Death feels like failure. The body is too weak, Satan too strong, the pull of the grave too weighty. November begins with thoughts of death, jack-o-lanterns warning off evil spirits on Halloween and the spectacle of some priests wearing black vestments. Many parishes put up altars of remembrance and many people visiting their loved ones in the cemeteries.
It’s a difficult process to grieve for people who have died, but there’s a poignant beauty about how, for Catholics, death isn’t a failure and we continue to love each other. This is the power of the communion of saints. It’s a sign of hope, that God has gathered up the all-too-brief flowering of our passing days and transformed them into eternal life.
I worry, though, that we don’t remember everyone. Particularly on my mind lately has been the children who have miscarried in the womb. Because we never had a chance to meet them, their deaths may go unremarked by all but the immediate family. It’s a sadness, to be sure, but often there’s no funeral, so our thoughts quickly turn elsewhere and the family is left with lonely grief.
These children are in the Body of Christ, too. They aren’t in purgatory — they’ve never sinned — so we often forget to pray for them. For their cases, our prayers are slightly different. We pray not to assist them through purgatory but to express our confidence that God’s never-ending mercy will carry them to heaven. Having not been baptized, their paths to salvation rests entirely in the hands of God which, if you ask me, is exactly where we want our little ones to be. Our desire for their eternal happiness is shared by our loving Savior.
Unfortunately, miscarriage isn’t an uncommon experience for families. When we pretend it never happened and tell a grieving mother to move on by implying that she can always try again for another child, nothing could be more devastating. Here are a few ideas to care for grieving families:
• Acknowledge that a woman is a mother even if her baby is already in the hands of God. A mother senses the hidden presence of her child and feels her baby close to her heart in a way that no one else can. She will never forget that she’s a mother and it’s comforting to know that she isn’t standing alone.
• Name the babies. Always remember them.
• Ask your priest to celebrate a Mass and come to the cemetery to pray with you.
• Celebrate your child’s birthday. Send a card.
Death is never easy to think about, and it’s even worse when the faultless breast of a babe is wounded by the thorn of mortality. For the families, the wound may remain open for the rest of their lives, and that’s the way it should be, because only through a broken heart can love enter in.
Father Rennier is parochial administrator of Epiphany of Our Lord Parish in St. Louis. A former Anglican priest, he was ordained in 2016 under a pastoral provision for the reception of Anglicans and Episcopalians into full communion with the Catholic Church. He and his wife, Amber, have six children.