October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Both on my personal blog as well as on Catholic Exchange, I have shared about the experience of miscarrying my little Gabriel last year. What I didn’t fully realize before losing him was how very hidden a cross miscarriage is.
I am intentionally very open about my miscarriage, but I personally know many women who aren’t comfortable talking about the loss of their little one(s). I know other women who yearn to be able to talk about their little ones, but who are unsure of how people would react. Because, honestly, it is an uncomfortable subject for most people. However, for those who have been initiated into this terrible club, finding a fellow mother who knows your grief can be a true comfort.
It’s been about a year and a half since I lost my little one, and I’ve been blessed with another living child since then. Although time dulls the edge of my grief, it will never be completely eradicated in this lifetime. I was reminded of this the other day.
I was out running errands with my three living children, and we decided to buy a little pumpkin to take and leave on Gabriel’s grave. On that sunny hillside, huddled around the grave marker of the brother they never got to hold, my three girls posed for a picture and prayed for the repose of the soul of their brother. For a fleeting moment, my heart was comforted. All four of my children were physically in one place…and I have a picture to prove it.
But so many mothers can never have such a picture. So many mothers lost their child before seeing the tiny beating heart on an ultrasound screen (a picture of my own lost child that I treasure). For so many mothers, the child was too small, and lost too suddenly, for a body to be retrieved and buried. Yet, their grief is no less real. A mother’s heart never forgets, and never stops loving.
If grief is an invisible cross, it is one among many. Mental illness is another excruciatingly painful, hidden cross that many bear. I’ve suffered from post-partum depression or anxiety after each of my four babies, a fact that also makes for uncomfortable conversation. There is a stigma around mental health issues, and most people would rather keep their (often excruciating) suffering to themselves, rather than risk judgement.
Like the Duchess of Cambridge and many of my fellow commoners, I’ve also experienced how isolating and misunderstood the suffering of a hyperemesis gravidarum pregnancy can be. But HG isn’t the only rare, chronic health condition that people experience. There are so many others.
These are just a few examples of hidden, painful crosses, but there are so many others out there. I’m sure, as you are reading this, you are mentally noting some of your own. I can think of other invisible crosses that I hold too close to my heart to share here. I’m sure you can think of some, too.
The reality is, we live in a fallen world, full of selfishness and lacking in compassion. Even the kindest among us aren’t kind 24/7. In a world like that, there is bound to be suffering, especially “invisible suffering” — pain that is lonely to endure because it is so terribly misunderstood. No, someone with depression cannot just “snap out of it”. No, a couple suffering from infertility can’t “just adopt” or “relax and get pregnant when you least expect it.” No, a lonely single person can’t “just try a Catholic online dating service.” No, someone with an autoimmune disorder can’t “just try harder” to engage in normal activity. No, someone suffering from past or present abuse can’t just “stop being so sensitive” or “just get out of the situation”. All of those responses offer advice that serves to minimize true pain. It may feel good to say, but it makes the one suffering feel worse.
Yet, wasn’t this the case with Christ’s cross, too? At a cursory glance, it would seem that Christ’s cross was anything but invisible…for goodness sake, a crucifixion was about as public of a death as you could possibly have! But was Christ’s suffering merely physical? No, the truly painful suffering of Christ was that he suffered for us. He bore in his person the weight of all of our sin. That kind of tremendous weight was seen by no one, and I’m sure the suffering caused by the nails was only the tip of the iceberg.
It is so easy to get so lost in our earthly reality, that we forget the cosmic reality playing out before us. It can be unbearably hard to carry an invisible cross, because of a lack of support and understanding in this world. Even if others witness some of our suffering, what they see are only the nail marks — not the crushing weight we carry within.
But there is someone who does see. God sees. The saints and angels see. And we are far from alone.
That cosmic reality is not part of our daily awareness, but it is even more real than this world we know (which brings to mind the increasing solidity experienced by the shadowy people in C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, as they enter the reality of heaven). As Catholics, we have a weekly (or even daily) opportunity to experience that reality. At the Mass, heaven comes to earth. The angels and saints are all present at Mass, because we are tapping into the one, true liturgy of heaven. At Mass, we are really, once again, at the foot of the cross of Christ. The sacrifice of Christ is “re-presented” for us — that is, made present again.
This is the place to bring our invisible crosses, and to ask for the grace to carry them. At Mass, at the foot of the cross, we are finally not alone. For Christ, who conquered death, knows the full weight of our pain…and he wants to bear it with us. We are little brothers and sisters of the saints, and they want to help us by their love and prayers. The angels, too, want to offer us love and protection. To them, our suffering is real.And when we “offer it up”, uniting our suffering to Christ’s, our cross becomes one with his and becomes a little lighter to bear. This is what makes his “yoke easy and burden light”— the fact that he bears it with us.
Most comforting is the passage from the Gospel of Luke, included in the daily readings the other day,
“Are not five sparrows sold for two small coins?
Yet not one of them has escaped the notice of God.
Even the hairs of your head have all been counted.
Do not be afraid.
You are worth more than many sparrows.”