We Can Grieve Together While Grieving Differently

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch

A Review of Grieving Together: A Couple’s Journey Through Miscarriage by Laura Kelly Fanucci and Franco David Fanucci

Grief.

The five stages of grief are shock, bargaining, anger, depression and acceptance. The four tasks of grief are accepting the reality of your loss, processing your grief and pain, adjust to the world without your loved one in it, and finding a way to maintain a connection to the person who died while embarking on your own life.

How easily they are listed, how much more difficult they are to live.

"Grief is as unique as the soul of the child that you lost." Excerpt from Grieving Together.

When I was twenty weeks pregnant with my fifth child, an ultrasound revealed she had anencephaly. My body supported her growth in utero, but without a brain, she would die during or soon after birth. We learned this in the fall of 2016. I chose to carry her until she was full time and deliver near her due date, in early March.

How different that Thanksgiving was! We faced such loss that year.

How strange it was on Christmas to celebrate the birth of the Christ child, knowing what would happen to my child.

A counselor from the palliative care team spoke with me weekly to help me process my grief and pain. I knew of no reference books to help me. Instead Facebook groups kept me informed. Like my miscarriages from early in my marriage, we looked for resources where we could find them, and developed a helpful array of tools to keep in our spiritual backpack, so to speak.

Having found my answers from unexpected lines by C.S. Lewis and an unexpected Lutheran hymn set to a song about a planet and a pagan god, it is with awe and deep appreciation that I read a new publication called Grieving Together: A Couple’s Journey through Miscarriage, by Laura Kelly Fanucci and Franco David Fanucci.

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I thought I had all I needed.

I have grieved and life’s demands have helped propel me forward with a current focus of applying all those good things I learned to live at home.

Grieving Together had more to teach me. Never have I encountered a book that aims so high and hits so successfully grief from a spiritual perspective. The authors are Catholic and offer Catholic resources. But it is the material that is not directly Catholic that amazed me most.

The Fanuccis examine that physical process, known causes of miscarriage and the types of miscarriage. I cannot recall seeing a theoretical spiritual resource decide to go ahead and hold all the information you might need in one place.

In the second section, relying heavily on stories rather than drawing lines on theoretical gender differences, the Fanuccis explore the different ways mothers and father process their grief and how these differences can lay a strain on the relationship in an already difficult time. My husband and I grieved differently. He withdrew to play online video games with his best friend while I talked through my grief with women in my life and my counselor. His silence was not a sign of a lack of feeling, it was his process.

In the third part, the authors offer insightful understanding to the cliches many, if not most, in grief will hear, and presents some better and more on point alternatives to those cliches. Sometimes we unintentionally try to push a person past their grief to peace or happiness with sayings intended to comfort because the suffering makes us uncomfortable. There is beauty in staying put with your grief for as long as you need. To let the reality unfold, to let the process take its place, to let the presence of the loved one cement in the heart. Often those who grieve just need someone to walk alongside them, rather than try to fix the thing that is broken.

After a series of prayers, rituals and role models from the Catholic Church, the Fanuccis consider ways to memorialize the life of the infant the parents never had a chance to meet and encouragement for those seasons following the tragic event.

The entire book is written with such clarity, empathy and support, that, once again, I am daring to recommend it to you even though this is not a column focused on religion.

It has been almost seven years since my last miscarriage.

Reading this book, I found wounds dressed and questions answered. It is a remarkable little book.

"Be gentle with each other. Grief sometimes gets worse before it gets better." quote from Grieving Together.

P.S.

I wrote more about this wonderful book at Blessed is She.

Laura Kelly Fanucci writes at the blog, Mothering Spirit, where I found a great deal of hope leading up my daughter’s birth.

You can listen to Laura and David share more about their story here.

You can read an excerpt on that excellent section for those seeking to support someone in grief here.

Pregnancy And Infant Loss Awareness

Parents holding fingers of newborn girl.

October is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month to call to mind the reality of these losses. Adriel Booker has done a beautiful job compiling stories of loss to lead up this month. They will be shared through Instagram @ourscarlettstories or you can read mine and several others at once here.

