This past Friday I attended a memorial Mass for my college roommate’s nine year old son, who lost his courageous battle with cancer earlier in the week. I suppose there is no more faith-shaking event than the loss of a child. I thought the priest did an exceptionally good job of speaking words of comfort to the mourners without trying to offer any theological explanation. I was especially touched by the idea that our children are on loan from God. I’ve probably heard that expression a hundred times; I’m guessing that the cynic in me rolled my eyes or let the words roll right off of me. But sitting in the presence of a family that had lost this precious gift, while thinking about my own dear children at home with their father, I nodded my head like a true believer.
The priest spoke of the child’s baptism. He explained that from that moment the child had belonged to Jesus. Now he had gone to join Jesus. This theme of returning to Christ was reiterated a number of times during the funeral. I’m not sure whether these words were of comfort to the mother, my former roommate. While the children have been raised staunchly within the Catholic church, I know almost nothing about her personal faith, even before it was challenged by this horrible loss. But I found myself wondering a lot during the ceremony about how the Jewish father (also a close friend of mine) and his parents might have been feeling. My instinct, as a Jew, was that it would have been excrutiating to have this particular rite of passage being conducted in a tradition other than your own, to hear words that couldn’t possibly be comforting. But really, what do I know? When your entire world has been ripped out from under you, does it matter one iota what the clergy says? Would sitting shiva, and hearing mourners kaddish really have made a difference to someone who has lost a child, particularly someone who seemed truly comfortable marrying and raising children in the Catholic church?
Believe me, I know that how my friends manage this loss is absolutely none of my business. But, I left thinking a lot about my own hubris. I’ve always attributed much of the success of my interfaith marriage to the fact that Keith and I discussed religion so thoroughly before we wed, making sure we were in agreement about all the major decisions we would face. But of course, we never discussed how we would, God forbid, bury a child. And I was reminded that there are sure to be challenges, other challenges, that will arise that I have not yet anticipated, and could in no way plan for. No one truly knows how their relationship to religion and faith will evolve, and no one can be prepared for all that life throws us. I can only hope that my husband and I have a strong enough relationship to accommodate each other should our spiritual selves evolve in ways we might not have imagined eight years ago.
In honor of my friends’ son’s blessed memory, please consider a donation to St. Baldricks
, a wonderful organization supporting childhood cancer research. And hug and kiss your kids a few extra times. We are so very blessed.