FROM THE PRESIDENT'S KITCHEN TABLE
The older I get, the more convinced I am that this life is “a vale of tears.” The recent tragedy of Susan Torres illustrated it graphically – and personally, because Susan’s mother-in-law, Karen, is a dear friend. I met her picketing an abortion mill when I was a young mom and she was a teenager. Karen is a friend of the heart.
Most tragedies unfold quietly, cataclysmic for family and friends, but mostly unnoticed by the rest of the world. Not so the Torres tragedy. Susan’s collapse and her husband Jason’s efforts to keep her alive gained world-wide attention because of one special little person – their unborn baby. As days turned to weeks, the media picked up the story and the eyes of a cynical world focused on the little one in the womb – loved, cherished, nurtured, and welcomed into a Catholic family who, as Karen said, could make no other choice than to give the baby a chance.
I visited Jason and Susan at the hospital. You expect someone on a ventilator to look sick. Not Susan. She was Sleeping Beauty waiting for her prince. The beautiful tall, slim blonde who carried herself with confidence, grace, and elegance (I met her only once at her bridal shower) seemed to be napping. Susan looked like an angel.
The hospital room wasn’t primarily a place of sorrow, but one of hope, courage, faith, laughter, and love. The night I visited half the nurses’ whiteboard listed suggested names for the baby – Mary, Susie, Johnny… no one knew she was a girl. Jason joked they were calling the baby “Sparky.” Weeks later she would be named Susan Ann Catherine after her mommy and Karen’s mother who died shortly before her birth.
The sorrow of Susan’s death was seen through the joyful event of welcoming a newborn, tears of joy and sorrow mingling. Susan’s job finished, she stepped through the door all must enter. And the fight for life continued for baby Susan Ann. She lived only a month.
I called Karen the day Susan Ann died. In her profound grief she described little Susan’s will to live. The doctors expected her to die within a minute or two of being removed from the respirator. She confounded their expectations. Like her mom little Susan was a fighter, the spark of life like a hot ember. Lying in her daddy’s arms, she struggled for every breath raising her oxygen level far above what the doctors thought she could do on her own. “I saw her will to live and her ability to love,” Karen told me. “She wanted to live. She wanted to stay with her daddy. She loved her daddy. She just wanted to live.” How could it be otherwise? Jason spent every day with her. While people urged him to go back to work, saying the baby was in good hands, he wouldn’t. He kept vigil in the intensive care nursery. In the end he was wise. Jason and Susan Ann packed a lifetime into that short month.
Karen asked me to tell this story. “All these people who talk so cavalierly about abortion need to know these babies want to live,” she said. We’ve got to stop killing them. They want to live. God will not ignore [abortion] forever.” A mutual friend said Susan Ann passed from the arms of her daddy into the arms of her mommy. The loved and desperately wanted baby joined her little “unwanted” brothers and sisters. Karen is convinced Susan Ann’s suffering has value. “The suffering of the guilty satisfies the demands of justice. But the suffering of the innocent is like a transfusion of grace so someone somewhere can enter the kingdom of heaven who might not have made it. Maybe me.” Karen speaks with the pride of a grandma out of her deep faith when she describes little Susan. “She was so beautiful and that beauty didn’t come from nowhere. Nothing is definitively lost. Every suffering will be made up a thousand times.” Karen’s words are a spring of hope welling up from a river of pain.
This isn’t the end of the story. Jason and Susan have another child – two year old Peter who slept through his baby sister’s funeral resting on his daddy’s shoulder. Too little to understand why Mommy is gone and why he will never see his sister, Peter will always be a physical link between Jason and Susan – a bridge connecting heaven and earth. And a reason to go on. The Torres family have given us a living example of the passion of Jesus. They illustrate St. Paul’s words. “We make up what is lacking in the suffering of Christ.” What could be lacking? Only the willing union of our personal agony joined to His. In this vale of tears seeing the faces of our bravely suffering brothers and sisters is the closest we come to seeing God face to face. Pray in thanksgiving for the Torres family and their courageous witness.
Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for them.