Death of a Child
The following post was originally a guest post on Michelle Van Loon’s blog, “Pilgrim’s Road Trip.”
The author of the post, who wishes to remain anonymous, wrote the following message to me via facebook:
Last June we accepted a foster placement of twin girls who were four months old. We’ve been foster parents for almost 7 years, but nothing prepared us for the sudden death of one of the twins, Ellie, at almost seven months. She went to bed a happy and healthy baby and when I reached into her crib in the morning I pulled out a corpse instead.
I am traumatized. I am an emergency nurse and not unfamiliar with death. I did CPR on Ellie out of reflex but with the full knowledge that she was gone and I couldn’t fix it. I can still taste the breath that I pushed out of her lungs. I’m never going to be the same…and I know it.
I am also a Christian. I think. In fact my husband is a church leader, making me the wife of a spiritual leader.
She then gave me the link to her post at “Pilgrim’s Road Trip.” I asked if I could also post it on my blog and she gave me permission. This post is immensely challenging, and will beg you to vicariously see the grief of a bereaved mother. This isn’t an easy read, but it’s one that will help you understand the grief of a parent who has lost a child. It’s written from the perspective of Holy Saturday … where doubt and silence are the only forms of faith.
Please stop attempting to spiritualize the death of my child. Assigning some thoughtless Christian platitude only serves to deepen my anger and further question my beliefs. If you don’t know what to say, a simple, “I’m sorry, I don’t know what to say,” would be far better than these actual attempts at comfort that I’ve received:
1. “God has a plan.”
Really? You serve a God with a plan that involves killing babies? Or at least standing by and allowing the baby to die when you believe that he could have intervened? Because the baby killers I’ve seen get life in prison. And even the convicts know which guy to attack.
2. “Some good will come of this. You’ll see.”
You think that at some point I’m going to see some direct blessing in my life or someone else’s that will make me think, “Aha! Here’s the good that came from my child’s death! I am now so glad that she died so that this could happen!” No! An Almighty God could surely think of some other really creative way to bring about good. Or else I don’t want that “blessing.” I will always wonder why it had to be this way, no matter what good things may come later in my life.
3. “Just think of the ministry you can have someday to parents who have lost children.”
No. At least not the ministry you’re thinking. That would require me to say that God is somehow in this for them and I happen to know that’s not helpful. Plus, I don’t want that ministry. I’ve spent twenty years of my life trying to serve God full time. I’ve put every major decision of my life through “God’s will” as a filter, including setting aside life dreams for myself. All of the big things I’ve tried to do for him have been heartbreak for me. I think I’m done with ministry at this point.
4. “God loves you.”
Imagine If I were married to someone who said, “I love you. I mean, you’re going to get hurt and I won’t stop it. In fact, I might even cause it. But I love you! It’s for your own good! It’s because of my great love for you.” You would encourage me to get to a women’s shelter immediately for my own safety. Where’s the safe place from this kind of “love?”
5. “God’s perfect love casts out fear.”
I’ve been dealing with a moderate amount of anxiety since my baby’s death. I’m not a very anxious person by nature, so I’ve sought some help dealing with the feelings of panic. I struggle with coming home after a night shift and wondering what I might find. I compulsively check on my children at night. Going to the doctor with another child of mine is a trip through some very dark places of fear. I’m constantly wondering which of my family members is next on God’s hit list. The advice that God’s love will fix those fears isn’t really resonating with me right now.
6. “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle. Just depend on Him.”
The Christian grief counselor we saw put it this way: “God doesn’t give sorrow to people unless he knows they can handle it.” Really? Well, he was wrong. I can’t handle this. And if he doesn’t give me more than I can handle, why do I need to depend on him? The last time I was depending on him, my child died. So, yeah. That’s not likely to happen again soon.
7. “You’ll see her again someday.”
Is that day today? Then no, this isn’t helpful. It’s minimally hopeful if I can be sure that it’s true, but there’s no Scripture to really support this belief. There’s inference and tradition and conjecture, but there’s no chapter and verse that says, “Infants who die go to heaven.” Besides, If I live an average life expectancy, I will have to live at least another fifty years of missing her. ”Someday” could be a long, long time from now.
