Category Archives: “Healing Companion”

Interview with the International Grief Institute

 

It was my great honor to be interviewed by Lynda Cheldelin Fell of the The International Grief Institute to discuss Mother’s Day after pregnancy and infant loss. We discussed my pregnancy with Mary Rose, miscarriages, Trisomy 18 and grief.  The link follows.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eChpI__dMl0

Angels in our Midst

Healing Companion400x800CaptionThis essay first appeared as a guest blog post for SpiritualLiving.com in August 2016.

http://www.spiritualliving.com/#!Angels-in-our-Midst/cmf6/579679c00cf2be2e0b931f15

Angels. We often use this word to describe babies, and I have heard people say that the dead have become angels. Are all babies angels? Does every soul earn wings when she dies? My newborn son who had colic and couldn’t nurse did not seem angelic, though he was, and still is, sweet. An alcoholic did not seem to transcend all that he was while living on Earth after death. Yet those who mourned him extolled his virtues, forgetting the empty bottle, the raised hand.

When I was pregnant with my second child, the routine ultrasound revealed several anomalies. My unborn daughter, Mary Rose, was diagnosed with trisomy 18. She would most likely be born still or live for a short while, though there are about 200 children and adults living with this illness in the United States. People began to call Mary Rose an angel baby. I wasn’t so sure. My friend, the artist Sindy Strosahl, painted Mary Rose behind my pregnant body as an angel before she was born in the painting “Healing Companion.” When my daughter was born in a pool beneath the painting, we noticed that she looked like the angel. She died in my arms an hour later.

One night my three-year-old asked me if Mary Rose is an angel. What do you think? I replied. I think that she is an angel with big wings. I feel her here, he said touching his heart center with his little boy hand. Mommy, does everyone who dies become an angel? he asked. I don’t think so, I said. My sister, Mary Rose, is an angel, he repeated. He knows of many ancestors on the other side of the veil: my two grandfathers, his paternal grandmother, my dear aunt. Yet, he only called Mary Rose an angel until recently.

I was speaking to my friend, Mary Frances last week. Her mother, Cubby, was my mentor during my pregnancy, and died in September. My son, now four, said, Cubby is an angel too. Then he said, But Heather and Holly are even biiiigggger angels. Heather and Holly are the daughters of my friend Terry who died of cystic fibrosis at 12 and 22 years of age. Does my son feel the angelic presence of these beings? Can he feel their work answering prayers and healing us and guiding us from the heavenly realms? When I was writing my book about Mary Rose I felt her on my right shoulder and Cubby on my left shoulder. They were helping me to gather the courage to finish laboring my book about my pregnancy.

I understand that newborn babies have a sweet, holy energy. They emanate unconditional love, as they come directly from the Creator’s hands. I also know that souls can be healed after death, that vices and challenges of spirit can be transcended as the soul continues to evolve. I can’t quantify the difference between a guardian angel and Mary Rose, but I know that they are both helping spirits from the angelic realms.

Angels are in our midst. We can channel their light into our lives and onto this great planet. Light shimmers and illuminates the darkness. It is far reaching. When we are in the presence of angels, such as Mary Rose, who was born and died on August 8, 2014, we are healed. We miss our loved ones and are broken open in our grief to love again and again.

I will continue to ask Mary Rose and Cubby for help. I will honor Heather and Holly in my prayers and in my heart. And I hope to be able to reach out my hand and offer love in the spirit of the angels to others who are grieving. Let’s do this together, with the angels’ help.

#IHadAMiscarriage

miscarriage cardMy friend writes to me and tells me that someone she loves is miscarrying right now. As she writes to ask me to pray she tells me that the mother is twelve weeks along with her first pregnancy. I have never met this new mother who will not hold her baby, but I send her Sindy’s card “Healing Companion.” What do we say or do when someone miscarries? Our American culture tells us to do nothing. Say nothing. We do not send sympathy cards. We do not bring soup. We tell the woman who is bleeding You can have another or You already have one child or It’s for the best.

What I want this new grieving mother to know is that it is okay to cry. It is okay to stay in bed and weep and bleed and know that your child’s physical form is gone with every cell of your body. It aches. It changes everything. Please know that your baby has a soul that is perfect and intact regardless of the miscarriage. You are your child’s mother still. And when you are ready to get out of bed and look at the sky again, and think about another pregnancy or wait, that will be okay too. You will not betray your miscarried baby by  moving forward with your life.

I want to encourage each reader to open her heart to the bereaved mothers and families dealing with miscarriage and infant loss. No one stays in the initial intensity of grief forever, but while the loss is fresh I hope that we can offer support and bear some of the grief together. Elizabeth McCracken reminds us grief lasts longer than most expressions of sympathy. As the bereaved family gets to milestones and anniversaries, it is so helpful if someone remembers. There is the baby’s due date, the six-month milestone, the one-year milestone. I am thinking particularly of our parishes where there seem to be so many pregnant women and newborn babies. Is there a space to hold the sad mother whose arms are empty? Can we embrace both the pregnant families and those who bear much loss? I hope that there is room to show compassion and love to both. No one has to say anything profound. Following are a few suggestions:

1. I don’t know what to say but I am here for you.
2. Can I stop by and bring some supper?
3. May I share a cup of tea with you?
4. I’m emailing a poem that got me through a tough time.
5. Just checking in. I’m thinking about you.

