What congregations can do
Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me: because the Lord has anointed me…he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted…to comfort all that mourn; To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.
According to these verses of Scripture, people who mourn are to be comforted.
…I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.
I Samuel 1:13 NIV
You may remember the story of Hannah; she wanted a son more than anything but was not able to conceive. No one seemed to understand her pain and grief. She went to the temple and made her petition known to God and the high priest of the temple thought that she was drunk. He was the clergy person but he did not understand her pain (I Sam. 1:14).
In I Samuel 1:8, Hannah’s husband did not understand either for he asked her if he wasn’t better to her than ten sons. No one understood the aching of her empty arms.
For many women and men those empty arms are the result of a pregnancy loss or losing a baby. There is deep anguish in their souls. Sometimes the person(s)/families are not able to talk with anyone who understands their pain or anguish. We, as people of God, are called to comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:4).
Families who have experienced these types of losses report that many people in the congregation are not aware of their loss. They further report that those who do know seem to avoid them or avoid talking to them about their loss. It would be helpful for churches to provide ways for families, who are interested, to receive the support that they need.
In the English language there are words that clearly describe a person who has lost a spouse (widow or widower) and a person who has lost both parents (orphan). There is, however, no word in the English language for a parent who suffers the loss of a child. How then, is one’s loss publicly acknowledged and recognized? Referring to the importance of language, Miller (2002) explains how the lack of a formal name in the English language for a person who has lost a child is immensely important. The absence of such a term in the English language may express a belief that a child should not precede her parents in death. For many families, the lack of clear concise language adds to their grief as they are forced to use many words to tell their story of their child’s death. The lack of a single word also limits our recognition of their loss.
If a miscarriage has occurred, the grief may be hidden or buried because it is possible that the congregation members, except for a few close friends, may not know that the person was pregnant or may not think of miscarriage as losing a child. This leaves the family without much needed support. If a baby dies, the parent(s) or families may struggle with so much pain, guilt, and disappointment that it may be difficult for them to talk about their loss. Some families report that between the pain they experience and what they see as a lack of support in their faith community, they even stop attending church and thus lose their faith community and church family.
Developing a congregational response or a formal ministry of support for persons/families experiencing these types of losses is important for their healing. The loss of a child may represent the loss of hopes and dreams for the future.