A Message for My Daughter

Thank you for coming. To those who have come from near and far to be with our family, we thank you. And to those from other faiths, or for those who haven’t been here in a while, welcome to St. Michael’s. Finally, from both my heart and Jessica’s, thank you for being a part of Caroline’s life.

We gather here to celebrate life – both on this earth, and in the next. Yet today, here in this church, we’re struggling for words to fill that celebration. In large part, that’s because it’s impossible to define “life” – in here as well as outside in society.

Lawyers always agonize over words – especially definitions. We twist out every possible interpretation and complicate everything, even for the most fundamental and basic words. But when it comes to putting, feelings, emotions, and philosophical ideals into words – we come up short, because we’re searching to define the inexpressible.

When it comes to funerals, the coffins at the altar hold a person with a life story. But even then, we all struggle to define it. Some use adjectives like “long,” “full,” or “great” – these words work for those who had duration, children, some unique experiences, or for those who had measures of achievements. Those words help ease the suffering by knowing that a life was “well-lived.” Others feel a need to describe life as if it had varying degrees of quality. But it doesn’t: there is just simply “life.”

Caroline’s life escapes words. I can’t use pain, or suffering, because that’s what we had and still have – those words never applied to her. Innocent is a word that wholly applies, but that doesn’t come close to filling the space. Likewise, the words, “simple,” “real,” and “pure” – they all apply, but they don’t fill the void we have here today.

Taking a moment to look at the void, amidst our pain, suffering, and sorrow, Jessica and I would do it all over again. Why? That’s a one word answer: LOVE.

Through Jessica’s love, Caroline had 9 months to grow with us, to experience, to feel, and after a time, to hear. And then… under the medical definition of life, Caroline had 32 minutes to live. You see, doctors get to cheat – they get to narrow the field in which they have to define life. They get to stick to raw observations. They don’t have to incorporate soul, or emotion, nevertheless faith.

But without life, we as mortal humans can’t do anything else. We can’t breathe, or taste, or feel. Without life, we can’t offer a helping hand, or make someone’s day with a smile. Without life, we can’t have faith or inspire it, and we can’t have the hope that Jessica and I had, and still have. And if we don’t have life, we can’t love. If love could be measured in quantity, the love that I have for Caroline as her father: it’s all just a mere drop in the ocean of Jessica’s love as her mother.

While Caroline’s life was born out of our love, we can’t give her life today. When I started thinking about this during adoration a few weeks ago, the first concept that came to mind was “31 minutes,” and what I would do to give her one more. God gave us 32. All this pain and suffering? I’d do it all over again to give her a 33rd minute, and then I’d give anything else just to give Caroline a 34th. But we are not God, and as I struggle to find the purpose in this suffering, I surrender to his will.

And while those 32 minutes were the entirety of Caroline’s experience after birth, to the rest of us, they’re nothing. I have in my head Dave Matthews’ song, “Funny The Way It Is” – a series of everyday juxtapositions. Those 32 minutes of Caroline’s life are a TV show or my own toddler’s temper tantrum. They’re someone’s morning commute or the drive to get to dinner with a friend. 32 minutes isn’t even a high school class period, or enough to meet the FAA’s guideline that your plane is delayed. I could write a book on that topic of being 32 minutes late. And those 32 minutes felt like only three scrolls on Facebook.

Yet, for those 32 minutes, our worlds stopped, because those minutes were Caroline’s whole world. Anywhere else – any other time – if someone stopped and devoted  32 minutes to you – a phone call, a lunch, you’d thank them for the act of love: love for family, love for neighbor – all in service above oneself. They say that the greatest act of love is to give to those who can’t even thank you in return. While Caroline couldn’t say the words “Thank you,” or give us a hug or smile, we still love her all the same, and she still can thank us, and has been already thanking us, from above.

Throughout our journey, there was a small army of people praying for Caroline. Small is relative – it was a BIG army. And to that army, Jessica and I express our immense gratitude. But now, we can pray to her. With prayer warriors like this, we can only imagine the prayers that Caroline is bringing to heaven. I was talking with someone recently, and this image came to mind: that Caroline has an answering machine in heaven. It was filled with voicemails from our prayers. It has an unlimited capacity to store messages – since the souls up there have an infinite amount of time to listen and respond to them. And while this journey has shown us the human end of those prayers, I can only imagine what it must be like to be on the divine end, and being taught how to use them in heaven. Caroline may only have been a little human with us, but she’ll grow up to carry some big things in heaven.

Our daughter Jane told us that Caroline gets to grow up with God. Like all parents, I feel my faults, weaknesses, and failures as a dad. Caroline must be truly lucky to have the perfect father to raise her. While I don’t get to raise her, I’m sure God as father knows what he’s doing.

We can find some comfort, purpose, and meaning for Caroline’s life because it generated love, prayers, and hope that were all around her while she was on this earth. But all that still leaves me still searching for words – searching for the inexpressible. Aldous Huxley might not have a lot I can bring into church, but in his words, “after silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible, is music.” Funny that “silence” and “music” usually don’t have words. While I usually find words in Dave Matthews songs, today I end with this verse from Marc Broussard:

May the mountains rise to meet you

May the skies open wide

Know that in my heart, Caroline,

You will always be alive

May the angels fly to greet you

You can see it all from up there

I know you’re listening from up above

Because this is, and will always be, my prayer

And with that, we say we love you, Caroline Mary.

———

You can view Tom & Jessica’s website dedicated to Caroline Mary at https://lifeofcarolinemary.blogspot.com

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