To the mothers who never met their children

I did not plan on writing today. I posted two things about Mother’s Day yesterday and the day before. But I feel somewhat compelled to write.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Happy Mother’s Day to those mothers who never had a chance to meet their babies,

who never had a chance to see their babies,

who never had a chance to act in all those wonderful ways their hearts ached to act,

who, at too short a time, could never again hold their babies,

who, at too short a time, had to say bury to their babies.

You have lived out your vocation to its very depths.

Our Lady walked the road of discipleship, the way that follows Christ, the way to the Cross. And with pain and tears, she stood by the cross, waiting, wondering. How many times, how many threats on his life, times when they nearly threw him over a cliff, did she hold her breath and wonder, is this it? We don’t know how much she knew. Maybe she knew nothing of the path laid out for her. But she walked and stood and loved and gave.

I have three children…I have five children. I thought of my two children today, the two I never met. One of whom there is no evidence except a CD with sonogram images of an empty sac from the emergency room. For the other we have a grave. We will not know their sex until we are in Heaven. But we named them.

John Marie.

Paul Joseph.

They are my children. They are with God.

You may have children too, in Heaven, who, because of original sin, our broken world, the chaos and madness of death, you have never been able to meet. I pray for you.

I count my blessings that I should have three children alive. But I know, if my time comes again, I will wonder, is this it? Will I have to endure that loss again?

No spiritual consolation changes the devastation of a mother who could not love her child in all the countless ways God made mothers to love their children. The earthly sorrow cannot be comforted.

The gentleman who sell the carved wood statues from Bethlehem were at our parish recently. I told my husband of a statue that moved me very deeply. An angel held a child in it’s arms. I could barely speak the words: it looks like the angel is taking it to Heaven.

This morning, my husband gave me the statue. So I would like to share this with you.

 Angel with Infant carved in olive wood

God be with you on this Mother’s Day.

Reflections on Gift from the Sea: Part Five

It looks rather like the house of a big family, pushing out one addition after another to hold its teeming life…

I have questioned myself on this. We have so much stuff. I used to feel guilty when I would pack so many things to travel. Why do I take so much? Everyone seemed to have smaller suitcases than me. Yet it seemed I needed each item. Whenever I attempted to pack light, I found myself frustrated or unprepared in the moments that followed. So now life, with our accumulations. We moved from a strange, albeit spacious, dogtrot home to overflowing a three bedroom 1980’s home to nicely filling a four-bedroom with intelligent storage design. So many things! Do we have too much? It seems ridiculous to rid ourselves of many of these things since we will likely need them again within a few years (bassinet, changing table). So we needed more space.

The oyster has fought to have that place on the rock to which it has fitted itself perfectly and to which it clings tenaciously. So most couples in the growing years of marriage struggle to achieve a place in the world. It is a physical and material battle first of all, for a home, for children, for a place in their particular society.

It does feel like a fight. We move and move and though we have our friendships, and love those friends from before our marriage, to find our way of life is another story. It is good to have old friends. But we need friends here, in our town, on our street, in our parish. For goodness sakes, we need a parish. And living for the first time in town (we won’t count Washington D.C.’s surrounding towns), we want a parish less than 25 minutes away. We’re drawn again and again to a parish we did not expect to pursue. Talking with neighbors. Blessed to have two families next to us who are faithful and traditional Christians. We’re ever searching for those families with whom we can foster friendships. In Virginia, we knew them before they were married, now they are married and we live far away. The women with whom I read this book are examples, if space does not distance us than the hectic pace of life distances us. So we keep working to find those friendships and that place within our community.

The battle for children? I shudder to think. Yes, we fought. We fought in our hearts time and again: fought to grieve, fought to accept, fought to open our hearts to the strangeness of God’s plan, fought to survive the fear that the baby would never be born. Yes, we have fought. I see my heart bloodied and in agony whenever I visit the cemetery. And I remember crying out in sorrow, kneeling, rocking on the ground on All Souls’ Day before that grave, 9 months pregnant with another child. We have fought. It says just “Baby Casey” because there never seems to be enough money to buy the tombstone.

The material battle? And what was this battle? My husband’s search for work, year after year, to find his calling. All that time it was right before him, but we were afraid to trust. We were afraid to accept the lesser income in order for him to find the great happiness of his calling. But we did accept it. I work part-time so he can build the number of students he teaches. He feels wonderful because he provides, he is valued and he contributes something that only he can contribute.

