As a mother of loss myself, and as a birth doula having assisted several families in navigating the terrible terrain of miscarriage and stillbirth, I am drawn to encourage compassion and healing for fellow Orthodox parents who have experienced this, and raise awareness on the demographic of mourning parents who attend our parishes.
When I invited women from local parishes who have experienced perinatal loss (whether fifty years ago or in the last week) to join me in my home for an afternoon of remembering and honoring the babies we hold in our hearts, I wasn’t prepared for the volume of response I received. Many reached out to say they would like to come, or that they couldn't come but could we please include their babies in prayer, others asked if they may spread the word of this gathering to friends and relatives who have experienced loss so they can submit names as well. In truth, everyone knows someone who has experienced miscarriage or infant loss. They were all welcome to participate.
Women began gathering at 3:00 pm and had tea and cake until everyone was there. There were some books for people to browse, such as Naming the Child, by Jenny Schroedel, Walking the Labyrinth of my Heart, by Dianna Vagianos Armentrout, Expecting Adam, by Martha Beck, Becoming a Healing Presence, by Albert Rossi, and Intimate Death, by Marie de Hennezel. We sat in a circle and each woman was given a sprig of rosemary (rosemary is known as the herb for remembrance) tied with a thread of red yarn (symbolizing the grief that brings us together).
We took turns sharing our stories, many tears, and a few smiles, consoling, comforting, and understanding each other. Everyone was free to share as much or as little as they felt moved to. It was moving to hear that women have found greater comfort and understanding within the Orthodox Church than in any other faith they had previously subscribed to. The whole concept of “memory of death”, praying for the departed, knowing that grief is a normal, and in fact a Christian response to death of a loved one (as Christ mourned Lazarus) has helped many women to cope better with their own grief as well as with the unhelpful cliches that were thrown at them from well meaning family and friends: “it was all in God’s plan”, “you’ll have other children”, “this baby is better off now” etc.
After telling our stories the discussion naturally moved on to questions and experiences on how spouses grieve differently, how to support each other through the grieving process, how to include one’s other children in this process, practical advice on hospital policies around stillbirth, such as autopsies, infant photographs, claiming the right to hold your baby as long as feels right, donating your breastmilk to NICU babies, the burial, commemorating your little one’s birthday, etc. We discussed the significance of naming our dead babies, as we believe they are unique and irreplaceable human beings, and as this practice helps us address them in prayer, when telling their story, and in our memory.
Father Panayiotis joined us for the last half hour to read some prayers. We lit a candle for each child we honored and remembered that day, 82 in all. Some had been named, others were unnamed. Father lit incense and read the Common Prayers-After a Miscarriage or Stillbirth (OCA.org)
Each mother had brought a candle for her baby(ies) and a small bouquet for another grieving mother, so everyone left my home that day with hugs, solidarity, a rosemary sprig and arms full of flowers. It was a moving, meaningful, and healing experience for those present, and from the messages I am still receiving, also for those who were unable to attend but who’s little ones we prayed for.
Mat. Kathryn Tekosis
Holy Theophany - St. Sophia Mission, Colorado Springs CO