Eulogy for Vivian Marie Cupp

Thank you for your attendance today and for all your love, prayers, and support for us and for our daughter Vivian. The kindness we’ve received from friends, family, fellow parishioners, medical professionals, and even strangers has truly given us the strength to endure and grow and smile these past months. I have been told on many occasions that Vivian has touched the lives of many people, many people whom we have never met. My wife and I have no idea how far her story has reached. Vivian now may. And that is a comforting thought.

Vivian Marie has joined her older sibling Francis in heaven. Francis was our first child, who left us before his tenth week in the womb. Jonathan is our second child, whose life was made possible by Francis’ early journey. Vivian is our third child. We learned the Wednesday of Holy Week that Vivian had a fatal condition called anencephaly, and that if she lived to term, she would not live long. A few minutes, perhaps. A few hours. A few days at most. Vivian’s tale had taken a tragic turn.

We were gifted by many words of love and support when we made Vivian’s diagnosis public. One comment has especially stuck with me, and I wish to center my words to you today on what was said to me then. A friend praised our decision to give Vivian the best life we could, and he said that love has no time constraints. Love has no time constraints. That statement captures why we yearned with all our hearts to meet our daughter and why we are so very grateful for the heavenly fifteen hours of life with which she and we were graced.

The common response to anencephaly is a procedure we wouldn’t have considered, and I think Genece would have slugged anyone who suggested it. Our reason for not taking that route, for instead choosing to experience the months of heartbreak and brokenness was very simple: love has no time constraints. A few minutes, a few hours, a few days, no time but that lived in the womb? We would take what we were given. Love has no time constraints.

And so we took each day at a time, taking bittersweet joy in every kick, roll, and turn Vivian made in the womb. We kept the name we had chosen before the diagnosis: Vivian, which means full of life. We recorded each sonogram and watched intently as Vivian seemed to wave at us or give us a thumbs-up. We cheered her as she practiced breathing. We giggled when she had the hiccups. Vivian was very active in the womb, so active we’d never have guessed she had a fatal condition. The girl hardly slept. And she loved chocolate. When Genece ate chocolate before bed, she ensured that Vivian would keep her awake for a few hours. Vivian was also very strong. A few weeks before her delivery, she pressed out her foot so firmly that I could feel the individual toes and the ridges between them. So strong, yet so fragile.

We made a decision early on to explain Vivian’s condition to our son in terms he might understand. We asked him what he wanted to do with Vivian when she was born. He said he wanted to teach her how to play with garbage trucks. He got his wish. I wasn’t sure for a few moments whether she was alive following the delivery, but, as the nurse came to check her pulse, she let out a loud cry, her only one so far as I know. We were all delighted. “That answers my question,” our nurse exclaimed. Vivian would live for a little over 15 hours. In that short, sweet time, she taught us much about herself. She liked rocking in the rocking chair. She blew bubbles and made precious baby noises, one of which sounded exactly like “Mommy.” She cooed and rooted and tried to nurse. She didn’t seem to mind being held by multiple people, but she clearly preferred the touch and embrace of her mother. She gripped my finger with a passion for protection. She was ticklish, especially in her darling little flat feet, and she had a birthmark on her bottom. I wonder if she would have bounced when she walked.

In the early morning hours her breathing became more irregular and her heart-rate increased. She struggled, but she made no expression of pain or misery. Her look and utterances were more like those of an athlete who knows she’s nearing the end of her energy, knows she lacks the energy to see her to her goal, but runs on, determined to give everything. Neither my wife nor I will ever forget those last moments of her life as we held her in our arms and wept and consoled her with insufficient words. We knew when we had reached the point of no return. We held Vivian and held our breath as Vivian, holding her rosary, breathed her last breath. Her soul left her body, her body ceased its animation and relaxed as if in slow motion, and her life concluded like a soft, peaceful end of a sad, glorious song.

