I vividly remember the first “grief work” I ever helped foster as a minister. I walked into it quite ignorantly, truth to be told. I had spent some time with a friend leading an infant loss support group. (I have no idea how I was tapped for this? What did I know?) But I was the staff member asked to do it so I showed up, we read a book together and the women discussed the children they had lost, the grief that they felt. A common theme among those who lose a child through miscarriage or at birth is that there are few, if any, public mourning rituals, no accepted grief practices. Some had named their children, many had not, or not officially. Many times they are left to mourn alone. Their grief did not feel respected or acknowledged. This was, obviously, an open wound.
In our discussions, it became clear that the women desired a chance to publicly honor, remember and mourn the children they had lost. And so we held an Infant Loss Remembrance Service. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, no idea what I was doing. Looking back, I can only hope I did no harm to the bereaved parents in my ignorant attempts to help.
We met on a Sunday afternoon. We invited anyone to come that had lost a child in any way. No questions were asked. No one was required to share or say a word. It was a small crowd. Most I knew but a few faces in the crowd were unfamiliar to me. We dimmed the lights for a bit of privacy, we sang, we read scripture and two friends - one a father, one a mother - shared about their individual losses. In the end we lit candles for those we had lost, to remember, to call their names.
I was totally unprepared for the incredible outpouring of emotion that day. I expected tears. I didn’t expect the gut level keening and wailing as loss was held up to the light of day, as those precious children were remembered, mourned. In essence, we were holding a mass funeral. Everyone there was a principle mourner and it was like a wound had been lanced. It took all I had to keep it together just to finish the service because I knew myself well enough to know that if I started crying, I would not stop, and I was the person in charge. It was hard - a deeply painful service to conduct. And yet it was precious - perhaps one of the most difficult, yet meaningful things I have ever done as a minister. It is my hope even today that it brought a measure of comfort, healing and closure for some of those parents that attended, whatever the circumstances of their loss may have been.
This came to mind for me today I think because this week I have felt so defeated. Wondering if I have made the right decision to uproot my family, move, spend a lot of money and time and go to graduate school to study for becoming a professional counselor. Do I really have what it takes? Am I just kidding myself? It has been a tearful week, if I’m honest, and my self doubt is pretty high at the moment. Past feelings of failure have come at me like waves - are the harsh things said about me at times in the past true? I have so many questions and I feel quite alone as I think through them. Is this really what God is calling me to do? I prayed about it this morning, wondering if it was wrong to ask God for a sign, for some measure of encouragement or affirmation that I had not missed his will.
In the midst of that prayer, two scenes came to my memory. One was this remembrance service, something that I had not really thought of in a long time. Another was of the time I sat with sweet little Anna in a remote village in the hills of Rwanda hearing her share of her losses, of watching her entire family being slaughtered in the Genocide that occurred there. I sat with her in a little mud hut on a small bench someone had borrowed from a neighbor. She shared, and as she shared, she wept, she cried out and she fell to the floor on her face. She later told me she had never told her story to anyone before, that she didn’t think anyone would listen. In that moment I felt a sense of peace and calling, that this is where I belonged, sitting with the suffering, with those in pain. The least of these.
I’m still struggling. I’m still discouraged. But I do know God has shaped me for something, a calling I can’t deny, although some days I’d like to. May I not lose sight of that. Pray for us, if you are one who prays. This transition has been difficult for us and we are still trying to find our feet. May God meet us here.