Editor’s Note: Today, we welcome a guest contribution from Jason Lesher. I ask you to join me in praying for the Lesher family and thank John for sharing his gifts with us. LMH
When I first started writing this column three years ago I was scared to death of sharing anything personal. I hid my eyes behind my wife’s glasses and my mouth behind Dostoevsky, and I’d often go into a three-day tizzy when the slightest glimpse of my soul slipped onto paper.
Slowly, the columns that delved into my personal life became the easiest to write, but I never would have thought I’d be able to write this one. As many of you already know, on February 25, my wife and I found out that our baby’s heart had stopped beating.
Our son, Francis Lesher, would have been perfectly healthy if he had been born a few weeks premature. At birth, a week before his due date, he weighed eight pounds and 15 ounces and measured 22 inches long. But sometime in the last months of pregnancy, the inner layer of Carolyn’s amniotic sac ruptured and an amniotic band floated near Francis for weeks, slowly wrapping around his umbilical cord. Amniotic band syndrome’s a completely unexplained disorder that affects about one in 3,000 pregnancies. Most of the time the damage occurs early in pregnancy. A baby could be born with webbed fingers or toes, even missing an arm or a leg. According to Ugeskr Laeger, a Danish medical journal, what happened to Francis occurs in one out of 100,000 to 150,000 births. When the pregnancy reaches full-term, with no other complications, the odds keep dropping.
I think I probably could have put that onto paper by the evening of February 27. It’s just the facts, and, honestly, the statistics about amniotic band syndrome mean very little to me. They float around in my mind, but I have no personal attachment to them.
Over these past two weeks I’ve come to realize that Francis’ death was not just a personal loss. The mindboggling number of hugs, flowers, tears, dinners, cards and prayers we have received made it clear that Carolyn and I are not carrying the pain by ourselves, and it’s the words of so many other parents who lost their babies let me find comfort in laying bear the most personal moment of my life.
Around 2 p.m. on the 25th, as Carolyn seemed ready to slide into a medicated sleep before the beginning of the labor pains, our priest, Father John McLoughlin, took me aside to prepare me for my role in what was about to happen.
During our talk he told me that I had to hold the baby, who we didn’t yet know was a boy. “Tell him you love him. Tell him everything you wanted to tell him. Tell him all your hopes and dreams.”
I cried from a fear I had never known in my life. I had never even dragged myself through the motions of getting dressed for the funeral of one of my grandparents, but there I was figuring out how to play the supporting role in bringing a little naked child into a world he would never see.
Thank you Father, your words have meant more than any others. An hour after our talk, after a blessedly short labor, I took my baby boy into my arms without a bit of hesitation in my heart.
I can hear myself saying, “He’s perfect.” I told him I loved him at least once, maybe a thousand times. I may have given him a kiss on his forehead. But I know I didn’t tell my own dreams for his life. They would have been trivial.
Instead, I held in my arms an entire life. When Francis was in my arms, his life wasn’t short or tragic. It was complete in a way words can’t approach.
It wasn’t all the days Carolyn and I missed flashing before my eyes that fulfilled his life. I didn’t see his baptism, potty training, first communion, puberty, first date, first (and last) escort home in a police car, graduation, college dorm room, job, wedding, unemployment, marriage troubles, children and, after much heartache, peace of mind. I didn’t see him years from now holding my hand and praying as I died.
And God didn’t whisper into my ear His almighty plan for Francis, why he had to call his name in the same two-week span that Carolyn’s childhood neighbor — her second brother — stepped off a bridge in Indiana and her grandfather periodically slipped back into consciousness during his last days in hospice.
I wasn’t even comforted by the vision of a departed loved one squeezing tight to Francis’s soul as I cradled his tiny broken body, eternally free of sin and sorrow.
I wish I could share exactly what our short time together was, instead of just what it wasn’t. I wish I could find another phrase to describe it because the only one I’ve got left feels like evidence that I’m crazy, profane, or at least betraying my wife and other two children.
It was the most beautiful moment of my life, and when I put him down my left arm ached from top to bottom like I had been cradling every bit of the world’s suffering that I could handle.
Beauty and grief have walked side by side every moment of my life since then. My wife and I share an impossibly deep love as we pull through each day devoid of joy. In suffering, I understand a greater compassion for and from every single person I meet.
My few minutes with Francis in my arms won’t wipe away any tears, but cradling that much beauty did take away every inch where anger, despair and self doubt could have worked their way into my soul. The statistical likelihood that I should be holding him right now could drive a person insane. I have no doubt that truly happy days lie in the future as time slowly heals our pain.
And even though time will also steal tiny fragments of the few memories we’ve got, we’ll always be able to hear our son’s voice in one eternal plea. Francis was supposed to be his middle name, but, for very personal reasons, it’s the only name we gave him. It’s a name he shares with the grandfatherCarolyn lost just under 18 years ago, and the name of the 13th-century saint tied to this, one of man’s most beautiful prayers:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen
Jason Lesher is a member of Our Mother of Perpetual Help parish in Ephrata, Pa. He is a proud father of three children, one of which is in heaven with our Lord. He writes a column for a small local newspaper that his wife, Carolyn, and he produce.
Copyright 2011 Jason Lesher