Rainbow Babies after a Storm of Loss

rainbow-bellyFor generations, miscarriages have been a source of hidden grief for couples and families. Sadly, miscarriage is a relatively common occurrence.  The New York City-based Seleni Institute estimates that one in four pregnancies is spontaneously aborted.  In addition, 1 in every 160 births is still born.

Friends and loved ones continue to grapple with comforting words to say in these circumstances. And, as so many miscarriages happen early in a pregnancy, the loss may go unknown to all but the closest loved ones.  But, in recent years, this all-too-common personal loss has come into the light with books, support groups, and online communities.

A sweet, recent trend that draws attention to the heartache of miscarriage, as well as offering hope for successful births in the future, is the proliferation of mentions of Rainbow Babies.  Expectant mothers and those who’ve recently delivered have taken to social media and beyond to announce the beauty after the storm.  Their anticipated births and successful pregnancies….their rainbow babies… are the much yearned for blessings following the storm of personal loss.  No doubt this trend provides personal healing and hope for many going through this unfortunate circumstance.


Remembering Well

JonathanIn the Jewish tradition an “unveiling” ceremony takes place about a year after a loved one’s passing.  At graveside, the headstone of the deceased is revealed, among family members and friends and special prayers and remarks are offered.  It publicly honors the departed and marks the end of a part of the mourning process.  Although Christians don’t have the same custom, it almost feels that way, as we remember the anniversary of the death of the Jonathan Hicks, the great journalist, and family member and friend to countless people. So many folks have taken to social media, and elsewhere, I’m sure, to offer words of support, tribute, and condolences to this uniquely wonderful person.

Jonathan Hicks passed on November 3, 2014 after an unusually long and courageous battle with pancreatic cancer, among the most deadly forms of that dreaded disease.  He embraced his last days with what the Rev. Dr. Calvin Butts III, the minister leading one of his memorial services, called his “Farewell Tour.”  Unafraid of death, but recognizing that his days were most probably limited, he continued to serve his family, travel, visit friends, write about politics for BET and other news outlets, worship at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Brooklyn, mentor countless young “Nupes,” his college fraternity, and sing….he loved to sing with Manifest, the men’s Gospel group that he’d started years before.

Some days after his death, I—along with hundreds of others—went to his homegoing at the historic Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem.  In my life, I will never attend a more powerful celebration—I know it in my bones.  I was lucky enough to work with Jonathan’s cherished wife Christy for years at a liberal public policy think tank in New York; long ago, she transitioned from being my “boss” to become my “friend.”  Because she loved Jonathan so much, my appreciation and affection grew for him, as well.

Through Christy, I came to know quite a bit about Jonathan….his family’s rich history, college days at Mizzou, the tour of duty at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and, of course, his important job at the New York Times, first covering business and then politics in Brooklyn.   But he was much so more than that.  He was a hopelessly devoted father to their precocious daughter Lindsay, an actor, a foodie, world traveler, philanthropist, mentor, life-long learner, and much, much more.  He was taken too young, but it wasn’t the years he lived….it was the life that he packed into his time on earth.

As I recall the celebration of his life, I still break out in goose bumps.  The Manhattan service, followed one in his beloved Brooklyn and culminated with a service in Washington, DC, one of his childhood homes, where his body was laid to rest.  Even as a Celebrant, I’d never imagined that a funeral would be so heavily attended that the organizers would need to arrange for it to be live-streamed, so that people could watch remotely!

It was a lengthy program, filled with laughter, tears, innumerable recollections, and music from his choir Manifest. Friends and family members spoke beautifully, as did the many political dignitaries and journalists.  Their remarks were not banal condolences, but authentic expressions of grief from people who really knew him.  Each story was unique,, combining the levity and gravity embodied by this complex and lovable soul.  The service culminated with the scores of “Nupes,” members of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, standing arm in arm, singing their hymn, in Jonathan’s honor as he entered their “Chapter Invisible.”  We will simply never know how many young men he helped and nurtured over the years.  (In one of many great moments, I recall one of his NY Times colleagues saying, “We never understood why Jonathan had so many young brothers coming to his office all the time….but we figured it had to be something good.”  Other speakers, of course, gave specific testimonials about how he loved them radically and turned their lives around.)

