Sunday, January 11, 2009

Happy Birthday Maria!

Maria and Uncle Ryan - Christmas 2006

Maria and Mackenzie - January 2007

Hello Everyone,

It has been a while.

We wish you all God’s blessings in the New Year and hope that Christmas brought joy to all of you.

We went to Florida for Christmas. My brother Ryan got married! He is 14 years younger than me, and the baby of 6 kids. He was very dear to Maria. She held a very special place in her heart for him. I can remember back to her Christmas concert at school the Christmas before she died. She had a reading. Ryan brought flowers for her. We had just received the news from St. Jude that she had two to three months at the most. We of course never shared that with Maria. I can remember that she wanted Uncle Ryan to carry her out to the car. He had to go back to Law School straight from the concert. She did not want him to let her go. She held onto him very tightly. Finally, I told Maria it was time to say goodbye and that we had to get home because it was getting late. It was also quite cold outside. She still did not want to go. It was odd. When we finally drove away Maria suddenly started to cry. I said “Maria, what is wrong?" She said, “I’m afraid I will never see him again.” She was distraught. It shocked me. He would be back after Christmas in a few weeks, but she was afraid. I worried that she was having a sixth sense about things or had heard something. After that, I became firmly determined to continue to focus on living, not on dying, and that made a difference to Maria.

Ryan and his fiancée, Catherine, asked Maria to be a flower girl along with her favorite cousin Mackenzie, who is her age. They were both so excited about it. Maria talked about it all the time. I was excited right along with her, wanting to give her the will to make it and happy she had something to look forward to. I quietly prayed to God to allow her to make it to the wedding. As we know, He had different plans for her.

We went to the bridal luncheon. Mackenzie received a gift with all sorts of goodies that a little girl her age would love. I was so happy for her, but I couldn’t help but think about how much Maria would have loved it too. Aside from the attention walking down the aisle, something like this was so Maria. She would have loved the pretty dress Mackenzie wore. I could almost see Maria with her, smiling. Mackenzie and Maria were very close, like sisters. Mackenzie misses her buddy. My heart aches that she had to experience a loss like this at her age. My sister’s family mirrors mine in children--a girl and then three boys. Our kids are all the same ages. Now when they come into town to stay with us, Mackenzie is alone with all the boys. I know it is hard for her to be without Maria. It kills Ed and me to see her sitting or playing alone.

While in Florida, my mother had a dream. She saw Maria, along with all of her cousins, playing on the beach. Her cousins said to her “Maria, you can’t be here. You are in Heaven.” Maria told them “I can be here with you, and I am.” I don’t know if Maria is always able to be with me, but I did know one thing for certain, and that was that she would never miss her Uncle Ryan’s wedding for anything. I knew she would be there that day, and I felt her presence suddenly when the vows were exchanged at the altar. I felt as though she were standing right there by Ryan’s side. Something tells me she was.

This Christmas I felt a deep gratitude to God in my heart. I thanked Him for loving us so much to give us His only Son. I know He understands how it feels to lose a child who has had to suffer. Because of His unbelievably loving and compassionate act, Maria has a place in Heaven, and hopefully I will too someday. Having a child in Heaven, I think often about what it will take for me to get there. I pray hard and ask Maria to help me.

I will not pretend to say that because I believe in God I am ok. I do struggle. The pain is deep and a kind I have never experienced before. If I allow the loss to penetrate deeply to my core, it feels debilitating. It is not only emotionally, but physically painful. My heart physically aches. I have heard that people can die of a broken heart and it makes sense to me now. I understand it. Somehow you walk forward in life and try to keep it at bay, just below the surface, trying not to allow it to go too deep. There are times, though, when it is triggered and the pain rushes in. I think it’s ok. I need to feel it sometimes. I have also discovered that one of the keys to curing my sadness is to look outward, not inward. Inward to myself and my sorrow is a dead end. Outward has beautiful possibilities. God has so many graces to give.

Maria and I were extremely close. Our bond was special. We had a deep spiritual connection. When I look back on Maria’s life I believe God had chosen her, even before her diagnosis. Maria had a pure and innocent, sincere and unhindered faith in God. She simply believed. He knew what was to come and He took every opportunity of openness to Him to create something beautiful out of her life.

If you think about it, God is Love, and ultimately He can only make what is Good and Beautiful. I think about the Cross. Crucifying people was a disgusting and ugly practice man had come up with. God took it and, through Jesus, turned the suffering of the Cross into the most beautiful act of Love. Now we cherish the Cross. God took Maria’s cross and even in death made it beautiful. After she died, all signs of her illness were taken away. She was the most beautiful we had ever seen her. She was luminous and filled with the light of Heaven. Fr. Tim, Ed and I were blessed to witness this gift. Thank you Lord. This has reassured me. The memory will be with me forever and has lifted my faith.

Maria’s birthday is today, January 11th. God gave Maria to us 9 years ago. It is one of the best days of the year. We make it a Holiday in our home. We want it to be a tradition—a day that the boys look forward to all year and hopefully carry on with their own children. We celebrated her life today and had a fun day planned. The boys remembered Maria with so much love—as they do every day. Our love will never fade. It grows stronger with time.

Happy Birthday, sweet Maria. I tried to imagine what your birthday is like in Heaven. I know it is better than anything I could ever imagine. I want that for you Maria. I hope we are with you. I thank God for letting me share in His creation. He blessed me with the most wonderful daughter in the whole world. I can’t wait for the day when I can reach out and wrap my arms around you forever. I am so lucky to be your Mom. I love you.

We love you. Forever. Because Love never dies.

Mom and Dad, Eddie, Aidan and Blake