tragedy when my son Larry died last year.  I took as my theme during those horrible days the words written in Job:  “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” 

My attitude towards God going into the tragedy differed from that of Kyle, and perhaps that helps explain how we responded differently.  To me God’s name “I AM” says it all.  All of creation exists only because God wills it to be so for His purposes, and these purposes are usually inscrutable to Man.  For His purposes he chose to bring into existence my son, and for His purposes He determined his span of life and took him from the World at a time of His choosing on Pentecost Sunday last year.

Kyle says that he does not feel the presence of God and that has not been my experience.  During my son’s funeral mass I suddenly felt an inexplicable wave of peace and joy pass over me, and I knew that Larry was giving me some minute particle of the peace and joy that he was now experiencing in the Beatific Vision.

My grief for my son is still vast, if not the searing flame that I experienced in the months immediately following his death, but I have no doubt that Larry lived for a purpose and died for a purpose, all by the will of God, and I am content.  My prayers for Kyle on his trek through this Vale of Tears without such a belief.

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

6 Comments

  1. It is easy to point to Job 38:1 through 40:2 when I have not (yet) lost a dear loved one. It is hard when the tears obscure the vision and the weight of the Cross bears heavily on the back.

    I have not (yet) lost; however, my 12 step sponsor used to point out to me, “Paul, ‘yet’ means ‘You’re Eligible Too.'”

    Maybe all we can do is hope that God in spite of our unworthiness will be merciful enough to reunite us with our dearly beloved ones who have passed on before us.

  2. My own experience with the death of a child is somewhat different. My wife has miscarried three times. Each was early in pregnancy. Only the last miscarriage provided us the opportunity to bury our baby.

    Did not Mother Teresa write in her memoirs how she did not feel the presence of God in her daily life and how it hurt her? Did not St. Teresa of Avila not write much the same thing?

    The idea/notion/fact that God can and does withhold his presence is highlighted in The Screwtape Letters.

    Perseverance is part of the Christian life. Only Jesus was perfect. Only Mary was protected from sin by the grace of the Holy Spirit. The rest of us who reach an age of reason do sin. Often, repeatedly.

    We all lose things and people that are dear to us throughout life. I was nine when my best friend, a girl my own age who lived across the street from me from the time I was two, moved away. I saw her one more time and then never again. I lost my beloved German Shepherd when I was 11 – a dog I had from the time I was six months old.

    From 1990 to 1995, I lost a grandfather, an uncle, my dad, and a grandmother. also, good friends of ours lost a daughter in a car accident in 1995. Most young adults – 20s to early 30s – do not realize that death is going to kick you in the rear end, over and over, before it is your time to go. I knew this when I was 31.

    I never blamed God for any of it. We are all born to die. The only thing remotely fair in life is death, and when it comes is something we do not get to decide.

  3. “Silently and sacredly, Vivian lives in our love.”

    ………….and in the perfect Love and Presence of our God.

    My heart goes out to Kyle and his wife.
    I lost a little sister aged two years, when I was ten years old, in 1953. It was a very sad occasion as I recall, but at that age I was too young to fully comprehend, and we used to comfort our selves in that youthful simplicity that she is now a little angel. Mum appeared to get over it after a while, and mum and dad increased our family with another brother and two sisters. But she told me , many years later, that for many years she would weep silently at night grieving for her lost daughter. About 1975 she went to a Catholic Women’s Convention, and there met this priest Fr. Tom Williams – who was later to become Cardinal . He told her that he could “see”- or sense – a type of darkness clouding her spirit – I think they are the words she told me. She told him of her continuing grief for her daughter, and he prayed over her. I recall mum becoming very emotional as she told me how she felt this dark cloud lift away from her, and she felt a totally serene peace and joy come over her. From that day on, she was always a cheerful, positive and happy woman, till the time of her death four years ago at 91.

    My older brother had a serous accident in his truck when working in Saudi Arabia back in 1979. The truck had rolled in some soft sand, and was carrying a large crane. the crane fell on the cab and crushed it, and partly crushed Bruce’s hand and pinned him in the truck for many hours till help came. He said our little sister Lynda came to help him and keep him awake and positive during his ordeal. From that day on, he had a particular devotion to out own little saint.
    I pray that Kyle and his wife will look on their little girl as their own saint, given to them by God for only such a brief time before He called her back to Him. They have their own little saint there in the complete joy and peace of the presence of God and His angels and saints, and interceding for them.

    “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.”

  4. I haven’t read much of Kyle’s writings, but this is the first time I recall him considering the current state of his faith as troublesome. He’s been writing for years about doubt as if it’s, if not a virtue, then at least a viable expression of Catholic faith. Reading this article, I think he may be coming to the idea that he was deluding himself. I’ve been critical of his writings as misrepresenting orthodox thought.

    I will continue to pray for him, and for his family as well.

  5. In 2006, I received a phone call that my daughter, then 17, had been critically injured in a vehicle accident as a passenger with a group of students visiting Los Angeles. She actually was ejected from the van she was riding in, and yet, miraculously, on the Ventura Freeway at Lankershim, during a weekday, all the traffic managed to screech to a stop and she was protected, sheltered and removed to Cedar Sinai emergency care.
    For days, she hovered between life and death, with several disheartening setbacks. At one point she appeared to have recovered and was discharged into my step-daughter’s care: when suddenly without any warning, her spleen ruptured. She collapsed on the bathroom floor with a clunk. Fortunately Nicole, my step-daughter, being an RN, diagnosed it immediately, took emergency action, phoned the nearby hospital where she worked and got her on the operating table, somehow within 15-30 min; at that point, appeared to have saved her life again, but it was still ‘beyond critical’, were that possible to be so.
    During this latter phase, I finally came to an understanding with God and also the Blessed Virgin, of whom I have had a childhood devotion to Our Lady of Mt Carmel: “I understand, God Our Lord, and Our Lady, that many parents I see on the night news, disconsolately weeping, having lost their child prayed that this cup would pass. Who am I to ‘demand’ that my daughter should not be one of these?So be it: ‘Sweet Mother, I place this cause in your hands..” (excerpt, from OL Carmel traditional prayer). I made the best resolve of my intention that I accepted this outcome, as that appeared to God’s permitted outcome, for His mysterious reasons. Of course, I continued night and day praying the St Louis de Monfort prayer (“Little Crown of the BV”), but I had accepted she was going to pass, that I had had 17 wonderful years with her, and now I needed to pray for her soul before her meeting with Christ.
    Mysteriously, the next day, a certainty I can say I have never experienced before or since came into my mind that she would in fact recover and live. I had no doubt at all. She did in fact, by inches each day, recover. Also in fact, the ER doc who saved her the second time was amazed too: when she had recovered, he gave the credit to Nicole and her alacritous action, “You know,” he told my daughter, “another 15 minutes and I wouldnt have been able to help you.
    She has however, since, made a “full” recovery (although living without her spleen involves certain precautions) and has had her first child, now living with her husband in Belgium. I also knew that Our Lady told me this was a singular favor granted to me and to her: “Now DO SOMETHING WITH IT.”
    As we all know, I can only observe also that the loss of a child is a parent’s worst experience; I DO feel pain that I cannot express for those, like Don McC., who had to drink the full cup. I do think that I know what Kyle Cupp has gone through and is going through: “how can a good God, etc.” For some of us, the bitterness is seemingly with a depth beyond measure. But this bitterness cannot “end in death” but has to be for the ineffable glory of God (Jn 11:4). and as for us, we two were very “graced”: now I pray we can make something of it.

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