The death of a child is quite possibly every parents’ worst fear. Even at reading this line, the very thought, makes us cringe a little and causes our hearts to ache. Some of us can’t even move ourselves to imagine–our minds just can’t go there.
For others of us, we don’t have to imagine because we have lived it. Our worst fear came true. One day life was “normal” and then our reality shifted and suddenly we found ourselves walking through life as though we were lost in a never-ending nightmare. I know. I’ve been there.
We live in a world where we rub shoulders with others in passing, every day, never knowing what pains or burdens those shoulders have carried, not knowing who has lived through a trauma or who is currently walking through a nightmare. Each one of us carries hurts and pains, sacred spaces kept like secrets hidden deep within ourselves, or for some of us, just below our frail surface.
We all carry “other” invisible worlds–or “other” Octobers as I wrote about in my previous post–or these “sacred spaces” that make up who we are, that shape our characters, that alter the course of our lives, that take up significant parts of our stories–that most people know nothing about. We walk through the world and feel invisible because these spaces can be isolating, yet we all cry out to be seen, in one form or another.
For me, infant loss is one of my scared spaces (I wrote a little about that here). Maybe infant loss is a sacred space of yours too, or maybe that’s your best friend’s, or your mom’s, or your sister’s, or your neighbor’s sacred space. I’m sharing more about this sacred space of mine this month because October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month and because I know the number of us who carry this as our sacred space is staggering.
For many bereaved parents, the loss of their child is a great sadness that tries to cloak their lives in darkness, keeping them hidden and isolated from the world. Finding a way to combat this is a challenge. A sacred space involving death makes most of us feel uncomfortable: there’s pain, there’s an awkwardness, and no one likes to occupy those spaces. But we need to sit with each other in them. These spaces need to be brought out into the light and shared for healing and restoration to occur.
If we keep our sacred spaces hidden and invisible to the world around us, they remain in the darkness, and that’s where the enemy wreaks havoc in our lives. When we’re isolated, when we’re experiencing darkness, we are vulnerable to attack, to destruction.
“The thief comes to steal and kill and destroy…” John 10:10
When we allow light to shine in our darkness, especially God’s light, and when we bring our sacred spaces out of from hiding inside of us and expose them to the light by sharing with others, we will find healing and hope and life.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5
“Again Jesus spoke to the people, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” John 8:12
“I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10b
That’s what those of us raising awareness about this month and October 15th are doing. We can’t remain stuck in the darkness of grief; we must work through it and find a way to live in the light with the children we have lost. We are bravely and vulnerably sharing our sacred spaces. We are bringing one of the darkest times of our lives out into the light.
On October 15th, we want our children to be remembered, and we want our sacred spaces to be known because there are healing and freedom to be found, but this requires stepping forward, doing something scary and risky as we open up our most sacred spaces to those who might not hold them in a sacred way. But we weigh the risks and the rewards, and the rewards of healing and freedom are worth it.
“Numb the dark and you numb the light.” Brené Brown
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.” Brené Brown
Be careful of setting unspoken expectations and making up stories.
When we’re vulnerable with a painful, fragile part of our lives, we open ourselves up to potentially experiencing more pain. I’ve found that one of the ways in which I was setting myself up for pain in these times of sharing was by holding others to a set of expectations. On remembrance days and other significant dates associated with my sacred space, I desired to be seen by friends, family, the world, and I had these expectations, many of which I was unaware I was even setting, for how I wanted people to respond.
When we have expectations for others and tell ourselves stories, we will often be left with disappointment and frustration and hurt.
This past January, on the 6th anniversary of my daughter’s death, someone very, very close to me spoke nothing of my daughter to me on that day, or that week. I waited and there was never any mention of my her name. I had an unspoken expectation of this person. I expected this person to mention my daughter to me on these sacred dates, and when she didn’t, my heart hurt deeply, and I struggled with my sacred space. Darkness tried to creep back in.
A couple of years ago, a similar incident occurred with my brother in which I had placed a similar, unspoken expectation of mine regarding him remembering my sacred dates and talking to me on those dates about my daughter. When the date came and there was no mention of her name, no reaching out to me, nothing, it devastated me. Not only did I experience disappointment, but I was telling myself a story that he didn’t care anymore, that he’d forgotten, that he was too caught up in his own life to remember this sacred space of mine, and my heart was crushed.
I later reached out and told him how I felt, and I’ll never forget his response. It showed me the error of making up stories because I had told myself a story and the truth was so very different. Not only did he care and did he remember, but he was working through the grief he still carried too, in a different way. I thought he had forgotten when in fact he had actually visited my daughter’s grave, in the cold, in the snow, and left her a tiny, yellow, toy snow plow, just like he does every winter. I didn’t know because he didn’t tell me, and he didn’t tell me because we were and are all grieving differently.
I’ve experienced many frustrating moments over the years as a bereaved mother. Frustrated with feeling like no one understands. Frustrated with feeling like I’m walking alone. Frustrated with people speaking insensitively. Frustrated with feeling like I have to carry my space alone. Frustrated with wanting others to know about my child and this part of my story, but not wanting to experience the pain or awkwardness that comes along with it. Frustrated with how others handled my sacred space. Frustrated with being judged. Frustrated with how no one called or no one mentioned or no one remembered.
So many of my frustrations have come from others failing to meet my expectations and story-telling. I’m finally learning to give others the benefit of the doubt, to let go of expectations, to show understanding and grace back, and if their remembering is that important to me, then I’m learning to open up a healthy dialogue before making up stories and before jumping to conclusions or anger or resentment or sorrow.
To the beloved, bereaved mothers out there, free the people around you from your expectations, free them from your desire hold your sacred space like you want them to hold it, understand that they can’t possibly understand how you might long for them to, because it’s your space you live with every day, not theirs. Reaching this understanding will help you find more healing than pain.
But please do hear this, releasing your expectations of others does not mean that you should keep your sacred space to yourself or that you should carry it alone. Remember how I said we need to bring the darkness out into the light? We do. We need to share our sacred spaces, but not always, and not with everyone, and when we do, it is good and healing to let people in, to invite them to sit with us, and come without expectations.
Share. Be vulnerable. Be brave. And do so with honesty, wisdom, and grace.
“Share each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2
“When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.” Brené Brown
Depending on where you are in your journey, maybe start by sharing your space with the people who are “safe” for you, your spouse, your best friend. Seek out a community or tribe that carries a similar sacred space–because these people will understand your space better than anyone because they share a similar space.
It is possible that no matter how hard we try to free others of our expectations for how to handle our sacred spaces, that we might still feel disappointed in people, that people might still hurt us in some way with an insensitive comment or by refusing to hold the space with us. In these moments, go to God, go to your “safe” people.
People will disappoint us, but God never will.
The most wonderful encouragement and truth of all is that God does not disappoint and He meets us wherever we are.
Even if we feel disappointed by God because of our sacred space. We need to examine our faith and look at His promises, study them, know them, believe them. They are true, always true. God is always faithful; therefore, He cannot disappoint (Romans 5:5). The fallen world hurts, God heals. What is intended to hurt us, God can use for good (Genesis 50:20). And many times it’s not how we would expect. But if we look, we will see glimpses of the good–and if we ask, He’ll show us. (Psalm 27:13, Matt. 7:7).
We can expect God to fulfill His promises, to be faithful, and to never forsake us, whether we’re walking on the path alone or we’ve invited someone else into our sacred space with us. We can expect God to understand, see, and be with us. He knows our sacred spaces better than we do. He walked through every detail of it with us. He knows details and the hidden things we’ve missed that He wants to bless us with. He has collected every tear that has ever fallen from your eye. He knows. He remembers me, my child, you, and your child.
Other people might not be able handle the details of our space, the pain, the tears, and some of them aren’t meant to, but God can. God can handle the pain, the grief. He can handle it all. He can hold the space; it isn’t too much for Him. He’s bigger than all of it.
God will use your sharing your story to heal others and heal yourself. God will give you the strength and courage. God will provide for the needs your space creates and the needs you have as you share.
It’s important for us to remember how God has provided for us in the past.
Past provisions for me have appeared in a variety of forms. A pink rose hand delivered by a friend who only had that and tears to offer the very day my daughter died. A picture texted by a family friend of a candle lit in my daughter’s memory on Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. An invitation for coffee and cupcakes with a new friend who dared to ask questions from an authentic, loving place and hear the hard things and sit and listen and hold the space with me. The family who sat with me in silence, in the awkward. A hug that lingered on a hard day. A random card in the mail from my cousin let me know she was thinking of me as kids were going back to school the year my daughter would have started kindergarten. The friend who always remembered every date, who listened to every trial and frustration and pouring out of my memories, who carried so much of my space with me.
The hug… the note… the time… the flower… the presence… the love languages spoken in a broken and sacred space… as others were Jesus to me… bringing light to my darkness….God’s provisions for my pain… I remember them still.
Parting Thoughts and Prayers
First, to the dear one whose space is not infant loss and you’re still here reading through this, oh dear sister thank you for keeping with me. I already know you are a precious treasure in the life of the one whose space is infant loss. Here are some thoughts for you:
Offer to hold the space with them. Sit in the awkward, the hard, the silence, the tears.
A week ago I read these words by Alia Joy, and they so moved me because not only are they so beautifully written, they are so true:
…Maybe for some people it’s easier to check off a list, drop off a casserole, set up the good china, and make a roast. But it’s hard to sit with someone’s pain, let it roll off their slumped shoulders and drag it across yours so you can stand together. And that’s what I needed most.
I see her quiet hospitality in the space she makes, the hollowed and holy quiet.
She reminds me of the gospel when I open the door and slide into the passenger side as wrecked and empty as I am. I see it when she’s willing to sit in the discomfort of being unable to fix me with a meal or an errand or a Bible verse. I see the gospel when she’s willing to keep coming back to love me through the darkest nights.
No matter how many years have passed, reach out to those who have lost a child. Maybe it is a simple act of practical service. Or maybe it’s a simple, gentle touch on the shoulder with a knowing look and soft smile, a simple text, “Thinking of you today, ” a simple mention of their child’s name if you know it, “Remembering Hailey today.” It can be that simple. It can be more. But that’s it. Any gesture means the world. But for the ones who have the sacred privilege of holding and can hold someone else’s space with them, I know exactly what Alia means, and it’s truly precious and life-breathing.
To the dear ones whose sacred space is infant loss, if no one speaks your baby’s name to you, speak it out loud to yourself. Whisper it. Shout it. Write it. In a journal. In the comments here if you’re led. Do what is right for you and please do not compare your journey with someone else’s. Yours is yours. Find a way to bring what can be so dark into the light for healing, for hope, for God’s goodness to find its way to you. Please know I am praying over you, over our community of childless mothers.
(If you would like to leave a comment I will specifically pray over you. If you’d prefer, email me, and I would love to be a person to hold your space with you.)
To those who have helped hold and carry and see and show me grace with my sacred space over the past 6.5 years, I wholeheartedly thank you.
This article originally appeared at An Expectant Heart, published with permission.