So my final assignment in Grief, Loss, Death & Dying is to write a pastoral letter to a couple in my church who've lost their baby to SIDS. This is so incredibly difficult....in fact, I suppose I should work on it last, huh? Or I'll never get anything done.
As I look through all these websites about loss of children, especially babies from miscarriage, stillbirth, and SIDS, I'm completely overcome. How does anyone ever deal with this? It's so horrible. I found a site on which people had posted photos of their infants....some were hooked to ventilators, some were funny colors, some had strange tissues clinging to their little faces and heads. They looked otherworldly. They were so tiny. They were so dark. Not pink, but deep red.
And the stories are so miserable. How people had to decide to take the baby off the respirator, then held him as he died. People who've had two or three miscarriages. Over and over they say they are empty, they want to die.
I think with the death of a baby we acutely experience the death of hope. This little life was basically nothing but potential. Now all the potential in the world has died. It's hard to trust that anything can be positive when someone so innocent is snatched away.
What can I possibly say to these people? I am dumb. I am awestruck.
I don't blame them for wanting to die. We don't much want to live without hope. And why should we?
I look at this picture taped to my monitor, it's of me sticking out my tongue at my niece who I am holding. She is looking back in open-mouthed wonder. My hands are as big as her entire side. I'm holding this whole person in my two hands. And I'm goofing with her, but it's my favorite picture because it expresses how silly I feel around kids, how inept, yet she's just totally into it. I love her so much and she's not even mine.
So I don't know what to say.
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I think you are on the right track with your comment that "I think with the death of a baby we acutely experience the death of hope. This little life was basically nothing but potential. Now all the potential in the world has died."
I wouldn't say "basically nothing" because an infant born is mostly potential but is yet more than potential. I am only speaking from personal experience when I write that it seemed to me that the life of my son was 100% "potential" from about the 6th month of pregnancy until birth. After his birth the "potential" seemed to go down on a rapidly sliding scale over the first few weeks as temperament and, yes, a certain individuality begin to express themselves.
And yet I think you have it a truth -- the younger the age at which a person dies, the more we mourn the loss of the potential, which I think resonants with our own loss of potential as we grow. For every choice we make in life, another potential choice no longer exists.
This probably doesn't help much in writing, but I can only offer you the advice to be as honest as you can. Don't try to find flowery words, but say the essence of what you said before, with the caveat that while you may not fully understand or be able to enter into the loss, you are there to witness and empathize.
I actually wrote a post about what to say, because so many people just looked at me and said "I don't know what to say." You're welcome to read it, or any of my other posts. I hope they help.
It is a wise thing to realize that as a minister, pastor or priest sometimes the most powerful thing we have is presence. There really are no "right" words in a situation like that. If/when you take CPE you'll experience that first hand if you haven't already.
We recently shared about the tragic accident at my parish where the mother is still in a coma three weeks later and the oldest daughter (7) died on impact. The more that I hear about what happened at the scene, the more tragic the whole situation seems. How terrible to think that you cannot even see your little one because the extent of the injuries were just too much?
It is a loss of hope. It's a loss of a dream, of a future, or all the expectations that come with parenting. I think the post which shared that we can't fully enter into the loss is absolutely right on the mark. Another thing is to consider is the timing of when to "write" a letter to such a family, and to avoid all the traps of convenient bedside/graveside theology that we spout when we don't know what to say. I've only been in my first pastorate for four months but the one thing that I have quickly learned and practice daily is that the majority of the time, people just need to be listened to and to have someone walk with them more than hearing what we have to say in the immediacy of such an event.
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