Saturday, 10 May 2014

Saying Goodbye Service at Derby Cathedral

It has been 10 years since Kristine and I lost our first child to miscarriage.  It has been 4 years since we experienced our third miscarriage.  It has been 2 years since I wrote a book that I thought completed my miscarriage journey. After all, if I wrote a book to tell a story, doesn't that mean the story is complete? 

In Letters to My Unborn Children, I wrote to my children about a narrative of hope.  Kristine and I would speak into the darkness of death and shattered dreams that the miscarriages represented.  My life today is full of new-ness.  We have 3 healthy, lively children.  We just made an intercontinental move to the UK.  It fulfills a decades old dream to live in the land of my father.  

Yet in the midst of it I feel empty.  Against all of these dreams, a defensive antagonism rises up within me.  These dreams are not the ones that ended when my children died.  But my antagonistic response is somehow tied to their deaths.  Instead of redemptive beauty, woven into the fabric of our family's life, I see only a dark blot.  Like the dark blot of miscarriage, these new dreams are obstacles to be overcome; not adventures to be experienced.  I am unable to face them with hope or gentleness.  Instead, I face them with hostility.  When I try to think about it, the hostility takes me back to a guttural cry of agony after our third miscarriage.

My child died.  The world was silent.  The cosmos were silent.  I am alone.

This despair brings me to Derby Cathedral on a Saturday afternoon in May for the Saying Goodbye service.  I wonder if facing the miscarriages again will help me face this deeper sense of despair that is so powerfully linked to them.  I am encouraged by the information about the services: they are for anyone who has lost a baby, whether the loss was yesterday or 80 years ago.  It's been 10, so I guess I qualify.  

I am here alone.  Kristine and I discussed whether I would bring Elise and Charis.  We decided not to.  We are open with them about the miscarriages.  But attendance at services like this is a new experience, so we decide to let them stay home.  I take a seat alone in a pew, and find that my solitude is not unique.  No pews have more than 4 or 5 people in them.  Some are families with children.  Some are couples.  Some are individuals.

The opening hymn is a tune I know: Bunessan, or Morning Has Broken.  The text is new.  I cannot sing through the first line before I break down in tears.

Fleetingly known, yet ever remembered, 
These are our children now and always. 
These whom we see not, we will forget not,
Morning and evening, all of our days.

I take a deep breath and try again on the second verse.  Still the tears come.

Lives that touched our lives, tenderly briefly, 
Now in the one light, living always, 
Named in our hearts now, safe from all harm now, 
We will remember all of our days.

I try one more time.  This time I am able to whisper the words.

As we recall them, silently name them, 
Open our hearts Lord, now and always, 
Grant to us grieving, love for the living, 
Strength for each other all of our days.

Safe in your peace Lord, hold these your children, 
Grace, light and laughter grant them each day, 
Cherish and hold them till we may know them, 
When to your glory we find our way.

This is not a gathering of people who have overcome their grief.  There are no celebratory songs of victory.  We are not closing the past into a space from which it cannot touch us anymore.  The lives were real.  The loves and hopes were real.  Their absence hurts.  We can be honest about that.  

I find that being here alone gives me freedom to cry.  I see couples exchanging embraces, and I wonder if others are also crying.  I need these tears.  The tears enable gentleness to become present in my grief.  They dissolve some of my angry defensiveness as I listen to the gentle narrative of hope offered by the songs in the service.  

You were just a small bump unborn for four months then torn from life.   Maybe you were needed up there but we're still unaware as why (Ed Sheeran).

A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel is weeping for her children.  She refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more ... there is a reward for your work, says the Lord: They shall come back from the land of the enemy.  There is hope for your future says the Lord: your children shall come back to their own country (Jeremiah 31:15, 17).

I pray you'll be our eyes, and watch us where we go, and help us to be wise, in times when we don't know.  Let this be our prayer when we lose our way.  Lead us to a place; guide us with Your grace; give us faith so we'll be safe (the arrangement by Celine Dion and Andre Bocelli).

The homily closes with the words of this Easter hymn.

When our hearts are saddened, grieving or in pain,
By Your touch You call us back to life again;
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

Part way through the service, the Saying Goodbye volunteers offer a chance to ring a bell in memory our lost babies.  I close my eyes and ring three times.

Baby Collins, died in Hartford, April 2004
Baby Collins, died in Hartford, September 2004
Baby Collins, died in Indianapolis, March 2010

The service concludes with John Rutter's arrangement of the Old Testament Aaronic blessing.  The Lord bless you and keep you.  The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you.  The Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon you and give you peace.  Amen.

The voices from the small choir swell to fill the sanctuary.  I am reminded of the creation myth from Tolkien's Silmarrillion.  Melkor sought to change the creation by introducing discordant music.  Iluvatar sang a creative, redemptive response to Melkor's chaos.  The discord was loud.  At times it felt overwhelming.  Yet Iluvatar's creative response was not silenced.  

As the service ends, I make my way again to the front of the sanctuary.  The three candles I lit for my unborn children are joined by candles that others have also lit.  I whisper a brief prayer of thanks for the two hours on a weekend that Kristine and the girls gave me to be out of the house.  I needed to say goodbye again.  I needed to remember again.  I needed a gentle nudge to face my current darkness with hope.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

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