For, in fact, man and woman are not only looking outward in the same direction; they are working outward…Here one forms ties, roots, a firm base.

We continue to work. This is something we always knew. When we dated, in friendship we faced the same God with different devotions but the same desire for holiness. Now we have hardly any shreds of that life of devotion, but we are working, are pushing outward to make some success of the life we’ve been given.

Here the bonds of marriage are formed. For marriage, which is always spoken of as a bond, becomes actually, in this stage, many bonds, many strands, of different texture and strength, making up a web that is taut and firm.

For some reason I consider often if one of us died. I think it is because I cannot imagine such a life. We are so bound together. It felt the first child was our first bond.

The web is fashioned of love. Yes, but many kinds of love: romantic love first, then a slow growing devotion and, playing through these, a constantly rippling companionship.

I think there never could have been a more romantic love…

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Ring and Hands-yes

It is made of loyalties: I stand by him, and he to me. It is wonderful to praise him and embarrass him…

Interdependencies: He does not do dishes or laundry. I do not repair machinery, kill spiders or give bathes to children. We can do the things we never do, but we choose not to. I don’t crave independence. It is wonderful to need him.

Shared experiences: the Beetlejuice house, our honeymoon, Jamestown, biking riding to wineries for tasting, Virginia, the Christmas Attic…what a fabric they form, all complete with their inside jokes and catch-phrases.

Capitola-our feet

Memories of meetings and conflicts: Thank God the sting of those conflicts fade, but I remember them. I can remember them and think I’m grateful they passed. I’m grateful we are not the same people, even yesterday, that we are today.

Triumphs and disappointments: job interview, no call, job opportunity, no interview…

Communication, a common language, acceptance of lack of language: We know what works and what doesn’t work…the use of a look, a phrase, a sigh, the phrase, “I know you didn’t mean to, you are the best intentioned person in the world…”

Knowledge of likes and dislikes: He thinks if he really likes it than I must not like it.

Habits and reactions, both physical and mental: He says things to get a rise out of me, he acts as though he is burdened to hang shelves or pictures just so I will dote on him with gratitude, or act ridiculously bashful as I request a favor.

The bond of romance…leaps across all of them, like a rainbow—or a glance…

Katy and Kyle, October 11, 2008

If that fragile link is snapped in the storm, what will hold the halves to each other?

We would have nothing! It is so much these details, these little moments and habits, as she says, that bind us together. Otherwise, these children would undo us!

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Will we ever return? Will it ever be just us again, a little peace?

One has grown too big, too many-sided for that rigidly symmetrical shell.

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No, it can never be again. We are not the same person as we were before. Our hearts are too large. I have no idea what the future holds. The second have of the chapter meant much less to me, because the first described so deeply my current experience. But what she writes is beautiful. I’m sure the future will be beautiful. How amazing that God created this web of bonds that I might have someone to share it with!

 

 

The madness of miscarriage

Mary's face with tears near the face of the Crucified Christ.

The madness of miscarriage and stillborn babies. 

I remember the madness of miscarriage, of grief staring me in the face, the devastation, the hope and the expectation wiped away in a brief moment of confirmation.  I asked the question that changed my worldview: how can God let this happen?  Growing up in a stable family, financially secure, peaceful California weather, only deaths of relatives I saw once or twice a year, no illness, no injuries, no real suffering.  And then this. 

I never imagined it could happen.  I found out I was pregnant on St. Monica’s day.  That same day a classmate shared with a group informally about her miscarriage at five months.  What peace she had as she shared the story!  

Some Saturday two weeks later I began to spot. Not knowing spotting could be normal we went to the emergency room.  Tests, sonograms, it’s early but maybe we’ll hear the heartbeat, could find the sack but not the baby, should go to my doctor on Monday for lab work, the practitioner with the least bedside manner, “yep, looks like a miscarriage.” The pause, the shock, how can this be?  How can God let miscarriages happen?

It’s an evil world, wracked with original sin. 

When the first two fell, sin entered the world, something in nature ruptured and we have death and disease.  It’s senseless.  That is what I came to know. The world was a different place. Heaven made sense and became something I could long for.  I conceived again a few months later.

