Speaking of the Dead

Saturday, February 13, 2010

All of us have experienced people who either dont understand why parents remember and talk about their dead children or miscarried babies, or who are terribly uncomfortable when confronted with the death of a child. We must ask, is it because we are remembering the dead in general or because our beloved are babies and the mere thought of that alone is what upsets them?

This coming week, we Americans will remember our dead presidents. Last month, we remembered Martin Luther King, Jr with a special holiday. These men are dead (obviously) and yet no one bats an eyelash at celebrating their lives and memorializing their passings. If a wife loses a husband, she continually reminds their children of the father and man he was. Grandparents who have died are remembered in stories so that their grandchildren may know them through the memories of their parents.

But now... Children... Babies... What is it that has orphaned parents who remember labeled as a little freaky? Why are parents told that their grief impedes the parenting of their living children? Why are mothers told to dry their tears so that their family (and especially living children) wont feel inadequate? Why are fathers told to suck up their grief so that their strength can be a pillar for their families? Why are we chastised for remembrance because it brings us both joy and sorrow, yet are asked by society to remember those who died in service to their country, in terrorist attacks, in old age, simply because they were leaders or soldiers or heroes made so by circumstance?

Is it because our children lived short lives, perhaps lives only in the womb? Is it because it is too uncomfortable to think of preborn babies as people? To think of preterm and stillborn babies as really babies? Is it because the site of grief in others is too much to bear? Or because we dont know how to take people who integrate the dead into their lives because, really, death is just another chapter of living.

Some people wonder what you could possibly share about a miscarried baby or a preterm baby whose life was mere minutes or a stillborn child who never lived outside the womb? There arent many memories- weeks in some case, months in others- but there are memories just the same. And, more than that, there are the things we dont know. Do you think Nicholas had my eyes, Sophia your chin, Alexander his grandfather's ears? Do you think they would have liked to read? To play music? It's not just about what we did know- that Sophia liked to dance, that Alexander liked spicy food, that Nicholas was a kicker- but about what we had dreamed of and had hoped to learn... And it is our sharing that has kept us a happy married couple. We grieve differently, yet openly and together with understanding. 16% of bereaved parents divorce, according to studies done by Compassionate Friends, and some reports put the results as high as 70% (although recent studies seem to disprove findings from the 70s and 80s that were so high). In fact, research is seeming to prove otherwise; parents who share their grief tend to stay together because the death can bring couples together. Is it because you share similar memories and experiences? Because, in your pain, there is someone who shares it? Because you can relate to the joy of your children with another whose joy is just as strong?

We'll go to Mass tonight. We'll remember and celebrate the person who born and died as man, who rose from the dead as God, who lives forever in the lives of those touched by Him. We'll tell stories of life before and after Him in the readings from the Old and New Testaments and stories of Him in the Gospels. We will mourn and celebrate in the Psalms and Acclamations. We will remember His death with a meal together, and celebrate the lives we have now and the people we are today, simply because of the impact He has had on us. And, in whatever ways we can, we will pass His legacy onto our children.

Although Nicholas, Sophia, Alexander, and our miscarried little ones will not grow up with their siblings, they are nonetheless part of our nuclear family. We have photographs and memories of them. And Bobby and Maya will know them, through us, as they grow up, just as the surviving parent would make real the other if one of us died. There is nothing odd about this; we do it every day in our civic duties and our religious choices. The difference is that our children were born in the here and now, to us... They arent dignitaries or figures of history, but tiny saints that were born and died in the shortest of periods and the simplest of situations, lost to history except in the minds and hearts of those who loved them and love them still.

It is hard to explain to someone who has never been touched with a grief so deep that life doesnt go on but instead grows in the spaces left behind, that you can, indeed, live a life of joy unceasing and grief neverending. It's hard to explain to someone who has never lost a child that, although that baby is not present in photographs that they are ever present in your mind, loving and growing, yet eternally young and innocent. We try to explain, but can we? Is it impossible? We parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and siblings of dead children can never fully explain to others the depths of our souls. And we dont have to. Some people will want to share with us and others will want to forget. Those who understand will, and those who dont, wont.

Life intertwined with death. Joy mirrored in sadness. Faith and hope made deeper through pain and anguish.

Life. A new form of living perhaps, but life nonetheless.

13 comments:

N said...

I don't think it's to do with the fact that they're babies, but instead that they weren't adults (even when they are adults. er, I swear that makes sense in my head). As much as people are uncomfortable hearing about my miscarriage, people are just as uncomfortable hearing about my brother's death, and dealing with my mother on that front. And he was 21.

People have in their heads that there's an appropriate time to die - when you have somebody whose own parents have passed, then it makes sense that they would be next in line. But when a child (be it a baby in utero, a baby, a child, or an adult child of living parents) dies, it messes with the order of things as we, as people, understand it.

Rachell said...

A friend asked on FB yesterday this: If you could ask God one question, what would it be?

I answered: On the serious side, I would ask "Why am I infertile?" and on the not so serious side, "What's the purpose of skunks?"
No matter what His answers to me would be, the hurt/pain/grief of not being able to get pregnant would still be there and skunks would still stink.


I will always remember seeing my babies on that tv screen...just a mere ball of cells to most, only 3 days post conception, but to me they were and always will be my babies.

Catherine W said...

I don't know why grieving for a baby is so problematic either.

A short life is still a whole life. A short life can still be a life full of love, a life full of memories.

