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May 07, 2015

Giving birth to life and death

Lifestyle Parenting
sunset hands File Art /for PhillyVoice

All that lives in time and space must die in time and space. I imagine there is a light that breathes into this dance and transcends it. I trust that this light is made of inexhaustible love.

My 18-month-old son blissfully naps and I decide to catch up on some emails. I look at my inbox and notice a request for advice. I open the email, curious. After reading the first sentence, I take a deep breath.

“I experienced my first stillborn birth as a doula. I am so confused.”

The new doula in question had witnessed one of life’s most painful experiences – the birth of a lifeless infant.

“I did my best to support these new parents experiencing such a sudden and tragic blow to their expectant hearts,” she continued. “But now, they’ve asked me to speak at the funeral. What can I say?”

Her grief, concern, and confusion touch me. I pause and close my eyes. How to respond to her request? I’m flooded with memories.

Having worked as a hospital chaplain, I’ve witnessed very painful episodes in life. From holding the shaking body of a mother whose son committed suicide, to placing my hand on the lifeless chest of a murdered man, I know what it is like to cry and pray with strangers. Having looked at the still face of death, I breathe in wonder and bow to the mystery that awaits us all. As a chaplain, I needed to breathe particularly mindfully while supporting parents through the bewildering grief of losing a baby.

I close my eyes and meditate. Silent tears accompany my response. I type a meditation for her to share with those who will gather in sorrow. I encourage her to weave her own words into the fabric of my own.

Please join me in the spirit of meditation. Place your hands on your lap. Place your feet on the steady earth. Close your eyes as inspired. Soften the muscles of your face. Let your breath begin to move through tight places.

May the breath you take right now be a reminder of life’s precious fragility.

May the inhale give strength at this difficult time. May the exhale create space for the natural stages of grief.

We meditate with a spirit of the open heart. We meditate and remember the dead. We meditate and remember this precious and beloved child.

Birth and death are mysteries. We place these mysteries in our hearts and bow to the power of a love that transcends the understanding of any human mind.

I place my hands on the keyboard and complete my email to the heartsick doula. I urge her to take what works and leave the rest.

“Trust your heart,” I write.

Later that night, I watch my son sleep beside me. Witnessing his beauty transports me with grace. Yet, sadness accompanies this gratitude. He and I share a common destiny with all that live. Through my body, my son entered this human world. Because of this fact, one day he will die. I have no idea when and how my son will move through death’s doorway, but I do know that door will open. It’s an irrevocable and unalterable truth. No one receives an immortal human experience.

All that lives in time and space must die in time and space. I imagine there is a light that breathes into this dance and transcends it. I trust that this light is made of inexhaustible love.

I continue to watch him sleep. A green, handmade quilt rests over us. It was crafted with love by my paternal grandmother. My son never met his great-grandmother in this life. Will he ever know the woman whose hands stitched together this beautiful gift with profound love? Did they meet before he came to me? Will I ever see her again?

My mind can pose a million philosophical questions, but nothing brings me peace until my heart relaxes into the mystery. I feel most alive when trusting that soft, gentle kindness within. May I pierce the ever day chatter of my to-do list with a mindfulness of the sacred essence manifesting in each moment. May I surrender with grace to time’s relentless dance.

Jalaluddin Rumi, the famous 13th-century Muslim mystic wrote, “Whoever knoweth the dance, dwelleth in God.”

May you know the dance.

This article originally appeared in "The Zen of Midlife Mothering". 

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