8. “Look at all of God’s blessings in this situation already! At least_______”
All of your “at leasts” aren’t blessings to me. Anything you say that starts with “at least” only minimizes my feelings.
9. “Just read [insert Bible verses here] and you’ll feel better.”
Passages that have been suggested to me include verses about God’s judgment, the story of Jesus bringing Lazarus back to life, a passage instructing me that my heart is deceitful and wicked, and other similarly “helpful” Scriptures. This advice also assumes that I know no Scripture to which I can turn. You know which verse has been ever on my mind ever since the day my child died? “My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?” I’ve been reading the Bible for almost thirty years. I know where to find verses. Not too many of them are helpful right now. Bludgeoning me with Romans 8:28 is especially painful.
10. ”Just trust God. He is in control.”
I was trusting God at the time my baby died. She still died. If God is in control, that assumes that he killed my baby. My sweet, smiling, dimpled baby. If he didn’t kill her, he stood by while she died and didn’t stop it. Still guilty. I’d much rather believe that fate or chance had a hand in her death. I’m a lot more likely to have a continued relationship with someone who didn’t cause my baby’s death, either directly or indirectly.<
11. “This happened for God’s glory. Maybe someone might even get saved!”
This has been said to me with much excitement and expectation. You mean to tell me that God couldn’t have orchestrated some other way to get glory or reveal himself to someone? Or that some person out there is going to say, “Oh! God allowed ‘T’s’ baby to die. I should start a relationship with him and trust him with MY life!” Doubt it. And even if that actually did happen, should I then feel that this was all worth it?
12. “This world is not our home. She’s in a better place now.”
Yeah? Well, I live here right now, so it’s my home. If you actually believe this, why haven’t you committed suicide yet? As for me, I’d finally be in a better place if I died, too? And no, I’m not at all suicidal. I’m just saying that no matter where she is, I’m in a really painful place right now.
13. “Just imagine what tragedy or heartbreak God saw in your baby’s future that he decided to save her from.”By killing her? I’m sure there was another possible work-around or two. For that matter, this has been a devastating tragedy and heartbreak for me. Why didn’t I die as an infant so I wouldn’t have to go through this now?
14. “God will carry you through.”
If this is the kind of thing God is going to carry me through, I’d like him to please put me down.
15. ”Be thankful for what you have.”
The assumption here is that I wasn’t thankful before (I was), that I’m not thankful now (I am), and further minimizes the loss I feel. How do you suggest that I answer even the simplest question of how many children I have? I’m thankful for what I have AND for what I no longer have. It’s impossible to answer this question correctly now. Similar, but even more guilt-producing is “You have your husband and children to think about now.” Thank you for the suggestion that my grief and pain are invalid by comparison and should be left unmanaged for the good of my family. See? There. I was thankful.
16. “Things will get better.”
When? How do you know? Because for me, bad things just keep happening. It can get worse and I can name at least fifty ways it could get worse right now. So don’t say that things will get better. It could go either way.
17. “Maybe God is trying to teach you something.”Well, maybe he could have just texted me the instructions instead. Seriously. All I’m learning is that God can do whatever he wants and that’s not necessarily a good thing. A similar platitude, “Maybe God is trying to draw you closer to himself”, is equally insulting. Can’t he see the future? Didn’t he know that using an infant’s death to deepen our relationship might backfire? Please don’t presume to know the mind of God or impart your opinion of it to me.
18. “She’s with the Lord now.”
She wasn’t before? How about the rest of my family? I’m not with the Lord? Well, I’m glad he’s with someone, I guess.
19. “I know how you feel. I felt exactly that way when my grandparent/great Aunt Lucy/Fluffy died or when my child was sick, but then got better. But I just prayed and kept my eyes on God and he got me through. He’ll get you through, too.”
You have no idea how I feel. I wouldn’t wish how I feel on anyone. And what will he get me through TO? Can you guarantee that whatever is on the other side of this trench in life is something less painful? Because whatever it is, it will be a life missing my child and all the things that loss means.
20. “I was so devastated when your child died that I couldn’t go to work that week/I’m still struggling a month later.”
