So this weekend we got Fredrik baptized. Coincidentally the pastor of our church (I say “our church,” but we aren’t officially members – they were nice enough to allow Fredrik to be baptized there nonetheless) was preaching a message on tragedy…
So before the service he kindly reached out to me to ask if I could share a couple of thoughts on grief and how society (and a church) can better support those grieving a loss. So lately (and actually at various points in my grief “journey”) I’ve read some publications with the theme “loss is loss” and “everyone has their struggles” and whatnot, and I sometimes remind myself, “Christine – everyone has their struggles,” so I can avoid being that annoying human who is constantly saying, “Whoa is me. I’m the only one struggling.” And it is technically true – everyone does have their struggles, and said struggles are valid to each respective struggler.
HOWEVER, while I appreciate being asked to share my thoughts on a subject on which I’ve involuntarily become an expert, it is kind of a big, HUGE, freaking reminder that my struggles are uniquely TERRIBLE, and it makes me, for a few minutes (or days) think, “Whoa is me.” Because, one day, when this pastor was thinking, “Hmmmmm… I’m preaching about tragedy. Who can I talk to who has gone through some rough shit?” He came up with, “Oh, how about Christine!”
How is this my life?
So I shared a couple of thoughts (five or six paragraphs to be exact) on tragedy and grief, the main theme being, “Grievers need to be allowed to grieve and feel their feelings, and the most helpful thing anyone can do is to just walk alongside someone in their grief and meet them right where they are and listen without judgment…” And, possibly awkwardly, I didn’t mention God or faith at all, and I also pointed out that sometimes there is no hope here on this Earth, and sometimes heaven (if one believes in a heaven) is our only redemption.
And I emailed said thoughts to him last Wednesday night, but then on Thursday morning, after he thanked me, I negated everything I’d said by writing, “These are just my thoughts. Grief is complicated. Some people who’ve experienced tragedy love platitudes. Clearly, I do not. Good luck with your sermon! I look forward to hearing it. And also, Fredrik is getting baptized Sunday!”
So he wrote back asking, “Oh, can I share a bit of your story and talk about how your third son is getting baptized? It’s such a good example of how grief and joy can coexist.”
And I was like, “Okay sure.”
And then on Sunday before the baptism he gave a great sermon that included like a six word quote of what I’d said, and I was so relieved, because I decided I didn’t really want anyone to hear what I had to say about grief after all, especially considering we were scheduled to be standing up on stage just moments later. But he also vaguely shared our story as well and concluded with explaining that we were having our third son baptized, evidencing the coexistence of grief and joy.
So anyway, after the sermon, there was a song, and after the song, we walked up to the stage to prepare for the baptism. So we tried to take Joel up with us, but on the way up, I spotted a leaf on the stage, and I knew Joel spotted it too, and, at that point, I knew it was over. Shortly after the baptism began, Joel ran off the stage (probably towards the leaf), and the associate pastor was like, “OH NO – we can’t lose ANOTHER child! (Apparently they’d had another child run off the stage in the baptism the Sunday prior.)” And everyone kind of fell silent or gasped or laughed nervously. So then he caught himself and added, “From the stage, I mean.”
So we weren’t angry or anything, but on the car ride home we mused about how our family situation is one that renders phrases generally considered appropriate for use in everyday speech inappropriate. Later, the associate pastor called to apologize to us for his foot-in-mouth moment, telling us he was oh-so-mortified. This was totally unnecessary, but also beyond considerate.
But, like, how is this my life?
So then, today, I was checking my email and spotted a new email from the pastor. It said something like, “Hey – congratulations on Fredrik’s baptism, and thanks again for sharing your thoughts! I’m sorry I messed up and said that Matthew died shortly after he was born. I revised my other sermon (at the other service) to say that he died before he was born.”
“Thanks so much for your email. But, actually, he died about 20 minutes after he was born… But no worries…” I typed, as my eyes filled with tears. While I contemplated whether I should hit send, I pondered, “Does it even matter? His life was so short either way. He never took a breath. He never took a breath. He never took a breath. But he was so close. Why couldn’t they save him?”
I thought again about how Matthew was baptized in the operating room, and how it’s the only milestone my three children share, besides a birthday. At what point did they call the chaplain? I guess they knew he was going to die, before his heart actually beat for the last time… My poor Matthew.
I ultimately decided to hit “send,” because this pastor was kind enough to care about the details of Matthew’s story, and, because his life was so short, I decided that I care about the details too. After all, there aren’t that many facts related to his short time here, so people best get them right.
But, again, how is this my life?
That out of a congregation of hundreds (or thousands) I’m one of a few consulted on tragedy. That my life circumstances lead to apologies for what, to most, are just figures of speech. That I’m casually emailing back and forth regarding the details of my first child’s death on a sunny Wednesday afternoon. That I’m writing this phrase – “my first child’s death.” That I’m contemplating, “Should I clarify that he lived about 20 minutes?”
How is this my life? How did I end up here?