October 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. I heard about the day through some friends who have suffered miscarriages.
Some years ago, I went with a medical mission team from my church to Choluteca, in Honduras. After a particularly moving experience at the local hospital, I asked this question in an earlier blog post, “How does one get back into the swing of normal life after holding the hand of a grieving mother and praying that God would fill the gaping ache losing her child caused?” [And I gave this answer, “Perhaps it’s through gratitude, and not guilt.”]
Before that visit, I used to think miscarriages were horrible, but maybe not as horrible as the death of a child one got to know. I just never really thought about it. It felt like it would be easier to heal from a miscarriage, because one can reason that since the child was never born, the pain would be less.
After that visit, I realized how wrong my thinking was. A loss is a loss, and empty arms hurt, whether they got to hold a child for a short while and outlived them or whether all those arms got to do was just plan and wait, and never saw that dream realized.
Incidentally, this past weekend, while America put on costumes and went trick or treating for Halloween, the Philippines was observing both All Saints’ Day (November 1st) and All Souls’ Day (November 2nd).
For those two days, Filipinos, particularly religious ones, honor the dead. Catholics pray for those they believe are in purgatory, and people visit the cemetery to pay their respects to the departed.
I remember what that was like.
We hung out at the cemetery.
We cleaned grave-sites, and we had reunions.
Suddenly, the cemetery wasn’t a place to be afraid of. For those days, it became a place to hang out and see friends and relatives you haven’t seen for some time.
And there were many memories shared. We heard stories about my mother’s two brothers, one whose grave we would help clean and re-paint, and the other who died while with the US Navy and whose body was never found, and thus there was no grave for us to visit.
It was also the only time, just about, when we would think about the brother we lost through miscarriage. My siblings and I would clean our brother’s grave-site as well, but we’d never really talk much, because there were no memories to share.
His name was Raymond, and his tiny grave is gone. I had asked my mother over the weekend if it was still there. She said some people had built another tomb on top. [I wonder about those people.]
I’ve been toying with the idea of writing about Raymond. And today I decided to go ahead, to make sure he isn’t forgotten. His grave is gone, but his name won’t be erased.
When it comes to emotions, my family isn’t demonstrative. I see the same thing in my sons. But I’m making an exception this time.
See, I’ve always thought of Raymond as my dead loved one. I didn’t get to meet him in this lifetime, but he is my brother. There have been so many times I have found myself imagining how different life would have been if he had lived. We would have been born the same year, almost like twins…
As my favorite books do for me faithfully, here’s a scene from Anne’s House of Dreams that I find comforting.
“‘The best dream of all has come true,’ said Anne, pale and rapturous. ‘Oh, Marilla, I hardly dare believe it, after that horrible day last summer. I have had a heartache ever since then–but it is gone now.’
‘This baby will take Joy’s place,’ said Marilla.
‘Oh, no, no, no, Marilla. He can’t–nothing can ever do that. He has his own place, my dear, wee man-child. But little Joy has hers, and always will have it. If she had lived she would have been over a year old. She would have been toddling around on her tiny feet and lisping a few words. I can see her so plainly, Marilla. Oh, I know now that Captain Jim was right when he said God would manage better than that my baby would seem a stranger to me when I found her Beyond. I’ve learned that this past year. I’ve followed her development day by day and week by week–I always shall. I shall know just how she grows from year to year–and when I meet her again I’ll know her–she won’t be a stranger.'”
– Anne’s House of Dreams, by L.M. Montgomery