QUESTION: Recently, my daughter’s first child, a girl, was stillborn even though there didn’t seem to be any indication that anything was amiss until less than a day before the child was born. In addition to my daughter and her husband, we grandparents on both sides of the family are devastated; for all of us, this little girl was to be our first grandchild. Now the four of us are concerned with consoling the parents as well as dealing with our own grief. We did give our precious baby a proper burial, although it was very difficult emotionally for all of us.
Please help us understand why this has happened and how we can possibly move beyond the deep sadness we are feeling.
~ Grieving Grandparents
Dear Grieving Grandparents,
I’m so sorry to hear about your recent loss. I think there are few heartaches that are as painful as losing a child. A few hours ago I officiated at a funeral service for Victoria, a stillborn baby who passed away 16 weeks before her due date. As you might expect, it was a difficult service, especially because one of my daughters passed away at 4 months old from SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Like your granddaughter, she appeared to be perfectly healthy on the day she died.
You asked for help in understanding why this has happened. This is something that you and your family must seek from God. I can, however, share a few thoughts from my experience of losing a child. First of all, I do believe, with all my being, that every life has a purpose. And for some of us, it takes 70 or 80 years to accomplish that purpose. Others accomplish their purpose in a matter of months. Our daughters were sent to bless us, to teach us, to transform us. I’m a different person, a better person, because of the brief time she was in my life. I have more love and compassion in my heart than ever before. I have been able to empathize and encourage many, many families because of her. In spite of all the pain, I would not trade the short time she was with me for anything.
Second, we live in a world that is imperfect. As long as we’re in this world, there will be heartache, disappointments and tears. However, our girls are in a perfect place with God, and I know that someday, God will recreate this world – making it into a perfect world without tears and sorrow.
As far as moving beyond this sadness, here are a few things that helped me: First, allow God to comfort you. The Psalmist said, “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow, I will fear no evil for Thou art with me.” I’ve been in that valley, I know the heartache and the pain, but I also experienced His presence, His comfort and His healing. When I think of how God the Father must have suffered as His Son was on the cross, I realize that He understands our heartache, our grief. And as His Son is now with Him, so are our girls.
Secondly, surround yourself with caring friends. God uses friends to comfort and encourage us. You might want to join a grief support group for those who have suffered the loss of a stillborn or infant. It helped me.
Finally, it will take time to heal. And it will take longer than you expect. It still occasionally hurts, like when I do a funeral service for a stillborn child or write a letter like this. But mostly, I treasure the memories of her short stay with us.
Dear Grieving Grandparents,
Thank you for your courage to share your heart and story with us. My own heart grieves with you and your family.
With our human limitations, we struggle to find answers and make sense of a devastating situation. Unfortunately, we live in a broken world where hurt, pain, disease and death occur. As you probably know, stillborn death is still too common (approximately one in 160 births).
Especially if there is no apparent medical explanation, many look to God for understanding. We may never know the reasons why, but if we focus primarily on that we can get “stuck,” becoming depressed, angry or bitter, and may never fully receive the comfort and peace from God that we desperately need.
Your loss is real and significant! Difficulty moving beyond your sadness is normal. Everyone’s grieving process is personal and different. Releasing blame and/or guilt, giving yourselves permission to mourn, and embracing your loss will help you move through this season towards healing rather than just moving beyond it. By taking care of yourself, you’re better able to console your other family members and help them work through their grief.
You’ve already taken a significant step on the road to healing by reaching out to others for help. Reaching out to God is also vital. God desires to heal your broken heart (Ps.147:3). Honestly sharing your sadness, questions, frustrations, and choosing to trust Him begins to rekindle hope.
You may have already begun implementing practical ways to deal with your grief. Reading a book on infant death and/or the grieving process helps us to understand and embrace the journey. Grief counseling or involvement in a recovery group, such as GriefSharetm helps us walk through difficult days. Honoring and commemorating your grandchild, writing a letter or journaling may also help.
Rest assured, as you take steps yourself, and trust God, allowing Him to be part of your grieving process, “your nights of crying, will give way to days of joy” (Ps.30:5).
Pastor Dabney Beck
Volunteer Chaplain Services
YMCA of the Foothills
QUESTION: My parents were turned off by the hell, fire and damnation religions they were raised in and decided to forego any religion or spirituality in their lives entirely, which means my three siblings and I were raised without any spiritual perspective at all. Now, I’m 33 years old and I feel that something is missing in my life, but I don’t know where to start. I certainly don’t want to get into anything that is like what my parents described.
Any suggestions are welcome.
~ Possible Seeker
Dear Possible Seeker,
I was once talking with a friend trying to explain prayer. I said prayer begins deep inside yourself where you have always felt the presence of God. She said she knew instantly what I was talking about.
Jesus once said, “The Kingdom of God is within you.” Rumi, an Islamic Sufi saint, once said, “I am lost in God and God is found inside of me. Why look in all directions? Look inside.”
Saint Bernard and even the Buddha all have said to turn inward to discover God or the Infinite. In many respects, the spiritual call you feel is the call back to your own Center, your own ground of Being where you feel the presence of the Divine. The word religion means “to bind.” But not in a negative or constrictive, limiting sense. Rather here, “to bind” means “to consciously unite” with your own Divine center.
It may seem a little daunting for you starting out to find a spiritual path. There are so many choices. It must seem a lot like entering a bazaar where all the pitchmen make proclamations of exclusive revelations and salvation to be found only in their unique religious product. The question anyone would ask is, “How do we know which one is true or the best? How do we separate the wheat from the chaff?”
In spite of appeals to exclusivity, it is clear there are many paths up the mountain. We need only look at the example of nature to see that God certainly seems to love variety, abundance and choice. Which is why throughout history there has always been, and always will be, a myriad assortment of faiths; all with differing perspectives and approaches to God and spirituality.
Believe it or not, the good thing in all this is you get to explore and choose what is right for yourself, even though your parents did not pass a faith tradition onto you nor leave you with any guideposts. Find that which enriches, enlivens, expands and deepens you and your understanding of what is it to be alive and to be human. Find that which you feel best puts you in touch with the Kingdom of God within. Avoid anything that seeks to diminish, limit, condemn, coerce, constrict or make you fearful or hateful of yourself and/or others.
Ultimately the path to God, or the Divine, is one of love and liberation. So let the love you feel deep within be your guide, and the touchstone for the certainty of your own choice.
Anthony Kelson, RScP
Center for Spiritual Living La Crescenta