Both of these are actual things said to me by people who had seen my baby fewer than six times in her whole life. Other ways people who barely knew her have tried to be a part of the drama and somehow connect themselves to this tragedy include Facebook statuses or tweets with her name as a hash tag, prayer requests without my permission or in inappropriate places, and most difficult: “How are you doing? Because I’m so sad that ____.” There was an expectation that I should comfort THEM. Exhausting.
21. “You should_____.”
Don’t tell me what to do. I don’t want to exercise more, eat better, read that great book about God, go to a grief support group, focus on God, get involved more at church, get alone with God, go away for a weekend without my kids, take sleeping pills, talk about it more, or think about it less. I can’t afford to take any more time off work. I can’t concentrate enough to do much of anything right now, honestly. And a bigger list of things I “should” be doing right now is simply not helpful.
22. “If you need anything, let me know. I’m here for you.”
No. I’m here. Alone. It’s not possible for you to be here for me or I’d gladly give it to you. I’m glad you want to help, and I don’t doubt your sincerity. But this comment is a substitute for any kind of real help. You’ve absolved yourself of actually helping me in any tangible or intangible way and placed the onus on me to come up with some idea of what I need. You know what I need? I need my child. Alive and giggling. I need the image of her lifeless in her crib out of my mind and the taste of her dead skin out of my mouth. I need her siblings to grow up with her. I need for my husband to have never experienced this depth of pain. If you can’t give me any of these things, you’re kind of on your own with suggestions for helping me. Maybe send a sympathy card. It will make you feel better.
23. “Well, I’ll pray for you.”
Aside from the doubt that exists over whether you’ll actually do it or not, how is this helpful? Who knows better than God what I need and why hasn’t he already given it to me? Your asking for it will make it magically appear? The worst part about this statement is that it usually comes at the end of your listening to me or grieving with me. As in, “You’re done now. I’ll pray for you, okay? You’re making me uncomfortable with your intense sadness and hard questions.”
I know that I haven’t left you anything to say. Maybe that’s the point. I also know that, if you’re a typical Christian, you’re defensive and even deeply wounded by what I’ve said here. You’re thinking, “But remember, here’s what God is REALLY like and here’s where you’re wrong. Here’s where you need to adjust your theology and get your heart right with God.”
Whether you like it or not, no matter how uncomfortable this makes you feel, no matter what you believe or even what I believe, these things you’ve said are not helpful to me. In fact, many of them are so hurtful that I’ve been awake more than one night trying to work through them.
Maybe someday I’ll be ready to accept my child’s death with a little more grace. But for now, I’m afraid you’ll have to stick with, “This sucks,” or a simple, “I’m sorry.” You know what’s even better? The sound you make when you stay quiet.
We’ve all smelled it. And like flatulence in church, nobody says anything.
It’s that odd perfume that comes from Great Grandma Eunice when you reach down to give her a hug.
It’s that odor that wafts through nursing homes.
And now science is here to prove to us what we’ve already known.
Old people have an odd odor that is all their own.
And no, it’s not moth balls; it’s not an old person perfume; it’s not the fact that their skin hasn’t touched bath water in a couple days; nor is it the decade old clothes that have been re-worn for consecutive days (I pull that trick in the winter when I don’t sweat).
In fact, notes Johan Lundström, Ph.D., the lead author of the study, the smell of older people is a universal smell that can be identified from Asia to Alaska.
There’s even a word for this smell in Japan: kareishū.
Here’s the explanation for “the smell” from Dr. Lundström:
The root cause of the old person smell is still a mystery, but the study notes that long-term changes to the skin glands may be involved. Lundström suspects it also may be related to an accelerated rate of cell decay. “As cells die at a faster pace, they might give off a different odor that is unique to people with old age,” he says. (from CNN.com)
As a funeral director, I know the small all too well as I frequent nursing homes more often that some of the occupant’s family. It’s a smell that has always elicited sadness in me. Sadness for those who sit in waiting, often unvisited by outsiders.
I’ve read before that babies have a certain smell that neurologically encourages attachment in adults. We can actually love our infants more just by smelling them.
So, what does the “old people smell” encourage? For me, it’s encouraged a sense of the holy … a sense of both respect and a degree of otherness. An otherness that’s been created by a recognition of life and death. An otherness that we can learn from.
Next time you smell the “old people smell”, maybe we should just sit and listen (not necessarily to their words) to the holy that’s apart of the end stage of life.
