Mary Cassatt, "Mother and Child" (The Goodnight Hug)

"How Do We Adhere?"

"Trevor’s face is a new beginning for us now, in an even deeper way than it was when he was alive. It is a reliable reminder of the mystery of God. "
A letter from Rosie and Sean Wood who lost their son Trevor suddenly in December .

On December 10, our 18-month-old son Trevor died suddenly. He came down with a mild, run-of-the-mill illness on the 9th, and by 9 am the next day, he was gone. It turns out that he had a rare, invasive form of strep that can cause rapid death in certain isolated cases. He’d been a remarkably healthy kid, and we never suspected that anything serious was happening until it was too late.

We will spend our lives trying to understand what happened on that day. We will grapple with the traumatizing circumstances of his death and carry the heavy weight of his absence forever. But we will also spend our lives making sense of the many powerful graces received in this time, and we want to record and share them with others. We find ourselves in awe in front of two things: the mystery of his life and the abundance of accompaniment we received following his death. Recounting some experiences of his own, Father Rich Veras once wrote “I cannot deny that I saw good flower from the midst of these bad things. The good is not any less real than the evil” (Wisdom for Everyday Life from the Book of Revelation, 37).

At Trevor’s deathbed in the hospital, we were surprised to feel our reason alive. Next to his small, quiet body, we felt a very clear judgment rise up in us, one which still hasn’t faded: Trevor was all good, totally good - pure gift. This awareness was painful, it came with pain and was inseparable from it: the pain of not knowing when we will see him again, the feeling that we had taken him for granted, the sense that our lives, which had been so bound to his rhythms, would be radically overturned. But this pain also revealed the depth of the gift that he’d been. We were surrounded by this paradox in that hospital room. To only dwell in our sadness, and to forget his goodness, is an escape from the truth; it is not a full picture of what happened to our family.

Trevor’s funeral was a very beautiful day, even in its most surreal moments. It was a chance for us to understand his new place resting with the saints, his small white coffin in the midst of a church surrounded by images of them. We watched people line up and pray in front of his body, and we remember their faces and the expressions in their eyes. We remember being filled with a curious joy when his casket was opened, and the beauty of the CL choir singing “What Child Is This?” as it was closed. We can still hear the tone of Bishop Wingle’s voice as he said the Mass, we can picture the face of the Basilica’s pastor, we remember seeing the funeral director cry. It was overwhelming and limitlessly rich. More than pure sadness, what we felt was an incredible intensity.

This sense of communal intensity continued when the children in our CL community celebrated Trevor the following week by dedicating their Christmas pageant to him. We were moved by the way that other parents weren’t afraid of us or of Trevor’s memory, even if it reminded them of the mortality of their own children. They even put Trevor’s picture on a little table in the front of the church to remember him. For some reason, the priest at the church didn’t put the picture away after the pageant. Instead, he promoted Trevor to the side altar, where he remained continuously in the week before Christmas. We’d go to church in the mornings just to witness this curious situation - our son’s face juxtaposed with the mysteries of the Mass. His face was the starting point of each of those days. Everything spoken about in the Mass felt totally plausible to us in front of the mystery of his face. Trevor’s face is a new beginning for us now, in an even deeper way than it was when he was alive. It has introduced us to a kind of contemplation that is not a man-made contrivance, but one totally grounded in reality. It is a reliable reminder of the mystery of God.

When Trevor died, we were sustained by others in unbelievable ways. This began from the instant that he died. Two friends from our Fraternity, Ben and Claire, came to the ER immediately. They didn’t hesitate to come be with us or to stay and sit with his body. It’s one thing when your friendships are about having a good time and feeling comfortable, it’s another when you have friends who rush to your side in your worst hour, in front of such a horrifying spectacle. Weeks later, we are still asking ourselves where this courage came from. Who are these people, undaunted by senseless death, who rush to our side certain of encountering something good?

“Who are these people?” became a continuous refrain in the week after Trevor’s death. Bishop James Wingle, who we barely knew, determinedly sought us out and was a fatherly presence in the week of his funeral. He clearly felt our pain but was a quiet fortress of hope; he fostered a climate of silence but celebrated Trevor’s wild kid-ness; he gave us profound spiritual counsel and he hung out with us at a diner. John and Cecilia took us into their house for more than a week - they just handed us a key and told us to stay as long as we wanted. They let us bring in visitors for 15-person dinners on a moment’s notice and sat with us when we had too much to say and when we were at a loss for words.

People stayed with us in such an exceptional fashion that our family members from out of town took notice and spontaneously called attention to it. Trevor’s death shattered boundaries and brought divided things together - his death “revealed the thoughts and hearts of many.” We heard from people we hadn’t spoken to in 20 years, we received love from colleagues with whom our relationships were once just professional, we received meals from strangers and we got flowers from the police. For a moment, Trevor suspended the laws of human physics, and impossibilities shattered in front of our eyes.

None of this support and accompaniment erased our questions. We still long to see him every day. Where has our son gone? What was his life for? Why are we still here when he is gone? Do any of us “deserve” this? What does it mean to live a fulfilled life, and is he truly fulfilled now? We have not been given answers to these questions, but the size of them is continuously matched by the ever-growing support that we receive from those around us. Each reality indicates something about the other; our questions are informed by our deepening friendships.

We often find that our friends are just as silent as we are in front of our questions. Trevor was just a small child, so why does it feel like all of us grown-ups are looking to him for guidance? Trevor’s brief but good life reveals a truth to us all. We go through life seeking fulfillment, a fulfillment that is much greater than simply growing up, a fulfillment that is glimpsed in the unity of a family and the joy of a child. Trevor did not get to grow up. God did not ask him to refine his will and his freedom over the course of a lifetime. Instead, He chose to give him a life that was almost perfect, to keep him close to Himself. It is a provocative reminder that what we desire most is to live life as Trevor did, full of joy and close to our maker.

The events of the last month have so much density, and there is a sense in which they are only beginning to unfold. Our work, we feel, is to allow what happened to resonate and continue to happen. We have never understood better what prayer is - Giussani called prayer “awareness,” and we find that there is no other way to engage with what happened other than prayer - everything else is partial. And prayer in this situation is as simple as allowing what happened to continue to happen - keeping these things in our heart, the incomprehensibly good and the incomprehensibly bad, which are so curiously intertwined.

Our question now is: how do we adhere? So many things that used to occupy us, and that occupy those around us, feel more and more like distractions from that essential task: how do I adhere? What is being authored in this moment? The powerful graces that we witnessed make us certain that this intrusion of the mystery into our life is not for nothing, not limited to its senseless, brutal appearance. We have seen that reality is terrible, but we’ve also seen that it is full of a promise. How do we continue to look into the depth of what happened?

Rosie and Sean Wood, Montreal