Miscarriage and the Challenge of Pieta

Four and a half months ago, I lost my child to miscarriage.

There have been many beautiful articles here at Catholic Exchange on miscarriage and how to minister to those who have suffered from miscarriage. What I want to share with you today is something different – the challenge of a mother’s love.

Seeing the pieta, that beautiful image of Mary embracing the broken body of her son, gives me conflicting feelings. I know that this image of the Blessed Mother should give me comfort in my time of grieving, but instead it often elicits the opposite reaction. Yes, she’s mourning her son, but she got to raise her son and hold him in her arms. I will never be able to do either in this life. How is her grief anything like mine?

I think some of this pain comes from realizing that so many misunderstand my grief. Our society is not one that understands or appreciates grief. It doesn’t understand prolonged grief for anyone, at any stage of life. It certainly doesn’t understand the daily, ongoing aching of a mother who has lost a child in the womb. There is no statue of a mother sobbing on an ultrasound table, clutching the ultrasound image of her lifeless child.

And so, perhaps, there is some resentment in me when I see the pieta. Of course no one doubted Mary’s claim to grief. The fact that she sobbed as she held her son’s lifeless body surprised no one. I, too, sobbed as I embraced the casket of my tiny son, and I continue to sob for him on occasion. We see the pieta and we say, “My goodness. What sorrow she endured!” We see a mother days, weeks, months, or years after a miscarriage and murmur, “Why is she still so sad? Can’t she just get pregnant again? Or adopt? Look at the other children she has? Isn’t she grateful?” We are uncomfortable by her grief.

Yet, in a way, this is where the pieta begins to be relatable. For, when we encounter that familiar image, we are often too comfortable with Mary’s grief.

We see her holding her son’s broken body and say, “Oh, yes. So sad. But he rose again, anyway. And she probably knew that would happen.” Mary’s grief is dismissed, too.

What can’t be ignored in the grief of a mother, what makes us painfully uncomfortable, is the love that pierces through.

This love is what makes us want to downplay both the grief of a mother who has miscarried and the Blessed Mother. This kind of poignant love makes us uncomfortable. The undeniable reality of a mother’s love makes the grief – and the loss – all too real.

I am blessed in that my husband teaches at a seminary, and so I have received incredible love and compassion in the midst of the loss of my Gabriel. There were multiple priests at his burial and concelebrants at his funeral. The priests and professors prayed for him by name at their faculty meeting after his death. I also have an incredible doctor who lovingly gave my child a conditional baptism when he delivered his remains.

That kind of care for a mother grieving a child lost in miscarriage is rare. Even with that wonderful care, it still isn’t as if everyone in my life continues to ask me how I am doing, and continues to expect my tears when I answer.

The grief of a mother, though, continues. It goes on and on, and goes with her child always. Even death cannot stop a mother’s love.

This is what makes us uncomfortable. The permanence of a mother’s love challenges us to recognize the dignity of her child and the reality of her loss. It is in our fallen nature to avoid pain and suffering. We don’t want to open ourselves to participation in the grief of another.

Other than not understanding the reality of the loss of a child in miscarriage, we are afraid to acknowledge that grief. We know that if we do, we need to be reminded of our own mortality and of the true cost of love.

Yet, this is the witness of the love of a mother. The grieving mother refuses to forget her child. She refuses to stop loving him. And her love challenges us to acknowledge the dignity of her child’s life.

Her love challenges us to remember, too, that love necessarily involves pain. True love is not all good feelings and happy times. True love is saying yes to suffering. True love endures even to and beyond death. It is for this reason that my heart aches every day for my little lost son, and will continue to ache for the rest of my life.

Here is where my grief and the grief of Mary’s intersect. Here is where our sons meet. For her Son paved the way for my own. Without her Son, my son would have no hope of eternal life.

I have found tremendous comfort in my daughters, who continue to talk about their baby brother, and even draw him into pictures of the family. They remind me that our family can hope to one day be reunited. They remind me of the hope of resurrection.

It is worthwhile, though, to mention that their love for him flows from my love for him. From my grief, love for their brother has been born and strengthened.

This is the challenge when we look in the eyes of our Blessed Mother, cradling the broken body of his son. “Will you share my pain? Will you love Him, too?”

I hope and pray that I can learn to say yes. I know that she will show me the way, show me how to love my son even in the midst of so much grief. For without her own grief, without her willingness to suffer through the death of her son, my own son would have no hope.

image: starryvoyage / Shutterstock.com

By

Michele Chronister is a wife, and mother to two little girls. She is received her BA and MA in theology from the University of Notre Dame (’09 and ’11). She is the author of Handbook for Adaptive Catechesis, the co-author of Faith Beginnings – Family Nurturing from Birth Through Preschool, and editor of the book Rosaries Aren't Just for Teething. She has contributed articles to Catholic Digest, Catechetical Leader, and is a regular columnist for Ignitum Today. She is also the co-chair of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability’s Council on Intellectual and Development Disabilities. When her oldest was a baby, she realized that their family life had taken on a sort of monastic rhythm – eat, pray, play, sleep. Prompted by this, she started the blog My Domestic Monastery (www.mydomesticmonastery.com), where she shares inspiration for families wanting to grow in holiness.

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  • Constance

    Michele,

    I am so deeply sorry for your loss. I couldn’t have expressed the thoughts you share–much the same as my own–any better. I am going through the same process after losing my fourth child in miscarriage–Andrew Thomas–two months ago. Our grief makes other people uncomfortable, and oftentimes because of other people’s fear or discomfort, we aren’t allowed to grieve fully. Sometimes I feel like people are waiting for me to “get over it”, as if that is ever going to happen. I’ve been through this four times now, and while the initial agony lessens over time, the ache and loss of each child never goes away.

    I greatly appreciate how you explain the depths of a mother’s love and how eternity does not fully separate us or lessen that love. It is also a blessing to hear that your family, baby, and you were treated with such dignity and charity. In a culture like ours that is marred by abortion, that type of treatment is very hard to come by. Thank you for writing this piece and for your willingness to share your own suffering to minister to others. May our children rejoice together before the Beatific Vision and, Lord willing, may we meet them one day in eternity.

    Pax Christi,

    Constance

  • Michele

    Beautiful, Constance. I’m so glad my words were some small comfort for you! So, so sorry for your loss.

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