The Consolation of Doctrine (For Tessa, and All Who Love Her)

March 5, 2005 | 35 comments
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Last week my newest niece, Tessa Alene Fox, was buried. I never saw her alive. Neither did anyone else in my family, nor did her parents, though they got to know her, at least little bit, during the nine months she grew inside my sister-in-law’s body. One afternoon, only days before Tessa’s due date, she stopped moving; by the following morning, their doctor confirmed their fears: Tessa was dead. My sister-in-law was induced, and gave birth to her child’s lifeless body without complications later that day. The umbilical cord was wrapped around Tessa’s neck not once, not twice, but four times. It was so tight that the doctor couldn’t unwrap it, but rather had to cut it off.

Miscarriages are common. There are relatively few women with children who haven’t experienced at least one at some point along the way, whether they realize it or not: often a fertilized egg fails to implant itself in the womb properly, or something else goes wrong in those early weeks and months, and the body spontaneously aborts the baby. This is often a tragic event, especially if the child has long been hoped for. But it is also a frequently unfelt event, in the physical sense, only realized after-the-fact. Thus are miscarriages usually endured privately, and the misfortune overcome without many, or any, lingering traces of what might have been. Not to speak lightly of anyone’s pain, but a three week old embryo, or a three-month old fetus, is unlikely to have become the focus of especially deep physical or emotional ties to its mother, much less its father. Or, at least, such has been my observation.

Stillbirths are another matter. There are definitely traces left behind in such cases. A body for one. Perhaps a crib. Baby shower gifts. Names chosen. Plans made. Dreams.

For reasons which my brother and his wife are now certain were given to them by a loving God in preparation for their loss, Tessa’s long-anticipated arrival was characterized by a great and playful inclusiveness. They treated the growing baby as an already-arrived member of the family. They hung up a Christmas stocking for her. They sang to her, and encouraged their other children (ages 6, 4 and 2) to talk to her, and imagine her participation in their family activities and games. She was very real to them all. And now, for the duration of mortality, that is all the reality they will have, and they are grateful for it.

But they have something else as well: consolation. The fate of a stillborn soul is hardly a new puzzle in the history of Christianity, with its doctrines of the resurrection and everlasting life. Our own faith adds some additional wrinkles to the problem: our teachings about the pre-existence, and our doctrines (some official, some folk, some a mixture of both) about each soul’s pre-mortal and eternal assignment to and association with a specific family unit, a “sociality” or “order” that was planned before, may be ratified in this life (or the next) through temple sealings, and which in the eternities perhaps not even sin itself can sunder (it depends on who you ask). There are no revelations which definitively iron out all these wrinkles, and so there is plenty of room for confusion. But a creative family, one which trusts that God would have made things clear if He so chose, can just as legitimately take shelter in the shadow of some of those wrinkles, and find solace. My brother and sister-in-law are not the first to do so, and certainly not the most prominent: Brigham Young, Joseph Fielding Smith, and Bruce R. McConkie are among those prophets and apostles who have, at different points, expressed their opinion that stillborn children are “all right”; that “the eternal spirit enters the body prior to a normal birth, and therefore that stillborn children will be resurrected”; and not just resurrected, but will at some later point “belong to us.”

When I say that my brother and sister-in-law are creative, I must not be understood to mean that I think they are inventing ways to diminish their pain. I don’t have such a reductive opinion of my and their religion, and would never be so condescending in any case. Their creativity comes in their application of teachings and counsel and words of relief which our own teachings make available to us. Consolation is also interpretation; many are the men and women who refuse peace of mind, who strand themselves in the hot desert of doubt, because they cannot see fit to put themselves in the cool shade of doctrine (or at least some doctrines, if not all of them). The teachings are there; they are a gift. Not to deny the reality of existential crises (I have them constantly), but that’s only part of any story of suffering. If we truly want consolation, we have to take it, and recognize that the tragedies of life do not always or only invite stoicism, but also a change, a response, an embrace.

