My heart is broken.
There is a family — the Kazas — who live just down the road from us. They are a large Catholic family, with eleven children. I’ve never met them, but some of their children went to school with some of our children. As with many large Catholic families, we travel in the same orbits, even if our paths don’t cross.
This morning, they lost Sebastian, their baby boy. He was only 19 months old.
The details of the story are few: he was hurt in an accident in the home. He suffered cardiac arrest, and his brain was deprived of oxygen for too long. From the beginning, it was known that he would need a miracle to survive.
That miracle never came.
I’ve known about this situation since last week, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to write about it. I can barely stand to do it now. It was too personal. Too touch and go. I can’t read about it without breaking down. Even now, I am writing through tears. It may be cliche to say that once you become a parent, every story about anything bad that happens to any child becomes, in your mind and heart, about your child, but it doesn’t make it any less true. We can all empathize with tragedy, but only once you know what it is to love a little one of your own can the story of another parent’s pain over some tragedy that befalls a child wound you to the core. Only once you know what it is like to fear the loss of your own baby can you begin to fathom the pain of another parent’s loss of theirs. My Liam is less than a year older than Sebastian. He is so precious to me, I simply can’t begin to imagine what I would do without him. I have been holding him more closely. I’ve been paying more attention to the little things he says to me, and his angry toddler fits aren’t bothering me so much – because at least he’s here to have them. I’ve been making sure to show him that I love him. I’ve been laying next to him at night, running my fingers through his corn silk hair so I can see his little, precious face, and simply watching him sleep. I’ve been begging God, “Lord, please don’t ever make me have to bury a child.”
I don’t think I have what it takes to deal with something like this. I know I’m not strong enough. I know I’m not faithful enough. I don’t know how to love God enough to accept His will in something like this. Every time I try to imagine it, I can’t fathom how. The mere idea crushes me.
Sebastian’s parents, however, have shown great strength. Faith. Love. Acceptance. Yesterday on Facebook, after they had been given the news he would not recover, they were photographed with their baby in their arms, and they were smiling. Tired, weary smiles. But there is real joy there too. With the photo was a note from Tabitha, his mother:
We are taking turns holding Sebastian while we can. It felt so incredibly good–some of my happiest moments as a mother–to feel the weight of his warm body, watch his chest rise and fall, feel the thudding of his heart. I would give anything to stay in these moments forever–just like when I held him in my arms for the first time after his beautiful birth. The quilt he is covered with was wrapped around each of our children when they were born, and it is good for him to be wrapped in it as he is born into eternal life. We informed the doctors here that we will leave the possibility of organ donation up to Divine Providence. They are doing all the work necessary to see if he is able to donate and if there are possible recipients. In the meantime, we will hold him and love him and kiss him and support his life the best we can, until we need to take him off the ventilator. If the timing allows donation, that is by the grace and glory of God, and the sacrifice of our little boy, whose life was laid down. I still cannot imagine how I will say that last goodbye, but being able to cradle him in my arms now is such a merciful blessing. He is one of God’s most beautiful creations.
This family is not without grief. The title of this post comes from something else written by Sebastian’s mother, another note that shows that deep note of pain that resonates as a primal need:
I’m sorry I am so dark this morning. This is the usual time Sebastian would wake up and his big brother and godfather Tommy would bring him downstairs and change his diaper and give him breakfast and take him on a walk. I would be nursing the baby in bed and listen to him ordering Tommy around. The loss of his life is so great–how can it be borne? Please pray during these next hours for us to have the prudence, wisdom, and fortitude to choose the right course of tender, loving care we can give. Pray for his siblings. Pray for peace. Thank you.
And it seems that they found peace. This morning, I received a forwarded email, confirming what I had waited for, and dreaded:
Thank you, with all my heart, with our whole family’s hearts and souls, for your love, for your Christ-like love. You have all given us so much, you have shown us a glimpse of Love Himself.
Sebastian went from our arms into the arms of his Creator this morning, a little after 5AM. I promise to share all arrangements with you as soon as they are made, and I promise to share more of Sebastian’s story as soon as I am able.
With profound gratitude for all the blessings our loving God has poured out upon us,
My wife, who is so much stronger than I, keeps reminding me: our children belong to God, and it’s up to Him to decide when to call them home. She tells me what a great consolation it is that these little ones go straight to heaven.
I understand her words. I know, intellectually, that they are true. But all I feel is sorrow. All I can process is grief. I never met little Sebastian, never so much as said hello to his parents, but I mourn for them, deeply.
Just a day before this all came to pass, Sebastian’s mother wrote a comment about the way the world views large families. She said:
[T]here is some sort of prudish streak to the contempt large families receive–something of a disgust at procreative sex, something messy and carnal and transcendent and wild. In Brave New World, Aldous Huxley imagined a world where the very idea of sex being linked to procreation is obscenity, and the worst possible curse word is “mother.” We are living his prescience now. When I was the recipient of scorn at Brown University for being pregnant, I couldn’t help but notice that dozens of Brown students got pregnant every year (it’s just that their pregnancies did not end in live birth), and hundreds of Brown students did activities that could have resulted in pregnancy. That was all fine. But be in love, get married, have a child? That suggested unwise abandon, stupidity reserved for animals. Orwellian reversal of the truth in all this.
People do not understand large families. They ask if the children you have with you are all your own. When they find out how many you have (because invariably, one or two are off doing something else) the look of shock on their face is genuine. It’s as though they’re standing face to face with Bigfoot, or a unicorn.
It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that these people also do not understand that a parent’s love does not diminish with each additional child, it multiplies. Love is not some finite resource like diapers or bacon, growing more meager with each additional bottom to cover or mouth to feed. It grows in relationship, in interaction, in the communion of persons that is a family. Ask any couple with a bunch of kids about that strange feeling they sometimes have at the dinner table, amidst the chaos, that someone is missing.
Every child is irreplaceable. Every time you wonder how you could possibly love another one as much as you love the others, they find some way to stretch your heart beyond its limits. Every little life is a treasure of immeasurable price. I have not always lived this truth to the fullest, to my shame. I have worried too much about finances at the news of pregnancy, I have often been too absorbed in my work, or too caught up in my own thoughts and problems, to give my family the time they need. I put them off too much. I don’t show them enough love. Sebastian’s story has come as a sharp reminder that I cannot take for granted something so precious and undeserved. Please, Lord, don’t allow time and distance to cause me to forget.
As you might expect, the family is facing unexpected difficulties and costs related to this horrible tragedy. A fundraising page has been set up to help them. If you are able, please give. Let’s overwhelm them with generosity. Let’s be instruments of Christ’s love and consolation. Nothing can take away their grief, but perhaps, just for a short time, we can help to ease their temporal worries, so that they can be together and remember the life of their beautiful son.
And Sebastian Kaza, please pray for us!
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.