When we went to the cemetery on New Year’s Eve, the freshly dug dirt of a brand new grave in the baby section ripped my heart back open. When I saw that raised earth, I was instantly transported back to the moment we buried our own son, just 8 months ago.
The feeling of being connected to this family we’ll probably never meet, this family who stood at the cemetery just like us, feeling completely alone and abandoned, is inexplicable.
As I reached down to touch the grass and dirt above where my child lay in wait of the Resurrection, I thought about what I would say to this family if I had the chance. . . .
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There is nothing like the death of a child.
Nothing can prepare you, nothing can cushion the blow, nothing compares.
When you come home from the hospital empty-handed, you feel totally alone and completely abandoned.
You have nowhere to turn, no one who understands, and even turning toward God in prayer can feel empty and pointless.
But I want to make sure you know you aren’t alone. There’s a whole lot of us out here, suffering silently as we try and pretend like everything is normal in the months and years following the death of our babies.
We’re here, and as you find yourself staring down the terrible fate we have had thrust into our lives, there’s a few things I want you to know:
God hasn’t abandoned you
When we first received the shocking news that our baby wasn’t going to survive after birth, my initial reaction was anger at God. Not the frustration I typically experience when things don’t go my way, but a piercing, red-hot anger that wondered how a loving God who cares about me could allow something like this to happen to my child.
When we went to Mass two days after that ill-fated ultrasound, I stared at a stained-glass window of Jesus and screamed at him in the silence of my mind.
It was one of the very few times in my life that I felt completely abandoned by God.
And yet, paradoxically, I felt like God was closer to us than ever before.
He was there, weeping alongside us, giving us the strength we needed to carry on, and simply waiting with open arms for our return when we finally realized there was no where else to go.
When that feeling of abandonment has reached its climax, it is precisely in that moment that He is closest. He has felt that exact pain, that exact loneliness, and has cried out with those exact same words: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
Every feeling you experience is okay
The experience of a parent who suffers the death of their child can only be described as dizzying. The emotions that come seem to pop out of nowhere, often make absolutely no sense, and span the gamut from unbridled joy and love to restless anxiety to the deepest pain and heartbreak you could ever imagine.
It can be so easy to fall into a trap of having guilt around the way you feel. When your spouse has a day where they can’t stop crying, you picture the moments when you held your baby and feel an indescribable warmth and happiness. As those feeling ebb and flow, it can be easy to get angry when someone feels differently than you, and feel guilty that you can’t seem to feel the “right way.”
In reality, every feeling you experience is okay. No one can tell you how to feel about the death of your child at any given moment, and it’s even beyond your own control as much as you wish it wasn’t.
Let the feelings come, validate them, and cut yourself some slack.
There is no answer to why this happened, no silver lining
After our son’s death, countless people tried to remind us that because our son was born alive and baptized, we could at least be assured that he was in Heaven. Scores of friends and family were quick to point out how much good came from my son’s short life. Dozens of strangers reached out to tell us how Luke’s story touched them, gave them strength, and on and on and on.
And while that’s all true, and all so very touching, it is no solace for my wife and I as we watch our three children play in our living room, knowing there should be four.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. This isn’t how our life was supposed to turn out.
Despite all the good that has come and may come from our son Luke’s short life, in one sense, it doesn’t matter. We want him here, and no answer as to why this happened, no silver lining, can make that any better.
The Body of Christ is real, and it will raise you up
I don’t think many people realize how utterly impossible it can be to pray when you are faced with the death of a child.
You are stuck in the middle of having hope for a miracle, while at the same time having to brace for the practical reality of what is to come. When you begin the process of setting up funeral and burial arrangements for a baby who is still alive in the womb but destined to die upon birth, you can start to feel like prayer is meaningless.
But the Body of Christ is there to do it for you.
Our brothers and sisters can offer up prayers that will empower us, give us grace, and help us to have the courage and strength to survive a situation that would otherwise crush us.
We need each other, most especially when we don’t have the ability to pray for our selves.
The Body of Christ is real. The power of prayer is real.
Remembering this will help you to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Your tears are inspired by great love
Without love, there would be nothing to cry about.
One of the things that struck me about our experience was just how much we loved this person we had never met. The love we had for him was overwhelming, unconditional, and life changing.
And because of that love, there were, and still are, tears. Lots of tears.
There were tears of sorrow, to be sure, but the important takeaway for my was how our deep love for Luke brought on these tears. Tears inspired by great love.
When you experience the death of a child, you see just how deeply you can love, and often times, our love is measured in tears.
There’s so much more I could tell you, so much more I could say, but actions speak louder than words. Now that you find yourself a part of this terrible club of parents who have lost their children, please know that I’m praying for you each and every day.
Please pray for me too.
Copyright 2017 Tommy Tighe
About the Author
Tommy is a Catholic husband, father of four boys, and the author of The Catholic Hipster Handbook (available now!).