I knew once I fell asleep that I would soon awaken to a nightmare. Twenty-four hours earlier, I swore that sleep was my enemy, and I would never trust it again. Its seductive call was no longer a safe passage to dreams of a hope and promise. Instead, sleep had become an undertaker, digging deeper into my soul and burying what was most precious in my life.
Despite my best efforts, my eyes eventually betrayed me, where I drifted away from my despair. That’s when the critical care nurse entered the hospital bedroom. Just a few hours earlier, I met this very sweet angel of mercy, but I wanted nothing to do with her. If I didn’t see her again, then that would mean that everything would be okay.
But that wasn’t going to happen.
When she came into the room and turned on the lights, my heart sank, and I realized that at 24 years of age, my worst fears were about to come true.
As I looked up from the chair, she delivered two words that would change my life forever.
So began the longest walk of my life.
As I entered the ICU, I found my six-week old infant daughter, Mary Catherine, carefully swaddled in blankets, her body still warm, but dying.
Her life support was turned off, which I authorized due to no brainwaves and failing vitals. My wife and I were to be notified by the nurse when it was initiated.
I gently lifted Mary Catherine to find disconnected tubes dripping bodily fluids that appeared to be blood coming out from the bottom of her blankets. I should have been repulsed, but it didn’t faze me. I had to be with my little girl as soon as the life support was turned off.
We were in a curtain drawn room, which had a hint of light coming in from the unmanned nurses’ station across the hallway.
Mary Catherine and I were alone.
An eerie silence throughout the unit surprisingly struck me. The machines that were once blinking, oscillating, and beeping, were now quiet, which amplified every sense of my being to the point overwhelming my balance and ability to stand.
As I found a chair, I looked upon Mary Catherine, holding her carefully, tenderly in my arms. I began to softly kiss her forehead. However, this intense, surreal, moment was interrupted by a sensation I’ve never felt before or since. I felt like I was falling out of the chair, but my body wasn’t moving.
I momentarily slipped into what I can only describe as an out-of-body experience.
I floated above the room and found myself looking down at this young man holding a baby girl behind some curtains, tucked away in the darkness, quietly crying. This young man had fought so hard to gain a family to care for and love.
He had endured poverty, overdosed on drugs, dropped out of high school and had been homeless. Yet, somehow he beat the odds and was worthy of family to raise and care for, or so he thought.
His world was slipping through his fingers as he was holding his dying baby, who the night before was a healthy, vibrant, and thriving infant full of life.
For a moment, I convinced myself that I was watching someone else, but I quickly realized that the young man was me and that dying infant was my daughter.
Then with the force of a cement truck, I was painfully slammed back into my body where I found myself uncontrollably crying and desperately kissing my baby whose life was rapidly fading.
I was determined to make my little girl’s last moments be showered with love and daddy giving her as many kisses as he could.
As I was kissing her, I realized each kiss became more important, more intense and more tearful, than the one before.
I kissed her for a lifetime of love that only she could give;
I kissed her for every day that I would be without her;
I kissed her for those days I complained about midnight feedings;
I kissed her to hear her cry again;
I kissed her for her mother who loved her and the family we dreamt about;
I kissed her for the days my arms would ache to hold her once more;
I then began to uncontrollably pray out to God, pleading, arguing, and begging for a miracle.
“It’s too soon.”
“This should not be happening.”
“God, she’s my baby girl.”
“She is my little hedgehog.”
“Come back to me, Mary Catherine, please come back to me.”
“I love you so much.”
“Don’t leave me.”
“I must be dreaming.”
“I must wake up.”
“God, please hear me.”
“You can save my baby.”
“Don’t take my little girl. I love her so much.”
“My heart is broken and shattered to pieces.”
“I’m her father and I’m supposed to protect her, even from you God!”
“You gave us Mary Catherine and you cannot have her back.”
“I’m supposed to go first. Please take me, not her.”
“I cannot stop kissing her. I never want to stop kissing.”
“Please God, bring my little angel back.”
Then finally her lifeless body went cold and she was gone. I kissed and hugged her one last time and whispered to her that “Daddy will always love you.”
Then I handed her limp body over to the nurse who was holding back her tears for a father she never knew or would ever see again.
A few weeks later an autopsy confirmed what the medical staff suspected. Mary Catherine Slevin became the latest victim of a silent killer called Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). She was born November 27, 1992 and she died in the loving arms of her father, during the early morning of Saturday, January 9, 1993.
Mary Catherine’s service was held in the same church where I was married nearly a year before. However, I felt far from being a newlywed. As I was watching the church services, my mind was overwhelmed by a flurry of thoughts and emotions that began to build a chilling snowdrift of anger.
My first thought sitting in the pew was that this was unnatural. I’m supposed to die and be buried by my children. Instead, we were gathered together to put to rest an innocence that didn’t deserve to die.
During the service, my wife sensed I was unraveling a bit, so she took my hand and squeezed it to bring me back to the service. I looked over to her and gave her a nod that I was okay, but I was far from being okay, my grief was getting worse.
As the funeral service began to wind down, I found myself cursing God under my breath, who, ironically, I accepted into my life just a few years before. But now, I didn’t want anything to do with Him.
The dominoes began to fall hard from there.
