US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Lost and found

By Catherine O'Connell-Cahill | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
Death and life often travel hand in hand on the Christian journey.

Brother's son and his wife just had their first baby, a little boy. His name is Colin David, David being my brother, who died of cancer when his son was only 3 years old.

Two years ago these two young people were almost killed in a car accident when another driver crossed the center line on a two-lane road. The wife's dad, who was driving, didn't make it. My nephew and his wife endured months in the hospital and in rehab; they will live with the physical and emotional effects of that accident for the rest of their lives.

So this baby boy is indeed a blessing.

I called my nephew on Christmas, little more than a week after the baby's birth. He told me he and his wife had bought each other a few presents, "But, you know, with the baby, we really don't need anything else."

In this story are echoes of the sacred stories we Christians read aloud to one another during Holy Week: stories of suffering, death, and new life, and of love that triumphs over death.

Sometimes these echoes in our lives are dramatic, but often not. The everyday test for us lies in recognizing this pattern of dying and rising to new life as it happens over and over in family life. You have to die to your old life when you welcome children, when your bright 10-year-old turns into a moody, "don't touch me" 11-year-old, when your kids leave your home for their own lives.

I look back, not exactly fondly, on the year my son was 4. He had been pretty much a delight until then, but at 4 my son fought with me all day long, refusing to cooperate on the simplest of activities. Angry, he called me "poo-poo head." At bedtime he'd say sweetly to my husband, "I love you, Dada " turn to me and say, "I kind of like you."

I found relief, finally, in a book which, along with strategies, offered this message: Don't worry. Every parent of a 4-year-old secretly fears they are raising a juvenile delinquent. I emerged from my fog of discouragement a little wiser, having learned that I would survive having a child who didn't always like me. And when my strong-willed pistol of a daughter came along a few years later, I had fewer illusions a good thing, too.

A friend tells of his parents relocating just in time for his senior year of high school. His mom reassured him that it would all work out, but he told her bluntly no, it wouldn't. "I won't forget the look on her face, how bad she felt that all this was happening," he writes, "how much it hurt her to see me in pain. I ended up living with another family the next year so I could finish at my high school, which I know was a huge sacrifice for my mother, who basically missed my senior year."

Living with the other family taught him to see his own more clearly. "I learned a lot about just how much my parents cared about me," he writes, "even letting me follow my own desire to stay at my old school rather than live with them, which I know is what they really, really wanted."

What was it Jesus said? "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:24). Amen to that.

This article appeared in the April 2010 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 75, No. 4, page 49).