This week, as we face Father’s Day, we remember those for whom the day holds a twinge of pain, or perhaps overwhelming grief. In honor of Father’s Day, we will be posting blogs by men. We give thanks for their willingness to give voice to their own experiences of grief, of loss and of ministry among those who have lost and the promise held in the very act of sharing: you are not alone.
Brian Barrier is a member of Watts Street Baptist Church in Durham, NC.
Every year I was in elementary school, there was a guy who would bring in his projector and home movies to show us in the cafeteria. Lots of rickety chairs would be lined up and we would all parade in on our best behavior because this was a terribly special event and we would not want to miss it by being sent back to class.
All the movies were somewhat grainy, and the screen was quite small, but to us they were grand. We went to a small rural elementary school that ran from Kindergarten to 7th grade. Many of us would never even get to leave the confines of the state in our lifetime, much less travel to California to see giant redwood trees or drive in a car on the open road just to see where it took us. Heck, many of us didn’t have a family that remotely resembled the one in the movies. Yet here these places were in living color, rich food for our daydreams.
The people in the movies were a sign pointing to what we could have some day if we maybe paid attention in class and worked hard enough. Some day, we could be movie people too that children would huddle together and stay quiet to see. Some day, God willing.
We all have our own movie people. Maybe they live on Facebook, sharing the warm glow of a birthday cake with their child who just turned five. Maybe they are in a supermarket, chatting to other parents as their children skip merrily down the aisles with a miniature shopping cart. Maybe they are the parent hovering over a baby being pushed around a park in an awesomely decked out stroller. Some day, God willing.
I remember when my wife Jenny and I prayed that prayer. We didn’t really use those words. We just tried very hard to do the right things. We paid attention in class. We worked hard. I had finally landed a job that paid a little more than barely enough to live on. My wife was going to graduate school. Jenny and I decided this may be the time to start a family. We made deals with God. In exchange for our hard work and devotion, God would surely grant us our dearest wish.
Jenny got pregnant. We decided to wait only a short while to tell everyone. My coworkers were planning a shower. Our friends were planning a shower. Jenny’s belly was growing. The open road was in front of us and we were driving just to see where it went. It felt like maybe, just maybe, we were going to be movie people too.
I was out of the state, training hospitals how to use disaster logistics software, when I got the call. Jenny had gone in for a routine ultrasound and the technician could not find a heartbeat.
In elementary school, I remember when the home movies stopped. They usually wound down slowly after a parting shot with all of the movie people smiling and waving to the camera. There would be a profound silence. Then we would file out of the cafeteria back to our classrooms, but we were changed people. Sometimes it took a while for that to really sink in.
It took a while for Jenny and I to get through the profound silence, after our movie suddenly stopped. Folks really didn’t know what to say. Hallmark doesn’t make a card for it.
I confess that I didn’t know what to say or do either. The only times I had ever heard about miscarriage was in hushed tones with very little context – as if one could somehow conjure it at will by speaking its name.
Then friends began to reach out to us and show us how things really worked behind the scenes. We started hearing folks we thought of as movie people tell their own stories of loss, of frustration, of profound grief. They had tried to have children or lost children. We never knew. Could this many folks have had the same deals with God?
The secret of the movie people paradigm is that we are the camera. We can choose where to look, what to focus on, and how the story will be told. I know that my experience with loss and grief has made me try to be a better participant in the lives of others, to better focus on them as real people. And this participation has taught me a lot about how our relationship with God is not transactional, not a talisman against loss to be conjured, but rather a sustained effort of engagement that allows us to express our deepest emotions while receiving healing balm of encouragement.
Too easily we can get caught up in seeing folks just as they present themselves rather than getting to know them better. We need to tell others who have experienced the same loss, the same pain, the same grief, that they are not alone. Then perhaps we can begin to stand the movie people paradigm on its head. Some day, God willing.