I had a message from a friend this week letting me know that she had lost one of her twins, one of the twins that she had only recently learned she was carrying.
This is incredibly sad, of course.
But I knew a handful of additional details that made it even more awful. This was their last IVF attempt. They had been shocked to discover twins and had spent a couple of weeks re-visioning what their life would be like. There is a preschooler in the house trying to understand why there is only one baby when there were two. My friend cannot help but worry that she will lose the second twin.
And people keep saying that she should be grateful that she still has one. This must not be said, and my friend clearly explains why: “It tells me that I don’t have the right to be sad about the one lost.”
My Project Pomegranate colleague, Diane Paces-Wiles, has taught us to ask: If someone lost one sibling, would you tell them they should be grateful the other is still alive? If someone lost a mother, would you tell them that they should be grateful their father is still alive? The answer is clearly “no” and there are no circumstances in which a mother who has just lost a pregnancy ought to be told to be grateful. And there are no circumstances in which one should suggest, “at least you have other children at home.” No.
We must not accidentally rely on these platitudes. We need to think, in community, about how to do better.
I’ll tell you what I said to my friend.
Moments later I followed up saying that there would be more to say later, that we could talk any time, but that “crap” was all I could muster at the moment.
And she replied, “That feels like an altogether appropriate and holy response.”
All Saints’ Sunday is complicated for most people who observe it. We remember the life and death of people we have loved. We sit with those whose grief is fresh. We honor those who have lived and worshiped among us. And in doing so, we face the reality that we are all going to die.
In our congregation we sing, “For all the saints, who from their labors rest…,” and we light candles for those who have died during the last year. I usually cry a little. Sometimes it is because I grieve the loss of those whose names are being called. Sometimes it is because I pause to remember my grandmother, or a friend who died years ago.
But what about people like my friend who just lost one of her twins? There is no saint to remember together, as a community – no face that we have seen, no body that we have hugged or held, no person that we have known. But there was a loss. And there is grief. And as others remember the lives of those that they long loved, she and her husband will grieve the long absence they face in the decades to come.
I wonder how her congregation will affirm her grief for the one lost. I wonder who in her congregation knows.
We have heard from many in our fertility grief circles that All Saints’ Sunday is one where they feel a bit left out. I wonder how many people will be in pews on Sunday whose story of loss, of the loss of pregnancies or infants, are unknown to those leading in worship. I wonder how to let them know that their grief has a place in the faith community. Because the word “remember” fails to capture the experience of fertility grief, I wonder what can be said that will be meaningful.
We can name what has been lost: a dream; a hope; the child that was supposed to populate Halloween, birthday, and Christmas photos for years to come; a child that would have been rocked and cuddled and put in time out and given band-aids. A child whose absence will be woven into daydreams and nightmares for a very, very long time.
We can say that this loss deserves its own grief.
But we needn’t say much. Something like “crap” will do.
Perhaps something slightly more polished can be mustered from the pulpit.
Let us begin asking the questions and making space for the conversations that will form a compassionate response to the many griefs that are held in secret. And may our efforts bring these griefs into the light.