The story of 28-year-old Italian Chiara Petrillo, who died in 2012 can be summed up in two words: love and death. She and her beloved husband Enrico lost their first two children, only to balance the joy of the birth of her third with the heartbreak of her preparation for her own death. Nonetheless, in Chiara’s life, it was love that was to have the last word.
Chiara Corbella (born January 9, 1984) was 18 years old when she met Enrico Petrillo, who was 23. The young couple fell in love with each other immediately, but up to the time of their wedding their relationship was not easy. They frequently quarreled with each other, split up, then got back together. The character of the Petrillo’s relationship changing into a mature one came about because of two things: the sacrament of matrimony, which they entered into on August 21, 2008 in Assisi; and the marriage preparation they received under the guidance of Fr. Vita D’Amato. It was then that Enrico came to understand that “life is worthwhile only if you are ready to truly love”, and Chiara learned to put her faith in God, accepting that the other people in her life were gifts from God and not objects that belonged to her. From that point onwards the spouses would repeat the words of St. Francis that love must be purified above all from the temptation of possession. Chiara wrote that: “To love someone means to accept that you can’t understand everything about them, and to be ready to change and to sacrifice, to give something up for them.”
“We are not angry at God, since we know that it is He who is in charge of everything. And to understand that God is in charge of everything is one of the most wonderful things in the world” (Enrico Petrillo)
How Can One Sustain Vulnerable Love?
God very quickly blessed the Petrillos’ marriage with pregnancy. However, during a check-up in the 14th week of Chiara’s pregnancy, it turned out that the child – a girl – suffered from anencephaly, that is, its skull and brain had not fully developed. This meant that it would not be able to survive long after birth. The doctors alluded to the possibility of an abortion, but Chiara was appalled by the doctor’s suggestion. She had known from the beginning that even though her child wouldn’t survive after birth, it was up to her to assure her the best possible development during pregnancy. She felt that she had to support her as best she could, and not deprive her of her life. Enrico was of the same mind, which was a great support for the young wife and mother. He recounted: “Maria Grazia Letizia [this was the name they had chosen for their daughter] opened our hearts. Open the doors and grace will enter, true love, eternity, and the sense of living will enter. This is exactly what Maria Grazia Letizia accomplished. God commanded us to proceed step by step, and slowly everything became clearer for us. And when we discover God’s true presence, we manage to love even more.”
“I would like to tell mothers who have lost children that we became mothers, receiving the gift of children. It doesn’t matter how long they were given to us for” (Chiara Petrillo)
During the subsequent months of Chiara’s pregnancy, the young couple loved their daughter in a way that confounded those around them. They were not embarrassed by their daughter’s condition, and spoke of her with the pride of all expectant parents. For them, her life was not a mistake, and they didn’t harbor any ideas that it would be better if their daughter were different. The happiness and spiritual joy emanating from the faces of the baby’s parents embarrassed not only the doctors, but many of Chiara and Enrico’s friends, who had heard the diagnosis and were surprised that the young couple hadn’t decided to “terminate the pregnancy”. However, as Chiara admitted: “Each time that Maria kicked it was a gift. She truly so wanted for me to feel her… It was as though she wanted to remind us that she was there for us.”
Maria Grazia Letizia came into the world on June 10, 2009, and in the half hour of her earthly life she managed to delight her parents and the others who met her, and to receive baptism, which Chiara called “the greatest gift that God could have given us”. Later the young mother also asserted that: “I will never forget the moment when I saw her for the first time. I understood then that we are united forever. I wasn’t thinking that she would only be with us for a short time. It was an unforgettable half hour. If I had terminated the pregnancy, on the claim of ‘alleviating the problem’, I certainly wouldn’t have thought of the day of my abortion as a happy day. I would have wanted to forget about that, because it would have been a day of great suffering. Instead, I will be able to remember the day of Maria’s birth as one of the most beautiful days of my life, and I will be able to tell my future children that God wanted for them to have a unique little sister, who would be praying for them in heaven. I would like to tell mothers who have lost children that we became mothers, receiving the gift of children. It doesn’t matter how long they were given to us for, whether it was a month or two, or just a few hours. The only thing that matters is that we received them as gifts, and this we can never forget.”
Nor was it possible to forget the little girl’s funeral. People in attendance were amazed that the girl’s parents were dressed in white for the ceremony. Chiara played her violin, and Enrico his guitar to praise God for Maria Grazia Letizia. They also prepared a picture of Our Lady, on the back of which they had written an emotional letter to their daughter, with things like: “We can get along without everything else. We need only to know the Father and prepare ourselves to meet Him. You were born ready for this meeting, and I can’t find the words to tell you how proud we are of you.”