grief of losing a child
“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?