My well-meaning doctors and caretakers thought that the most comforting thing would be to deny the reality of the death, or deny that every death is cause for weeping.
My second son died, eight weeks after his conception. The ultrasound technician, who had to confirm my fears, was a good woman, clearly gentle and compassionate. She must have been trying to comfort me when she said, “The best way to think about this is that something was wrong, and nature was taking care of it for you.”
A neighbor, who has doted on my other son, who is blue-eyed and chubby, said “It’s probably a good thing. You wouldn’t have wanted a baby that there was something wrong with. You’re young; you have plenty of time to have other children.”
My doctor, who could see how devastated we were, immediately stopped referring to him as “the baby,” or even “the fetus.” She would only talk about “the tissue.” I could see that she just wanted me to feel better, but what I really wanted, and needed, was to hear somebody call my son a child, instead of minimizing his loss.
So I followed a friend’s advice, and wrote on Facebook, that same day, that we had lost our child, that we were grieving. The response was an overwhelming testament that the culture of death has not won, that hidden in its midst, are many who understand the great worth and uniqueness of life. People grieved with us, and prayed, and acknowledged a loss that words cannot cover up, and asked what we had named our son.
We named him Joseph Lazarus. Joseph, because the Old Testament Patriarch is a type of Christ, who has to go down into Egypt, a kind of death, in order to rise up. Lazarus, because Christ raises Lazarus from the dead, but not before weeping, because no matter what, tears are the right response to death. It’s a Resurrection name, one we had picked out before we found out he had died.
Today my husband reminded me of St. Paul’s words. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile.” (1 Corinthians 15: 17) Suddenly those words took on new meaning to me. The mystery of the Resurrection is not some distant event. It’s an ever present reality, woven into our lives. It’s what gives our faith its meaning, and it’s what makes life worthwhile.
Our faith is alive only insofar as our faith in the Resurrection is alive. Encountering the death of our son, we were forced to encounter the reality of the Resurrection as well. My well-meaning doctors and caretakers thought that the most comforting thing would be to deny the reality of the death, or deny that every death is cause for weeping.
I know differently, though. I know that death is always reason for weeping, and I know that those who mourn are blessed, for they will be comforted. I know that death is not the end. Life has the last word.
That’s not to say I didn’t cry. I miss my son. I may have other children, but I’ll never have another of him, and I’m sad, sad down to my bones, that it’ll be so long before I get to meet him. But at the same time I know that he is where he is supposed to be. If he had been born, I would have taught him that heaven was his real home, and I would have prayed and hoped that he would get there, as I pray and hope that for myself as well.
Now I pray that he will save a space for his family in the home he’s reached before us.
The culture of death is afraid of death, and so it tries to say that the loss of an unborn child isn’t actually a death, or that death is not a tragedy if the life the child would have had would be hard. It tries to alleviate the pain of death by justifying it, but it comes up empty of comfort. Life, in contrast, weeps at death, but does not fear it. The antithesis to the culture of death is this belief in the resurrection.
My body, which a month ago was my son’s home, is a tomb now. But every tomb will one day be emptied. Christ is the firstborn from the dead — not the only one to rise, but the first. The reality of death outside of the context of the Resurrection is too terrible to speak of. It’s no wonder that the only comfort that some of my compassionate doctors and friends could think of to offer is that the death was somehow not a death, or somehow not sad. But death seen through the lens of the Resurrection takes on an undertone of peace and of hope, which makes it somehow bearable, though not less sad.