Last week, Shepastor gave excerpts from an interview with Rev. Joy Freeman and Rev. Tabatha Johnson concerning their soon to be released book, Still a Mother: Journeys Through Perinatal Bereavement.
They shared the personal experiences that led them to write about this topic and provided insights as to why clergywomen may “hide” and the Church may avoid addressing perinatal loss.
This week, Shepastor will continue the interview with Tabatha and Joy where they offer words of wisdom for the women facing this kind of loss as well as practical recommendations for the Church regarding best practices for support…
In your opinion, how should the Church in general and clergywomen in particular address this issue?
We need to take advantage of “Perinatal Loss Month” in October to raise awareness of these struggles. The Church can use this month to provide special services specifically designed to recognize this type of loss. While there are not a lot of resources for this type of service, this topic is raising awareness and with this awareness is coming more resources. The Episcopal Church liturgy has some resources that one of our clergy contributors has found helpful.Tabatha:
We also need to grow our ability to reach out and bring these children who have died way too soon into the church through special rituals that recognizes their place in the church family. For example, one thing that was particularly meaningful to me was when my pastor brought both a rose and a candle when she came to do a private service for us. The rose placed on the organ the Sunday after a baby was born was a tradition in the church; the candle was part of a tradition of a service at Christmas time for those who were grieving. She did a wonderful job of combining the traditions in a very meaningful way.
Also we need to be thinking about our traditions we hold around Mother’s and Father’s day. Are these traditions helpful to women and men who are healing from perinatal loss, or do these traditions unwittingly perhaps create more pain?
I think we could be more open—it starts with a few brave souls who are willing to say, 'this happened to me and this is how I REALLY feel about it and about God.' Church is not a place to show our best facade, it's the place where we ought to feel safe to show our real self and reach out for understanding and help. In turn, the church needs to be better at being willing to allow folks to be authentic in their midst—and hearing another person voice their pain is not often an easy task.What recommendations and or advice can you offer to someone facing these painful realities?
It also begins before someone says, “I am grieving.” Whether through worship, studies, conversations, blogs, etc, we need to work consciously at setting an environment in which the expression of grief is what it really is—a normal part of the human experience.
Clergy-whether they have this happen in their lives or not—are in a unique position to help call the people of God to a better understanding of church…of a church that can truly be about being present with someone in their grief, walk with them on that difficult road and be witness to the ways in which God provides peace and healing (which is not an immediate thing). Clergywomen must realize they can’t counsel themselves through their own grief.
They can say, directly and indirectly, we are not as a congregation going to continue to be 'secret keepers'—or keep pretending there are wounded folks within our midst who feel they must suffer their grief in silence. We will instead give space to those who want to share their story and their grief. Because by doing so we are a community of faith who also shares in the knowledge of all of our children-whether they are present with us or not. And, grieving parents need to know that their children are remembered-that they too have a place within the faith community even though they have died.
Give yourself time, permission and space to feel everything you feel. Do not be afraid to reach out for help and let others who have walked this path accompany you. Even if you do nothing with it, writing down your feelings and thoughts during this time of grieving can be very healing and cathartic.Tabatha:
Know it is ok to be angry at God. Goodness knows we as clergywomen have and if we can be angry, then so can you!
Keep the lines of communication open between you and your significant other. This is a very stressful time and men and women grieve differently, and it is helpful to understand this. Good communication can ease the stress this type of loss can create in a relationship.
Just be yourself—don't have expectations of what you should do, what you ought to do, or that your grief has to be experienced any particular way. This is a unique experience to you and while there are many others who have been in similar circumstances, what you are going through doesn't have to be done a certain way.What else do you think is important for clergywomen and the church to understand about this issue?
Whatever you feel about what happened, about God, about your pain—there is nothing wrong with it—and it's okay to not like what other people tell you and claim for yourself the things that are helpful and toss away the things that are not (including anything Joy and I say!)
Finally-grieving takes time. There are no shortcuts-and really this is something that will be with you always. It changes, takes on new form, and you learn new ways of living with it, but it's always around somehow. That's not to say that eventually joy and laughter and happiness cannot once more be experienced—of course it will be—but it takes time to figure things out—to know who you are and how things have changed and to find peace within it all.
Whatever that peace looks like for you-it's okay. There's no 'right' way, there's your way, in your time, with your grief.
This is a forever grief. Every baby dedication, baptism, wedding, graduation, major life milestone experience for our congregation or one of our own living children is a reminder of our child/children with whom we will never have these experiences.
We want our children remembered. Do not be afraid to mention them to us. Yes we might cry, scream or have any other type of emotional response, but we need to know that we are not the only ones that remember our little ones.
This is something that happens to the whole family—everyone in the family grieves—and in different ways. Don't ignore the other members of the family-they have their own needs too.Finally, Joy and Tabatha, share three (3) specific things regarding self-care for clergywomen facing perinatal loss…
The reality is, this issue/grief/loss is already woven into the fabric of the church—the difference here is that we are advocating for taking it out of the shadows and saying-this is here-it's real and it hurts like hell. Why keep making it a secret? How helpful is that for our healing and relationship with God? Also—it's totally fine to keep asking-even demanding-'God where are you in this mess?'
1.Give yourself permission to be who you are
2.Give yourself “quiet spaces.” Don’t run from your grief. Spend some time in silence
3.Remember that you don’t have to (nor can you) control everything.
1. Find people who can care for your family. Identify resources to help you and your family process griefWOW! What a powerful interview! With depth of emotion, transparency, vulnerability and compassion, Rev. Joy Freeman and Rev. Tabatha Johnson have provided to us real life examples of and practical recommendations for how clergy women and the Church can process through the pain of perinatal loss.
2.Find ways to mark your child’s presence. Create a memory box or a labyrinth…something permanent that honors your child’s life on earth
3.Avoid isolating yourself, especially from your significant other.
Look for Still a Mother: Journeys Through Perinatal Bereavement, in February, 2016 through Judson Press. You can pre-order copies of this book by visiting, Judson Press, Still a Mother
Visit Joy and Tabatha’s blog at www.chaplainhood.blogspot.com
Until next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,