A year or two ago, the New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote a moving piece on the so-called “Moral Bucket List.”   In it, he writes about those special people we run into from time-to-time, who simply make us feel better after being with them.  They think about others and make the world a better place. These people have lived their life by “eulogy virtues” rather than “resume virtues.”  Resume virtues—alma maters, jobs, awards, and such—are the accomplishments that will bring one professional advancement and accolades.  Eulogy virtues are the moral characteristics that are the finest attributes humans have to offer in this life:  kindness, compassion, empathy, honesty, and the rest.  Eulogy virtues are the ones that people will remember when we are gone.  It strikes me that these are exactly the things that people spoke of at Jonathan’s extraordinary funeral.  While eulogists made general references to his great professional accomplishments, it was the “other stuff” that was front and center:  his love of family and God, his optimism, a willingness to encourage and help, fearlessness in the face of difficult times, humor, hospitality, generosity, openness of heart and hand—and that crooked smile.  Rest in Peace, Jonathan.  But your Legacy lives on and on.


Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

Our culture has great difficulty dealing with death.  For those who’ve suffered miscarriages or the loss of a newborn, responses of friends and loved ones may seemingly minimize the overwhelming sense of grief, while professional resources are few and far between.  One service,Now I Lay me Down to Sleep, provides a shining example of real support for parents of stillborn babies or babies who die shortly after birth.  The mission of the nonprofit is simple, but powerful: to provide beautiful portraits of the child, for loved ones to keep for all time.  The photographs honor the parents’ and families experience of creation, pregnancy, birth, and, ultimately, death.

Now 10 years old, NILMDTS started with one act of human kindness when professional photographer Sandy Puc was called to take Black & White photographs of little Maddux Achilles Haggard, who was born with an myotubular myopathy.  On the sixth day of his life, his parents made the painful decision to take him off life support.  Puc took photographs of the baby, while still alive and after he passed, then released from the tubes that kept him alive.

Some time later, Pac and Cheryl Haggard, Maddux’s mother, started this charity, which has grown exponentially.  Led not only by a Board of Directors and team of Ambassadors, it is powered by an army of volunteer photographers in every American state.  These men and women generously give of their time, talents, and compassion at a most vulnerable time in the lives of so many families.  To learn more about this simple, but profound, idea which provides healing and comfort, visit their website.


A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

At various points, I’ve written about the increasingly significant role of social media, allowing loved ones to accompany individuals, couples, and families through significant transitions during the life cycle, be it preparing for a wedding, anticipating an impending death, or facilitating grief in the mourning process. I’ve never seen a more beautiful unfolding of the (world wide) web of love that in the past week with my dear friend Janet’s experience in losing her much-beloved mother.

Janet has always been a very active member of her social media community. While some people seem to continually post vapid or self-serving messages, my friend’s notes, pictures and posts are cheerful, uplifting, and welcomed by her “friends,” near and far. As a devout Christian, her words are often spiritual in nature, drawing from the Bible and Christian writers, as well as her own well-earned reflections. She turned to this loving community as her own mother’s health declined. With her mother’s passing days ago, she was beautifully enveloped in the words of encouragement and empathy from her broad network of friends. Death and the mourning process—and the “home going” to use the words of our African-American brothers and sisters—is a uniquely dual experience for Christians, recognizing the real loss of a person here, on earth with their beloved community, while rejoicing in the firmly held conviction of the deceased’s reunion with the Holy Father.

As Janet and her sisters pondered their beautiful mother’s spirit-led life, they inevitably shared photos from the years—baby pictures of her Mom, wedding photos from her wedding 50+ years ago, early photos of their bustling family of six, and recent shots with the dozens of grandchildren who live because of this woman.

I increasingly recognize myself to be a person strongly drawn to visual imagery, and through the “magic” of Facebook was able to harvest photos from the girls’ Facebook pages, creating a short video gift for them. With a few stock videos and classical music thrown in, the clip may serve as a tangible keepsake for Marilyn’s loved ones and a small token of my love for dear Janet, who I can’t be with physically at this time. More and more families, it seems, are including video tributes of their lost loved ones as part of the funeral or memorial service (or life celebration, if you prefer). And thanks to a range of easy-to-use technology tools, even Luddites like me can make an emotional offering.

So let the healing continue in person and over fiber optics, with strong imagery present all along the way.


In Short

Sara Ritchie As a Celebrant and Non-Denominational Minister, I create and deliver personalized memorials, celebrations of life, graveside/interment services and funerals throughout the NYC Tri-State area.
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