Franciscan Sister Ilia Delio writes in her book, The Humility of God, “God’s tears glisten on the fragile human face, the flawed creature who stumbles through the world in search of goodness. God is with us and his glory radiates when we strive to love by bearing the wounds of love. The crucified Christ is risen and glorified. God’s tears are mixed with joy.”
My wife and I have felt and haven’t felt God’s presence in a way perhaps similar to the way Vivian has felt and hasn’t felt our presence. I don’t know how aware she was or to what extent her actions were more than involuntary reactions. Still, we have made ourselves present to her by suffering with her, and we have loved her by suffering with her. God has been present to us by suffering with us, and He has loved us by suffering with us. God’s tears glistened in Vivian’s fragile, bruised, beautiful baby face.

I have found that our modern world can tend to imagine God as a cosmic engineer of the universe, preventing a catastrophe over here and allowing, or causing, a disaster over there. This image has never resonated with me, but that doesn’t mean I envision God as distant, aloof, uncaring, or watching us from a distance. I believe God is actively involved in the messiness of creation, but not in a way of power (in the sense we commonly use the term), but rather in the ways of love. As Sister Delio says, God humbly bends down to embrace and suffer with his creation. The Cross is an image of God’s love and humility. Vivian is, in a different way, also an image of God’s love and humility.

In Mark Helprin’s novel, Memoir from Antproof Case, the narrator summarizes the lessons of his long life. He writes:

“I was graduated from the finest school, which is that of the love between a parent and a child. Though the world is constructed to serve glory, success, and strength, one loves one’s parents and one’s children despite their failings and weaknesses—sometimes even more on account of them. In this school you learn the measure not of power, but of love; not of victory, but of grace, not of triumph, but of forgiveness. You learn as well, and sometimes, as I did, you learn early, that love can overcome death, and that what is required of you in this is memory and devotion. Memory and devotion. To keep your love alive you must be willing to be obstinate, and irrational, and true, to fashion your entire life as a construct, a metaphor, a fiction, a device for the exercise of faith. Without this, you will live like a beast with nothing but an aching heart. With it, your heart, though broken, will be full, and you will stay in the fight until the very last.”

My wife and I are broken and will remain broken, but our hearts are, we hope, full of love, and we will hope and strive to keep our faith alive. Daily we will think of Vivian. Daily we will ask her to pray for us and to intercede for us. Our love for her and her love for us was not constrained by time, nor is it now, nor will it ever be. Our love knows no time constraints. Indeed, our love knows eternity, and because our love knows eternity, our love overcomes death.

Funeral and Visitation

A funeral Mass for Vivian Marie Cupp will be celebrated at 10:30 am on Monday, September 28 at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church: 8000 Eldorado Pkwy, Frisco, TX 75034. Burial and reception at the church will follow. There will be a visitation from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm on Sunday, September 27 at the Turrentine Jackson Morrow Funeral Home: 8520 Main Street, Frisco TX 75034.

For more information or to sign the registry book, please visit Vivian's page on the TJM website.


Vivian Marie Cupp

Our daughter, Vivian Marie, was born alive yesterday at 1:50 p.m. She was immediately baptized and got to be held by friends and family. Her older brother Jonathan, as he had wished, taught Vivian how to play garbage trucks. Vivian melted our hearts by making cute baby noises, one of which sounded just like "Mommy," and trying her best to nurse. She was quite ticklish, on her feet especially.

Vivian passed away this morning around 5:10 due to effects of her anencephaly. We are very sad, of course, but also very grateful for the 15 hours of life that she was given to share with us. Love has no time constraints.

Read more about Vivian here.

[Update - Pictures]

Alliteration for the Day

Paul Ricoeur positively rules.

Vagrant Thought: Good Parenting Edition

I am teaching my son to respond to compliments with “I know” or “People Magazine did a story on that like three months ago. Where have you been?”

A Persuasive Sign, But How So?

