31 Years Ago

On March 17, 1979 my first sister, Erin Patricia was born. Due to a combination of complications and medical incompetence she died on March 30, thirteen days later. I got to hold her once.

When Paula and I were married it took us over two years to conceive the first time. We miscarried Blue Bonnet a couple of weeks into that pregnancy. Shortly after, we conceived Lucy. Lucy Elizabeth was born on March 30, 1999. At the time we didn't realize the significance of the date. A few days later we figured out that Lucy's aunt Erin had died twenty years before on Lucy's birthday so we changed Lucy's name to Lucy Erin Elizabeth in honor of the aunt she would never meet.

My kids often wish that Blue Bonnet hadn't died so we have to remind them that they have a saint in heaven praying for all of them and that while we may have had a passel of kids, none of the rest of them would have been born if Blue Bonnet had lived. I'm not sure how many of them really understand that.

When I realized yesterday that my sister would have been thirty one, I started thinking of all the things that would be different had she lived: my brother James's wedding next month wouldn't be happening because James wouldn't be here, my daughter Lucy would never have taken piano lessons from my sister Rebekah and my kids wouldn't have the same wonderful cousins they have now, none of you would have seen the photos from my brother Michael's trip to Rome and we wouldn't marvel at his amazing ability to have everything fall into place in spite of the improbability of it all.

What would Erin have been like? Would she be married? Would she have entered the religious life? Would we even have ended up in Colorado Springs or would her life have affected where my dad got stationed?

And so, as we celebrated Lucy Erin Elizabeth's eleventh birthday yesterday and the thirty first anniversary of my sister's death, I wonder about the blessings we are given that would never occur without the tragedies that came before.

My uncle lives in the town where Erin is buried and every year he places flowers on her grave. He sent us this picture yesterday. Uncle Richard, thank you for watching over her grave for us since we aren't able to.


  1. Please let me know when the The Parish Book of Chant is available. Thank you.

  2. Wow. This is so heartfelt and true. I often think of how I wouldn’t have my precious Katelynne if I hadn’t miscarried before her. My miscarriage occurred Sept 15, 2006 and she was born Sept 28, 2007. While Sept 15 will always hold difficult memories, Sept 28 is a day I look forward to each year now. Not only are we blessed to have a healthy child, but she is actually the first girl in her dad’s family in 28 years! She is truly a gift from God!

  3. I hope you will allow me to comment. Although I am not Catholic, I am a Christian and have a personal relationship with our Lord Jesus. My oldest daughter Jennifer sent the information about this article to me, knowing that the past couple of weeks have been both sad and happy for our family. She will be 40 in October, 2010. She was 14 years old in 1985 and on March 20 of that year our beloved identical twins, Daniel and Michael arrived 12 weeks premature. Daniel lived 3 hours, Michael 16 hours. At my doctor’s encouragement, he said there was no reason why we couldn’t try again. 3 months later we learned we were expecting again – around March 20, 1986. Again, it was not to be. Lorianne Elizabeth was stillborn on November 6, 1985 – in the 20th week of my pregnancy. I too, often wonder what our lives would be like now if either of those pregnacies had been successful. Longing for another child I begged my husband to agree to try again. Jessica Leigh was born on December 26, 1986. She is now 23 years old and in December 2009 received her Bachelor’s Degree Magna Cum Laude in Special Education from a major Christian university. God always has a plan. The miracle of her birth and what she may accomplish in this life in teaching children with special needs can only be God’s plan and timing. On Saturday, March 20, 2010, my husband and I visited our babies’ graves with flowers and thanked God for his blessings and for the lessons he has taught us in this life. On the 25th anniversary of Daniel and Michael’s birth and death, we celebrated God’s love to us by sending us their beautiful, gifted sister and thanking him for his wisdom in knowing always what is best for all of his children.

  4. Our situation? similar but different: married 7 years and no success with my wife conceiving, I had a dream I was in an attic with many, many, babies when I saw one who looked identical to me. He smiled at me and my heart swelled. Suddenly, I was deeply in love. I had the dream again telling my wife each time.

    A few years later and after relenting to my wife’s wishes to pursue the adoption process, we went to see our ‘new’ baby the first time.

    The foster mother stayed on the top flat of a 20-storey high-rise building and our baby was one of a hundred babies she had cared for, said our social worker. The foster-mother said, ‘he doesn’t really smile much,’ as our baby warily scanned round the room at the group of us there. But as soon as our eyes met, each of us burst into the biggest grins ever. Suddenly, I was deeply in love.

    Amazingly, my wife conceived a year or so after Patrick arrived and we often wondered had it not been for one, would she have conceived the other? Also, had the birth come first, we would not have sought adoption.

    As a rider: my wife’s Presbyterian parents hid well their resignation that our adopted child would be baptised Catholic – we had used a Catholic adoption agency. But both were immediately won over when we told them that the baby’s natural mother had already named him Patrick James from birth: my mother-in-law’s name is Patricia, my father-in-law’s James!

  5. Ian & Paula,

    You have been blessed in so many ways with your wonderful children. The memories you shared about Erin reflect just how much your family means to you. Lucy is honored to have her aunt’s name, and it is ironic that one anniversary of passing is also an anniversary of life beginning. Thank you for sharing your memories of your sister. And I know that Lucy had a wonderful birthday yesterday because she was in the warm embrace of her family.
    Eleanor and I send you all our love and we look forward to seeing you soon.

    Uncle Ben

    • Dearest Ian and Paula, Your “Littles” have brought us all so much joy I cannot imagine life any differently. I have, however, had many “what If” thoughts as you have just described. God has the blue print and He is in charge. Even though we have all suffered loss, life has worked out meaningfully for all of us. Thank you, God, for the mercy and love you have shown to all of us, and thank you, Ian and Paula, for the gifts you have shared with all of us – and I understand there is another on the way. Praise God!

      Aunt Marie

  6. Thank you all for sharing your stories of faith, hope and love. And for reminding us that love conquers all! Praise to the Risen Lord without whose love we all would cease!

  7. My daughter Karen Elizabeth was born February 28, 1979 and died suddenly 16 days later on March 16, 1979 in my arms. I often wonder what she would look like and what she would have become. She also , like your precious sister, Erin Paticia, would be 31 years old. These two little “angels” hopefully are watching over us from heaven. I was able to adopt a beautiful girl , Leslie, which would not have happened otherwise. She has been such a blessing from God.

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