My father spoke at Tessa’s funeral, and put it rightly:

We see “through a glass darkly” and know only dimly that which Heavenly Father sees clearly. Our lot is to live by faith, not by sight. It is ours to take one step forward, one step at a time with our goal to one day join those who have gone before. One thing we do know is that Tessa will one day be clothed with a celestial body, and that she will join the hosts of that kingdom. Thus the question must be, will we live our lives that we may also enjoy her company?…[Her parents and siblings] will return to this holy plot from time to time, and remember only dimly in the years ahead what happen to cause such a departing, but each visit will cause them to recommit themselves to a celestial lifestyle, one that will allow them the privilege of one day enjoying her company.

In their prayers and mourning–which I know about only from a great distance, second-hard–Tessa’s mother and father have already taken their first steps. They gave her the middle name “Alene,” which is my sister-in-law’s mother’s name, who passed away years ago at too-young an age. Tessa is buried beside this grandmother whom she never knew, but now knows; of this my brother and his wife are certain. “She was the first one to greet Tessa on the other side,” my brother told me some days later, his voice over the telephone wires sounding hoarse and weak from tears. Tears of grief, yes, but also confidence. It is with confidence that her name has been entered into our family records, and her birthday listed alongside those of all the other grandchildren (she is number #30). They have taken the doctrines into their heart, and found truth and comfort in them; that is as we all ought to do, and it is good enough for me.

35 Responses to The Consolation of Doctrine (For Tessa, and All Who Love Her)

  1. john fowles on March 5, 2005 at 12:31 pm

    Russell wrote Our own faith adds some additional wrinkles to the problem: our teachings about the pre-existence, and our doctrines (some official, some folk, some a mixture of both) about each soul’s pre-mortal and eternal assignment to and association with a specific family unit, a “sociality” or “order” that was planned before, may be ratified in this life (or the next) through temple sealings, and which in the eternities perhaps not even sin itself can sunder (it depends on who you ask).

    I would say that instead of adding additional wrinkles to the problem, our doctrines actually provide a consolation that no other doctrine in all of the rest of Christianity can possibly provide. After all, Tessa died without either baptism or confessing Jesus in her heart (for those in Christianity who have eschewed baptism altogether). Thus, regardless of which of the hundreds or thousands of varieties of Christianity you choose, none of them teaches what the Restored Gospel teaches, i.e. what all of the Churches should be teaching but aren’t:

    8 Listen to the words of Christ, your Redeemer, your Lord and your God. Behold, I came into the world not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; the whole need no physician, but they that are sick; wherefore, little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it hath no power over them; and the law of circumcision is done away in me.

    9 And after this manner did the Holy Ghost manifest the word of God unto me; wherefore, my beloved son, I know that it is solemn mockery before God, that ye should baptize little children.

    10 Behold I say unto you that this thing shall ye teach—repentance and baptism unto those who are accountable and capable of committing sin; yea, teach parents that they must repent and be baptized, and humble themselves as their little children, and they shall all be saved with their little children.

    11 And their little children need no repentance, neither baptism. Behold, baptism is unto repentance to the fulfilling the commandments unto the remission of sins.

    12 But little children are alive in Christ, even from the foundation of the world; if not so, God is a partial God, and also a changeable God, and a respecter to persons; for how many little children have died without baptism!

    13 Wherefore, if little children could not be saved without baptism, these must have gone to an endless hell.

    14 Behold I say unto you, that he that supposeth that little children need baptism is in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; for he hath neither faith, hope, nor charity; wherefore, should he be cut off while in the thought, he must go down to hell.

    15 For awful is the wickedness to suppose that God saveth one child because of baptism, and the other must perish because he hath no baptism.

    16 Wo be unto them that shall pervert the ways of the Lord after this manner, for they shall perish except they repent. Behold, I speak with boldness, having authority from God; and I fear not what man can do; for perfect love casteth out all fear.

