I notice them whenever I log in to a homeschooling forum to read, discuss, listen, learn, or just lurk--most of the time, just that, actually. They're there at the bottom of so many women's posts--a signature line with different smiley faces representing the poster's children: a silly face here, a bespectacled one there, a clown face or some other iteration of the smiley next, and so on--but there, at the end of the row, stands a little broken heart emoticon.
Sometimes there is more than one, and additional details like a date still sadly remembered. And each one represents the death of a child.
It's probably true that most of these little broken hearts stand for miscarriages, a loss occurring before mom and dad had the chance to get to know the precious soul whose heart beat so briefly below his or her mother's loving one. The world doesn't understand a mother's grief at a miscarriage; the world can't let itself understand, since the world offers no value and no protection at all to these tiny unborn lives. But on a board full of (mostly) Catholic moms, the grief can be shared--it is real, this sense of loss, and it is important for women who have suffered this loss to be able to express it. Even though I myself have never lost a child, not even to miscarriage, I can say truthfully that the death of a child still in utero is a tragedy, often a great one, for each mother who suffers this pain and sorrow, and for her husband, children, and all who share that pain.
So I don't in any way mean to disparage that pain, when I say that the grief is even stronger when the child has lived outside the womb, whether for a few days or a number of years, before dying. Many, many mothers and fathers have suffered through that anguish. I can imagine no greater one on earth, and pray every night that I will die before my children do; I ask St. Joseph's intercession for this as I ask him to help me obtain the grace of a good death. In some ways I think this is a prayer many parents offer, even if they never express it in words.
But sometimes, God asks parents to take this most terrible cup. And in recent weeks on this homeschooling board I mentioned above, there have been no less than three such agonies, wrenching the whole online community with the shared sorrow.
First, there was this precious baby, for whom many prayed. His parents' deep faith have been an inspiration and sign of witness to many; and yet, their broken hearts will need God's precious gift of healing as they move forward without the physical presence of their baby saint.
Next, there was the tragic loss to an accident of this wonderful boy, who was so deeply loved by so many, and who touched so many during his short life. His family, too, is in mourning, as are many who knew them, even if they only "knew" each other via the online community.
And today the heart-wrenching news of the sudden death of a little baby boy, only a few months old, has once again called forth prayer and tears. I can't dare to speak of or even imagine the family's grief and pain at this hour--but so many are weeping with them tonight, and so many will be lifting them up in heartfelt prayers over the next few days. In addition to prayers, a memorial fund for the baby's family to help with funeral expenses etc. has been set up here, and I know the online community will be generous here as they are generous in prayer.
In the hours following so terrible a loss, the cry "Why, O Lord?!" is never far from us. Why does He allow such terrible things to happen? Why does He plunge a family into such grief--why does He, all at once and with no warning, tear a family from a happy, normal life and place them instead upon a Via Crucis along which they must crawl in pain and sorrow?
Those who have suffered such a loss, though, say that this question is not the one to ask. The only answer to that question is to look upon the "Why" spoken by God to the woman in the garden: "Why did you do such a thing?" Why did you eat of the tree that was forbidden--why did you rebel against God, and bring death and suffering to the world? Why did you chose to act in such a way that you, and the man, and every one of your children would have to die? Why did you choose to act in such a way that only God's own Son, by suffering and dying Himself on the Cross, could save the heirs of your flesh from eternal death?
It is not God Who causes there to be little broken hearts beneath the names of so many people. It is not God Who sends the widow her broken heart, or the widower his. It is not God Who deals out suffering and pain and death to humanity. He only permits these things to happen, because He permitted our first parents, and still permits us, to be free.
But He also does not abandon us in our sorrow, or leave us alone in our darkest hours. "The LORD is close to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit." (Psalm 34:18). God's presence manifests in many ways to those who face such an anguish; those who share in the sorrows of the ones who grieve are, in a little way, helping in God's work of comforting those who mourn. We can't possibly remove from them their broken hearts; but when we come together in whatever way we can, in prayer or donations or practical aid (if we are nearby) to help shoulder that burden of sorrow we don't know how much we may be helping to give them strength for the days to come.
We are, all of us, "...mourning and weeping in this vale of tears...". But if we witness broken hearts like these, how much comfort can we draw together from the contemplation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, broken by our sins long before It was pierced by the centurion's lance? It was He who promised us "Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted." All hearts broken on earth will be made whole again in Heaven; so we have been promised, and so we can believe and trust.