I am not religious. It leads me to being curious about the ways in which religion comfort, support or challenge those who face the death of a child. Each religion and the community which it creates, together with the parents belief structure within it, no doubt creates a unique outlook and set of understandings when challenged with grief and trauma. In this account, Mary talks to us about how her faith has helped shape her grief.
Please welcome Mary and Poppy to the #DiversityInLoss series….
My husband and I have been members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for our entire lives and in short (or at least for the purpose of this post), our main beliefs include that of a faith in God and Jesus Christ, and also that through Christ, we believe that families are forever – not just in the here and now. We believe children are alive in Christ, and do not need baptism to save them – that those who die in infancy and childhood are taken home to God.
This hope that we can see our loved ones again, and the faith that our little girl Poppy Quinn, who died in utero, will be ours again, is a belief that has helped us so much in our loss. But one thing it has not done, is that is hasn’t stopped us feeling the tsunamis of grief that have regularly battered us and caused us to drown in our loss. Our faith hasn’t taken away the pain of being separated now and missing milestones and birthdays, and it hasn’t taken away the missing and longing.
A leader in our church recently taught that:
“Some people think that religion, or having faith in God, will protect you from bad things. I think that the point is that if our faith is strong, that when bad things happen – which they will – we will be able to deal with them” D. Todd Christofferson (Oct. 2019)
I love that because it sums up how I see faith and religion in relation to loss and great difficulty we face in life. It does not make us immune and it does not protect us from the natural consequences of grief, heartache, depression, trauma etc. What it does do however – and what it has done for us as we have lived the last 5 years without our daughter Poppy – is that it has given us hope, comfort and an understanding of the bible and other scriptures, that all cumulatively have offered us strength and peace through our loss.
Poppy was our third baby and at our 20 week scan, the excitement of another daughter, was very much overshadowed by that heartbreaking news that she had severe CHD (congenital heart defects) and a possible chromosome abnormality too. Being mormon, I suppose naively I thought (and people even said it – which made me mad) that if we had faith, then God would heal our baby and we would see a miracle. I honestly believed that, which I cringe about now.
Through prayerful conversations, we chose to ignore the medical advice to terminate and rather keep her living inside of me for as long as was intended by God. We very much believe in the sanctity of life, which I suppose was another element of religion guiding our choices through this very hard path we were on. We were pleased that as my pregnancy progressed, she grew well and seemed strong. But then, at about 32 weeks, an amniocentesis diagnosed her with Trisomy 18 and I wept as I realised her life was very much limited!
But somehow I still felt we would see a miracle, and we had friends all over the world praying for us, which brought us strength.
And then everything changed!
On September the 14th (2 days before she was due) the unthinkable happened and our whole lives fell apart, when we were told those awful words; “I am sorry – there is no heartbeat”!
A dark cloud fell over us and we were just numb.
Two days later, after an induction on the eve of the 15th, she was stillborn in the early hours of the 16th of September, weighing 4lb 5oz and looking very much like her older sister Megan!
I will never forget the moment before I held her – It was the first of many that reminded me God was aware of us, though things hadn’t panned out how we had hoped. I was filled with fear at holding my dead baby – I don’t know why, and I feel bad saying that aloud – but the whole thing felt traumatic and hard. But just as the midwife asked me if I would like to hold her, a rush of light and peace filled my soul and in my mind a familiar hymn we sing at church echoed loudly through my thoughts; “fear not I am with you, oh be not afraid, for I am your God and will still give you aid”!
In that moment the fear left me and I held her close. My heart filled with love and for a brief moment heaven felt very very close for me. It strengthened my faith on many levels.
As the days went by though, that peace left me and grief hit like a tonne of bricks. As I struggled to sleep, get out of bed, or go places without bursting into tears or rage, I found myself asking:
What was the point of all of this?
Was God punishing us?
Had my faith not being enough?
Was everything I thought I knew/believed being a lie?
It hurt so very much and though I continued attending church (hoping to find comfort and hoping to understand) I just felt so alone, so dark and so angry. I felt lost in my grief and I struggled to feel anything other than that. I found the sermons about healing and faith and the afterlife all very challenging – they almost tormented me and I felt no-one understood.
We were blessed to have a good community of people from church that reached out and helped us with practical things and went with me on walks and offered a listening ear etc, but like us, many didn’t know the answers either and that was a hard pill to swallow when for your whole life your foundation felt so strong. Now it felt weak and uncertain – and I longed to know if God was there!
But do we need the answers, or is that the whole point of having faith? Does faith bridge the gap between what we don’t know and what God does know?
And just because this awful and terrible thing happened in our lives, does that mean that all we believe is wrong? Does it mean that God is not good?
I have since learnt that God is good and present in all seasons of life – even the ones filled with trauma, grief and loss. And, when I look back on the last 5 years of life without Poppy, I see moments where God was there – moments where we were carried in our grief or where I felt heaven close. I see the moments that I read something and it instilled hope again that Poppy lived on and was aware of us. I have also learnt with time that sometimes we need to adjust our perspective, because moments I saw as hard and raised the “whys”, actually turned out to be moments of blessings and comfort for us at the hardest times.
If someone said this to me at the start I would have been so angry with them, because faith is so personal and such an individual journey. But just as time is not a healer, but helps us better adjust to carrying it more comfortably. I see now that faith isn’t a solution but rather a journey to help us carry our difficulties more comfortably and with more peace. It gives us the room to feel joy alongside our pain and loss.
I think, and have seen. that when a baby dies, as human beings we choose to either cling to God for that comfort, hope and answers, or we choose to blame God – because how could someone who claims to love us, cause such a void and such pain in our lives. The truth we have discovered on our journey of faith, however, is that God is love and his plans are bigger than us. Perhaps that is an easy way out or naive, but the hope that I will see Poppy again and that she (like other babies) were perhaps too pure for this world, is rather a magnificent thought. Despite the pain of not having them here and never knowing really why this happened, I do find peace in our loss that she lives on with God and is saved through Christ!
Poppy’s grave reads: “A little flower lent not given, to bud on earth and bloom in heaven – Your love will light our way home” – and this for us encompasses all we believe and hope. It is a statement of our faith and belief around the purpose of her life and how we choose to see life now.
Religion has taught me that we each have “crosses to bear” and hard things to endure in our lives – there is no escaping that. For us, that is baby loss – for others? I wouldn’t want to assume, but I do feel that in spite of those God is rooting for us and with us more than we often notice. Faith will not remove those crosses or “thorns from our side” and will not make us immune to suffering. I have found though it will offer hope, comfort and peace in turmoil, pain and uncertainty of it all. It will help us feel joy again and we will begin to see our joys and sadnesses, just like life and those who have passed on or are yet to be born, are all intertwined in life too.
You can follow Mary’s blog here.