The death of a child during or shortly after pregnancy, in a sense, causes the death of the parents as well. It is not a literal, bodily death. Rather it is a death of a familiar way of life with its expectations, plans, and dreams. The excitement and anticipation of new life carves a space in a family and a home that can only be filled by the life of the expected child and through the act of loving that child. The death of a child at this stage of life compounds grief exponentially because the death is sudden and unexpected. Further, the immediate and permanent reversal from joy and excitement to the bitterest of sorrows creates a sharp contrast. It is as if one were in a comfortable, relaxing bath and were violently thrown into a vast, deep, icy ocean in the middle of the night. This grief is indeed a unique grief.
There is a passage in the Bible in the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel (Ez 37:1-14) where God speaks to Ezekiel and gives him a vision of a broad valley filled with dry bones. God commands Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones and tell them to rise up, to be knit back together – for life to fill them again. The bones in this broad valley were not whole skeletons, but rather broken and scattered. They were the bones of those who had been “slain” (v. 9). The death of a child during pregnancy is not something which one chooses. Rather it happens to the parents against their wills. It is, in a symbolic sense, a slaying.
God asked Ezekiel a question, “Can these bones come back to life?” (v. 3) When God asks a question like this, it is not because He is ignorant of the answer. He asks because he wants us to ponder and to wrestle with what we are faced with. It is important to face the fallout from death and grief rather than avoid it. Ezekiel’s answer in facing the valley filled with death brings clarity to the experience of grief. “You alone know, [God].” God alone can answer the deep questions and anguish in your heart.
God promises at the end of this passage in Ezekiel that he will, “Open your graves and make you come up out of them…I will put my spirit in you that you may come to life…” (Ez 37:13-14) Even amidst such promises from God, it is tempting to cry out, “Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost, and we are cut off.” (v. 11). Grief is oppressive in this way. It clouds our mind with darkness and bores an emptiness into our soul that aches with unimaginable intensity. Oppressive grief tempts one to fall into despair. And yet it is in a prophetic statement of hope (v. 10) that the broken, scattered bones filling this immense valley are made whole and filled once again with life. Hope is the remedy for grief.
Hope is not naive, nor is it denial. It is also not simply an attitude or emotional response – it runs far deeper than that. Hope acknowledges and recognizes the reality of a circumstance and experience. Hope does not skirt the hard and the difficult, but rather hope is able to pierce through the obscuring and confusing difficulties to see redemption and life. Hope in grief enables bereaved parents to escape the oppressiveness of grief and liberates them to embrace grief as a loving act toward their child. Hope mends brokenness and leads to the clarity of faith which illumines the darkness of grief. This light in turn points to the love of the Risen Christ that fills the aching emptiness left in death’s wake. It is love which is stronger than death and conquers it.
The death of a child shatters lives. Hope mends brokenness. The bones in the broad valley were made whole again by a proclamation of hope. Hope works because by its very nature it makes present the thing which is hoped for. In the aftermath of the death of a child and the grief that follows, hope makes present the healing and restoration to life that all bereaved parents long for. True, it does not bring back the child who died, but neither does remaining in the dark pit of grief. It is in living which one can best remember and be closest to the child who was lost.
In what and who do we have our hope, in order that we might be brought from death back to life? There are many things that may help during grief, but ultimately the only solution to death and to grief is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Friends, do not let your hearts be troubled (John 14:1)! We have a God who has endured death and conquered it. He neither fears death nor grief, but is intimately present at every moment to heal, console, and restore us back to life!
For further prayer:
Read these passages, and like Ezekiel, ponder and wrestle with the difficult things of your grief. Write in a journal all the emotions, frustrations, disappointments, and sorrows that the death of your child has caused. Do not hold back. Hope requires honesty about grief and attentiveness to grief, not denial and distractions.