Jody Glynn Patrick
Can faith help see you through?
Maybe you have a more tangible scar on your body than the invisible one now forming over the wound of losing a child. A burn. A dog bite. A surgical scar? The skin scar tissue over that visible injury is different than the surrounding healthy skin. It is less pliable. Tougher. It’s a protection that says, “This area has endured a traumatic event. All my body’s resources have rallied to knit it back together make it even more impenetrable — to protect it.”
Following a child’s death, we figuratively begin to form that scar tissue around our hearts, oftentimes making it more difficult for those who love us to penetrate it. We close our hearts to others and focus on our own repair. Strangers’ needs become less compelling and forgiveness less accessible. Sometimes we even harden our hearts to the faith that we knew (or longed for, or scoffed at) prior to the assault on our mental existence.
A. K. Finkbeiner, in “After the Death of a Child: Living With Loss Through the Years” explains acceptance, the fifth stage of grief: “But in time…nature takes care of it; the waves of pain lose intensity a little and come less frequently. Then friends and relatives say the parents are getting over it, and that time heals all wounds. The parents themselves say that as the pain lessens, they begin to have energy for people and things outside themselves…This is a decision parents say [they] must make to live as well as they can in [their] new world…They can come to be happy, but never as happy.” The continuing grief, even when a life under control, becomes a comfort of sorts: “a measure of the depth and breadth of the bond between parent and child."
Murder; suicide; a death due to a drowning accident in a pool left uncovered – these deaths, if anything can be measured quantitatively -- are hard to recover from. “Unnatural deaths” where the child was not killed accidentally or by disease often result in longer grief cycles and they may leave more instances of depression, divorce, and mental illness in their wake. We may be driven by a need to determine “blame”, and too often, assign it to ourselves or our significant family members. Forgiveness is a great concept, but hard to find after the death of a child. Even forgiveness of God.
Where is our God or Higher Power? Is the door opened or are we pushing against it?
An attitude of gratitude and forgiveness: It's how we come to be blessed in faith. And faith has sustained Humankind since the beginning of Time; certainly during the most impossible of cruelties and injustices. Separation from child oftentimes (you aren’t alone) results in feelings of separation from God as well. What gratitude can we find in eath? Only when a child’s life is filled with physical agony or mental anguish more painful than death — only then would we accpet the event of death. Even then, we do not forgive the prospect of living the rest of our life separated from our child.
Why, then, is gratitude important now? Gratitude for the love of family, friends, colleagues and professionals who cared for your child can help sustain you. Being grateful that the child lived — even if only in a womb — is a healing focus. Being grateful to have known a significant love in your life is critical to creating scar tissue that allows love to flow through it in the future.
Grief can take on a parasitic life of its own, depleting the emotional, physical and mental resources we have to deal with other family relationships. The death, in some ways, can become more important than the life it took or the lives of our remaining family. It’s hard to see that happening when you’re kneeling at the pulpit of grief, but it can happen. Faith can make the scar tissue more pliable with flexibilitiy and strength of heart to allow memories and love to flow into (and back from) the outer world.
Faith is not a gift you give to God; it is a gift God gives to you.
All I suggest is that we try to wedge open the door to faith. If you are not strong enough today, it may be sufficient just to think about where your energy is going and if you can redirect any of it toward that door. If not today, perhaps tomorrow you can stop pushing against the door, and perhaps the next day, take a step back from the door. Perhaps soon you can one day pull instead of push, and find sufficient energy and belief to let in a sliver of sunlight. And gratitude. And forgiveness. And by that blessing, healing.