When a woman miscarries she finds out that there is a vast sisterhood of others who have had a pregnancy loss or whose sister or mother or friend also miscarried. These babies are gone at five weeks, as my two were, or at eight weeks, 12 weeks, 16 weeks. Once a woman reaches the 20th week of pregnancy instead of miscarriage, we use the word stilbirth. Language doesn’t change the reality that we were pregnant and then we weren’t without the baby we had longed and hoped for. The sad thing about the sisterhood is that it is mostly silent. We don’t have a network of support readily available to us. Women don’t usually talk about their miscarriages. We hide them and cry silently and privately. Please create a space where we can be whole and acknowledge our birth stories and pregnancies and children regardless of the outcomes together. No woman needs to be alone as she faces her grief after a miscarriage or infant death.

I recently met with the poet Nicholas Samaras and he reminded me of his poem to his miscarried babies. These words comfort me so I send them out to you, Dear Reader. May the memory of our miscarried babies and our babies gone too soon be eternal!

I Think of My Children in Heaven (49th Psalm)
by Nicholas Samaras

Gone before we had a chance to give them names.
Gone before we could glimpse the grace of their faces—
like smoke and the lingering fragrance of smoke.
I sit in spring light and think of my children in Heaven.

How is it possible to give color to this absence?
How I pray for their lives, miscarried and missed.
My only comfort is faith their souls are full in conception.
How I feel their fledgling presence for the rest of my life.

Father of souls, I swallow hard to commemorate
each still day that is not a birthday.
Through each hour, I am a father who raises
my remaining children in this life we have left.

Nightly, the meager stars grow scant and fragile.
The stars still tremble in their glimmering light.
I hold my son’s hand that is so slender and trusting.
Tucking his tiny body into gentle sleep,

I check on his breathing throughout the dim hours.
Each breath in is my relief. Each breath out is my hope.
I imagine my children’s brothers and sisters equally
growing in Heaven, and pray they watch over us.

Gone and remaining, I hold their nameless names
deep within the hole in my heart.
A song for the reunion of our pulses in rhythm.
A psalm for our lives touches and lives imparted.

 

Photo from Dr. Jessica Zucker’s store at drjessicazucker.com. Dr. Zucker created a line of cards specific to miscarriage and infant loss.

Sources
Samaras, Nicholas. American Psalm, World Psalm. Ashland, OH: The Ashland Poetry Press, 2014. Print.

Healing Companion

Healing Companion WEB400x800 Watermark

Healing Companion

It is almost a year since I met the artist, Sindy Lorraine Strosahl. She came to my house on April 30th, a rainy Wednesday, to deliver my painting, Healing Companion. I knew of Sindy through my midwife who had one of her paintings of a pregnant woman in her office. I fell in love with the vibrant colors and decided that I would like to have an image to commemorate my two pregnancies, especially since I was childless for 15 years in what feels like another lifetime.

When we received news of our daughter’s fatal condition, I messaged Sindy and told her. She meditated and connected to the soul of my unborn child and painted the image that you see here. When Sindy went to her car to get the painting, the torrential downpour stopped long enough for her to walk into my house. Healing Companion is a mixed-media collage. Sindy cut out pieces of the pages of a gardening book. I was so excited when I saw words in Mary Rose’s and my hair. My dress is fabric that she painted. The 3-D view of this image, with the ancestors as yellow orbs surrounding me, is so powerful that almost everyone who see the original walks away with tears in her eyes.

One painting. One mother. One child. Sometimes I feel like a grain of sand in a vast lineage of mothers whose children have died. Who am I to think that this should not have happened? Loss and death are all around us though we choose to ignore it much of the time. Sometimes babies die. Sometimes children die. Mary Rose lived and died. But that word, Companion, is so real. She is here with me. Her DNA is in my body. I think of her often throughout the day as I take care of my son, as I wash a cup or spend time outside watching my plants blossom. She is my companion and my heart center feels her soul is as alive as any of our souls.

Sindy, who also photographed Mary Rose’s birth and witnessed her brief life, is now a doula. Mary Rose changed my life she says. And she’s not the only one. Healing Companion has comforted many mothers. The print hangs in a birthing center in Michigan, the card is in an apartment in Romania. I like to think of a web connecting the mothers who gaze at this image remembering their children. And we are their mothers still. Some women do not birth living children. Some women do not have any living children. For many these challenging pregnancies are their first. I am honored that my request for this painting is helping others.

It has taken me some time to acknowledge that the pregnant woman in Healing Companion is strong and graceful, that perhaps I am strong and graceful as Sindy painted me. In the painting, I am perfectly centered and focused on my pregnancy and baby. I neither felt strong during my pregnancy nor did I feel graceful as I limped around in extreme back pain for the last weeks waiting for my baby girl, still or breathing. But sometimes I catch a glimpse of my resolve in the image, and sometimes I feel that perfect peace knowing that everything is as it should be. Mary Rose, at my side; my three-year old son holding my hand, leading me to his train tracks once again.

This morning I had a few messages from my friend, Isabel, whose brother and sister-in-law are in labor today. Their daughter, Grace Miriam, has many challenges and may not live long. I lit two candles for this baby today and cried remembering Mary Rose’s birth in a pool under Healing Companion. Did I mention that Sindy was trying to paint an androgynous, adult angel, but the image that emerged persisted? Mary Rose looked like that angel, so much like her father. I hope that Grace Miriam’s life is a blessing for all those who encounter her. Her parents are courageous and loving. They are waiting to embrace her, no matter what she looks like, no matter what her condition.

And at the end of our lives, what will we remember? Not what we ate today or what show we watched, or who we did or didn’t call, but that endless and boundless love that flows from our Creator, the love that lives in each of us with potential to grow and bear much fruit throughout our days, whether they are few or many.

(Prints and cards can be purchased through the link on the Resources page of this blog. And no, I do not profit financially from any of these sales.)