I can certainly see why people are drawn to the life of Chiara Corbella Petrillo. Not only did this woman bravely face an early death, she experienced the death of two of her children shortly after birth with heroic love. As I was reading this week about the loss of her little Maria, I was struck by a phrase Chiara and her husband found great comfort in.
“We are born into eternity, and we shall never die.”
The more I think about Philomena, the more I realize she was perfect during her time here on earth. Yes, she was physically ill, but she was perfect. She was loved from the very first moment, baptized and ready to go to God with a pure soul. As much as I tried to help Philomena, I think it was really Philomena who helped me. She helped me become a better person with all her little lessons she taught me over her short life.
Last week was the feast of St Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower. St. Therese’s Little Way was the theme in my thank you I wrote to Philomena’s caregivers. In my note, I reflected on how Philomena showed me the power of the Little Way. As my sweet little baby, she became the teacher in the ways of love. I have included a copy of it below.
My little Philomena was born into all eternity, she shall never die. I know she has more lessons for me to discover as I ponder my time with her. St. Therese, pray for us!
Thank You Letter to Philomena’s Caregivers
Dear Care Providers of Philomena Hilgefort,
Let me begin by thanking each of you for your care of my dear sweet daughter, Philomena. So few outside the hospital were able to gaze upon her sweet perfection. You shared that privilege with me. The memory of her chubby little hands, perfect little feet, and angelic face will always bring tears to my eyes. Tears of sadness, but also tears of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving to God for the gift of Philomena, even if for a short time.
There are moments in time that change you forever. Experiences that transform how you look at the world. For many, 2020 will be the year of the pandemic that upended our way of living. For me, 2020 will be remembered for my time with Philomena. We had not anticipated losing our little girl so soon. It seems from the first moments after her birth Philomena took the harder road. Nothing seemed easy for her. I don’t need to tell you she was feisty. At times, we were all afraid to touch her lest we send her down a rabbit hole. Although I miss holding her in my arms, it brings me much comfort to know she is past all her sufferings. Holding her in my arms with what seemed like a thousand lines attached.
I have spent much time reflecting on her life and the lessons she taught me. Truly, I could write a book on my experiences and my time with her. Her life is a reminder that small things done with great love, in good times and in bad, is the path to true happiness. This was a motto of St. Mother Teresa who is known by many. Less known is the saint she took her name from, St. Therese of Lisieux, often called the Little Flower. St. Therese died shortly before the 20th century at the age of 24. As a cloistered Carmelite nun in France, she saw very few people outside the convent. She wanted to be a great saint like St. Joan of Arc, but knew this was not her path. She imagined St. Joan of Arc to be like a magnificent lily in God’s garden. Therese humbly realized her path was doing her daily tasks each day with great love. She would be God’s Little Flower. Her Little Way, as it would become known, is a model for each of us. As simple as it sounds, it is so difficult to live.
I had always hoped to be able to take Philomena home. To teach her to walk, talk, dress, play, pray, etc. etc. Instead, my time with Philomena was spent simply being with her. At times I was able to hold her for hours on end, at other times I could simply hold her hand, at other times I could only sit beside her bed. I was able to do nothing great – at times I felt like I could do so very little. Since her passing, I can see the gift of all my little acts of love. I am so thankful for my time spent doing these little things with great love. My daughter knows me, my daughter loves me. Yes, this Little Way changed Philomena’s life.
As caregivers, it can become frustrating looking for those big things to do for your patients. How to make them well, looking for the path to healing. Never forget about the little things you can do with great love. These are right before you each and every day, don’t waste them. Taking the time to spend with your patients, talking with anxious parents, doing each task to the best of your ability – this is your Little Way. I will forever remember the kindnesses you showed Philomena and me over the course of this journey. Whether I could articulate it to you or not, sometimes a kind word to me saved me from collapsing into tears when you left the room. We all need little acts of love.
Like St. Therese, Philomena was never able to go outside into the wider world, but she has touched each of us in her little way. I pray you are able to take these lessons to heart and into practice. I pray I can live these lessons she has taught me until the day I see her again. Little things done with great love change the world.
Thank you again for your love and care of my daughter.
St. Philomena Pauline Marie, pray for us!
In Christ through Mary,