I have worked to support families walking through the loss of a baby for the last decade, forming a perinatal hospice and bereavement support service for the last two years. Everyday, I am interacting with a mother who has lost her baby…whether online, on the telephone, or in person…helping to dress tiny babies at the hospital bedside of a bereaved mom.
I bare my soul…in the book that tells our family’s story. On stages at churches and women’s events. At hospitals, training caregivers on compassionate care for grieving families. And, on social media.
One day, last summer, I shared on social media about a moment with a family I was supporting that took me back to my own son’s six hours in the NICU before he died…a snippet of a moment that those around me would never have noticed…because I was there to serve the family…to walk with them. It was just a blink. Watching them wheel the baby on the cart, squeezing the apparatus that breathed for him in rhythm. A blink. A flash. And, then I resumed the task of reading to the older brother of the baby that I was there to photograph so his mother would have keepsakes from this precious time.
And, after I posted about the memory, a woman asked me a question. One we’ve heard before. One any of us who dares to speak aloud about baby loss has likely encountered…whether to our faces or whispered in secret.
“Why can’t you just get over it? What do your children think…do they just wish you would get on with life and stop dwelling on the grief?”
Something to that effect.
I can assure you, I am far from a grief wallower. I speak about baby loss because it’s my job, and because my children lived…as much as the ones who still walk this earth. I won’t get into the hurt those words incurred…not so much for me, but the families I serve.
Of course, I am a mother…so the thought that my work could be harming my family…a family that often sacrifices having their mother around, as I’m called to the hospital at all hours, or traveling away from home to lead hospital trainings…stung for a moment…
What I do want to say, is that those words have come back to me over this year, several times…but not in the way you may think.
I’ve remembered them, when my son’s high school best friend and a boy that has become a son in my heart held the third annual event he created through his college fraternity to stuff Comfort Bears and raise awareness and funds for families walking through baby loss.
The words ring in my mind, when I picture my oldest son and his friends home from college, lighting lanterns at a Remembrance Ceremony at Sufficient Grace Ministries Headquarters.
Girls who volunteered at SGM…and boys too…giving speeches on college campuses to raise awareness for pregnancy and infant loss.
I’ve heard the words internally with a smile, watching my youngest son and his middle school aged peers read my book…my very emotional and spiritual book about marriage and love and saying goodbye to babies. Incidentally, my youngest son (thirteen) is not someone I expected to read the book. He is the first one in my household to finish it.
Or when the same son carries the bag of Comfort Bears our dear church ladies sew for families around the world many Sundays over his back through the parking lot.
Never have I had my answer so clearly…the answer to the question…”what do your children think” than during a conversation with my youngest son upon picking him up from school a couple weeks ago:
Son: You’ve been crying. Were you at the hospital with a family?
Me: How can you tell I was crying?
Son: You’re my mom. I can tell when you’ve been crying…which you usually work in at least once a day.
Me: I don’t cry EVERY day! Just almost. (not always because of this work…I’m just a crier…happy, sad, mad…whatever)
Son: Don’t worry mom…I’m not saying I blame you. If I had your job, I’d cry everyday too!
Profound thoughts for 13. The thing that struck me, though, was his tone and the look on his face when he said the words. It wasn’t disgust or aversion saying “I would never want to do that.”
It was admiration. Admiration for his mother…and what he saw as courage.
It is so hard, when our children are young, to watch them grieve for their siblings, to learn the cruel realities of life and death at the most tender of ages. We want to protect them from this. And, we can’t. I watched how my oldest son, who was in preschool when we lost his twin sisters Faith and Grace and later his brother Thomas, and the way grief shaped and molded him into a person with deep understanding of life and death and human emotion. There is a depth to him few college students possess. Every college student he brings home to stay with us learns of my work, and each heart is changed a bit by the babies who were here but for a moment.
Mothers, give yourselves grace. For, it is good for a young man to learn the mysterious ways of women…so that someday he will be a good student of his wife, and understand how to love her. And, it is good for daughters and sons to learn about showing compassion and processing grief in healthy ways.
My sons certainly won’t be shocked by tears. Don’t worry (or write me a note filled with concern) …we laugh plenty here, too.
Kelly Gerken is the president and founder of Sufficient Grace Ministries, an organization providing perinatal hospice services, bereavement support and Dreams of You memory-making materials to families facing the loss of a baby through miscarriage, stillbirth, infant death and the death of a young child. Kelly has walked through the loss of three of her five children, and now reaches out to walk with other grieving families as an SGM perinatal loss support doula and SGM Remembrance Photographer. She is a creator and facilitator of training for birth professionals on compassionate care for bereaved parents facing perinatal loss. Her memoir, Sufficient Grace, was published in 2014. You can read more about Kelly’s journey of grace, hope and healing and the outreaches of SGM, order resources or find her book here: www.sufficientgraceministries.org.