Our families and our communities are marked by a profound yet silent loss that often passes unknown and is seldom spoken of. I speak of the many families in our community who, down through the years, have suffered the heart-breaking loss of a child, and in some cases, several children, during pregnancy or at birth. For too long this terrible loss was seldom acknowledged publicly or spoken of. Perhaps we simply didn’t know what to say and so we said nothing. Perhaps even now we are afraid to face such an inexplicable reality because it mocks our sense of the natural order of things. The loss of a child can shatter the heart of his or her parents and plunge them into a grief more intense and more lasting than most of us can even imagine. To lose a child is to be robbed of the dreams and hopes that they represent. It is literally to have part of yourself taken from you. The priest-poet John O Donohue captured something of that loss when he wrote:
No one knows the wonder your child awoke in you,
your heart a perfect cradle to hold its presence.
Inside and outside became one
As new waves of love kept surprising your soul.
Now you sit bereft inside a nightmare,
your eyes numbed by the sight of a grave
no parent should ever see.
You will wear this absence like a secret locket,
Always wondering why such a new soul
Was taken home so soon.
© For a Parent on the Death of a Child
Often the Church, instead of reassuring people of God’s unfathomable love for each and every child from the first moment of their being, only added to the awfulness of that grief with shameful notions of limbo and unfounded fears of no baptism. For far too long the Church failed to honour these children as we should have by denying them the full rites of Christian burial and by failing to offer their parents the solace and support that Jesus would surely have wished for them.
This weekend, we wish to acknowledge and pray for these precious little ones who are forever part of our families and our community and who are certainly part of God’s family forever. There are no lost children in God’s family! All children, born and unborn, find their resting place in the heart of God and are loved equally and completely. In each of our Churches this weekend we have created a Sacred Space for remembering and honouring those who have died during pregnancy or at birth or shortly afterwards. We invite you to take a moment to remember your lost little ones and we pray that, in so doing, you will find a measure of solace and the seeds of a new hope. In the words of John O’Donohue, may:
You glimpse how your eternal child
has become the unseen angel who parents your heart
and persuades the moon to send new gifts ashore. Fr Seán