By the Reverend Roger Carr-Jones Marriage & Family Life Coordinator, Diocese of Westminster
The inspiration for this piece comes initially from my reflecting once again on a remarkable art installation by the sculptor Fenwick Lawson commissioned by Fr Denis Blackledge SJ. It can be found at the Jesuit Church of St Wifrid's in Preston. It is intended as a cenotaph where mothers and fathers can simply rest, weep and reflect for their babies lost in the womb, at birth or in the early weeks of life.
Praying through art is a powerful medium allowing the feelings to range free when we cannot fiund the words we need.
Baby Loss Awareness week is a collaboration of over 60 charities in the UK and designed to raise awareness about the key issues affecting those who have experienced pregnancy or baby loss in the UK. Whilst aspects of this week involve providing information and resources for all, it is primarily to enable the voices of those who have experienced such a loss to be central. All too often those voices do not get heard, understood, or accepted. All too often simply finding a vocabulary to express the loss, bewilderment and anguish can be a challenge. In the same way the accompanier is challenged to listen, listen and listen before we can accompany. What sign-posting is available within our parish communities?
My eyes were held by a tweet this week which expressed the feelings of hurt and dismay of a couple expressing the loss of a baby. It was captured in a few words and a photograph: ‘The first, last, and only thing we ever bought for our second child was this gravestone’. I have the choice to pass on to the next tweet, but for this couple the reality of their pain and loss is a constant. Yet in sharing those brave words they are in one sense set free, as it is not until we can articulate our loss that we can begin the long journey of healing.
We cannot walk in the shoes of this couple and in learning to minister to their needs we are always the accompanier, they the pilgrim. It is also a reminder that every life, no matter how short, is precious, unique and beloved by God. This week provides the opportunity to show solidarity with those who mourn, to highlight the groups that provide support and to listen to the voices of parents and families.
In a booklet produced by the Life Charity entitled ‘Baby Loss Matters – remembering short lives’ there is a simple phrase that captures the experience of individuals who find themselves in this place: ‘Baby loss can manifest itself in so many different forms and can make a profound impact on individuals.’ Therefore, there is no one size fits all solution, each experience is unique and requires a bespoke response. Thankfully there is support and we should be humbled that there are 60 charities involved, a reminder that the scale and impact is significant in our communities.
There are the parents and families who need the words and support to share and understand their story and others who need the support to respond in ways that acknowledge the sacredness of the space that they stand on in ministering to parents. I know that I can be inept and insensitive when I think that I am being really helpful. If you feel likewise, we can learn from Pope Francis, who often speaks of our need to develop the ‘apostolate of the ear’, to learn how to listen before we act. In a homily to the Synod of Bishops in 2018, he spoke of Jesus’ encounter with blind Bartimaeus and highlighted that at all points in the story it is Jesus who listens and acts upon what is said. He says ‘for Jesus, the cry of those pleading for help is not a nuisance but a challenge. How important it is for us to listen …’.
When we learn the art of listening and then respond with the words we have heard, the speaker not only feels understood, they feel valued. It is one small act on the road to restoration and one that we can all perfect one story at a time.