The days, weeks and months that followed, my wife and I were constantly arguing. I was fearful that my ungodly past was catching up with me like some kind of curse: That I didn’t deserve to be a father or enjoy the love of a family that I had always longed for. Family was the one ideal that kept me going through the darkness and despair of my life before I found Jesus and accepted Him as my Savior.
What became the breaking point for me were the flood of medical bills. How am I going to pay for them? Thousands and thousands of dollars in ER, physicians, lab work, and ambulance bills for two hospitals were now months past due. We didn’t have health insurance. Mary Catherine died just two days before our health care benefits would have kicked in.
As it would turn out, my wife was returning from her maternity leave to begin a new job that Monday after Mary Catherine passed on – the benefits would have kicked in on day one. I was attending night school and working as a copy clerk for a law firm in St. Petersburg. The last thing we had was money and no way of attaining it to fend off the relentless bill collectors.
Attorneys at my office counseled that I should file for bankruptcy.
“Bankruptcy, are you kidding me?! I didn’t get married last year and have a child so I can end up a loser with the stigma of bankruptcy following me for the rest of my life!”
The threat of bankruptcy, likelihood of divorce, and being alone for good pushed me over the edge. I couldn’t handle anymore, so it was time to have it out with God.
I drove around Clearwater, Florida looking for a secluded stretch of road. I pulled over where no one could see or hear me, and I unloaded on God.
I started out by telling God that I hated Him for taking Mary Catherine from me and told God to go to hell. But that didn’t come close to satisfying my anger toward Him.
I continued my attacks by accusing His love was indeed conditional and that he should go fuck himself.
My heart grew heavier, but my anger sustained my cursing Him out.
I got louder.
I got angrier.
I got blasphemous.
After spewing every word of hate toward God I could muster, I began to feel my life withdrawing and my heart turning into ash. It was the lowest I’ve ever been and I was going for broke by taking God down with me. I was pretty sure that I had just bought a one-way express ticket to hell and I didn’t give a shit.
Then something profound happened that I never expected, nor will I ever forget.
As I tried to catch my breath for another round, it suddenly dawned upon me that the God that I just blamed, cursed and damned was the same God who could help heal me. I tried to shake off such an unexpected notion, but with no success. The thought grew stronger to the point where I could no longer ignore the revelation overcoming me: That the God that I’ve turned my back on is the very same God that could heal my deep wounds.
This realization came from nowhere and it was heavy in the air. In that moment, I realized my misery was in direct relation to my shutting out God. The source of comfort that I needed the most, I had pushed away since Mary Catherine’s death.
I couldn’t believe it, but I found myself now asking God to love me and help me love again, and to be the man I needed to be for my family. Once I ended my prayer, a prayer that began in hate, but now ending with my profession of loving Him; I physically felt God’s love wrapped around me. It was intensely wonderful, and I cried again, but this time with tears of joy, saying repeatedly how much “I love you, God.” So just like that, I found comfort in knowing that I could express my anger and rage, and He would still love me.
What began with tears of anger, now had become tears of love, hope and praise for our Lord and Savior. I drove back home with a renewed spirit, but financial challenges still remained.
The very next day, my wife called me at work informing me that her OB/GYN had an unexpected check for $1,500 to pick up. The doctor mistakenly overcharged us for the pre-natal care visits and that she was refunding it to us. This check would put a nice dent in paying down the medical bills, but something even stranger happened.
The bill collectors suddenly stopped calling.
Apparently, someone anonymously paid off all our medical bills totaling over $10,000. It could have been my mother-in-law, family, friends, or possibly the attorneys at my law firm. To this day, I honestly don’t know who paid for these bills, but I’m eternally grateful.
These events literally happened within days of my having it out with God and then asking for God’s love, forgiveness and help.
I became curious on what the Bible had to reveal about what had happened to me. I believe that the Holy Spirit guides us more than we can imagine, so I randomly opened it up and it revealed Ephesians Chapter 2, Verses 3-5:
(3) All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. (4) But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, (5) made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
As a grieving man who fell hard while carrying his cross, I gained wisdom concerning my faith. First, through the grace of God, I came to believe that faith is indeed a gift that we must seek out, and when we get it, to grow it by sharing it. Second, it’s not God’s will for us to suffer. That’s a false narrative, believe me. God loves the sinner and hates Sin. Third, it was humankind that turned away from God who did nothing wrong. Yet, He continues to love us, despite the countless times we fall short. I’ve learned that God will always be ready to love, forgive and bestow a loving Grace that endures.
Is God living in your heart?
If your answer is no or you’re not sure, ask Him to come into your life. You don’t need a minister or a Bible verse to teach you how to do it. Note: This advice goes equally to Christians as well as non-believers. Sadly, there are so many Christians who have studied the love of God, but who have never experienced it nor have an intimate relationship with Him.
All you have to do is quietly express in a prayer that you want that close and loving relationship with Him. I promise God will not let you down. He loves you so much.
For me, the Word of God is Love and we all need to communicate His love to both the believer and non-believer.
I look forward to reuniting with Mary Catherine to let her know how much her short life profoundly helped me grow as a man, husband and father, but most importantly, solidify my love for our Lord Jesus Christ.
In 1996, Patrick Slevin was elected one of the youngest mayors in nation at 27 in the Tampa Bay city of Safety Harbor, Florida. He would become a father of two more children, Brendan and Kathleen. Today, Patrick resides in Tallahassee, Florida with his family. You can read more about his insights on faith and endurance by visiting his blog at www.EnduringGod.com.