Seventeen years ago, I stood beside a tiny grave on a cold November day. I was frozen underneath that gray sky, shivering from more the wind. My twenty-one year old husband put his arm around me and conjured words to will my feet to move. I didn’t know how. I didn’t know how to live in a world that meant the baby girls I had dreamed of and longed for would be left in the cold ground. I knew they weren’t there. I knew they were in heaven. But, the mama part of me. The part of me that ached for them to fill my arms didn’t know how to leave them in that cold place. And, I didn’t know how to take steps into a world without my baby girls.
Less than two years later, on a July afternoon, under the bluest, fluffy cloud-filled sky, I stood beside that same grave, this time adding a white casket with pale blue lining. I lifted my voice, and sang, as we said goodbye to our son, Thomas.
Seventeen years ago, I didn’t know how young twenty-one looked. Now that my oldest son is twenty, I understand that I was a baby girl, myself, standing beside that tiny grave holding the white casket with pale pink lining, and later adding the second casket at the tender age of twenty-three.
I grieved only in front of those I deemed safe to allow such intense emotion to emerge. And, even they were spared the most agonizing moments of raw grief. Those were saved for the long soaks in the bath or the moments in the shower when the tears could be hidden well amongst the water dripping. The world is uncomfortable with baby loss. I learned that stark truth before I ever left the hospital, as the nurse shoved a cold vase in my arms when I complained of the ache. She wheeled me passed the nursery full of crying babies, and out into a world that would never feel the same to me again. I didn’t hang their pictures, and no one said their names at Christmas.
For many years, I kept quiet, not wanting others to feel uncomfortable. It was a long time before I found my voice. In 2008, when I began to blog, reading of the courage of others who walked this path, emboldened to know I wasn’t swimming in this tumultuous sea alone, a new world was opened to me. I told their stories, and I hung pictures of Thomas and the footprints of Faith and Grace.
Much has changed over the years. People are finding their voices and lifting those voices to speak truth and break the silence of miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death. Yesterday, I had the immense privilege of joining with a group of fraternity boys (Alpha Sigma Phi) at Bowling Green State University to make Comfort Bears and raise funding and awareness for grieving families served by Sufficient Grace Ministries. This event was created and hosted by one of the fraternity members, Ian, my son’s friend, who spent a lot of time in my kitchen during his high school years. Those young men spent hours making little pins with teal ribbon and pink bears. They made flyers with teddy bears and advertised to others. They set up a bear stuffing station in the very center of the student union. I listened to fraternity boys explain to those who approached that the bears would be given to mothers who had lost a baby during pregnancy or at birth. I watched with my own eyes, a generation changing, silence breaking. These young men, the same age we were when we stood beside the tiny grave, spoke with courage and boldness.
The young man named Zeke, in the picture above, went around campus to drum up interest in the project. He found that many girls would respond with an “Aw…” and most boys looked down and muttered an uncomfortable “Oh”. But, not these young men. They showed more courage than most I meet. Even more than the money raised and the bears stuffed, the standing beside us and speaking the words aloud to their peers, the making tiny ribbons with bears on them with their boy hands, earns them a place in my heart forever.
Zeke wondered why they were uncomfortable with the message he delivered. And, I told him the entire world is uncomfortable with that message. But, on this day, these brave young men did something to make others stop and listen, and maybe even for a moment have the courage to feel what many wish to ignore.
All those years ago, standing beside the tiny grave, I had no idea that God was paving a way for my little voice to be one that speaks bold truth, for such a time as this. In my kitchen, laughing at the boy stories of my son and his friends, I never would’ve known that God was raising them up to offer a voice in the most unlikely of places, for such a time as this.
Bereaved parents, yesterday the students of BGSU stood with you.
*More pictures of this inspiring event can be found here.