Monthly Archives: December 2013
Where can a grieving family turn for online support after the death of a child? Sarah Bain, still reeling with shock eight months after the birth of her stillborn daughter, desperately needed to know she was not alone. “Something has to get you out of bed in the morning, and that’s what the MISS Foundation did for me.” Sarah found this meaningful connection in 2003 simply by researching online using words like stillbirth, stillborn and infant death; this brought her to the MISS Foundation website. Today, a spotlight on the home page says A Child Died: What do I Do that leads parents into several options, including online trained mentors, information, and a variety of group forums that provide a “safe and sacred” space for grieving families.
Founded by Dr. Joanne Cacciatore, a professor at Arizona State University and director for the Center of Loss and Trauma, the MISS Foundation is dedicated to helping other parents who lose a child. Like Sarah, her passion that parents not be alone during such devastation emerged after she lost a newborn daughter, Cheyenne, in 1994. An international volunteer-based organization, MISS provides CARE (Counseling, Advocacy, Research and Education) for families online, through conferences, local grief groups, and the promotion of relevant legislation. They also include excellent online resources and academic articles for professionals who come alongside bereaved families, such as research on cultural differences on grieving in our multi-cultural society. Their website is www.missfoundation.org and Dr. Cacciatore includes an insightful blog within the site.
But Sarah didn’t know of such a resource at first and instead lived alone with traumatic memories. Three days before her delivery date during a healthy pregnancy, Sarah sensed her baby stopped moving. Distraught, she called her midwife and entered the hospital in the middle of the night for an ultrasound. Her doctor was unavailable and Sarah learned from a maternity ward technician and a geriatric doctor on duty, “There’s no heartbeat.”
“My husband dissolved into tears, my body became numb and cold, and the world swirled around me in slow motion…I couldn’t process anything. I couldn’t even cry yet.” Living with the unfathomable reality her baby was dead, she endured twenty-four hours of hard labor while immersed in grief. Sarah gave birth at noon on June 1 two days after entering the hospital. Their family named their daughter Grace. Soon after, hospital personnel announced that the funeral home closed at 4 p.m., so they needed to give the baby into the care of the funeral home. “In such heartbreak, we felt terribly rushed and disempowered. To imagine that your baby dies on May 29th, but is born on June 1st just breaks you apart.” In the cold clinical setting of the hospital, she remembers with gratitude one act of kindness. Her midwife asked if she would like to meet another mother who gave birth to a stillborn baby years earlier. Sarah agreed and this mother came to visit, brought a journal she’d kept, and a disposal camera to take a few pictures of Grace. “Her visit was such a gift because otherwise we’d never have had any photographs.” Even more, Sarah received a glimpse of the power of one bereaved mother coming alongside another.
SIGNIFICANT HOSPITAL CHANGES
“The way we care for people has to change,” decided Sarah after connecting with the resources at the MISS Foundation. A woman of strong convictions and creative determination, Sarah met with local medical leaders in Spokane, Washington who heard her concerns, and began asking other bereaved parents, “What would be helpful?” After months of medical meetings, this eventually led to the innovative Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center’s “Forget Me Not” program, a state-of-the-art resource for parents of stillborn babies or babies who will live just briefly.
“It’s a remarkable transformation that has occurred now,” believes Sarah, grateful for the compassionate support parents now receive. “What for many families will be one of their worst life experiences, attentive efforts are made to create a more peaceful and life-affirming experience.” Specially trained nurses assist mothers and families who may stay with their baby as long as emotionally needed. Babies are lovingly bathed and dressed, volunteer professional photographers offer to take pictures, resources for grieving families are provided, and families receive follow-up for a year, in addition to access to the facilitators for the MISS Foundation.
In the past ten years, other medical centers around the nation are also initiating similar compassionate changes.
Empowered by baby Grace’s life, this mother of four now volunteers and facilitates a monthly MISS Foundation grief group for parents, plus is often invited to the hospital to meet with families enduring loss. Her blog http://geographyofgrief.blogspot.com/ offers another resource and a candid glimpse of Sarah’s long and creative pilgrimage through grief.
