This beautiful article was written by Share's Program Director, Rose Carlson.
One of my favorite things about my job at Share is a burial service and ceremony we host four times each year for babies who were miscarried at three of our local hospitals. It is one of my favorite things because I know how much something like this would have meant to me many years ago when I experienced my own early losses, and I do all I can to make it memorable and meaningful for the families who attend. Over the years I have planned and attended this ceremony, I have been incredibly blessed to meet so many parents and their extended family members who have shared countless touching stories with me—stories of their own losses and how healing it would have been for them to also have a service such as this. It is held at a local funeral home/cemetery, and while each grave is not marked, there is a monument of a kneeling Rachel from the bible next to a plaque that reads, “Our hopes and our dreams lie here.”
I have always loved that. It is so fitting for someone who has experienced the death of a baby, especially early in pregnancy. Oftentimes, others do not understand the depth of grief a parent feels when a baby dies early in a pregnancy, and this plaque says it all—because not only has a baby died, but the hopes and dreams the parents had for that baby, perhaps from the moment the pregnancy was confirmed, died as well.
Our summer service was a few weeks ago. It is a simple, short ceremony that consists of poems, songs performed lovingly by a bereaved mom whose son died 13 years ago, comforting words from one of our hospital chaplains and a graveside balloon release. This time, as I listened to the speakers and poems and songs, for some reason, I found it hard to hold back tears. It is rare that I cry at this ceremony, but when I do, it is usually because there is someone in attendance whose situation reminds me of my own. More typically however, I hold off my tears until I am in my car on the way home. That was not the case on this particular day…I didn’t know the story of anyone who was there, yet I found myself fighting tears anyway, especially when I looked at one young couple who was especially distraught, crying loudly and holding each other tightly. So that others wouldn’t see that I was crying, I looked down at the floor.
As in most funeral homes, at least those I have been in, the décor is fairly ornate. I have been in this funeral home many times, not only for the Share burial service, but also for the funerals and calling hours for people I have known as it is one of the most “popular” funeral homes in my city. But on this day, as I stared at the floor, I noticed something I never paid attention to before: The patterns on the carpet. There were several different shapes scattered about in shades of green, burgundy and gold, and they reminded me of the varying patterns in a kaleidoscope. The more I stared at my feet, and the more I examined the details of the carpet, the more my mind drifted, and I considered the ways a kaleidoscope is similar to grief and life after ones baby dies.
A kaleidoscope contains many different pieces, colors and gems, and while the pieces and colors stay the same, even a minuscule turn of the wheel causes each little fragment to combine in a way that makes something unique and unexpected.
As I stared at the carpet, I thought about how the same can be said for grief. The “parts” are often the same even though life has completely changed. People in one’s life are the same-- friends, family members, acquaintances, neighbors, coworkers. Situations and circumstances are likely the same--going to the grocery store and Target and preschool and the park and evening walks. I thought about how even though the same “parts” are always there, one little twist or turn of events can cause those parts to tumble and change into something completely different from what appeared before the twist. I thought about how when you turn the end of a kaleidoscope, some patterns and configurations are prettier than others, and you never know what you’re going to see. The same can be said for grief: Sometimes, the twists and turns reveal something you do not like, something that angers you even. Other times, the twists and turns reveal something beautiful that you weren’t anticipating. And, most definitely, when you are in the depths of grief, you never know what to expect from the twists and turns each new day brings.
When I was at home later that afternoon, I couldn’t get the thoughts of a kaleidoscope out of my mind, so I sat down at my computer and began Googling to see if there is some symbolic meaning in kaleidoscopes.
Well, lo and behold, there is!
I read a handful of articles, all of which discussed metaphors that relate to kaleidoscopes. I could connect most of them to what parents undergo after the death of their baby, and I began to feel less crazy for the thoughts I had about kaleidoscopes as I stared at that colorful kaleidoscope-y carpet.
New beginnings emerge from the breakup of past forms
Wow. How true is that?
I’m not sure there is anything that causes a new beginning for a person more than the death of a child does. Over and over I have read, been told by so many bereaved parents, and even learned myself from firsthand experience that life is often abruptly divided into “before” and “after.” While the people in your lives may stay the same, relationships are often forever altered. Frequently, those changes are for the better, but just as often, they are not. It is not uncommon for grieving parents to see people and relationships in new and surprising ways after the death of their baby. The people are the same, but a slight turn of events, even words, can shift lives and relationships into something else entirely.
All things turn and spin and change, endlessly rearranging themselves
Again, how perfectly does that fit with the way grief evolves and in the process, transforms the grieving parent and often everything about the bereaved parent’s life? Grief is made up of so many different emotions and thoughts, and they are ever changing, not only from one week or day to the next, but often from one hour or minute to the next. Again, the pieces of your life likely stay the same, the people involved may stay the same, but they are constantly rearranged into different patterns based on seemingly innocent situations. One day, grief may be triggered by a song on the radio, another day that song may not have an impact, but a random encounter in the grocery store can bring you to your knees. A loved one who you were once close to may be unsupportive and irritated with the way you are grieving, yet a mere acquaintance may pleasantly surprise you with kindness, compassion and concern. This rearranging of the usual order of your life can make you feel out of sorts, confused and frustrated.
Change evolves from chaos
Is there anything more chaotic and upsetting to the routine of one’s life than the death of a child? I think not. Some of the most profound changes that a person can undergo are those that occur after the death of a baby. Your life may have felt neat and tidy, going according to plan, when your whole world was abruptly and violently shaken, turned upside down--crushed and destroyed. Your life and world likely seem chaotic with everything out of control, and profound changes will inevitably occur.
I found this especially meaningful when thinking of bereaved parents:
The patterns of a kaleidoscope, a succession of interlinkings, are unified into one whole. Each piece is a vital part of that whole, no matter how small. Take one piece away and the image is not quite the same.
I pondered that one for quite some time.
Using that image, a kaleidoscope is not only a metaphor for grief, but also for the entire experience of life after the death of a baby. If one were able to pop open a kaleidoscope and remove a piece then put it back together, that kaleidoscope would never again be the same, though from the outside, it would appear unchanged. After the removal of that one piece, no matter what pattern is created after each twist and turn, that missing piece will forever affect the entire kaleidoscope. While beautiful patterns will still be created, they will always be different than what would have been created had that one tiny piece not been removed. Your baby, no matter how small, will always be a vital, missing piece of your whole. You and your family may look the same from the outside, as if you have been “put back together.” Yet, while the pieces of your life will change and evolve in many different ways, sometimes beautiful, amazing, breathtaking ways, there will always be one crucial piece missing that will forever affect the whole of your life. While there will still be lovely moments, moments of peace, even moments of joy, that missing piece has forever changed your kaleidoscope.
I want to end this with something I read in one of the articles that I find especially significant. The author wrote:
The tumbling pieces are held together by a protective circle.
Again, I found that applicable to the experiences of a grieving parent. The protective circle, which typically has a huge impact on the ways a bereaved parent grieves, begins to heal and eventually finds new hope is formed by your loved ones. Your protective circle also will evolve and change as time goes on. It’s not uncommon for those who were supportive and enveloping with their compassion for you to fade away and be replaced by someone new, maybe a support group or new friends who have been where you are, someone who becomes an integral part of your protective circle. That protective circle is a crucial part of your story, of your baby’s story, of your ever-changing yet still beautiful kaleidoscope.