“I’ve been able to accept Thomas’ death but I just can’t imagine how any good can come out of it,” I told Tanya, the leader of a local grief support group.
“Good coming out of a baby’s death? I will never believe any good can come from a baby dying,” declared Tanya.
I thought, “Something good must come out of so much pain. Otherwise my son’s death is meaningless. He died for nothing and I will never be able to make any sense of it.” I also wondered how someone who hadn’t been able to find any meaning in her own child’s death, even after five years, could help me.
Tanya interrupted my thoughts. “You’re the only mother in the local area that’s lost a baby recently. Normally we only hold meetings when we have several or more grieving parents who need support.”
Two babies would have to die before support meetings would be scheduled. I didn’t want two more babies to die. I didn’t want two more local mothers sorrowing over the loss of their children. But I did need someone to talk to, someone who knew all about the throbbing pain in my heart.
But two more babies did die.
And one Tuesday evening three bereaved mothers, the group leader and a social worker gathered in a dismal old meeting room at the back of the hospital. A few chairs were placed in a circle around a box of tissues.
“Shall we share our stories?” asked Tanya. “My son died in the womb a few days before he was due. I’d been out to dinner and I contracted food poisoning. My baby was stillborn…”
“I’m Angela. My baby was born prematurely at 22 weeks due to an incompetent cervix. We called her Lily. She was our first child…”
“My name is Katherine. My daughter failed to thrive during pregnancy. My doctor advised us to abort her but I hoped… At about 6 months, I gave up hope. It was obvious my baby wasn’t growing. The doctor induced her birth. I didn’t want her to suffer any more…”
“Hi, I’m Sue. Thomas had a diaphragmatic hernia which allowed many of his internal organs to pass through the diaphragm and enter the lung cavity. There was no room for his lungs to grow. He died after 28 hours…”
Tissue after tissue was pulled out of the box. So much sorrow filled that small room. So much darkness. So little hope.
We met again the next month. We once again took our seats around the box of tissues. We told our stories all over again. And the next month… Every month was the same. We went round and round in circles. No one moved forward. There was so much pain and so little hope. How were we to reach healing?
Occasionally one of the women would express the longing for another child. Would this help us? Perhaps, but what if we weren’t blessed with more children? Would we never heal? And what if another child didn't take away the pain?
I wanted to break away from our never-ending retellings of our stories. I wanted to search for meaning. I knew the answer to healing lay in God but no one mentioned Him. I found myself talking about Him anyway, putting forward ideas, offering suggestions, … and I realised I was taking over and leading the group which wasn’t my place, nor was it wanted. I drew back and stayed quiet.
One evening I came home from the group and told Andy, “I’m not going back. That was my last meeting. I’m tired of sitting around in a circle talking about the same things. We’re not getting anywhere. I want to move on. I can’t sit still, drowning in misery forever. I can’t live like this much longer. I want to smile again.” I had made a conscious step towards healing.
I knew I had to make a little sense of the whole situation before I could heal properly. And I found myself mulling over so many questions to do with suffering and trust and God.
Did I believe that God was looking after me? Could I trust Him with my life? Was His plan for my life better than my own? If the answer was yes then I had to accept what He was allowing. I had to accept the pain I was feeling and trust that God would bring me through it all to a place of healing.
But if God loves us so very much why does He allow us to suffer? Does suffering have any value? I thought about Jesus dying for us on the cross. He suffered for love of us and yes, His suffering has infinite value. But ours? Could we unite our pain with His? Could we also suffer with love? Was my suffering going somewhere and was it not meaningless at all? And is suffering actually necessary? Could it be that there is no other way to reach Heaven than by the cross? Was suffering changing me?
I stopped fighting the pain and tried to accept it. It wasn’t easy. At times I felt completely abandoned and bowed down with the weight of suffering. Some days I hung on to my trust only with my finger-tips. Some days I let go completely and fell into that deep pit of near despair. There were times when I didn’t want to get back up onto my feet and keep plodding along. But I did. I knew I had no other choice. I kept repeating, “Jesus, I trust in You”, even when I wasn’t sure I did. I put one foot in front of the other, offering up all the heart-ache of each day, hoping that God would help me. And He did. Eventually I came out the other side.
Sometimes I think about Tanya, Angela and Katherine and the question, "Can any good come out of a baby dying?" Did they go searching for their own answers to this question? And were they eventually able to answer, "Yes," like me?
If we can't answer yes, how can we accept fully what God allowed? How can we have hope? How can we heal properly?
To say, "I will never believe any good can come out of a baby's death," is to believe our babies lived and died all for nothing, that their short lives were meaningless. And to me, that doesn't make any sense at all.
I found the book "Abandonment to Divine Providence" by Fr de Caussade invaluable as I learnt to accept my suffering, and trust in God.
There are many posts full of hope at The Apostolate of Hannah's Tears blog.
The BeNotAfraid Facebook page also has many helpful posts for those facing a difficult prenatal diagnosis or those who are grieving after the loss of a child.