Just Breathe said...

This post is beautiful. I am going to get off track for a moment but when I was divorced people would say I would never take him back.
I would tell them that I felt the same way once but when it happens to you all you want is to have him back. Until you experience something you really can't comment or be of much help. But what you can do is try to put yourself in those persons shoes when it comes to making a comment to them. I'm not talking about here on a post but in real life. I have always had compassion for people and their feelings. Unfortunately most people don't. One thing that I am teaching my family and friend is how to relate to people who have lost a a baby/babies/child. I want to share this with the world but all I can do right now is make baby steps. I know that last year I came across several different days that were for the remembrance of babies. But who else knew about this then the people who are involved, those who have lost a baby. Where is the day on the calendar where everyone can know about this? You don't have to post this I just wanted to share this with you. One thing I do remember is the feeling of my children growing inside of and if I would have lost them before they were born I would be grieveing in the same way.

AKD said...

Oh, Michele, this just spoke to my heart on so many levels. You're right, I think it's a unique pain and joy, and definitely one that can bring us closer.

I'm thinking of you and your family.

Jill said...

I think all of your children should always be a part of your family. You are right, there is nothing odd about it. I understand what you are saying and it is almost sad that some expect us to move on and to not remember those who we love and who will always be a part of us. As you said though, it is hard to explain to someone who has never lost a child...

xo

Sophie said...

Beautiful post Michelle. I don't understand why we're not allowed to talk about our children either. I think it's babies in general though, Jordan was five and a half months old when she died and no one ever talks about her. Some allow me to bring her up but most just pretend she never existed.

I guess along with death, people don't want to talk about miscarriages/stillbirth and in my daughter's case brain damage. People just want to hear about healthy babies. I think that sucks.

Anonymous said...

Commemorating, honoring, & celebrating a life/lives past is totally different from constantly ruminating over the loss of a life/lives. It is a good thing to set aside a time to remember. All of us have experienced horrific losses in our lives, but we choose to go forward with those we have and love here. It is not uncomfortable for us to hear you go on and on and on about your angel babies, it is just so repetitive! If you stay in your present mindset, sadly someday you will be an extremely sad older woman who never really enjoyed the good things in her life. Let go and let GOD lead you to joy in your life and in your living children. Always looking back will not bring you peace or love for your present or future. Please, think about this instead of just being stubborn and wearing your losses as a big sad badge for everyone to have to look at before they can see you. No one can make you get on with a happy life. That is your choice and responsibility. Poor babies if they are always looked at as being only the ones who did not die.

Queenie. . . said...

This is something I've thought a lot about. I still don't know why people treat such deaths differently. It's interesting, though. I have an aunt who lost a child during delivery. It was something that she mentioned during my childhood (she lost the baby before I was born). It was always something that other family members treated as though it was odd. It was not discussed. She buried her son, and visited his grave. When her husband died a few years ago, she moved her son and buried him on top of her husband, so they would be together. Clearly, her son's death is somethong she still carries with her four decades later.

But I have to say, I never really understood the depth of her loss until I started trying to have my own children, until I had miscarriages of my own and sat alongside others I fpound on the internet as they experienced losses of their own. I can't explain it, exactly, bit I think some part of me used to think babies didn't exist until theu were here and started to exhibit their little personalities. I think many people may think along those lines. How wrong I was!

Nia said...

Anon, it is obvious that you have no idea what parents who have children die feel. If you dont like reading about grieving and the long-term grieving process, then unbookmark this page and move on. No one is asking you to be here. And, honestly, no one cares what you think. Think parents who grieve their children are weird. WHO CARES? My baby died. I know how she feels, as much as I can know another persons feelings. I come here to read the journey of someone else who hurts and who is living each day to the fullest with all of her children in her life. You, obviously, dont. SO GO AWAY. NO ONE WANTS YOU HERE.

Jessica said...

Michele, its so true. Why is it so difficult to recognize our babies even if they didn't meet them? Especially if they are all we know.

I always plan that any living children I have will always know their siblings in heaven. *huge hugs*

Robyne said...

One of my favorite things a friend ever said to me after the loss of one of our children was this:

"your babies are so fortunate to only know the love this world has to offer. They will never know the sorrow and pain that comes with living in this world. Now they can rejoice with the Lord never knowing anything but love"

At the time that was really hard to hear, but as the grief faded with time I began to realize how true the statement was. I am still horribly sad not to have those babies but I have hope. If those children had lived I wouldn't have the amazing babies I have now! Doesn't make it easier but does make it special.

paulsgirl1297 said...

Oh michele This was so beautiful and sad at the same time( does that make sense). While our children didn;t experience life in our world we felt them ''LIVE"" inside us and move and kick and we even held them for a too short time after they were born. I could never forget my baby girl and her soft skin and perfect fingers and toes..
ANON --My only wish Is that someone like you never has to say good-bye to a child. OK maybe 2 wishes -that someone will pray for you to have compassion for others and NOT JUDGE, I would do that but I just hurt too much everyday to pray for inconsiderate people and dealing with my grief is all I can do right now.
MIchele you have helped me thru so much and you help me to understand my feelings and not feel so alone in my grief ( which can seem lonely at times) your blog helps me to sort thru my grief and seeing those beatuiful babies are an inspiration to me and give me hope for the future, And hearing about Sophia, Nicholas, Alexander and the other babies you lost early help me to remember that my memories of ALlison are beautiful and nothing to hide ..