Every October, the Archdiocese of Detroit hosts a Pregnancy and Infant Loss Memorial Mass. My husband and I have been attending this Mass for a number of years as a way of remembering the children we’ve lost to miscarriage and stillbirth. As a mother who has experienced two miscarriages and a traumatic stillbirth, coming to this yearly memorial has been an important part of how I experienced grief. Knowing that the Church remembers, loves and prays for my children is a source of great comfort for me. The Mass has become for me a space where I can experience grief without an expectation to “get over it” or “move on” after a prescribed period of time.
As the organizer of this event last year and again this year, I’ve been able to see the experience of the Pregnancy and Infant Loss Memorial from a different perspective. Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles share their stories with me when they call or email about the Mass. Listening to their stories and praying with grieving families speaks to some important truths about our role as missionary disciples.
First and foremost, taking time to listen to these stories bears witness to the value and dignity of human life from the moment of conception. The lives we remember at Mass each year, though short, brought couples and families great joy, hope and anticipation. Their lives changed the lives around them forever. Each one of those lives was a gift.
When the Church commits to recognizing and remembering our children lost to miscarriage and stillbirth, she not only upholds the belief that life begins at conception, she invites the grieving, the brokenhearted and the lost to encounter the living Christ.
It is an honor for me to be the person on the other end of the line when someone reaches out to talk about their pain. They want someone to know that their son, daughter, grandchild, niece or nephew, though not on this earth for very long, left an unforgettable impression on their lives. They want someone to say their loved one’s name, even if it’s never been printed on a birth certificate. They want a place to mourn their loss, even if there is no tombstone to visit.
Every one of us, by nature of our baptismal calling, has been commissioned to bring Christ to others. When we encounter someone who is suffering, we sometimes feel unsure of how to respond in their moment of need. Offering a listening ear and being present in the moment are two of the most important ways we can both honor the life that was lost and point to the presence of Jesus in a difficult moment.
Listening to someone talk about suffering can be uncomfortable or even painful. Our human instinct is to avoid feelings of discomfort, but for missionary disciples, “Accompaniment of those being evangelized is an essential part of unleashing the Gospel.” (Unleash the Gospel, Marker 6.2)
An invitation to accompany someone through a difficult time can come at any moment; grief doesn’t follow a timeline or a series of steps. Many people who have experienced tragic loss say they never really stop grieving, but rather, it becomes part of who they are. For this reason, we should always be willing to listen, even months or years after a loss. Taking the time to walk with someone in a difficult moment, no matter how long it’s been since they’ve suffered a loss, must be part of our work as missionary disciples because the people we encounter “need others to walk by their side and lead them closer to God with patience, compassion, and wisdom.” (Unleash the Gospel, Marker 6.2)
This October, during Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, I invite you to pray for the parents and families who have suffered the loss of a child and to consider how you might carry out the call to accompany someone in need.
If you need assistance registering for the Pregnancy and Infant Loss Memorial Mass, miscarriage and stillbirth support or you need someone to talk to about your loss, please contact Nicole Joyce, Natural Family Planning Coordinator at NFP@aod.org.