Today, I say goodbye to a little boy whom I have never met but whose very existence touched hearts around the world.
This story began nearly seven months ago. My very dearest friend called me with the good news. Well, truth be told, that is not exactly how the story goes. It was more like me placing a casual call to check in with my girlfriend who had been struggling to become pregnant. I did not want to nag, but something was different that day. The tone in her voice emboldened me to ask— and there was indeed happy news.
Like any first-time expectant mom and her best girlfriend, we began to imagine, dream, and make plans—if not all out loud, at least in our minds. As my youngest child is now in middle school, I harbored hopes of babysitting and taking strolls in the park. But most of all, I held hope that this dear little one would bring my friend even a fraction of the joy my daughters have brought to me.
In fact, it was a baby that brought us two together in the first place. Ten years ago, my friend urged me on an odyssey that brought me to her hometown in Russia to adopt my youngest daughter, and it was these trips to the remote Russian town that introduced me to the Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity, whose loving kindness plays a role in our story today.
Baby Games and Names
One of our first games was to try to guess the gender of the new baby and then come up with appropriately fitting baby names. My friend settled on Edward for a boy, not anything close to the Boris or Vladimir that I would have expected. However, unbeknownst to me, Edward is the name of a very famous Russian children’s author—Eduard Uspensky, creator of such classics as Gena the Crocodile and Chebyrashka (a monkey, the equivalent to a Russian Mickey Mouse).
Sadly, all this silliness changed one day. First, there was disbelief, then perhaps a little denial. Then, the truth settled in: baby Edward was diagnosed with Trisomy 18, a fatal genetic disorder that results in errors in cell division. This chromosomal disorder tends to affect boys more than girls and is nearly always fatal—and just so happens to be known as Edward’s Syndrome.
Spiritual High Gear
As soon as I heard the sad news, I kicked into spiritual high gear. I trusted that God had a plan for my friend and Baby Edward. How could I be a good friend, and what could I do to ease the pain? My first plan of attack was to fervently pray that my friend would see the opportunity in this sadness. I offered at each Mass the Holy Eucharist to be present in her heart so that she would not be tempted to end her suffering by terminating the pregnancy—succumbing to what the world would see as the inevitable reality of Baby Edward’s death.
My prayers were answered when she told me that she wanted to make the most out of whatever time she had available to be the very best mother she could be to Edward. I am grateful for her approach to life–an extraordinary testimony to the vocation of motherhood. I urged her to talk with Edward about her own childhood and her hopes and dreams. Together, they traveled to Russia to meet Grandma, to Iceland and to England (because mom is an adventurer). Edward even tried Thai food at my house and enjoyed many weekends of mommy and baby yoga.
Where Two or More Are Gathered
In an effort to bring comfort to my friend and to help her to understand that there is meaning in everything we are called to endure, I enlisted the help of some spiritual heavyweights.
It was August, the month that my family celebrates “Family Days.” These are August 15 and August 22, the anniversaries of the adoptions of our two Russian daughters, and also two very special Marian celebrations—the Assumption of Mary and the Queenship of Mary. So, with the extra prayers of August, I asked Our Lady how I can help: she said, pray. And, indeed I did and I would. But, it occurred to me that others could help out, too.
So, in a special way, I sought the intercession of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and all of the Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity around the world. Writing to each of the 49 Mother Houses around the world, I asked that they keep my friend and Baby Edward in their prayers and unite the sufferings they see and endure to our heartfelt prayers.
What happened then was heartwarming. The first letter that arrived was from the Sisters in Rome, who told us that our special petition was going to be placed in Calcutta on Mother’s grave during the Novena of Masses beginning on her feast day in September. This was the first of many letters that came to me and my friend.
I know that these letters have touched the heart of my friend and feel confident that her husband’s heart is warming as well. These letters have shown solidarity and have given an explanation of purpose behind such piercing sadness.
Prayers of the Little Ones
As a sixth-grade catechist, I shared with the students the story of Baby Edward. Each Sunday morning, I was asked for an update and we shared community prayers for peace—and I bet more than a few prayers were for a miraculous healing. But each Sunday, I shared the important work of Blessed Mother Teresa and the Sisters—in India and in the remote town in Russia where my youngest daughter is from. And from time to time, I would share one of the letters from the Sisters. My favorite was from the Sisters in Lima, Peru. It was a letter written on September 8, the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lady.
The letter reminded us that Edward is a precious and beloved child of God and that God has known him from the moment of conception, and He has entrusted Edward with a special mission. The Sisters reminded us all that every day is a gift.
A Baby’s Vocation
So, today, as I say goodbye to Baby Edward. I thank him for his suffering. I thank him for the love he engendered in his mother. I thank him for teaching my sixth graders how to pray, and I thank him for bringing me closer to my Mother Mary and my dear friend Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. I pray their warm embrace holds him close tonight and every night until his own mother meets him in Heaven.