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My routine is identical every year.
I watch the last child leave the church — the first Christmas Eve service rehearsal officially in the books — then I drive home, unlock the front door, set my purse and music down on the front entryway bench, walk to the living room, lower myself onto the couch, and cry.
I usually cry for the entire afternoon.
It’s not that I am unhappy. It is that I am sad-happy.
So many hugs. So many songs. So many curious queries. So many eager entreaties for personal attention. So many little heads turned toward mine for affirmation. So many children, and none of them mine and all of them mine.
My barren heart overdoses on the sweet stimulation, and it comes out as salt water on my pillow. Grief is strange that way. It’s triggered by happiness. To be loved stirs up memories of loves lost. So many children, but none of them from my home. None of them in my home.
This year, the tears started long before any of us left the church.
“Christ the child was born for you!” the children sang into my face. The words entered my ear but landed in my heart. “Christ the child was born for you!”
The final chord faded, and the children — my children — stared openly at my red cheeks, my wet eyes. One of them giggled nervously.
“It’s okay,” I reassured, wiping at the river. I tried to think of anything but the present moment. It wasn’t time to commit to the annual cry. Not just yet. I took a deep breath. “Do you realize what you just sang to me? Those words are so comforting. Jesus was born for me! He is born for you! Thank you for comforting me with your song.”
The children simply watched, mystified.
“I will try not to cry when you sing on Christmas Eve,” I winked, still wiping, “but I might. This song comforts me, and I sometimes cry when I am happy.”
One boy scrunched up his nose. “People cry when they’re happy?”
“Adults do,” I said. “At least, some of them.”
No one was giggling anymore. Everyone was listening.
“I think,” I started, “it’s because adults have known a bit of sadness in their life, so when they hear something comforting, it relieves them of their sadness. Crying is a way of relieving sadness. It is a way of being happy.”
It could be explained better, I think, but the children took my answer in stride. They usually do.
We sang some more songs. We practiced some more notes. Before the children left, some of them waited in line at the piano to tell me some of their wishes, to confide in me some of their hopes, to cry onto my shoulder some of their own sadnesses, and to hug my heart close to theirs.
Such sweet stimulation. Such sad-happiness.
I cried the rest of the day.
It is risky business speaking of our dead children. We risk crying in public. We risk the discomfort of others. We risk crowds scattering before us like dust before an electric fan, everyone afraid of “catching what we’ve got.” We risk dirt flying in our faces as others furiously spade the earth to cover the ugly remains of our dead.
Perhaps, worst of all, we risk indifference. Oh, the painful silence of our dead children being acknowledged in public only to be ignored!
It is easier to hold our dead safely and quietly in our hearts where no one can offend or abuse them. But the truth is that our children did not stay in our wombs, and they do not now live in our hearts. They left our bodies to return to dust. They went before us in death, and we follow them into the grave.
This is why we speak of our dead children: because they lived and died and, we trust, live again in Christ. Our dead children are remembered and loved not only by us but by God who Himself lived and died and rose again that we all might live forever with Him in the flesh.
Thank you, Kristen, Audrey, Adrienne, and Melanie, for speaking aloud of your children that we might be comforted.
You can listen to their words here.
Have you had a chance to read He Remembers the Barren, yet?
If not, catch up on what’s new in the revised and extended second edition by listening to these recent interviews on Worldwide KFUO’s Faith ‘n’ Family show:
No tree wants to be barren, especially in the height of spring.
And when the sun rises on the second Sunday of May, the barren tree closes her eyes against the dreaded dawn. There is no hiding her leafless limbs in this public light. Her bare bark stands out in stark, dark contrast to the other verdant trees in the forest. No blossom crowns her head this Mother’s Day, no fruit snuggles against her naked breast. She has but one, lone Shoot growing from her sterile stump.
“I can bear no fruit,” she laments to the sunrise.
“I AM bearing all of the fruit you need in this life,” answers the Shoot, sprouting leaves of salvation, truth, and love. “I AM the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me bears much fruit. By this my Father is glorified.”
“But my children are dead,” she cries.
The Shoot stretches its arms wide to shade her gaping womb. “I AM the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”
“I am alone,” she mourns.
“I AM with you. And so are they.”
The tree opens her eyes to see a robin returning from a morning scavenge, feeding her babies nesting on a forgotten limb.
“But these are not my children.”
“They are yours to serve,” explains the Shoot. “They depend on you for support. I give them to you to shelter and protect. Love them as yourself.”
The barren tree – through no strength of her own – stands tall, lest the baby birds should fall.
Artist Edward Riojas has captured the poignant reality of barrenness in his exquisite cover artwork for He Remembers the Barren, Second Edition.