    17 And I am filled with charity, which is everlasting love; wherefore, all children are alike unto me; wherefore, I love little children with a perfect love; and they are all alike and partakers of salvation.

    18 For I know that God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being; but he is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity.

    19 Little children cannot repent; wherefore, it is awful wickedness to deny the pure mercies of God unto them, for they are all alive in him because of his mercy.

    20 And he that saith that little children need baptism denieth the mercies of Christ, and setteth at naught the atonement of him and the power of his redemption.

    This doctrine restored to us by the unadulterated words of the Book of Mormon is so powerful that it is stunning. It also flies completely in the face of what the rest of Christianity has traditionally been teaching. And it is the ultimate source of consolation for your family’s loss.

    As to tangential matter–i.e. the “wrinkles” you brought up–they are, essentially, subordinate to this salient truth: that Tessa will rise like a sun in the resurrection and is eternally sealed to your family. I especially appreciated your father’s words, as you have paraphrased. They hark back to Moroni 8:10, quoted above: “teach parents that they must repent and be baptized, and humble themselves as their little children, and they shall all be saved with their little children.” With this teaching in mind, there is no end to the consolation that the Restored Gospel provides upon the death of an infant.

  2. Russell Arben Fox on March 5, 2005 at 12:42 pm

    All very true, John; thanks for these scriptures and your own testimony. I don’t mean to emphasize the “wrinkles” too much–perhaps I let my metaphor get away from me. My basic point is this: the doctrines of the restored gospel give us a far stronger grasp of our origin and eternal destiny than that possessed by most other Christians. But with that greater knowledge comes also deeper questions. Not all of those questions have been resolved. But one can either be paralyzed by questions, or one can use them as occasions to exercise hope, to take action and make commitments, and thereby find consolation and confirmation. That’s what my brother and sister-in-law are doing, in the midst of their pain, and I admire them much for it.

    Incidentally, I didn’t paraphrase my father; he fortunately made his remarks available to members of the family who couldn’t be there, like myself. I’m quoting him directly.

  3. Miquayla on March 5, 2005 at 1:00 pm

    Sorry for your loss.

    Sometimes the Church provides facile explanations for things that have no explanation, whether or not these concepts are rational, doctrinal or even true. For instance, what of raising children in the resurrection or in the next life? Many mothers have heard this as a consolation. But won’t be all be adults then?

  4. Matt Evans on March 5, 2005 at 1:13 pm

    Russell, thank you for sharing your family’s story. It is good they have found consolation and comfort, and especially that they have loved ones eager to share their grief.

    Dear friends of ours miscarried several years ago. They had three boys under seven years old, and around her 13th week of pregnancy, Heather* gave birth to a tiny baby on the bathroom floor. They sobbed together as they picked up the little body, held it, found she was a girl, and wondered if she was theirs.

    Their doctor instructed them by phone to take everything to the hospital. My friend returned to the bathroom to collect what he could and wondered, What is the proper way to carry a bloodied little girl to the hospital? He used a Rubbermaid container, later saying it felt obscene to use something so incongruous with his emotions and love, but what else could he use? As they drove to the hospital, they realized that they had no idea what would be done with their girl’s body — could they bury her? would the hospital want to dispose of her in a biohazard trash bag? They felt they had to commemorate her in some way, they couldn’t just throw her out, but they felt they couldn’t do anything public because people would think they were weird for being affected so deeply. No one would understand. (Unfortunately I don’t remember what became of the little girl, only my friends’ grief and worry about her future.)

    Now, several years later, my friend tells me the date of the miscarriage, and the baby girl’s due date, have become two of Emerson’s “silent anniversaries of the heart,” anniversaries they share only with each other.

    Sadly, our church doctrine offers my friends more questions than comfort. I guess it’s fitting that I don’t remember what became of their girl’s little body, because my friends do not know what has become of their little girl.

    *Name has been changed.

