“A voice heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and refusing to be comforted, for they are no more.”
This Biblical cry of anguish is felt by all parents, but especially by mothers who experience the premature end of a pregnancy, or who give birth to a stillborn or suffer the loss of an infant or young child.
Children are not supposed to die before their parents; it is out of sequence. We expect to help them grow and to see them successfully launched. When they die prematurely the normal life cycle is interrupted and our parental dreams come to a horrific end.
I'll never forget cries for help I've heard as a pastor and a counselor from expectant parents who reported that the heart of their baby had stopped beating, and that their much anticipated new life had been wrenched from them.
Having seen sonograms of our grandchildren, I realize more than ever how real and how incredibly precious the life of an unborn baby really is. And as with all losses, we are never fully prepared to deal with it.
One young mother shared with me how her five-year-old, who had become super excited over the prospect of welcoming his first little sister, expressed his disbelief and dismay at her miscarriage with, “But Mommy, I’ve been practicing every day how I could help take care of the new baby!”
Among the questions he asked his mother were, “Did you eat enough? Did you breathe right, so the baby could get enough air?", all of which added to the heartbreak of his parents’ own “Whys?”“What if’s?” and “Oh No’s.”
Later the remaining members of that diminished family stood by a nearby river and read a poem written for their little girl. They then prayed a heartfelt prayer and threw rose petals on the water as they said a final goodbye.
As a pastor and family counselor I have learned to feel a deeper compassion for parents going through this kind of loss. And I am better able to identify with an anonymous mother who lost several babies and who wrote the following "Poem Without a Name," that I found on the "Missing Angels" website:
“To those who look away when I grow teary-eyed in the baby department, look a little deeper. Surely you have some compassion in your heart. To those who change the subject when I speak my sons' names, change your way of thinking. It just might change your whole life. To those who roll their eyes and say that we barely had them at all, and how could we miss them so much, in our hearts we have seen them live a thousand times. We have seen their first steps, first days of school, their weddings, and their children. We have had them forever in our minds.”
When we bury an older adult we are left with a bittersweet collection of memories we can cherish and treasure for years to come. But when we are forced to part with a young child, we are burying all of the dreams of a life so looked forward to and never lived.
At such times of grief, our words are often far less helpful than an arm around a mourner’s shoulder, accompanied by a simple and heartfelt, “I’m so, so sorry.”