I posted this photo on my Confessions of a Funeral Director Facebook Page.
Many have asked, “Where is this gravestone located?” ”Who is the gravestone for?” And various other questions.
Here’s Matthew Stanford Robison’s “Find a Grave” page that will answer most of your questions:
|Birth:||Sep. 23, 1988|
|Death:||Feb. 21, 1999|
This unique monument shows the young boy jumping upward, out of his wheelchair. Confined to the chair most of his young life, he is now free of earthly burdens.“And then it shall come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.” Peacefully in his sleep on Sunday, February 21, 1999, our cherished son, brother and friend, Matthew Stanford Robison was received into a state of happiness, and began his rest from troubles, care, and sorrow in the arms of his Savior and friend Jesus Christ.
Matthew was a joy and inspiration to all who were privileged to know him. He was a testament to the supreme divinity of the soul and an embodiment of the completeness our spirits yearn for. The godliness of his soul inspired, influenced and blessed all who knew him. He came into this world as a miracle and left this world as a miracle.
Born with severe earthly disabilities on September 23, 1988 in Salt Lake City to Johanna (Anneke) Dame Robison and Ernest Parker Robison. At birth, Matthew’s life expectancy was anticipated to be only hours long. However, fortitude, strength, and endurance, combined with the power of God allowed Matthew to live ten and one-half years enveloped in the love of his family and friends. His family was privileged to spend time with him here upon earth, to learn from his courage and marvel at his constant joy and happiness in the face of struggle. His family will be eternally changed by his presence and temporally changed by his passing. His presence inspired all those who knew him. He opened their hearts as well as their eyes.
He is survived by his parents: Ernest and Anneke; sisters and brothers, Korrin, Marc, Jared, and Emily of Murray, Utah, and Elizabeth (Czech Prague Mission) Also, grandparents and other family members. A heartfelt thanks to his special care givers, especially Shauna Langford, and others at Liberty Elementary School.
Salt Lake City Cemetery
Salt Lake City
Salt Lake County
Here is part of Matthew’s obituary:
Today’s guest post is written by Samantha Allington.
On Thursday 8th September 2011 I was 19 weeks and 3 days pregnant when my waters broke at home. I knew in that instant that my baby wouldn’t survive but I still wanted to hang on to the little bit of hope that some miracle would happen and my pregnancy would proceed safely against the odds.
I was rushed in to hospital by my birth Doula where I was checked over by the doctor who confirmed I had lost amniotic fluid. After a scan to measure the fluid levels I was told there was not enough water to support my baby’s lung development and that due to diabetes I was at high risk of death too.
I had to face the hardest decision of my life and after spending from then till the Monday following refusing outright to terminate my pregnancy, I finally conceded to allow the medical team to induce labour at just 20 weeks gestation. There would be no intervention to save my baby as I was under 24 weeks pregnant and hospital policy didn’t permit resuscitation at that age.
I was in an abusive relationship with a violent partner and I chose to go through labour and birth with only my Doula present. It was a harrowing experience to say the least but I was still determined to make my baby’s birth as natural and beautiful as I could. I wanted it to be special and memorable, for my last moments with my baby to be precious.
We had a candle lit room (LED tea lights and colour changing lotus flowers), aromatherapy, crystals and the Obstetrician permitted me to have a natural birth without any electronic monitoring (no wires or drips) so that I could move around freely. The midwives allowed us the space we desired and only came in to check once in a while how contractions were developing.
Finally it was time to give birth and despite holding on for as long as I could refusing to push, my daughter finally entered the world at 5:28am on 14th September 2011 at just 20 weeks and 2 days gestation as the sun was rising.
She was about the size of a Barbie doll at just 20cm length and weighing a tiny 10.5 ounces. Despite her tiny size she was perfect in every way, with ten fingers, ten toes, perfectly formed ears and a little pink nose, I even noticed in the right light she had the fairest eyelashes I’d ever seen.
I spent 2 days alone with her in the hospital, holding her, kissing her and trying to take in every little feature so that it would be burnt to memory forever. I didn’t want to let her go or say goodbye, I wanted those days to go on and never end, but of course they did end and I had to leave the hospital.