According to Aristotle, the art of rhetoric aims at persuasion. The rhetorician seeks to motivate a change in belief or opinion. It is with this definition in mind that I shake my head at a sign apparently distributed by the American Life League that reads, “BURY OBAMACARE WITH KENNEDY.” Some thought might have gone into the sign’s use of alliteration; I’m not sure what the writer of the sign was thinking regarding its persuasive effect.

It’s in the interest of the American Life League, which is currently engaged in a campaign against the current healthcare reform plans, and even against prominent and respected Catholic organizations for their advocating urgent healthcare reform, to persuade people that it truly and genuinely operates in the service of life. Those who attack healthcare reform efforts run the risk of appearing apathetic towards people’s real life needs. They may care deeply for such needs, of course, but a perception to the contrary is likely and ought to be considered and countered. Matthew Yglesias, for example, sees the American Life League as “apparently the kind of pro-life organization that thinks that it would be terrible if people who get sick could have access to medical care.” I don’t think that’s a fair description on his part, but it indicates how the American Life League is being perceived by people outside the pro-life movement—the very people it needs to persuade if it hopes to fulfill its agenda.

The sign makes use of the language of death, particularly the language of violence and killing: “BURY OBAMACARE” implies first killing “OBAMACARE” since “OBAMACARE” is still alive. I have no doubt that the phrase “WITH KENNEDY” is being widely perceived as exploitative of the recently deceased, disrespectful to the late Senator, and not a very pro-life thing to say. The meaning of these metaphors and their inconsistency with the name of their source won’t be lost on those who view this sign. Unfortunately, it is much more likely to promote the belief that pro-life groups really aren’t pro-life than it is to promote healthcare reform that respects life. (VN)

Due Date

Today marks the expected delivery date of our daughter Vivian Marie, but her birth may be a few weeks away. This is a difficult day for us, both longed for and feared. We learned over Holy Week that our daughter has anencephaly, a rare and fatal condition. Statistics say that about half of the babies diagnosed with this condition make it to term, but those statistics may not be accurate as the typical response to anencephaly is abortion. We hoped during Holy Week and we continue to hope now that we'll be blessed to share some time with Vivian. Anencephalic babies that survive the birth typically live a few hours to a few days. Vivian continues to be very active, kicking and twisting and bending and stretching. My wife and I want very much to hold her and comfort her and say hello to her before we're forced to say goodbye. We want our three-year-old son to meet his sister.

The months since April have challenged us physically, emotionally, and spiritually as we've prepared for both her birth and burial. We've struggled with responding to people who in passing congratulate my wife on the pregnancy. What do you say? How do you say it? We've had to respond many times but still lack a definitive answer to those questions. Many people around us know about Vivian's condition, and the support we've received from our family, friends, parishioners, neighbors, and even strangers has been an awesome blessing to us, but many others do not know and won't find out until they see us post-birth with no baby in our arms. We've also faced uncertainty about what it means to be good parents to Vivian. We plan to baptize her, but we won't be able to raise her in the faith. We won't be able to educate her or play with her. We can't fix her condition. We couldn't have prevented it. Nevertheless, we have loved her and will continue to love her. We have suffered with her and will continue to suffer with her. She may not know us, but her not knowing us doesn't prevent our presence to her. Whatever happens, we will be with her.

I am told that events such as this will either strengthen a marriage or tear it apart. I've heard this from several people. I believe it, and I believe that my wife and I will grow closer together through this. We already have. We will support each other. We will grieve together and we will not forget. And we will we be broken. We already are. I think it is important to acknowledge this brokenness and that this brokenness will not be fully healed in this life. I think of Frodo Baggins needing healing beyond what even the Shire could give. I think what will give us the strength to endure will, in part, be the understanding that time will not heal our wounds and so we should not expect that complete healing will come in time. In time we will be broken, but in time we will love and remember and cherish, hope and pray and smile and sing. For our daughter. For Vivian. Whatever happens, we are honored and glad to be her parents.

