17 July 2010

Advice, worth precisely what you paid for it

The quotations from misguided people included in this post have never been uttered by any of our dear readers. I understand. I wish to post this anyway.

It has recently come to your attention that someone you know just lost her baby in miscarriage. You feel compelled to address the bereaved woman, but you don’t know what to say. You don’t know what to do. Here, dear folk, let me help you.

Let the only words you say from your heart be, “I am so sorry for your loss. You are in my prayers.” Then stop talking and hand her a plate of your best cookies.

That’s it. Trust me on this. Miscarriage is a death so sudden, so emotionally blanking, so bloody and perplexingly painful, that there is almost never anything more to say of your own accord than, “you have lost someone you loved and you have suffered; for this, I am sad with you.”

Because, you see, the bereaved mother has a confusing and complicated back story about which you will likely never know. Her pastor might not have called her, let alone visited her. Her husband might not know what to do with her. Her parents might have blown her off. Her doctors might have lied to her. Her hospital might have stolen the baby’s body from her and sent her home to bleed out the rest. Her mind might be in prison. Her heart might be in shards. Her faith might be seriously strained. She might feel angry, desperate, and alone. She might think that God does not love her anymore, that maybe He never did, that maybe she isn’t part of the Elect after all. She might feel like a murderer. She might want to die. She might feel dead already.*

In such a circumstance, to such a person, it is never, ever appropriate to say, “God knows best, honey.” Or, “God has a way of working these things out.” Or, for the love of all things holy, “This was supposed to happen.” Think for a minute about what these lines communicate to a mother in mourning: God aborted your baby, honey, because there was something wrong with it. God didn’t want your child to live.

That’s not the intent of those lines, but intentions do not matter. Words matter. No, better keep quiet and let God reveal what He knows. You might coordinate dinner drops on her doorstep for the next couple of weeks, instead.

Likewise, it is not wise to say something along the lines of, “You poor dear. Lucky you’re so young! You’ll be able to have another.” This may be statistically factual, and she has likely already heard it from her heartless, secularist doctor. It is not comforting to hear it elsewhere. The dead child is an actual person, lost to his mother who wanted him very badly and misses him very much. You would not approach a newly widowed woman, her dead husband’s grave still round and bare, and say, “Lucky you! Now you can marry again!” Neither should a much beloved baby be so casually brushed away. No, better keep quiet and let God reveal what the future holds. You might write Words of promise on index cards and send them to her in the mail, instead.

Because here’s the deal: death, all death, under any circumstance, is tragic. It is always bad. It is never OK. In every instance, a person, a human being, a miraculous conglomeration of flesh and soul has ceased to live and begun to decay. A body whose nature it is to endure has failed to endure. Death is unnatural. It should not be, yet the earth groans under the burden of a swollen belly stuffed full of our beloveds who shall breathe no more, who perhaps never breathed at all.

The miscarriage happened, any miscarriage, because the baby was conceived in sin and thus he died. All babies are fully human, even when sick, even when the victims of fatal genetic errors. Don't be misled: the death of an unborn child is no different than your death will someday be, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. There aren’t any good intentions or well-meaning words that can make this less true, less horrible, less inevitable. There is only Christ. There is only His Sacrament. There is only His Church.

So do not unintentionally abuse the bereaved with the awkward phrases of this dying world. Allow Christ to comfort her, and submit to Him to serve your sister in pain. Pray for her without ceasing. Feed her your best foods. Be sincerely patient. Remind her gently and lovingly that Christ died once and for all for her and for her precious baby, that He rose the first fruits of all the living, that He is coming again in glory with all authority in heaven and earth in his hands. Though the people laugh and scoff, Christ has said that our dead are but sleeping. One short sleep past and we shall wake eternally, all of the Elect, together in perfect love, perfectly comforted, and mothers shall receive into their arms all of their children, never to be parted from them again.

Tell her this, friends, because this is really all you know on earth, and all she needs to know.

*Of course, this is not the universal experience of all women who suffer miscarriage. Some are richly comforted by pastors and families. Some are allowed to bury their babies. Some are able to move on quickly. Some don’t mourn until decades after their losses. However, my observations and experience have taught me that the majority of women suffer crises of faith and family in the midst of mourning a miscarriage, crises exacerbated by our sick, death-loving culture. Whatever her reaction to her own loss, each mourner should be treated carefully, out of love for Christ.

8 comments:

Melrose said...

beautiful.

Untamed Shrew said...

Amen, girlfriend. The most offensive thing I've heard: "It was God's will." Ummm, NO. To say that death is God's will is to say that sin is God's will, for the wages of sin is death. I took and take much comfort in the knowledge that my baby is in the arms of the Savior, the Man of sorrows, Who was crying with me. We'll be spending an eternity together, my loss and I. This life is but a breath.

HappyFox said...

Amen.

Reb. Mary said...

Thank you for this.

Beth said...

Thank you. This is exactly what I needed to hear... even 5 years after our experience.

Josh Osbun said...

As the father of a stillborn child, I'd like to point out that it is important to know that there is a difference between a miscarriage and a stillbirth. A miscarriage happens before the 20th-22nd week of the pregnancy. A stillbirth happens after the 20th-22nd week of the pregnancy. (The difference depends on which method is being used to count the weeks.)

The big difference between the two is that (if delivery takes place in the hospital) parents of a stillborn child will have the option to claim the body for a funeral. Parents of a miscarried child will not, oftentimes because the body cannot be discerned.

This is important to know. We didn't know before our son Peter was stillborn, but we understand the difference now. And the understanding came about when women who had a miscarriage at 8-12 weeks tried to equate their experience to our stillbirth at 26 weeks. While death is the common factor between the two, they are not the same. So as you speak with the couple (please do not leave the fathers out of this!) it is important to use the right terminology. It shows a sense of understanding the circumstances even if understanding the emotions is not possible.

Which leads to my next point. Even if you had a full-term stillbirth, you do not know what the parents of the child are going through. You can empathize with their grief. You can understand the depth of sorrow that they are feeling. But you do not know what they are going through. Please, do not tell them that.

What strengthened us were the words of the resurrection. 90% of the people told us that we were in their "thoughts and prayers." So many people told me that, yet I don't really know what it means, if it means anything at all. Is it just a nicety?

But 10% actually shared the resurrection with us. They did not speak of death as the end. John the Baptist leaped for joy in the womb of his mother. So, too, our child heard the Word of God and was given faith. So, too, our child stands with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. So, too, our child will rise with an imperishable body on the last day. We do not mourn as ones without hope, as ones who cling to the "thoughts and prayers" of others. We cling to the cross of Christ and Him crucified. That's what got us through each day.

We were blessed with strong support in all facets of the ordeal. When we went in for the ultrasound to confirm what had happened, when the tech brought the doctor back to talk to us he never said a word before he gave each of us a great big hug. The staff at the hospital and the midwife who delivered were all really top notch. We were visited by two pastors. Our parents were at our side as much as they possibly could be. My heart grieves for the women and men who had to endure this type of tragedy with such coldness from others.

Gauntlets said...

God bless you, friends. God bless you so much. I remember you in my prayers.

And God bless you, Brother Josh, you and your dear Sarah, with His many mercies in His Word and Sacrament as you traverse this dark night.

Pam said...

Thank you, Gauntlets, for the comforting reminder of our own anguish over a soul dearly missed.

Thank you Josh, for sharing your story. May we all have a greater compassion for others experiencing loss.

God be praised for His mercy!