Arriving home it was time to start planning her funeral, she’d never get a birthday, Christmas, Easter or a wedding day, her funeral was the only special occasion she would ever have, and the only thing I could do for her to make it as important and special as I could. I contacted the charity Children Are Butterflies who work alongside B Hollowell and Sons funeral directors. They fund children’s funerals and the lady that runs it was lovely.
Due to the abusive relationship I was in, I was again alone in planning my daughter’s funeral but Ann made everything go easier and smoother. She was so kind and supportive towards me and I know I will be eternally grateful to her for all she did.
The funeral was beautiful. We had a Hearse that was made from an old London black cab to take Poppy-Rose to her last resting place and a beautiful white woollen coffin with an embroidered name plate. The funeral was white, pink and butterfly themed. Poppy’s coffin looked so tiny at the front of the chapel resting on a Moses basket stand that was far too big. We read poems and I gave her Eulogy before moving to the graveside for her internment. Each guest was given an incense stick to light and place in the ground around her grave and a paper butterfly to write a message on for her. As we said goodbye a beautiful red butterfly flew across her grave, unusual for the time of year here in England.
I wanted to share my story because often talking about baby loss is considered taboo but especially in cases of termination for medical reasons. This leaves so many women (and families) feeling isolated and alone in their grief. I wanted a chance to give my side of the story, to show you how much we all need that little bit of help, compassion and love. We don’t all have family to stand by us; some of us feel so alone in our grief. We go through all the usual feelings such as sadness, despair, anger but often we also feel guilt and self-blame and this can only be made worse when we are silenced by others negative judgements , we need to be allowed to speak out and to share our stories, our personal journeys with others.
This week my blog is being taken over by Jessica Charles. This from Jessica: I am Corporal Joshua Alexander Harton’s Big Sister. I am his sister and I protected him his whole life. That is until September 18th, 2010 when a bullet from Taliban’s rifle went through his neck, cutting his carotid artery, moving through his torso and destroying organs and finally leaving his body at the left hip and shattering his Kevlar armor. I am Josh’s sister and I need you to know that my little brother is dead and my epic life will never be the same again.
Sharing memories of a loved one to a child is a special thing. It can also be extremely difficult.
Once my son asked, “Why did Uncle Josh join the army?”. That is a normal question not just for a child to ask but for anyone.
I promised myself that I would tell my son the truth. I made that promise when I was given the news of Josh’s death. I would not hold back, I would be honest and simple but I would not lie. Uncle Josh died, he was shot, I don’t think it hurt, I don’t know the bad guy’s name.
Then a year later, ‘Why did Uncle Josh join the army?”. Well I knew why. Josh joined because he didn’t know what else to do. He enlisted because it was a job and someone had to do it, he knew he could do it well and then he could figure out the rest of his life later.
Is that what you tell a four year old, though? I didn’t think so. I told my son, “wait, I would think about it and I would get back to you.”
Then I whipped out my phone and madly texted my brother’s best friend. ‘He wants to know why Josh joined the army’.
Reply:”Because he was a loser at UPS and he wanted a better job”.
Me:”Duh, do you want me to tell Nic that?”
Reply: “Tell him because he wanted to protect his country”
Me: “I said I wouldn’t lie!!!!!”
Very long pause as we both thought on what to do.
Me: “what about this: Uncle Josh didn’t know what he wanted to be when he grew up so he joined the army while he figured it out?”
Reply: “True, not the whole truth but it works”
Whew. Well that went over well. When he is older and knows a bit more about how confusing life is, I can elaborate.
Then what about this one: “Does Uncle Josh love me?”.
First, how am I supposed to answer that without a chaos of tears. Of course he loved you, he loved you so fiercely he hated to be near you in case he tainted you. How can I explain that? How can I explain all that to someone so small and precious?
‘Yes, Uncle Josh loved you. And there is something very special about love. Love never dies. When Josh and I were growing up we loved each other so much. We watched out for each other and we protected each other. And when I became a Mommy and he became an Uncle we took the love we started when we were little and we shared it with you. We both love you. The love grew. And now that you are a big brother, that same love, from Mommy to Uncle Josh, is now growing from You to your Sister. Isn’t that wonderful? So no matter what, no matter how much it hurts when someone we love dies, the love they had for us and the love we have for them never dies.”