Training in resurrection

By Christine and John Cavenagh

John and Christine CanenaghJohn and Christine Cavenagh have been married for 34 years. They are the parents of 4 boys, Andrew, Ben, Christopher and Dominic.  They live in Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia, where John is a medical practitioner working in palliative care with the privilege of caring for people with advanced illness.  Christine works part-time with the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle supporting priests from overseas who are ministering in the diocese.  In their spare time John is a keen cyclist and Christine is a keen walker – although the pace of their journey differs it’s the experience of the journey that they both relish and the sharing together at the end of the day – usually over a glass of very nice red.

In 1989, just five days before Christmas, our son Christopher died 15 minutes after his birth.  For us the loss was devastating. John held Christopher as he gently died while he was being baptised.  A profound silence enveloped us as Christine tried to pour a lifetime of maternal love into a precious few minutes. 

What a paradox!  We had arrived at the hospital that day expecting to gain so much, thinking that we were about to celebrate the real meaning of Christmas, the joyful arrival of a baby boy.  In fact we were there for an Easter experience and within a few hours we were standing at the foot of the Cross and we had lost everything, a whole lifetime was lost to us.  There would never be a grown man, never a lanky adolescent, never a first day of school, never any bedtime prayers and stories, never those little arms around our necks with hugs and kisses.  

Once love arrives no amount of time, or pain or even death itself can diminish it

Over the years we’ve come to realise that these weren’t the gifts that Christopher came to bring into our lives – he had a different agenda.  The first gift he gave us was the realisation that love doesn’t need a lifetime to grow, it can arrive in an instant, totally formed, purely and perfectly experienced. And once love arrives no amount of time, or pain or even death itself can diminish it.  The love that we gave to Christopher and the love that he poured back into us that day more than 20 years ago is still a positive force in our lives today. 

Our experience ... tells us that this ‘something more’ is made of love

Perhaps the most powerful gift that Christopher gave us was the lesson of ‘letting go’.  As human beings our lives are a continual series of ‘letting go’.  Letting go of our younger selves as we age, letting go of jobs and careers as life takes us in different directions, letting go of our children as they grow into adults with lives of their own.  All of these experiences of ‘letting go’ are little deaths.  And none of us can avoid them, and we think Christopher would tell us that we shouldn’t try to.  Because as hard as it is to let go of what is familiar and expected and comfortable, without the letting go we can’t experience something fuller, deeper and more lasting.  As Christians this is what we call ‘resurrection’.  It’s the belief that, without really knowing what it will look like or feel like, we trust that after the ‘letting go’ there will be something more.  Our experience with Christopher tells us that this ‘something more’ is made of love. 

Christopher must have been a genius at letting go

Our life experiences make us the unique human individuals we are – our experiences of loving, losing, joy and suffering are our journey to becoming vulnerable.  If we walk the journey with awareness, openness and trust, then we allow ourselves to become ever more open to receiving and giving love.

Perhaps all our ‘little deaths’ are ongoing practice until we get to the time when we have to face the ‘big death’ which is our letting go of our whole life.  The more familiar we are with this experience the better we will be able to approach our own death.  Some of us have a lot of years to practice this – perhaps the oldest of us need more practice than those who die very young.  Christopher must have been a genius at letting go – he needed no practice and was ready to embrace resurrection 15 minutes after birth – a letting go Gold Medallist! 

Get in training for the great opportunity of new life ahead

At Easter we recall the ultimate act of trust and letting go when Jesus trusted the love of the Father enough to face torture, suffering and death on a cross.  Jesus trusted even through death and came to new life.  Let’s practice trusting like that and learn to let go into love – get in training for the great opportunity of new life ahead.