When All Is Taken Away

Article excerpt

Byline: Michael Daly

Two tragedies, one message of love, and 'acts of pure kindness.'

What does it take to survive the brutal death of one's children? How can a parent endure?

After a funeral unlike any witnessed at the century-old St. Thomas Church in Manhattan, mourners stood on Fifth Avenue early this month and wondered aloud how Madonna Badger had managed to function at all, much less step up to the lectern and speak so eloquently of the three young daughters who lay in coffins before her.

She had not been able to rescue her children from the Christmas-morning fire that swept through their Connecticut home, killing the three girls along with her parents. She had only been able to cry out "My babies! My babies!" as the firefighters tried to reach them.

But even in tragedy, she found a way to save her girls--by keeping them alive in the hearts of those who came to say goodbye. "This is going to be really hard," she told the mourners when she stepped up to the oak lectern carved with a likeness of Job. "But I feel very strongly, and the reason why I wanted to speak to you today is to let you know who my girls were ... I want you to remember my girls out loud to fight for them to never be forgotten."

Hers was a story of love for Lily, Sarah, and Grace. But there had to be more than love alone. "We can talk all day long about love, but love without service is not enough. Please keep our little girls in your hearts by showing your love with acts of pure kindness, by loving each other and finding a way to help each other every day."

She spoke these words fours days after Dr. William Petit told his late wife's family that he had gotten engaged--a remarkable symbol of his resilience four and a half years after he endured a loss as unimaginable as Badger's. In 2007, two monsters invaded the Connecticut doctor's home, bludgeoning and binding him before raping and strangling his wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, and sexually assaulting his 11-year-old daughter Michaela, then setting her and his 17-year-old daughter Hayley afire. …