She was healthy, perfect, a bit feisty.  The pregnancy was easy, the labor was…well, not too bad considering labor, she was perfect with her little bent ear and squished face.  She grew to look just like I did as a baby.  She was our delight.

1 in 3 first pregnancies end in miscarriage. 

We don’t look at causes until another one happens because it’s so common with the first.  Surely, if my firstborn could be born, then I was capable of carrying another.

Another pregnancy, ill-timed, as we packed to move across country, no jobs secured, no home prepared.  An act of trust; an act of acceptance.  For Christmas I wrapped a blueberry in a box and gave it to my parents to tell them the current size of their next grandchild.

Soon after the spotting began.  I hadn’t even gone to the doctor.  I tried, but they usually won’t see a woman so early.  It hurt.  I knew the day it was happening.  The first was lost the night between the Triumph of the Cross and Our Lady of Sorrows.  Those memorials I cherished and eagerly read and meditated on in the Office of Readings.  The impact of those days, I avoided the Divine Office for two years following. 

I’m glad I can’t remember what day Paul Joseph passed from me.  We were able to bury him.  My husband had some peace being able to do something for his child, which he could not do for John Marie.  We called every priest we could for answers, “he’s a human being, we believe that, so you must bury him with dignity.”  Calling cemeteries, they don’t understand, you need a death certificate, but he was never born. Finally, hope came from a compassionate woman at a funeral home and a Catholic cemetery.  They understood.  We buried him.  I visit him on All Souls’ Day.

I conceived again a month later: healthy, perfect, a bit feisty.  I remember being on my knees sobbing at the grave of baby Paul while I was full with the child about to be born.  The first three months of his pregnancy I held my breath, frightened, scared to love this child. 

I read The Problem with Pain by C.S. Lewis. 

Yes, these words said the inaudible words inside my heart, he understood:

“If a mother is mourning not for what she has lost but for what her dead child has lost, it is a comfort to believe that the child has not lost the end for which it was created. And it is a comfort to believe that she herself, in losing her chief or only natural happiness, has not lost a greater thing, that she may still hope to ‘glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’ A comfort to the God-aimed, eternal spirit within her. But not to her motherhood. The specifically maternal happiness must be written off. Never, in any place or time, will she have her son on her knees, or bathe him, or tell him a story, or plan for his future, or see her grandchild.”

Some healing came.

Then, I read A Grief Observed

The first appointment.  I shared my fears with the midwife.  She found the heartbeat.  “Now you can bond with your baby.”  You don’t have to be afraid.  He is alive.

Did peace come?  Somewhat.  Another pregnancy. Would the pattern persist?  Death, birth, death, birth…would this next baby die too?  I kept the fears at bay.  What else can you do?

I nearly had a panic attack.  But we made it through the first trimester.  She’s kicking me now, soon to be born, though not soon enough, it feels, as every third trimester feels.

Am I healed? 

Does a birth wipe away a death?  Hardly.  Never will I know that peace.  Never will I be able to share without fear and devastation that I am pregnant while in the first trimester.  Perhaps I will always envy those women who can. 

I don’t attend pro-life gatherings.  I am scared to see photographs of the bodies of babies torn from the womb.  I didn’t make it happen.  Nature did, the brokenness of nature and the brokenness of a fallen world. But those images feel like the closest think I have to know what my babies might have looked like, had they grown just a little bit more.  If women lose their babies later, my prayer is that they might have peace in holding their dead child, looking on him.  I don’t know, it seemed to bring the other woman peace.

The madness of miscarriage. 

No explanations will ever make it make sense.  I can only look forward to Heaven.  I will raise my children for Heaven.  The world is a hard place, full of struggles.  There are joys.  The joys point us to Heaven.  A father of a baby who died at five months gestation said this publicly, they had fulfilled their call with this child, they have given a child to God, and now their child is in Heaven with God.  No natural consolation, only supernatural, in order to get us through.

A baby girl's feet poking out of a baby blanket.

How beautiful this is, a sculpture which truly portrays that moment of anguish in the Memorial for Unborn Children by Martin Hudáček.

Memorial for an Unborn Child, statue of grieving mother and soul of her daughter reaching out to comfort her.