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.

book cover of Grieving Together.jpg

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.

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.