This moving painting is now available for purchasing. Do you have someone in your life who might appreciate a giclée print of it this Mother’s Day?
My heart can barely hold the grief.
It leaks out of my eyes as I bow my head in church. I’ve learned to pray with my eyes open, so that the tears drop straight to the floor and not onto my cheeks and clothes in tell-tale streaks.
It shudders from my lungs in seismic waves as Pastor reads the Gospel lesson. I’ve learned to hold my breath until my chest burns, camel-clutching my wayward diaphragm into submission.
It squeezes out of my larynx in pathetic whimpers as I sing, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” I’ve learned not to program “O Little Town of Bethlehem” for the Sunday school children lest they witness more sorrow in Advent than their parents want to explain on the drive home.
But my eyes, my lungs, my larynx – all rebels, every one. They get the better of me every Advent, because I know of more children dead than born.
So much death! How can I bear it?
And, as happens every year, I look to the image of my Lord as a tiny baby in the manger, and I remember, “So much life!”
I cannot bear it, so Jesus bears it for me. He is born to conquer death for my sake and for yours. He gives us life everlasting, and He gives it abundantly.
Rev. Peter Eckardt – husband to Allison, father to +Jordan+, and Associate Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church and School in Alexandria, Virginia – recently wrote a letter of comfort and support to his congregation about the tender subject of miscarriage. We are most thankful to him for allowing us to share this letter with all of you.
* * * * *
What about Miscarriages?
What do you do when you experience a miscarriage? This is a question that no expectant couple wants to address and yet desperately needs the answers to as soon as tragedy strikes.
Allison and I were expecting our first child. We were excited, nervous, terrified, and overjoyed all at the same time. We were reading books and pamphlets, downloading pregnancy-tracking apps, and talking to numerous mothers and fathers—all to prepare us for the rest of the pregnancy, for birth, and for everything that was to follow. We were learning more and more about our baby’s development. At 8 weeks gestation, we had already heard and seen the baby’s heartbeat via ultrasound—how special that was! But at 10 weeks and 6 days, we were completely unprepared for the miscarriage that happened in the middle of the night.
In the hours and days following the miscarriage that Allison and I experienced a month ago, several questions flooded our minds, and we had little idea of what the “right thing to do” was. We were able to preserve the remains of our baby, but now what? Can we, should we, bury our child? How would we go about doing that? Can we have a funeral service at the church for our unbaptized infant? Is that sort of thing done? What comfort do we have, if any, that our baby is in heaven? Should we name him or her?
Those of you who have experienced a miscarriage may have your own set of questions you’d like to add to this list. I will not attempt to answer all miscarriage-related questions in this letter—and, indeed, not all of them have a clear, right or wrong answer—but I’d like to at least begin the conversation with a few points.
If you have had a miscarriage, I want you to know that there are many promises of peace and hope for you and for your departed little one. You need not fear that, because your child was not able to be baptized, he or she is therefore unable to be included in God’s kingdom. Though God indeed attaches his promises of grace and forgiveness to His holy sacraments, He does not limit His power to these sacraments. Unbaptized, the thief on the cross comes to faith in his final hour and is told by our Lord the he will be with Him in Paradise (Luke 23:43). God is the maker of heaven and earth; He can do all things.
GOD HEARS OUR PRAYERS
Moreover, we know that “the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man [i.e., a Christian!] avails much (James 5:16). Our Lord tells us to ask and it will be given to us (Matt. 7:7) and that whatever we ask in His name, He will give us (John 14:13). Likewise, God says in Psalm 50, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you” (Psalm 50:15). And even if we have not prayed as we ought, the Spirit offers prayers for us in our weakness (Rom. 8:26-27). The Lutheran Service Book Agenda, which has a rite of “Burial for a Stillborn Child or Unbaptized Child,” states: “While alive and in the womb, this child was brought and commended to Christ in our prayers. We should not doubt that these prayers have been heard, for we have God’s own kind and comforting promises that such prayers in the name of Jesus Christ are heard by Him” (132).
Martin Luther wrote a letter of comfort for women who have had a miscarriage, and in it he also emphasizes the power of Christian prayer: “One should not despise a Christian person as if he were a Turk, a pagan, or a godless person. He is precious in God’s sight and his prayer is powerful and great, for he has been sanctified by Christ’s blood and anointed with the Spirit of God. Whatever he sincerely prays for, especially in the unexpressed yearning of his heart, becomes a great, unbearable cry in God’s ears, God must listen, as he did to Moses, Exodus 14 [:15], ‘Why do you cry to me?’ even though Moses couldn’t whisper, so great was his anxiety and trembling in the terrible troubles that beset him.” (Read entire letter here.)
