Every year, 26,000 babies are stillborn in America. In 2003, one of them was my son.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Through These Days of Penitence

This is the season of Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter, to the death of Christ. It's the time when Christians are supposed to reflect upon their sins, make sacrifices to remind them of the sacrifices Jesus made. Reflection - that seems to be all I have done in the last 5 years - think about Ben, what might have been.

Because he was born on New Year's Eve, by the time my husband and I decided to venture back to church, it was nearly Lent in the liturgical year. It was the right time for our moods: reflection, sorrow, waiting for this terrible death, this horrible sacrifice.

But then there was this: Ash Wednesday. Ashes in the sign of a cross on foreheads everywhere. Ashes, the ashes sitting in a bag in a funeral home, the remains of our son, waiting for us to feel strong enough to bring home. And that, that day, that was too much. And still is. There will be no ashes for me.

There was also the topic of sacrifice. Many Christians believe in giving something up for Lent, to mirror the sacrifice of Christ. (Which, when they talk about giving up diet Coke, or sugar, is really pretty laughable.) This isn't something my Protestant family every did; it just wasn't our tradition, but these days it seems to have moved into more mainstream Christianity. People would ask me if I was giving something up, and I would stare at them dumbly: hell, I sacrificed my son, isn't that enough for the rest of my life? No, it wasn't a true sacrifice, in the real meaning of the word, but it was the most important thing in the world ripped from me by force. Oh, I'd had my pain, thank you very much, I'd had enough pain for the rest of my life, for a lifetime of Lents.

The worst thing, though? Easter. God's son, risen from the dead. A miracle. A miracle for the whole world, but not for me. And anger: why is there a miracle for Jesus, and not for me? I know, if you believe in God, you really can't compare the two. Ben was not the son of god, after all, but still. I wanted my miracle. Didn't I deserve a miracle?

I still don't do Lent very well. I attend church fairly regularly, but I don't know if I can call myself a Christian these days. Losing a child caused me to lose much of what I thought I believed in. I go to church, I go through the motions, but I no longer feel like there's anything out there. Maybe I will again one day. These days I can call myself a cynic, rather than a Christian. I can call myself a doubter, or maybe I should call myself just plain mad. Skeptical. Unsure.

One day, I may have something to believe in again. Or maybe not. I just don't know. I don't discount a shift in my thinking, my system of belief. Right now, I sit with my skepticism, with my questions, and I search for an answer that may or may not come. I'd like to have some confidence in faith and God, but I don't know how to get there. For now, that's mostly ok, and maybe this is where I am supposed to be. I have more questions than answers; I have questions that may simply be unanswerable.

If you believed in anything before your child died, what do you believe in now? How did it change you? Has it made your faith stronger, or weaker? Has it changed your faith at all? What are your answers?

6 comments:

Monica H said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Monica H said...

Monica H said...
I was never one (and I'm still not) to believe in Lent. It wasn't anything we ever did. It wasn't anything I was "taught". Growing up I believed it was a "Catholic thing" and it didn't pertain to me. I belive in Christ and I believe andunderstand the story of Easter. But I can't say that it has much meaning to me. As with most holidays it becomes so commercialized and full of fuzzy bunnies, pastel candies, and dyed eggs.

I can't say I really celebrate Easter besides the actual day. I don't believe in giving anything up. And like you, how much do I have to give??? Aren't both my sons enough?

In fact, the Sunday before Sam was born, I sat in church and listened to the minister preach about how God made the biggest sacrifice of all by giving up his son. And how Jesus gave his life for us so we wouldn't have to sacrifice.

Two days later my son died. And the following year on Ash Wednesday, Jack died too.

Anonymous said...

Virginia,
I find it interesting that the first post I find of you is regarding Ash Wednesday. We never did anything with that either also looking at it as a Catholic thing. But the day my daughter-in-law found out at the hospital her baby had died in utero someone came in with ashes on their forehead asking if she wanted them as well. It wasn't until after I got to her and she told me about it and I remembered what day it was that we even realized what was going on. To be hones, when she first told me my first thought and I think hers too when it happened was that it was directly related to her situation, a mourning symbol they were offering her.
In answer to your question regarding belief, at the service for our little girl, the minister used the Bible passage regarding King David losing his little son; of all the Bible passages I've heard over the years at funerals (none really of this situation) that I expected to be used, I don't believe I ever heard this one or expected it but it seemed to fit so appropriately. David didn't lose his faith in God; when he learned his child was dead, he came into the house of the Lord and worshipped, then asked his servants when they asked why "can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me." I don't know what you believe (or used to) and I can't tell you why you lost your child but if you believe as I do, then it's that God has taken him(? I'm sorry I don't remember and if I go away I'll lose all this) to heaven and is waiting for you to be able to go to; I'm not sure how much this helps because I know you still don't have ?him here with you now but I hope you will be with him again one day. with love Donna

Anonymous said...

Virginia,

I'm sorry, now I looked again
Now I know it was your son Ben you lost. It was my granddaughter Klaryssa - may we never forget them

Donna

Rebekah said...

I too have many questions... I would describe my faith before loosing Levi as strong... and would still- but definately different. I've had moments where I'm angry at God and wondered why he didn't heal my son and other times I've felt that God hasn't put me through anything He didn't first do himself (and more) when Jesus sacrificed his life. I've found church difficult since Levi's death- worship is somthing I really struggle with- but we've been trying to go back. Despite my grief though I have felt a peace that passes my own understanding though and I believe that even though I don't know the purpose in Levi's death God still has a plan and will use my pain for something beautiful. I don't have any answers for our pain but I trust that one day we'll know and understand.

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