Several years ago I found I was unexpectedly expecting. The baby was a complete surprise, but, as I told my doctor, that didn’t follow that this surprise was unwanted.
The baby, however, failed to develop a heartbeat. I kept hoping the baby was just slower in development, but I lost this baby while on the road, one late night after speaking to teens in southern California.
In the Los Angeles hospital, the baby’s broken DNA was taken two days before Christmas 2007. I was left sore without any signal of this life, except a memory.
When good friends lose what can we do to walk alongside without accidentally poking a stick in the spokes?
For starters, friendship takes scholarship. Not the thick textbook kind, but the scholarship that begins by studying our friends.
When I lost my child I grieved and wrote and felt angry, not at God or at myself, but angry that I never got to meet our first child.
I would have loved someone to say, “It’s okay to be sad.”
Several good friends said just that.
I did not appreciate when people said, “You’ll have another child,” or “Just imagine what God has in store, you’ll get pregnant again.” They didn’t realize that we had not been trying and I had no guarantee that my husband was excited to try. And I didn’t have the energy to explain.
I just needed time. To feel. Sad. I needed friend who would sit with me in the “meantime.” The baby was gone from this earth and I had no present hopes of another baby in my future.
How do you feel when friends are sitting in the meanwhile? How does this make you feel? My first response is to throw them a rope and haul them out.
“Don’t feel like you have to sit there!” I want to shout down to them as I pull them out. “It’s dirty and wet and very unappealing for everyone.” But this is not what a true friend does.
A steady friend stops, as Jesus did, and works to remember what was lost. Did you know that even when Jesus knew his friend Lazarus would live again, that he would perform the miracle calling his friend out of the grave, he took time to weep? He allowed himself to find he was sad, too.
The Son of God weeping.
We honor the God who made us when we weep, too.
A series of posts about pregnancy and miscarriage grew from my journal entries those sad January days. A community of women and men who understood grew up around me and commented on my blog, wrote me letters and sent flowers. They prayed. A bundle of exquisite tulips arrived in a January snowstorm at my front door, the card honoring my baby’s life, sent from a women’s ministry I had spoken to the previous year.
What is the key to help someone who is suffering, especially when their pain is something you don’t understand?
- First, as a new friend recently shared at Soulation’s Gold Gathering*, help your friends take the first breath. How? Ask them what they feel and then make yourself quiet and still. Listen to what they are processing and do not correct. Do not promise things you cannot know like, “It will get easier”, or “You’ll get over this.” I have friends who have lost children, healthy, strong babies and it has not gotten easier. Harder, different maybe, but not easier. This first breath and exhale of grief may take a few days, or months or years. You can help them suck in the pain and slowly count as you exhale. Then, you gird yourself up to do it again.
- Next, when they are ready, invite them to take the second breath. To breath new life in, to notice how their life is different. How will they honor their life’s differences after this event? How are they going to approach anniversaries and holidays, food, family, future plans differently? How can you study them and know them in these differences?
These breaths cannot be combined. We must grieve and be glad, rail and rejoice, but God protect us from doing these in the same breath. Just as a memorial service ought not be combined with a wake or a burial, we all need separate times to feel the pain and then to incorporate this pain into our lives.
We can each be that friend who can breathe alongside those whose breath has become ragged.
* I am indebted to Aubrie Hills for sharing the “two breaths” observations in her presentation October 1, 2011 at Gold Gathering.