THE HOLY SPIRIT CAN WORK THROUGH THE WOMB
As Scripture teaches, we believe that infants can receive the Holy Spirit and the gift of faith without yet being able to rationally hear and understand the words of Scripture. The infant John the Baptist leapt for joy in Elizabeth’s womb when he heard the sound of Mary’s greeting (Luke 1:39-45). This was surely the work of the Holy Spirit, for He is able to create faith even through the womb. It is indeed true that “with God all things are possible” (Matt 19:26).
JESUS LOVES LITTLE ONES
Consider also how our Lord Jesus shows compassion toward the littlest of children, praising their faith. In one instance, Jesus sets a little child in the midst of his disciples and says, “Unless you turn and become like children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. . . . See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. . . . It is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (Matt. 18:3, 10, 11). In another instance, “they were bringing even infants to [Jesus] that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God'” (Luke 18:15-17). There is no question that Jesus has a special, tender regard for the little ones.
GOD KNOWS US FROM CONCEPTION
Psalm 139 speaks beautifully of God’s intimate knowledge and care of his children, even from their conception in the womb:
“For you formed my inward parts;
WE SHALL GO TO THEM
Finally, a passage I find particularly poignant and comforting is the account of the death of King David’s first child in 2 Samuel 12:15-23. David’s son is afflicted by God upon birth and dies after seven days (significant because his circumcision—the Old Testament equivalent to the sacrament of Baptism—would have been on the eighth day). During that time, David beseeches the Lord to be merciful and to spare his son from death. But when the child dies, he stops mourning, worships the Lord, and says, “I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” With these words David appears to be expressing hope in the resurrection and in a blessed reunion with his son in heaven.
With all of this in mind, answers to some of the previously-mentioned questions start to become clearer. Yes, you may have comfort that your unbaptized child who died an untimely death has been brought to the arms of Jesus in paradise and awaits the resurrection. Yes, you may ask your pastor for a funeral service in the church. And yes, you may give your miscarried children a Christian burial.
There is no single right way to bury your miscarried baby, nor is it even possible in many cases, depending on the situation. Sometimes, the remains are not able to be preserved, parents do not know that they can preserve them, or they unknowingly dispose of them. If the miscarriage happens at a hospital, for instance, the couple may have to insist that they be given the remains for the purpose of burial. Otherwise, the remains may simply be disposed of by the hospital as a matter of protocol. For Christian parents who did not or were not able to keep the remains of their child for burial, there is no need to be burdened with guilt or regret. Take heart, and know that our good and gracious Lord holds your child in His arms regardless of the state of your baby’s bodily remains and that He can and will resurrect your child on the Last Day even without a burial site. Our God is abounding in steadfast love, forgiveness, and mercy to both you and your little ones.
For those who are able, however, it is a good and commendable thing to keep the remains of a miscarried baby and to seek an appropriate avenue for Christian burial. Ask your pastor for guidance, as each situation may be unique. Though the world around us pays little attention to miscarriages and often expects mothers and fathers to simply move on or to get over the miscarriage quickly, we Christians have an opportunity to boldly confess that a baby who dies by miscarriage—and who may only be a few centimeters long and a few weeks old—is just as much a human life created by God as you or I. Whenever a miscarriage happens, we ought to acknowledge both the very real life of the child that has ended, and the very real loss that the parents are undergoing. And as Christians, we must not forget to confess our hope in Jesus Christ, our God and Savior, whose good and gracious will is always better than ours. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
Allison and I decided to have our baby Jordan buried in Richmond, VA, at Mt. Calvary Cemetery. This particular cemetery donates land specifically for the burial of miscarried babies. Burial services are also provided through the goodwill and cooperation of the The Catholic Diocese of Richmond, Bliley Funeral home, and Richmond area hospitals. They conduct burials of miscarried infants about once month, reverently interring several miscarried children together in a single plot of land. Tiny white caskets are used with the names of the babies placed on each. Allison and I were in Richmond this past Wednesday for our baby Jordan’s burial. We are extremely grateful for this gracious program and have talked about how nice it would be if more such programs were available for Christian families.
There is much more to say on this entire topic, and I plan to do so another time in order to comfort and assist those who have been and will be affected by miscarriage. It is, unfortunately, a common tragedy among us, but its frequency does not make it any less sorrowful.
”The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:26).
In closing I’d like to offer this prayer from the LSB Agenda for all who have lost children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, through miscarriage:
Heavenly Father, Your Son bore all our griefs and carried all our sorrows. Strengthen the faith of these grieving parents and all who bear this heavy burden. Help them to rely on Your boundless mercy and to trust that their little one, who has been gathered into Your loving arms, will rise on the Last Day; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Blessings in Christ,