It was Saturday morning, our third day together in North Carolina. The sun was shining, a reprieve from the rain that had been plaguing the weekend. Some of us were there for Wild Goose, some there simply to visit with the friends who we rarely get to see. We came from all across the country – Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Florida, West Virginia, California. There were screens there, but for much of the time, they were abandoned as we enjoyed simply being in one another’s company.
We finished our breakfast together. Most of our time at the house had been filled with laughter. Lots of hugs and arms slung around shoulders as we enjoyed the few days we could spend in person. But as the morning moved on, the house began to take on a more somber tone. It was time to mourn a lost baby.
I know from my research for Embracing Grief that ceremonies are an important part of the mourning process. They allow us to have a tangible way to remember the person we lost. They allow us a chance to grieve with our community. They allow us to share our pain with those who love us. They are a touchstone we can remember during seasons of agony.
Yet we had never had any service for Elliott following his death. No moment to officially celebrate his life or mark his passing. We were not a part of a church family when he died, and when the one year anniversary of his death passed, we were reeling from being asked to leave the church we had found. Our family was scattered, and reactions to my pregnancy and to his death left us feeling a bit hesitant in the best way to include them. Our children, who may have benefited from a ceremony closer to his death, seemed reluctant to unearth that pain again.
I had memorialized Elliott numerous times in my writing. For a long time, I thought that was going to be the way he was remembered by a larger community. Snapshots of his folded hands or tiny feet. Words on a screen. Not ashes scattered on the wind, but pixels into cyberspace.
When I realized that a number of friends who had seen us through so many of the difficulties of the previous year would be gathering together, the idea of something real and concrete began to percolate. I asked Rich if we could talk to our friends, see if they would join us in this moment. He agreed. And then I waited to ask.
It felt like it was too late. Who waits more than two years to have a memorial service for their baby? Who puts that off and then asks internet friends to be the ones to share that intimate moment? I was embarrassed to ask. Ashamed that I had waited. Worried that it would be a huge imposition to ask people who were planning presentations or using it as an opportunity to relax to sacrifice their time to mourn with us. Afraid that they would feel obligated to say yes, even if they would rather not bother.
How often do we ignore help because of fear? How often do we say that the moment to grieve has passed? How often do we tamp our own feelings because we assume that they won’t matter to others? How often do we allow shame to tell us that it’s too late to pursue wholeness?
We stood in the yard, a tiny group of writers and artists and friends. We sang a hymn together. Rich and I read letters to Elliott. One friend captured pictures. Another led us in prayer.
It was simple. It was brief. It was healing.
It wasn’t too late.
Photos courtesy of Matthew Paul Turner