It’s a sentence I’ve grown too comfortably numb repeating, despite the very real pain my heart still carries from the loss. I think when death comes in measures beyond what we can bear our brain tries to cope by focusing on the number itself rather than people behind it. We can’t fully get our head around the 6,000,000 Jews murdered in the holocaust, but we can’t hold back the tears when we’re shown the story of just one. Why is that?
I think it’s because there is holiness in personhood.
If we believe that we are truly made in God’s image, if we believe that each individual soul reflects a facet of the image of God Himself on earth, then there’s simply no denying the enormous loss of that divine presence when we lose someone in death. It’s like a piece of God himself becomes a little less clear to us on this side of eternity, as if obscured from view.
This year, with October as the national month of remembrance and awareness for these losses, I felt a pull to somehow connect myself deeper with the individual personhood of each one of the seven little ones I won’t meet until heaven. As part of my grieving process for each loss, I had been encouraged by a counselor to give each one of those babies a name. A name is one of the most powerful ways we can recognize personhood. These children don’t have a birth or death certificate, they don’t even have a birthday, but each one of them still has a name. And so much like the ceremonies held for September 11th or held at the Vietnam War memorial, this year I wanted to focus on those precious names – those 7 individual souls who each constitute an enormous loss in and of themselves. I wanted to speak each one out loud. I wanted to share those names with a world that might otherwise never know they exist at all.
I contacted a friend who is an incredibly talented calligraphy artist, who also has experienced the pain of miscarriage as well, and asked her if she could write out the names of each of those 7 babies for me together in one place, as well as their meanings (since the meanings were instrumental in the naming process for me.) When she eventually sent me the completed project I was surprised at how intense and almost tangible the grief was I felt in response. Something about seeing those names broke my heart wide open all over again. I could no longer hide behind the familiar numbness of grouping them all together as a number in a story I retell – they became tiny individuals to me all over again. I couldn’t help but picture that beautiful lettering on the cover of 7 baby books that will never exist. I saw their name’s written in frosting on birthday cakes. I saw their names sharpied on the tags inside their jackets for school, proudly scrawled out in crayon on top of their artwork, lettered across diplomas and wedding invitations, signed on the bottom of mother’s day cards they would send me someday when they were grown and maybe had children and families of their own. The reality of 7 different lives full of innumerable moments and details and memories that will never be came flooding in at once, and my grief became new.
Tonight from 7 to 8pm I will once again be participating in the #WaveOfLight, in which people all over the world light candles in remembrance of children they have lost or loved ones who have experienced miscarriage or infant loss. This year I plan to speak the names of each of these children as I light my candles. The grief hurts more than I feel like I have adequate words to express, but so much of healing can only come when we dig into our pain, recognize it, and name it. This is no different – because as much as these names are a painful reminder of all that was lost, they also point me towards an eternity in heaven when grief and pain will be no more, and where I will finally get to meet each and every one of these 7 souls. It doesn’t take away the grief, but it’s enough to sustain me in the waiting.