I wrote this letter recently for a dear friend who is heading to the Philippines to train as a midwife and who asked for “read me when” letters. I had no intention of sharing it with anyone else at the time. But there are two reasons I’ve decided to do so:
- Last night I learned the shocking, kick-you-in-the-gut news that my friend, Betsey, was killed in a Marine helicopter crash.
- Today is the four-year anniversary of my dear niece, Emily Faith. Her life, and my subsequent grief, impacted my decision to become a midwife. When asked why I’m becoming a midwife it’s hard to answer because the motivation is tied to such deep emotions.
A lot of this letter is specifically tied to midwifery and infant loss, but I’ve bolded the portions that seem relevant in other contexts.
The death of a baby is one of the greatest tragedies. So much potential wrapped up in that little life; all of the dreams and hopes that will never come to be. It seems completely unnatural for a sweet little child to leave this world without staying very long. The horror and grief I felt after Emily passed away was stronger than anything I’d experience before or since. It took my breath away and it may have been years before I felt like I was able to take a deep one again without being assuaged by grief.
Here are a few things I learned along the way:
- Experiencing death changes you; it’s impossible to remain exactly the same in the face of grief. From my observations of other grieving people, there seems to be two options: to become softer or to become harder. I think in a 3rd world country where death will be more common in childbirth, where you are needing to become strong in order to survive in a profession like midwifery, and where you are far from your family, it will probably be easy to become harder. Not necessarily as an intentional choice, but it will be easy to slide into that to protect yourself from agony. But I urge you: in the pain and grief, intentionally choose softness. It seems like it will make you more vulnerable, and in the beginning it will probably feel that way. But in the long run it will make you stronger.
- There is no way to avoid the pain. The more you avoid it, the bigger it becomes. Dive straight in. There is an end. Trust me, dear sister. I’ve been there and have found the other side.
And sweet girl, I encourage you: don’t let it eat you up inside.
- Take it to our Father. Talk to Him about how this death makes you question things. He is not put off by the reality of how you feel and what you’re thinking. He will reveal who He is to you and bring you Truth and comfort.
- Share your pain with others.
I pray that through this experience you will be motivated to learn any skills you can to prevent similar death in the future. These emotions are powerful motivators and pouring grief into something that will have long-term impact honors that person’s live and allows their life to have a ripple effect in this world.
But remember, there are things about this process that are completely outside our control or ability to influence. Learning to be comfortable being out of control and to trust in the sovereignty of God will be something that will bring you strength and comfort. Can you believe that I, of all people, am saying there is comfort in not being in control?
And don’t loose sight of the fact that being a midwife strongly decreases the chances of death. Women and babies will survive because of your presence. Don’t let this loss let you forget that you’re choosing to endure this pain to help prevent it for others in the future. That is beautiful, meaningful and self-less.
You will make it through this.
John 14:18 I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.