Some of my friends know that I’m the youngest of fourteen children. Few people, however, know that I am also the proud father of fourteen children (and one beautiful granddaughter). Yet, most who look upon our family from a distance count only six children. Where are the others?
Well, I’ve never seen the others alive either, except via ultrasound. All eight of them died in my wife Maureen’s womb. The last two, twins Isaac and Stella, died over a year and a half ago.
We have long since entrusted these innocents to the merciful love of Our Lord, who after all desired the children to come to Him (Mt. 19:14) . Even so, parents who lose one of their little ones still go through a profound yet private suffering. While many people have generously offered their prayers and condolences, we always inwardly wished there was some way for us to formally unite our loss—and our hope—with that of the larger Church.
That’s why we were so eager to attend a special Mass this past Saturday, most fittingly the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, offered by our pastor, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City. It was a Mass “offered in commemoration of the innocents”—more specifically, for those who have lost children before, during, or shortly after birth. Women who have had abortions were especially welcome.
After the prayer of the faithful, those who had lost a child were encouraged to name him or her if they hadn’t already done so, and then they were invited to come forward and to sign their child’s name in the “Book of Remembrance.” My family was sitting in the front row, and what a powerful, healing experience it was to go up in the presence of our bishop and all those in attendance and write: “Perpetua, Felicity, Raymond Melchizedek, Monica, Barnabas, Margaret, Isaac, and Stella Suprenant, who died in utero, but whom we believe will live forever. From their loving parents, Leon and Maureen Suprenant.”
As if that weren’t enough, we turned around after we signed the book and saw two lines extending the length of the chapel and out into the hallway. All of these people had their own stories, just as we had ours. And all of us were united in our suffering, in our prayer, and in our hope, through our unity in Christ and His Church. What a marvelous sense of solidarity we felt with the rest of the congregation. And then there was Archbishop Naumann, hunched over and praying intensely for each individual or family that came up to sign the book. This experience was exactly what we had been desiring for so many years. Maureen and I could not hold back our tears of joy and consolation.
Before we left the archdiocesan pastoral center, we were given eight memorial cards, one for each of our deceased children. I thought I would conclude this post with the prayer on the back of this card, in the hope that it will be a source of encouragement to any readers who have lost a child through miscarriage, abortion, stillbirth, or otherwise very early in life:
Trusting in Jesus, the loving Savior of the world, who gathered children into His arms and blessed the little ones,we now commend our child to that same embrace of love . . . May the angels and saintslead our childto that place of light and peace,where one day we will be brought together again . . . Lord Jesus, bless our child.