Not so long ago, I met a young couple who had unexpectedly lost their newborn baby shortly after birth. Upon my first seeing them, their heads were bowed and their eyes were downcast. Both appeared lost in another world, detached from their surroundings, a millions miles away from the people standing a few feet from them. They were isolated and alone in their grief and their shock.
I have lately come across many couples in similar circumstances, more than usual, anyway: expectant parents expecting a stillborn, mothers who have just learned the baby they carry suffers from a fatal defect, new parents whose joy has shattered into heartbreak. Having lost our own newborn daughter to anencephaly three years ago today, I can relate, and I can sympathize, and I can understand the loneliness that this loss brings, and yet grief creates a chasm that not even the grieving and those who’ve grieved can fully bridge. I still don’t know what to say. I still lack the words because there are none.
All around us are acquaintances, strangers and maybe even friends carrying a secret grief, their world turned upside-down. Happy inquiries and compliments sting instead of cheer. Sympathy is heard as if expressed from an infinite distance. The merry sights and sounds of life serve as unwelcome mementos of an impending death. Loss brings loneliness because in so many ways it stifles communication and therefore communion. The broken heart breaks open the meaning of every expression, every “How are you?” and every “Hello,” filling it with opaque sadness.
In a way, funerals provide an avenue toward restoring this communion, if only incompletely and only for a time. They occasion the sharing of grief, the broken communication between broken hearts. For an hour, the lonely meet to share a lonely world, but then they must return to the humdrum of life and the solitude of a kept secret.