Saturday, December 10, 2005

now it's over

I will post parts of my letter to the parents of the infant who died. It was way more a theoretical assignment than anything I'd ever put into practice. There's no freaking way I'd write something this long to grieving parents, but I had a word count to hit. And I would prefer to have been with them, in which case I'd have said nothing, but of course that wouldn't have covered the assignment. So here it is. Hope it's not too terrible. It sounds really clinical and stupid written out. These words don't really work without a voice and a presence along with them.

Letter to John and Leone on the death of their child, Abby (I did not make up these names)
Dear John and Leone,

I’ve just learned of the tragic loss of baby Abby. I am so sorry that I am not able to be with you at this time. Please know that our church family grieves with you. We can’t fully enter into your loss, but we want you to know that we love you.

...Our church was delighted to welcome her into the world, and we will take very seriously the task of releasing her into God’s loving arms.


You may be feeling angry or guilty. This is perfectly normal. You may be nagged by questions of “why” or “how.” Unfortunately, I can’t give you the answers. It was sudden and unfair, and it’s easy to point fingers at God or one another – or yourself.

You did not do anything wrong. This death, although horrible, was not preventable. As awful as it is, you mustn’t give in to any nagging doubts about your parenting abilities. You never showed anything but complete care and concern for Abby, and that obviously doesn’t change now.

Hold on to one another. You are the only two people in the world who understand how this feels right now. Lean on each other. Be kind to each other. You may mourn differently; give space when it’s needed, but also keep aware of the healing power of your spouse’s arms and voice. Cry together. Talk and listen. Grieve with all your might.

There’s no need to remove her possessions – in fact, you may find comfort in visiting the baby’s room to cry or pray. It will remind you of her, but that is not something to fear or avoid.

With the death of a baby we acutely experience the death of hope. This little life was pure 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. The younger the age at which a person dies, the more we mourn the loss of “what might have been,” which resonates with our own loss of potential as we grow older.

Sometimes it feels as if God has utterly abandoned us. It’s okay to question God and doubt his goodness. It’s okay to yell at him and tell him how messed up this world is.

He knows.

When he was here on earth, in Jesus, God expressed his deep sorrow at the pain and confusion of human beings. Jesus said he longed to gather us under his wings as a mother hen does her chicks. Our Mother God desires nothing more than to shelter us from life’s storms and to rescue us from danger.

God did not do this to you. God is for you and hates your pain.

Yet storms do come, and danger is everywhere. We cannot escape the pain that comes with our freedom of choice. Even when we do everything right, and love someone deeply, we can lose them. I cannot pretend it’s not terrible or tell you it will get better.

But what I can tell you is that God sent his own son into our world of grief. And Jesus felt that pain every day of his life, as he encountered people hurting, people desperate for healing. Jesus healed those he could, but of course he could not reach everyone in the world with his touch. So he submitted to death – and defeated it. God sacrificed his son so that we and our children would transcend physical death. We know that he grieved when Jesus was crucified, and that he grieves over all the atrocities done by people – especially in his name. God knows and understands grief as he knows and understands all things.

Because of Jesus’ resurrection, we know that Abby – and all of us – will also rise to eternal life. An eternal life in which we will know God completely, and love one another perfectly, and be together forever. God's good purpose for his people cannot be defeated by sin and death. The love we had for Abby was not in vain – it was given by God, who is even now pouring it out on her.

On the occasion of a similar loss, a pastor once remarked, “In the most beautiful of gardens, even those tended by the most skillful of botanists, there is an occasional rose that buds, but never opens. In all respects the rose is like all the others, but something keeps it from blooming. It fades away – or disappears – without having reached maturity. What happens in nature's garden happens once in a while also in the garden of God's human family. A baby is born, beautiful, precious, but fails to come to its rightful unfolding. This child, like the bud that never fully opens, is gathered back into God's heavenly garden of souls – where all imperfections are made perfect; all injustices made right; all mysteries are explained; and all sorrows turned to happiness.”

As Jesus himself said: “It is not the will of your Father that one of these little ones should perish.” God promises us that there will come a time when there is a new heaven and a new earth – a time when “never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years.”

But of course, that time is not yet. And so we weep, and God with us.

We must live now, even though that can be so painful that we want to end it. You may feel like dying, or no longer see the point of living. Let me assure you: what you are feeling is normal and necessary. If you think you see or hear Abby, or go looking for her in her crib, you are not acting out of the ordinary.

You may find reassurance by joining a group of others who’ve lost children to SIDS. My associate will be sending information on local groups and can give you a ride to the first meeting if you need.

May I also suggest that you turn to the Psalms, if you are looking for comfort or release? For many ages, people have found their deepest fears, doubts, rage, and pain echoed here. You will also find assurance of God’s love – and God’s awareness of your most difficult situations. Start with Psalm 13 or 86.

My prayer for you is that God will lift your hearts up to himself and fill you with his peace. God’s understanding is beyond our human comprehension, but I ask him every day to give you the knowledge and faith to endure that which you can't understand.

Heavenly Father, whose Son Jesus Christ took little children into his arms to bless them: we thank you that you gave Abby to us, even for a brief time; and we thank you that you caused our hearts to love her. We praise and bless you for the assurance that you have received her to yourself, and that you will keep her now and always.

You have taught us in your holy Word that you do not willingly afflict or grieve us: Look with pity upon the sorrows of your servants for whom our prayers are offered. We commend to you John and Leone. We lift up all the family members who have been denied the joy of seeing Abby blossom and grow in our midst.

Remember those who mourn, O Lord, in mercy, nourish their souls with patience, comfort them with a sense of your goodness, lift up your countenance upon them, and give them peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

With great love and sympathy,

yours truly

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Much of that could be used as a sermon for the funeral. And while it would, of course, be best for the pastor to actually be with the family, I welcomed letters from people who actually had words. I would certainly have welcomed yours