The church was almost pitch black with the exception of the flickering lighter. As sobs shook my entire chest, I remember being so grateful for the privacy of the darkness. Slowly however, the lights began to turn on and my friend Izzy was understandably concerned by my state. “Are you ok?” she asked.
“Oh yeah,” I replied with a snotty smile. “These are good tears.”
Those were the tears of a girl who had been healed.
When I was five or six, my parents excitedly told us that they were expecting baby number four. It’s hard to put into words the joy that little girls experience hearing about a new baby. There were the hours of excited parades around the house, the requests to read books about unborn children, the many questions about the size of the baby.
I still remember that Hannah was the size of a peanut when she was miscarried. A couple years later, the same thing happened to Angel.
I wish those nights weren’t some of my more vivid memories. But we wish for lots of things in this broken world. I still struggle to understand why the deaths of these babies I didn’t even meet affected me so deeply, although maybe it’s self-evident. But I think that aside from the obvious sorrow over losing family, it was the first time that little Larisa realized that there were problems that adults couldn’t solve. There was grief that affected adults. And because of that, because I knew that the adults in my family were suffering and struggling, I thought that it would be most helpful if I stayed out of the way. The last thing they needed was another kid to worry about.
I should add that all of those thoughts were completely created by my brain and probably by Satan as well. My parents were so loving and gentle with us during those times. But I felt the need to be strong for both my parents and my two younger sisters. And so I tried to hide any emotions I felt about losing Hannah and Angel. I shut so much away.
I struggled from time to time with survivor’s guilt, wondering why I was alive and they weren’t. But life moved forward and with it, beautiful gifts. My rainbow sister, Ieva came flying into the world after four hours of labor and she hasn’t stopped flying around since with her boundless energy and sweet, tender heart. The bond she and I share is one of my dearest joys. Two years after Ieva came Jacinta. Even though I silently suffered from deep anxiety during both of their pregnancies, those two give me strength, happiness, and comfort (along with plenty of sanctification) on my darkest days.
I was able to move forward in life, not thinking too much about the part of me that died when my siblings did. But occasionally that wound would fester. On Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day in my freshman year, I finally came to my parents in tears to explain that I still missed the babies so much. It was October 15th, 2016, and at 14, I was having that conversation for the first time. It was a beautiful conversation and I’m so glad that the Blessed Mother gave me the courage to finally open up. But even after being held so tightly by my Dad, I went up the stairs that night still feeling heavy, still knowing that my heart needed a healing that I didn’t know how to achieve.
Just a matter of weeks later, I found myself on my parish’s high school Antioch Retreat Weekend. Still the Jesus freak that I’ve been since day one, I had been excited for this retreat for months. But I was excited to fill out a check box. I was excited to take a weekend where I could learn more about Jesus and how to love Him better. It frankly never occurred to me that Jesus would want to use that weekend to serve me and not the other way around.
If I’m being honest, it was a mostly rough weekend. My mental health wasn’t great, I had never before encountered such vulnerability among people my age, and things were going so much differently than I had envisioned. Eighth grade had been an incredibly difficult year and I entered that weekend still crippled by a pain that left me hungering for control.
But on Saturday night, the words of our youth minister Bob became an instrument of the Holy Spirit to open my eyes to the merciful gifts that the Lord had in store for me that night. I knelt at the front of the sanctuary against the wood of the first pew and with a grace over my heart1 that could only be from the Holy Spirit, I physically saw Jesus fall beneath His Cross for me.
Around the age when Angel died, my favorite Bible verse was Isaiah 53:5, “By his stripes we are healed.” The vivid imagery of the word, “stripe,” caught my attention as a little girl, as well as a very childlike (and therefore wiser than today) understanding that because God Himself suffered for me, I can be healed. But as another youth minister read Isaiah 53 aloud, the Holy Spirit allowed me to be enveloped by that verse, to know the unfathomable depths of Christ’s mercy in a way that I never had before. That night, Christ showed me so tenderly that He had borne my suffering during His Passion. He revealed to this girl so paralyzed by perfectionism that He was not asking me to perform for Him. Rather, He was asking for me to surrender all my anxiety, fear, and grief to Him and to leave it in His pierced hands forever.
I could spend hours writing about the beauty and freedom that the Lord was breathing into my heart over the course of that penance service, but I’ll spare you the snotty details (y’all, I cried so much that night). I will share that all of us teens had been given a small piece of paper at the beginning of Saturday night. We were invited to write down anything that we wanted to surrender to the Lord, and to put it on a nail on the Cross that had been carried into the sanctuary. Those instructions came somewhat later in the evening though. So before I learned the actual function for the paper, it had been used first as a Kleenex and then as a list of sins to bring to Confession. And what a gift, because I was able to literally see my snot and tears and sin nailed to the Cross, as well as all the burdens I had been carrying for so long. That list of burdens was long, just as it is for every human. But I definitively remember writing, “Hannah and Angel” on that tiny piece of paper. It’s the only thing I journaled about for the entire night.
At the very end of that evening, the already dimmed lights grew darker as a youth minister went over to the Cross that held myriad little papers. He knelt down with a lighter and individually held each paper, which was actually flash paper, to the fire. For a split second, each paper was enveloped in flame. And then it was gone.
Youth retreats are hard to explain, because without the context of the Holy Spirit, they sound weird and kitschy. Ok, youth retreats ARE weird and kitschy without the Holy Spirit. But while the burning of paper has no real power, as I watched that flash paper disappear in thin air, the Father invited me to live in the joy of the Resurrection. He showed that He had the power to take away my grief forever and to transform my life so that my Cross was no longer a mere instrument of torture, but a means to the most profound love story possible. In that moment, all the wounds inflicted by the loss of my siblings were healed. I was free.
Two years later, I would be helping to put on that same retreat. In the talk I gave, I briefly mentioned Hannah and Angel and I remember fighting through tears to reach the end of that sentence. But this time, those tears were not the same tears of grief and confusion that I had known for so many years. They were tears of joy, tears of a hope that knows that at every Mass, I worship with the entire Body of Christ, which includes my miscarried siblings. They were the tears of a soul who knows that the Kingdom of God is at hand and that she is only a matter of pages away from the beginning of that One True Story, of a heaven where we will laugh together yet.2 On this World Ballet Day, I smile because four years ago, Jesus turned my mourning into dancing.
It took a lot of nudging from the Holy Spirit to write this. The impact of miscarriage on siblings doesn’t seem to be talked about much, so it’s hard to know what exactly to say. But I know that while Jesus would have died for me if I was the only one to exist, He also heals for the sake of His entire Body. And so I want to magnify the Lord’s greatness that I experienced four years ago. I want to share with you the truth that healing from loss is possible. I want you to know that if you have been affected by the death of an unborn child, there is nothing wrong with you for the way you have reacted. You are not alone in your big or small emotions. You are not alone in your questions.
And you are certainly not alone in carrying that Cross. There is another who walks beside you even now, whose arm is entwined with yours as you stumble to Calvary. He is the One who has borne your pain and endured your sufferings. He is the One who holds your sister or brother in the palm of His hand. As you grieve, as you search in the tomb, know that He holds that same hand out to you. Why do you seek the dead among the living?
Sweet friend, don’t be afraid to step into the Resurrection.
But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. – Isaiah 53:5
1 – It was a skit that I started watching by thinking, “This is cheesy, do they really expect us to get something from this?” Four years later, here we are.
2 – Adapted from C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien