This coming week, we Americans will remember our dead presidents. Last month, we remembered Martin Luther King, Jr with a special holiday. These men are dead (obviously) and yet no one bats an eyelash at celebrating their lives and memorializing their passings. If a wife loses a husband, she continually reminds their children of the father and man he was. Grandparents who have died are remembered in stories so that their grandchildren may know them through the memories of their parents.
But now... Children... Babies... What is it that has orphaned parents who remember labeled as a little freaky? Why are parents told that their grief impedes the parenting of their living children? Why are mothers told to dry their tears so that their family (and especially living children) wont feel inadequate? Why are fathers told to suck up their grief so that their strength can be a pillar for their families? Why are we chastised for remembrance because it brings us both joy and sorrow, yet are asked by society to remember those who died in service to their country, in terrorist attacks, in old age, simply because they were leaders or soldiers or heroes made so by circumstance?
Is it because our children lived short lives, perhaps lives only in the womb? Is it because it is too uncomfortable to think of preborn babies as people? To think of preterm and stillborn babies as really babies? Is it because the site of grief in others is too much to bear? Or because we dont know how to take people who integrate the dead into their lives because, really, death is just another chapter of living.
Some people wonder what you could possibly share about a miscarried baby or a preterm baby whose life was mere minutes or a stillborn child who never lived outside the womb? There arent many memories- weeks in some case, months in others- but there are memories just the same. And, more than that, there are the things we dont know. Do you think Nicholas had my eyes, Sophia your chin, Alexander his grandfather's ears? Do you think they would have liked to read? To play music? It's not just about what we did know- that Sophia liked to dance, that Alexander liked spicy food, that Nicholas was a kicker- but about what we had dreamed of and had hoped to learn... And it is our sharing that has kept us a happy married couple. We grieve differently, yet openly and together with understanding. 16% of bereaved parents divorce, according to studies done by Compassionate Friends, and some reports put the results as high as 70% (although recent studies seem to disprove findings from the 70s and 80s that were so high). In fact, research is seeming to prove otherwise; parents who share their grief tend to stay together because the death can bring couples together. Is it because you share similar memories and experiences? Because, in your pain, there is someone who shares it? Because you can relate to the joy of your children with another whose joy is just as strong?
We'll go to Mass tonight. We'll remember and celebrate the person who born and died as man, who rose from the dead as God, who lives forever in the lives of those touched by Him. We'll tell stories of life before and after Him in the readings from the Old and New Testaments and stories of Him in the Gospels. We will mourn and celebrate in the Psalms and Acclamations. We will remember His death with a meal together, and celebrate the lives we have now and the people we are today, simply because of the impact He has had on us. And, in whatever ways we can, we will pass His legacy onto our children.
Although Nicholas, Sophia, Alexander, and our miscarried little ones will not grow up with their siblings, they are nonetheless part of our nuclear family. We have photographs and memories of them. And Bobby and Maya will know them, through us, as they grow up, just as the surviving parent would make real the other if one of us died. There is nothing odd about this; we do it every day in our civic duties and our religious choices. The difference is that our children were born in the here and now, to us... They arent dignitaries or figures of history, but tiny saints that were born and died in the shortest of periods and the simplest of situations, lost to history except in the minds and hearts of those who loved them and love them still.
It is hard to explain to someone who has never been touched with a grief so deep that life doesnt go on but instead grows in the spaces left behind, that you can, indeed, live a life of joy unceasing and grief neverending. It's hard to explain to someone who has never lost a child that, although that baby is not present in photographs that they are ever present in your mind, loving and growing, yet eternally young and innocent. We try to explain, but can we? Is it impossible? We parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and siblings of dead children can never fully explain to others the depths of our souls. And we dont have to. Some people will want to share with us and others will want to forget. Those who understand will, and those who dont, wont.
Life intertwined with death. Joy mirrored in sadness. Faith and hope made deeper through pain and anguish.
Life. A new form of living perhaps, but life nonetheless.