Monday, March 7, 2011

Memory Eternal

Just over three weeks ago, Saturday February 12, the weather in Boise was beautiful. It was unseasonably warm and the sun was shining. My wife and I were one day away from celebrating the two year anniversary of having met in person. But it was the ugliest day of my life. We were losing our baby.

About a month earlier, we had learned that we were going to have a baby. We were excited, anxious, nervous, and terrified, but most of all we were thankful to God for such a wonderful blessing in our lives. We started to prepare ourselves in earnest for the arrival of our child. Unable to keep such great news to ourselves, we called friends and family members. I refrained from yelling it from the rooftops, but only just barely.

In one of the many books about pregnancy, we read that the baby was about the size of a grain of rice. We started to refer to our child as "Uncle Ben." After about a week or two of calling the baby by that nickname, we had decided that we really liked the name Benjamin for a boy (we had settled on Juliana for a girl since that was the saint of the day when we first went to the church after finding out that we were expecting).

We fell in love with our baby. Our life became one of preparation. It became baby-centric. And on that warm February morning, the center of that baby-centric life left us.

There was a time in my life when I thought that a miscarriage was not a big deal. I always assumed that you didn't really fall in love with your baby until you saw your baby or held him in your arms. Without that new-baby smell, the cute little fingers and toes, the adorable little sound they make, what is there to love except fatigue, discomfort or morning sickness? I know now that a child who has not been born yet is one of infinite possibilities. My wife and I lost our son and our daughter. We lost a child who had the best qualities of both of us and none of the bad qualities of either of us. Our baby was beautiful, smart, funny, caring, loving, godly, and yet humble. Our child was all these things because they are a child of potential. As foolish as it may seem, you start living your child's life in your imagination, you anticipate all the wonderful moments. There is a reason why we like to think about our child's wedding day, and not their first car crash or head wound. We want all the best for our children.

I miss my child. I miss talking to Uncle Ben, even though he couldn't hear me yet. I have cried more for the loss of my baby than for any other loss I have suffered in my life. I have learned that the grief associated with miscarriage is profound, but seldom understood by others. Several people have since told me that they lost a child to miscarriage. In most cases, I never knew about their loss. I can't help but think it is because so many people don't want to hear about it. People tell you that it happens all the time and is no big deal. They tell you to try again or move on, and eventually you don't want to tell people because it is easier to suffer in silence. But I don't want to pretend like my baby never existed.

My wife and I named our baby Benjamin. We don't know whether our child was a boy or a girl, but we wanted to name our baby so that we could pray for him and remember him as a person. I painted the icon of the Holy Patriarch Benjamin at the top of this post to keep in our icon corner as a remembrance of our first baby. Though the baby's name started as a bit of a joke, I find it such a fitting name. The Patriarch Jacob had two favorite sons, Joseph and Benjamin, the sons of his beloved wife Rachel. When Joseph was sold into slavery, Benjamin remained. Jacob's love for his son Benjamin was so strong, that he couldn't bear the thought of parting with him even if it was necessary to save his people. And yet he had no choice but to let Benjamin go. In doing so, they were saved. I pray that this loss will be for my salvation and for the salvation of my wife, but I will forever remember my beloved child, and cherish the few memories that we have.


Josephus Flavius said...

We are having our seventh child (God willing) this week. In the years between our first child and this one we have had some miscarriages. I can say that now, even years later, the pain is as fresh as the day it happened.

One day when I was young out of the blue I asked my mother if she had ever lost a child. To my surprise she said that she had. His name was going to be Zachary. Through my childhood and into today I still think about that lost brother.

Let me also say that two women from my last parish lost their children (both at full term) within weeks of each other. It was tragic, but the Church had services for those families that comforted them in a way those of us who lost children early in the womb do not normally receive.

When I go to church I am sometimes comforted that the warm feeling of community I feel is a foretaste of what the children lost to us in this world are experiencing. I cross myself and pray that it is so.

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say to them:

“The LORD bless you and keep you;

The LORD make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;

The LORD lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.”’

So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.”

Chocolatesa said...

Memory Eternal!

Emily H. said...

Memory eternal, little Benjamin!

I can see how much you loved him, both in the words you wrote and in your lovely icon of St. Benjamin. Keeping you and your wife in my unworthy prayers...

KimQuiltz said...


Kata said...

Ikuinen muisto! That is Memory Eternal in finnish.

I also want to tell you how glad I am I found your blog! I am an beginner iconographer and have been looking for blogs about icon painting for quite a while now, and not found many.

Matushka Anna said...

Josephus just pointed me to your post. I found out I had lost my baby on March 31st. He was 12 1/2 weeks gestation at his time of death. I miss him more than I can say. We named him Innocent.

I've started a blog about miscarriage from an Orthodox perspective that is still in its infancy. There will be a page for people to share stories and I wonder if you would mind if I posted a link to this post? It's beautiful and would be a solace to many.

May Benjamin's memory be eternal!

Matthew Garrett said...

Thank you to all for your prayers, for your sympathy and kindness. It is of great comfort to have people praying for us and for Benjamin. I am also grateful to those who have shared their own experiences with miscarriages with me. People I have known for years have shared stories I knew nothing about before. It makes me hopeful that life goes on afterwards, but I also feel sad that people are so hesitant to share this pain with others.

To Matushka Anna, please do post a link on your site. I will be following your blog, and am grateful for another person giving voice to such a silent sorrow.

Matushka Anna said...

Thank you, Matthew. I want everyone to feel that they have a share in this blog so please feel free to make any suggestions. I do not have a monopoly on this kind of grief.

Mimi said...

Memory Eternal.

Laura Wilson said...

Memory Eternal, Benjamin! The icon is beautiful.

Demetrios said...

Our heavenly forerunner is Haralambos, as his due date was within days of St Haralambos' feast day. We lost him at 8 weeks after hearing his heart beat several times. God has blessed us with his brother Benjamin, which is how we found this post. St. Innocent of Alaska lost seceral children before his oldest child survived. He snatched him from death through prayer and God answered it. However, his son Innocent had a hard life and he later remarked that he should have left it in God's hand so that Innocent could have been attending hitch school in heaven with his other brothers and sisters rather than struggling a hard life on earth. Innocent served in the military and ended up in prison for a time and St. Innocent had to forbid his brothers and sisters from giving him money as entrust a friend as a steward over his inheritance.