Memorial Reflections – Death does not discriminate

Sunday was the annual city wide memorial for families who have lost children, babies passed both in the womb and shortly after birth. My husband Aaron, our daughter Hannah and I arrived about fifteen minutes before the service began. We sat with my father and his girlfriend and Aaron’s dad. At this point the chapel room in the funeral home was only a quarter full but as the service start time approached, every pew was full, people directed to sit in the overflow area on the far side of the room. Eventually, the back of the chapel was crowded with families standing; even out towards the entrance was crowded.

This many people gathering together would normally be a wonderful turnout if the event were, say, a wedding, conference, or concert. While we all gathered to celebrate, the mood was somber. Many women were crying even before the program began, helped along by the majestic harpist as she plucked dreamlike lullabies reminiscent of the magical chimes in children’s literature and film, signaling something special is about to happen.

There were people from every walk of life, every ethnicity, young mourners and old. Death does not discriminate. I was moved in heart by the collective longing and loss, like a heartbeat itself, which resonated within the room, beating and alive. We are an eclectic group without distinctive features save one, the loss of our child, the death of our wanted, chosen and planned children.

At first, Hannah seemed to be the only child in the room. I worried that her presence may upset some people with recent losses, especially the loss of a daughter. My worry was magnified by my large mid section – yes, I am pregnant with my third, at 36 weeks gestation. Slowly more children arrived with their families, infants all the way up to elementary school aged kids. It was special to have the children with us, their understanding limited but their young perspective, accepting and joyful, one I feel we can all learn from.

After a few readings, we began the candle lighting ceremony. Families approached the front of the chapel, lit a candle, took a flower and said, “We remember our son John,” or “In memory of Bethany, we miss you,” into a microphone so all could hear. Parents would lift their kids up to the microphone to say, “We remember my brother Scott,” or “my sister Rose.”  Aaron and I lit a candle for Zachary and Aaron honored our boy aloud by speaking his name.

My husband Aaron finishes putting Zachary’s sleeper on at the feet. Zachary had already passed but we wanted to dress him in the outfit we planned for him to wear home, but he never made it home with us, we had to say goodbye at the hospital.

Even one year and seven months after our son passed away, the ache of missing him is still present and I believe it will be with me forever. When counselors, shortly after Zachary’s birth and death, told us that the rawness of loss fades over time, I didn’t believe them. It felt like I would be raw, like uncooked ground beef, bloody and grated, for the rest of my life, yet, somehow, in some unforeseen way, I have begun to heal.

As anyone who has lost a loved one will likely agree, the saying, “time heals” seems cliché and shallow. I am fully on board with this opinion and I beg people not to say it to me or any other mourners. But it is true in a way. I have to admit. Time, combined with doing the ‘work of grief’ have brought my soul from raw despair to an unfamiliar sort of peace. This is not the kind of peace where everything is okay, but it is a place where I know everything is not okay and I am okay with it.

The memorial ceremony was a lovely chance to actively remember, but it is in the everyday contemplations, the choice to heal and positive steps to pursue that end, which truly make all the difference.

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