Originally published over at my substack.
Our son, John Peter Moffitt, was delivered still born on July 6 at 22 weeks. He had contracted parvovirus in the womb. And while our little boy managed to fight off the virus, it left him anaemic. The medical team attempted to arrest the anaemia through an in-utero blood transfusion directly into John’s liver. Ultimately, it was too late for his heart. He didn’t make it.
So Alison and I found ourselves meeting our son half a pregnancy early. We had a day in hospital with him, cradling his lifeless body. Those limbs which we had seen vigorously moving on the scans, and had begun to feel kicking and punching, were terribly still. As we beheld his undeniable resemblance to his sister and his brother, our eyes poured forth in tears as we beheld his eyes which would never cry, a mouth which would remain silent, a nose which would never breathe.
I find it hard to describe the depth of our grief and sorrow at John’s loss. Those moments of breathless or anger that seem to overwhelm out of nowhere. The weight of tears that sit behind my eyes. Or the little smothered cries that continually try to escape my mouth.
There’s a sense of dissonance of course, that death had trespassed in the territory of life. The womb had become John’s tomb. The post-natal ward served as a mortuary.
Accompanying the dissonance is the disruption death has wrought. John’s life has ended, and with it has vanished the dreams we had started to have for our son. Instead there is a gap which I expect we will feel when the calendar turns to his due date in November, to his delivery date in July, to those moments which would have marked his life: his baptism, his first day at school, and so on.
Then there’s the sheer mystery of who my son would grow up to be. Would he walk before he could talk? Would he move to the rhythm like his Mum? Or be a musical philistine like his Dad? What would his laughter sound like? Would there be a favourite toy he snuggled up to at night when he felt afraid or sad? The unknowability of my own child…at this point I can only imagine how that pain will hit in time to come.
Well before he had even drawn his first breath, my son John has died. And my only comfort during all of this is the assurance that John has not missed out on life. The disruption dealt us by death will not be the final word. For death itself has been disrupted. After all Jesus assured us, God is the God of the living.
We discovered we were pregnant with John prior to Easter. For those who know, John Peter is a paschal allusion; the two disciples who raced to the empty tomb on Easter Day searching for the risen Jesus. Where John found death in the cradle of life, Jesus has emptied the grave with a love that is stronger than death. In the Eucharistic prayer this Easter we announced: ‘By his death [Jesus] has destroyed death, has taken away our sin’. Where death intrudes and interrupts, Jesus overwhelms death with his life-giving life.
In the midst of the pain and the grief we feel now, and will continue to feel, we know that John has not missed out on life. John’s eyes shall see eternal life, for his shepherd died for the sins of the world. It’s in God’s refuge that we are finding comfort and consolation for our souls. Not only for this life, but that God can make the words of Psalm 116 true in the life to come when he swallows up death forever.
For you, Lord, have delivered me from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before the Lord
in the land of the living.
– Psalm 116.8-9