The loss of a precious child...

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Fr. Bill Mouser is one of my heroes. He's an odd bird, no doubt. God has shown me that sanctification always produces greater oddities in saints. Never greater conformity. Barbara loves her husband and it would be hard to find a Priscilla/Aquila married couple today who have done better work strengthening the church against the greatest heresy of our day, the repudiation and denial of the Fatherhood of God.

Some years back, Fr. Bill and his dear Barbara suffered the loss of their little daughter, Francesca. I've heard snippets through the years about their loss. Recently I asked Fr. Bill to write a little bit more for us. Here it is from the kindness and generosity of his heart. I trust you will be strengthened reading it, as I was.

* * *

When my eight-year old daughter Francesca (hereafter "Cheska") was diagnosed with an inoperable brainstem tumor on January 9, 1996, we knew two things...

(1) The statistics were massively against Cheska's recovery. Survival at one year post-diagnosis was (and remains today, 20 years later) 10 percent. A leading researcher at Duke University told me one out of 150 of these children survive to adulthood. Moreover, he said, nothing in their observations correlated survival to a specific treatment. Once in awhile, a child survived with no treatment at all. Quietly, the neurosurgeon said, "These do not heal."

(2) Then there are the express commandments in the New Testament as well as examples from both Testaments and selections from our Lord's teaching in the Gospels—all urging us to entreat the Lord for healing. It is disloyalty to this Biblical witness not to entreat the Lord. Throughout those 16 months of entreaty, I never doubted that my prayer was in fact a prayer. If Cheska were ever healed, our Father would say yes. Sometimes, however, His answer is no. 

Was prayer our only recourse? One physician candidly mentioned that no medical therapy at all was an option as treatment was likely, at best, only to delay the inevitable. Knowing that God's yes might easily come through medical agents, we proceeded to pursue both standard therapy and clinical trials of various experimental agents. Eventually, this led to an exchange between Cheska and me while we were en route to a medical complex about halfway through her 16-month pilgrimage. Why, she demanded to know, were we going through all the effort? She had already assessed her "chances" and reached a correct conclusion.

My answer: sickness, illness, and all the rest are a consequence of sin. Death (and all that generates death) is an enemy, and Jesus resisted that enemy and triumphed over it. He bids us do the same. We were battling the brain tumor just as we were battling my own cardiovascular disease (I'd had a heart attack at age 48, just one year previously!). 

By God's grace, Cheska received my answer, calmed herself, and pondered it. A month later on a walk in the park she said to my wife, "Mommy, I know some good things that come from this brain tumor." My stunned wife listened as Cheska recited three of those good things.

And so it went for the next seven months. While her mobility and vision degraded week by week, her spiritual maturity surged. It was breathtaking to watch. Parents of children dying of brain tumors often report that the trials attending the illness and the prospect of death in the short term transform the children into psychological adults who inhabit the dying body of a child. Cheska was able to draw on all the resources available to a Christian, and so her fearfully rapid maturation was spiritual as well. In January 1996, she was a fretful, worrying, insecure, whiny, complaining child. In April 1997, she was as close to a saint as I'm ever likely to meet.

A week before she died—at home in our bed—she tearfully asked me what it was like to die. I told her all that I'd heard from credible sources, both medical and spiritual. Our conversation ended in tears, mostly at the prospect of imminent separation. She assured me that, if she were able, she'd come to visit me and Mom every day until we too died. Of course, I do not know if she's been able to do that. 

Twenty years later my wife and I are still vulnerable to bitterness toward those who, like Job's comforters, so confidently offered advice that deeply discouraged and hurt us.  My default "strategy" toward that temptation is to flee it—that is, to push those memories away. God knows if this is right, or sufficient. I report this for what it's worth, perhaps nothing. As for Cheska, I retain a sadness that only reunion with her will erase. Mixed with that sadness, though, is joy at who she had become by the time she departed. 

On Cheska's first birthday in Heaven, my wife and I had returned to Vienna, Austria, where Cheska was conceived. We went to St. Stephen's, the 11th Century cathedral in Vienna's center, to offer prayers of thanksgiving to God for His granting us a daughter like Cheska, and for calling our family to trudge along that thorny path to Heaven's Gate.

Afterwards, we were strolling down the Kärtnerstraße in the evening twilight, reflecting on that strange, strange 16 months. 

Barbara said, "It's so odd. God did something so wonderful with Cheska through the brain tumor. But, it's just about impossible to explain to anyone how that can be."

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!