Vagrant Thought

Why do some people consider government helpful when it seeks to harm and harmful when it seeks to help?

Favorite Films of My Lifetime: 15-11

Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World tells the funny and sad story of Enid and Rebecca, friends just out of high school who are going through the motions of what is socially expected of them now that they are adults. Enid in particular feels alienated from society. Her interests are otherwise. The suburban world in which she lives offers her little meaning, so she finds amusement in unlikely places. What starts as a practical joke to alleviate her boredom leads Enid to befriend a middle-age loser named Seymour. Neither of them can relate to most of humanity, but they seem to be able to relate to each other. For awhile, anyway. Ghost World is a smart, observant film about longing for meaning in a world of empty social structures and conventions.

You Can Count on Me, #14, is another funny and sad story, this one about a brother and a sister played by Mark Ruffalo and Laura Linney. Laura’s character, Samantha, is a lonely banker and single mother living in the house that belonged to her parents. Both her mom and dad had died in a car accident when she and her brother Terry were young children. Terry shows up in their home town, broke, after a long absence and a long time without contact. He confesses to have been working in several States and to have spent some time in prison. Samantha is delighted to have her brother home, but worries about Terry’s influence on her young son. She’s no saint herself. An affair with her married boss complicates her home life and work life. Kenneth Lonergan’s film is touching and tragic and a great piece of storytelling. It treats of family bonds and brokenness like few films I’ve seen. Here’s the trailer:

I don’t need to say much about #13, When Harry Met Sally. Its dialogue and characters are among the most memorable in movie history. Extensively quotable.

Out of Sight also has great characters and dialogue. It begins with an irate George Clooney throwing his tie on the concrete ground, followed by his robbing a bank. He calmly walks into the bank lobby, scans the surroundings, and proceeds to the teller. He smiles and speaks politely, informing her that the man speaking to her manager at a desk behind him is his accomplice who will shoot her manager if she doesn’t hand over money. He guides her through the process, mindful of the bank’s security measures. His story is a lie, of course, but he’s able to walk out with the money because he knows exactly what he needs to say. Then his car doesn’t start. Out of Sight is smart crime caper, with a romantic conflict in which a federal marshal played by Jennifer Lopez and the criminal George Clooney fall in love. This could have been a contrived movie, but the writing is excellent, the characters are complex, the plot takes on moral seriousness at the climax, and, believe it or not, the leads have terrific chemistry. Dennis Farina, playing Lopez’s dad, is a hoot.

My #11 is a simple movie made on a very small budget by people who love movies. Swingers works incredibly well because director Doug Liman and writer Jon Favreau have a keen sense for the small stuff. One hilarious scene shows Favreau’s character pacing around his apartment while he’s on the phone. Each time he enters the kitchen, he turns the kitchen light off, and opens the fridge. Then he closes the fridge, turns on the kitchen light, and leaves the kitchen. Then he returns and the routine continues as he absent-mindedly talks girls and dating-rules on the phone. Here are a couple of other scenes (warning: obscene language):

Caputo Contemplates Nietzsche’s Nose

“Nietzsche, one of the truly great philosophers of the flesh, the first philosopher to philosophize with his nose, whose genius is in his nostrils, is one of the few philosophers to have a nose for the smell of the other and to have organized his thought around the odor of rank. Nietzsche ranks bodies from those who smell the most rank to those who smell the best, who rank the highest. Christians smell the worst to him, and their Book is very rank, whereas his high-ranking yea-sayers are quite sweet-smelling. Far be it from me to challenge Nietzsche’s nose, which seems to me the most formidable nasal operation in Western thought, but I am dubious about his sense of priorities, about the order of his odor of rank.”

- John Caputo, Against Ethics

Vagrant Thought

I once heard a weather man predict that roads would be 0% to 100% ice-covered. I want that job.