Have you found any online grief resources useful in your own grief journey? Does your local hospital have a compassionate program for grieving families?
On this Christmas Day, as millions around the world celebrate the wonder of the birth of Jesus and the mysterious visitations from angels, shepherds, and wise men, I find myself also wondering, what did Mary miss most about her beloved son?
We know something of this young mother’s contemplative spirit from the gospel of Luke. The biblical narrative describes how soon after Mary gave birth in a stable, shepherds rushed down from the hillside, bowed down, and worshipped her baby. Then they tell her the full story of their astonishing encounter with an angel while keeping a night watch on their sheep. “Be not afraid,” the angel said to the terrified shepherds, “for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people.” Adding to the awe appeared a heavenly host of angels singing praises to God, now immortalized in the Christmas song, Hark the Herald Angels Sing.
Luke then writes one of my favorite lines in the nativity story, “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”
It’s interesting to imagine what this young mother “pondered” on this holy night. Or in the ordinary and then extraordinary years of Jesus’s ministry before his violent death. She’s nearing 50-years-old when she becomes a bereft mother, her soul as pierced as her son’s body. What did she miss most about her first-born son? Was it seeing his mysterious miracles, like when he turned water into fine wine at a wedding feast that saved her friend from embarrassment, or his preaching to the multitudes who sought him out for wisdom and healing? Did she miss his friendship in their family? Observing his skill as a carpenter working alongside his father, Joseph? His kindness to others?
More likely, as a mother I imagine she missed the little things…perhaps the way his eyes lit up with joy, hearing his resonate voice and laughter, seeing his tenderness with children, feeling the warmth and strength in his arms when he hugged her, remembering his quirky familiar habits, longing for the essence of his spirit.
What do we ponder?
The word “ponder” so describes what I hear from parents after losing a child. Our heart remembers so much. We linger over both minute and major details, trying to fathom how our child can die before us. We, too, recall the important events in our child’s life, but I suspect it’s more the treasury of little things that embody the spirit of one we love, the warmth of their presence in our life that we long for. The way a child snuggled, or teased, or showed sheer pleasure in life. Conversations around the dinner table, or walks together. Painful memories may also ring vivid, and hearts ache over the finality of such moments.We try to hold the visual memory of our child and feel a sorrow if this slowly diminishes.
In our church’s Christmas Eve service, right before the traditional candle-lighting around Silent Night, a soprano sang O Holy Night.
In the first verse, it says:
O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
and the soul felt its worth.
I suspect for Mary, like most mothers and fathers, the gift of being a parent added to her soul’s sense of worth. As once said, the moment you become a parent, your heart lives forever outside yourself. Loving a child involves our full heart, forever, and gives meaning, even worth, to our days. Christmas often feels especially poignant as we so miss the child we love.
I think Mary would understand.
Thinking of each of you this Christmas night, wishing you a measure of the peace on earth, comfort and joy heralded in the Christmas narrative.
Thank you so much for joining the pilgrimage as we ponder living vibrantly with forever love,
What do you find yourself pondering deep in your heart?
How does a parent ever recover from a tragedy as heartbreaking as the murder of twenty-six first-graders and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary? On this one-year anniversary, I’m heartened by the determination from many of the mothers and fathers that “this is not the end of the story.” On Scott Simon’s NPR Morning Edition this December 14, they included a compelling interview with Nelba Marquez-Greene, the mother of six-year-old Ana Grace who was killed. As a therapist who counsels mentally ill and troubled young people, she talked of three attitudes and actions that have shaped her days even when “most days, it feels like I’m hanging off the edge of a cliff.”
A GRIEVING MOTHER’S WISDOM FOR HEALING:
1) Making a choice on where to focus memory.
She’s very aware that one doesn’t always choose our circumstances, but we have choices on our responses.
