Born sleeping or gone too soon
9-15 October marks Baby Loss Awareness Week, where we mark the lives of babies who died in pregnancy, at or soon after birth and in infancy. Many people in our church family have been touched by the tragedy of miscarriage, stillbirth, abortion or cot death. All of us know people who carry the grief of these events with them for the rest of their lives. Some of them have never shared their pain, but I am hugely thankful that we live in a climate where it is increasingly normal to share your own story with others.
Early in my ministry we were invited to lunch with a family. When I went to the loo, I noticed a family tree next to the sink. On closer inspection, it revealed that their youngest child was a twin, whose brother died shortly before birth. This was a key thing to know about this family, revealed very sensitively to anyone who was interested. Their dead child was very much a part of the family, remembered and cherished along with his siblings. On Facebook this week it has been very moving to see others who mark their children’s too-short lives in their own personal ways.
Let me tell you about Victoria. Victoria was born in the early 1960s, the second of Griselda’s children with her first husband. When she was about three weeks old, Victoria fell asleep in her crib and never woke up. Griselda was utterly shattered and overwhelmed with grief. About a month after Victoria’s death, Griselda’s husband and father both told her never to talk about her again, that she had to get on with life and not dwell on her loss. This was the early 1960s, a generation raised with a stiff upper lip, to keep calm and carry on in the face of adversity. Griselda was never able to grieve her beloved daughter properly, but she never forgot her. In later life she would speak about her, never lasting longer than a minute before tears were rolling down her face.
After Griselda’s death in 2006, her son Dan found Victoria’s crib in the loft. It was the only thing she kept of her daughter; there are no photos of her or any of the other things people keep to remind them of their baby days. When the family scattered Griselda’s ashes, they also scattered those of Victoria’s crib, to mark their reuniting and the end of the terrible grief which ate her from the inside. Why am I telling this story? Because Victoria was my sister and Griselda my mother.
Thank God that we live in different times, where mums and dads alike can share the pain of their losses. As we mark Wave of Light in church on Monday 15 October, we also give space to those who continue to suffer in silence and we recognise that as a society we still have a long way to go. I think of one young woman who shared with me the pain of having aborted her child after s/he was diagnosed with a disability. Because she did not regret her decision, she felt she had no right to mourn her child. I told her how wrong she was, that she was not disqualified from the pain and loss of that little person and all she had hoped for just because she had made that choice. We can embrace people affected by abortion, which remains one of the greatest taboo subjects to talk about, without offering judgement.
Jesus insisted the little children be brought to him and he put them at the centre of his work. He brings hope, healing and comfort to those who mourn. As his people we sit in the dust and ashes with those who struggle and suffer with the grief of those born sleeping or gone too soon.