Our unmarried daughter met us for dinner and announced that she was pregnant with her third child. I tossed and turned that night as I thought about this third grandson who would be born into my daughter’s single-parent family.
Less than twenty-four hours later, my son called to say that his baby girl had arrived, but was being taken by life-flight to Cardinal Glennon Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri. They didn’t know if the baby would survive. The neurological team said she would have brain damage if she managed to make it through her first day of life.
In the moment my daughter told me she was pregnant again, I immediately began doing damage control. Instantly, I knew that I would not sign a teaching contract for the following year. Maybe my daughter could move back in with us. Maybe we could babysit, and she could work. Maybe these grandchildren would have some concept of family through grandparents and extended family.
When my son called with the news about his baby girl less than a day later, I couldn’t think at all. I wasn’t planning. There was no strategy in my head. It was too big, the news too unexpected, too awful to analyze and process and mitigate. We took each day as it came. The first family crisis sent me into damage-control mode. The second family crisis left me adrift. No mother could wrap her arms around this.
I took the overnight shift at the hospital. My daughter-in-law could barely walk in the days that followed the traumatic birth. She and my son seemed to be in post-traumatic stress. That’s how it is when a baby is born without life signs, when you are told she may not survive, when you watch her have two seizures in her first 24 hours of life, and the experts say that she will have brain damage.
Instinctively, I activated a social teaching of the Church that isn’t talked about very much. The Compendium on Social Doctrine of the Church says that there is to be a “social priority of the family” (252). It goes on to say there must be “the recognition on the part of civil society and the State of the priority of the family over every other community” (254).
In short, family comes first.
That night, my husband and I talked it over, I talked to my parish priest, I prayed a lot, and then I submitted a letter of resignation. We both knew what I had to do. It was time to be a mother and grandmother before anything else.
I believe God honored our desire to put family first. Within months, my daughter and her three sons converted and entered the Catholic Church. The very next day, an MRI showed that my granddaughter had been miraculously spared brain damage. She has had two surgeries since her birth to address other complications stemming from the traumatic birth, and my son and his family stay with us often to be close to physical therapy sessions in St. Louis. But the two-year old that was supposed to have brain damage has met or exceeded all mental development milestones. And the physical therapy is helping in the areas affected by the nerve damage.
The eyes of the Church are on the World Meeting on Families in September 2015. It is an important time in the life of our Church. Now, more than ever, we are being called to put family above all earthly things, and that includes our employment.
Family comes first.
We must help to meet their temporal needs, but we must also meet their spiritual needs. Corporal works of mercy and spiritual works of mercy begin at home. Our number one job is to get our family members to heaven. Just as the Church helps us along our personal pilgrimage to heaven, the domestic church is a vehicle for the salvation of the family.
Rarely is one called upon to set aside work for family. Typically, work is necessary for the financial viability of the family. But we must never get our priorities out of whack. The family has priority over every other community on earth. Solidarity begins in the home.
By Denise Bossert
Denise Bossert is a national Catholic writer and columnist.