I have heard people refer to the death of “a mother of four children” with the assumption that the number “four” makes the whole thing worse.
For Beth’s own loss, I think that was true. Only those who knew her can understand how fiercely (as my friend Iris Welch put it, perhaps best of anyone) Beth loved––God, and friends, and birds, and reading to our kids, and running, and Aristotelian metaphysics, and politics, and beluga whales, and the Catholic Church, and anything else she found beautiful. In just under two years with cancer, Beth had to lose all those things but God, and it was awful. And most of all, she had to lose a home full of four children that she loved so fiercely. She didn’t just lose being with them, but she lost their entire futures: who they were in potency, a word Beth could have written a treatise about. If anyone alive could recognize the weight of that loss, it was Beth.
But for the kids, “four” is a matter of grace, not hardship. However they may miss their mom, and however crazy the house may be these days, they have each other, all four of them. When we decided to have a houseful of kids close in age, we hoped the timing would allow Beth to resume a career someday when they were grown. But her death at 35 didn’t turn that plan into a failure, because the real goal was to fill the house full of life, as an expression of a gift from God. And with Beth gone, that is exactly what she has left me: a home full of life, and a gift from God.
As I take on full-time homeschooling, I am not sacrificing my life or career to fulfill a dream of Beth’s, though it was her passionate dream and maybe the loss she grieved most. For my part, I have always followed whatever good path was before me: college, grad school, marriage to Beth, teaching college part-time, having kids, hospital chaplaincy, homemaker. The world is so full of good things that there are countless paths worth taking. Right now I am embracing the unique gift Beth left to me, a chance to teach my kids how to love the beauty that surrounds them.
We are an unusual family, as I am Protestant and Beth was Roman Catholic. Our kids were baptized Catholic, and Beth and I agreed from the beginning that we would raise them with the Catholic sacraments and religious ed, even if they also attended a protestant church with me. That is still my promise to Beth.
Our beliefs were quite distinct but surprisingly connected. Beth was a hard-core Thomist but also loved John Calvin and Karl Barth–who is part of my nightly read. I was raised in a Bible-centered conservative church, but I was drawn to aspects of virtue ethics (without knowing it was called that) before I ever met Beth. And since we were both trained in theology, we were attuned to which issues are really worth fighting over, and which doctrines are better to hold lightly.
The purpose of this site is not to bare my soul to a public audience. What I wrote above may be the most personal piece I write. I don’t want to violate my kids’ privacy, or Beth’s for that matter. My goal is to aim toward what is universal––let’s call it small-c catholic––and hope that others can relate.
5 thoughts on “A Home Full of Life”
My daughter Lauren sent me your post and unbeknownst to you probably, we have been praying for Beth for some time AND for you and your four kids. I lost my wife to cancer just before her 31st birthday. She left behind three great kids at the ages of 8, 6 and 4. I had incredible family and spiritual support from my church during and the years that followed, while I was alone trying to figure this $#!t out as a widower dad. What I didn’t have was the incredible resource in this blog to be able to have others hear my story and be able to support those people in this same position. Thank you for your incredible courage and willingness to give this blessing to us and to open yourself up the way you have. We will continue to pray for you and your four incredibly special children. God bless. Brett
Thanks for writing, Brett. I remember Lauren very well, and in fact I often use a Montana mug she sent us a few months back. Any suggestions for dad-parenting are welcome, by the way. I think a biggest reason for my writing is that I always want to ramble on to someone about whatever I’m thinking. Beth, as you might imagine, is the one who used to (sort of!) listen. The internet is not really an apt substitute, but it will have to do.
I look forward to reading and sharing your posts. You’re doing something great!
I’m so glad to be able to re-connect with you and your family in this simple, techy way. Thanks for your generosity in sharing your very full, very complicated and simple, very God-filled life.
Good to hear from you, Mary Lynn. We’re back regularly going to the library again, though my kids are starting to outgrow some of the story time events. Hope to see you there again sometime?