I have never felt more exposed. After posting my recent experience on closing my womb and realizing the finality of not being able to bear a child biologically, the reactions have been mixed:
- Some read it and cried and thanked me for helping them become sensitive toward the childless in church.
- Others have or understand overwhelming loss, childlessness or other, and they were so thankful to have someone explore sorrow and Resurrection. They were thankful to have someone give voice to such painful places.
- My impression is that others are baffled by my emotional gush—at what point will this girl get over the fact that she's barren? She really needs to move on. And also, what can I say to comfort her without offending her?
In the spirit of helping us all better understand how to embrace the childless, I would like to offer some suggestions:
Recognize the childless person's grief is different from other kinds of grief.
- A person who longs to bear a child biologically often doesn't have a set point for their loss. Someone in your life may have died, at which time you started the grieving process. For the person who leaves their womb open, each month there is a silent death of sorts, and this can go on for years. In fact, in my case, it went on for five years. I knew the likelihood of getting pregnant diminished with time, but there was always the hope that it was possible, and the regret that it didn't happen. Some months were more excruciating than others—but there was never a month when I didn't think about bearing a child of my own.
- A person who wants to adopt a child also has many obstacles in front of them. Please understand: not everyone who wants to adopt a child gets a child. When an adoption appears hopeful and then does not happen, there is tremendous grief and questioning. (The same is often true of a miscarriage.) But there is no ceremony or way to acknowledge the loss; the person or the couple often find themselves just "trying to get over it," rather than having spiritual companions who can help them grieve through the heartbreak and eventually find Resurrection hope.
- The single person who wants to get married and longs to have a child? They bear a double grief. For reasons they cannot understand, they have not found a spouse to live, laugh and love with. This grief for something that never was cuts to the core. And as the years tick by, the possibility of having a child grows more distant and unlikely. They, too, need spiritual companions who will listen to and enter into such a continuous loss, providing them deep roots in community and a treasured place in their spiritual family.
Some healing things to say or do.
I know what you're thinking: "Yes, there must be something I can do!" In reality, this process should be more about you being there than doing. Traveling together, bearing pain and loss, laughing and living and celebrating when there is cause for joy. But, still, there are a few things that help—or at least they helped me.
- Send a card acknowledging their struggle. My favorite one came from my sister-in-law. It said, simply, "My soul has been touched by your strength and my heart by your struggle." I felt like someone saw me.
- Come closer and show up for the hard stuff. "How is your heart?" "How are you dealing with everything going on?" And one of the more lovely things: "I'm sorry for your loss" or "I'm so sorry for the pain this causes." Even "I'm thinking of you today." This assures the person that you see the loss and validate it.
- Do the practical stuff, too. Bring a meal, celebrate other things happening in their life, invite them for holidays, encourage them in using their influence and unique, God-given personality to mentor and bless others.
And,if you're wondering, I did show up for Mother's Day at church, though I skipped the services that had a baby dedication. And it was more inclusive than I thought it would be. And, because I wanted to reach out, I introduced myself to the man in front of us, who promptly told us he is almost 92 years old and that he has been married for 67 years. Yet he sat alone.
"My wife has Alzheimer's," he said. "And I go to her nursing home each day and feed her lunch." He fondly recalled some arguments in their younger years and how he learned to love her through them. And I said, "God bless you in your care for her."
And I thought about how the body of Christ is supposed to function. And how, in showing up for another's pain, we somehow feel ours lessening a bit. I hope the Church continues to grow in learning how to fully embrace and include singles and those who are childless, as well as anyone who comes into church with unresolved loss and pain.
In so doing, we share the care of Jesus and make it visible and tangible, making the journey less lonely and a little less difficult.
"He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds." Psalm 147:3 (NLT)
Your turn: what is the most healing thing someone has said or done during a time of loss?