She describes how “I’ve made it my business” to stay focused on good days with Ana, to keep her spirit alive. Rather than reliving December 14, she loves remembering the day before, on December 13, when their busy family suddenly dropped everything to go out together for dinner at the Cheesecake Factory. She’s forever grateful for this time of lots of laughter,enjoyment of one another, and snapping of photographs. It was their last dinner together as a family of four.
2) Living with an expanded heart. During the December 2 conference of the Ana Grace Project, 500 people gathered for their family’s effort to build community, connection, and compassion. “A moment came when we wondered if we should create a table with 28 candles instead of 26, to include both Adam and his mother who also died that day. We put 28, a gesture of compassion.”
3) Acting on creative ways to honor Ana Grace. Their family motto is Love Wins and Ana’s father, Jimmy, is a musician and friend of Harry Connick, Jr. so they’ve composed a song called Love Wins now available on You Tube.
Click this link to a beautiful full interview of a Generous Spirited Newtown Mother who seeks to make meaning from such heart devastation. I found her expanded story immensely inspiring. I think you might too.
OTHER EFFORTS FOR TRANSFORMATION
Even during their first year of acute raw grief, many are demonstrating the empowering characteristics of compassion, strength, intention, and resolve that mark their community.
As grieving parents, they banded together and formed the Sandy Hook Promise, going on the road to lobby for “common sense solutions to gun violence. When lawmakers failed to pass legislation in April, father Mark Barden expressed the sentiment of many. “We are disappointed, but not defeated.” Many saw this as “round one” in their fight for reform, equating the challenges of changing America’s gun violence as a marathon, not a sprint.
Now they have launched a grassroots campaign called Parents Together, emphasizing mental wellness, connection to community and gun safety. With a new strategy, and proven tools and programs to help local communities, they believe that parents’ common love for children can overcome national political paralysis. They are determined that Sandy Hook will be remembered as a place where real and lasting transformation to prevent gun violence in America began.
This is their solace and their hope, and a force towards their healing. Such courage and determined actions give hope and solace to our nation too.
“The soul is healed by being with children,” believed the great Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky after spending four torturous years as a young man in a Siberian prison camp. So we can imagine his grief in 1868 when he lost his first born daughter Sonya at three months old to pneumonia. His wife Anna recalled her husband “wept and sobbed like a woman in despair.” Then, in 1879, his three-year old son Alyosha died after a severe epileptic fit. Alyosha’s name becomes immortalized as a character in Dostoevsky’s most famous 1879 book The Brothers Karamazov. Yet, through all Dostoevsky’s trials, one source of strength was the way he kept a deep reservoir of love for all of creation. In The Brothers Karamazov, he writes:
Love all God’s creation, the whole of it
and every grain of sand, love every leaf,
every ray of God’s light;
love the animals, love the plants,
If you love everything, you will perceive
the divine mystery in things.
And once you have perceived it,
you will begin to comprehend it ceaselessly,
more and more every day.
And you will at last come to love the whole world
with an abiding, universal love.
While interviewing parents for Pilgrimage through Loss, many shared how they also found healing by drawing from the wellspring of love they carried for other children, for the natural world, for gardens, and for an ability to live into the divine mysteries of life. Even suffering. In the first years after our daughter’s death, I found planting seeds, bulbs, and perennial flowers kept hope in the future alive. Seeing sunny daffodils, hyacinths, and brilliant tulips push through the late Spokane snows with a determination to flower assured me that a winter-soul is not forever.
Like Dostoevsky,we found that the birth of our grandchildren infuses our daily life with healing, soul-nurturing love. As a young girl, The Secret Garden was one of my favorite books, so I decided to create a secret garden for the children in our family and neighborhood. A troll seems to know when children will be visiting and leaves gifts in the troll house. Soon after she arrives, our granddaughter Erin inevitably runs to see what small treasures have been left for her inside the miniature door. While playing in the garden, we hope she is growing to love every plant, every leaf, every ray of sun that gardens highlight. For she will someday know her own sorrows, and we trust they become carried within a heart that knows the abiding love of all creation too.
What gives you soul-healing moments?