  5. Stephen M (Ethesis) on March 5, 2005 at 1:17 pm

    I always thought it interesting that the Doctrine and Covenants acknowledges that grief will be strong where love is strong and that in the Bible, even though Jesus knew he would be raising Lazerus from the dead, he still wept.

  6. john fowles on March 5, 2005 at 1:33 pm

    Matt wrote Sadly, our church doctrine offers my friends more questions than comfort.

    Could you explain that a little more?

  7. Russell Arben Fox on March 5, 2005 at 1:46 pm

    That is a powerful story, Matt; thank you for sharing it. Given that your friends have continued on, and brought their tragedy into their lives in the form of those “silent anniversaries” you mention, I would have to say that while they may feel “more questions than comfort,” they obviously have been blessed with at least some of the latter. In fact, I wonder if the former doesn’t give rise to the latter. Not that anyone would ever want to face such hard questions, but should they come, the possibility of solace (partial, sufficient solace, though almost certainly not total) comes also.

  8. Matt Evans on March 5, 2005 at 2:08 pm

    Hi John, the church doesn’t teach that babies that die before birth are part of the eternal family. The policy for temple work is set at “one breath,” meaning temple work is done, and a baby is sealed to her parents, only if she is born alive. Parents of stillborn babies, like Russell’s brother and sister-in-law, base their optimism on faith and hope and trust in God, not church doctrine. The status of miscarried babies, like my friends’, raises even more questions.

    Here is the church’s policy on stillborn children:

    Stillborn Children (Children Who Die before Birth)

    Grieving parents whose child dies before birth should be given emotional and spiritual support. Temple ordinances are not performed for stillborn children. However, this does not deny the possibility that a stillborn child may be part of the family in the eternities. Parents are encouraged to trust the Lord to resolve such cases in a way He knows is best. The family may record the name of a stillborn child on the family group record followed by the word stillborn in parentheses. Memorial or graveside services may be held as determined by the parents.

    It is a fact that a child has life before birth. However, there is no direct revelation on when the spirit enters the body.

  9. Andrea Wright on March 5, 2005 at 3:34 pm

    Thank you for a beautiful post, Russell. I greatly admire your family’s strength through this heart-break.

    While I have not experienced anything close to the loss of Tessa, I was stunned by the loss I felt with a miscarraige. I can relate to the confusion that Matt talked about, but ultimately I think the uncertainty was what made that time incredibly sweet. Because we had no hard-fast doctrine to turn to we had to turn completely to the Lord for comfort and make the choice to trust in His perfect love for us and our unborn baby.

  10. Amira on March 5, 2005 at 3:40 pm

    Thank you for this post, Russell. I am sorry for your and Melissa’s loss, and all of your family.

    With Matt, I agree that there aren’t a lot of answers in the gospel specifically concerning stillbirths and miscarriages, but there aren’t answers for a lot of things. I have learned through our many miscarriages that I don’t have to have specific answers or policies spelled out in the scriptures or the Church handbook. We have received our own answers that have comforted us.

    (I wonder if there are no set answers concerning this since there it may be different for different people. We have not come to the same conclusions concerning our miscarriages that many couples have.)

  11. Keith on March 5, 2005 at 4:52 pm

    Thanks for the post, Russell.

    I think there is a sense in which the doctrine does give consolation in circumstances such as this. I think it similarly gives guidance in times when we have difficult moral or spiritual decisions to make. At the same time, as Russell and others point out, there may be other questions that arise, or other places where the doctrine may be ambiguous or say very little.

    What I believe is that ultimately the doctrine brings consolation or certitude because of whose doctrine it is and how it sets us into relation with him. “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” “I am the resurrection and the life.” He remembers with us the ‘silent anniversaries of the heart’ and gives us consolation, peace, strength where the doctrine itself may stand silent. And as with friends who comfort, their presence (and his presence) with us means more than any words they say (though what they say is also part of their being with us).

    Even the doctrines that are clear eventually stop explaining things and direct us to and leave us in his presence.

  12. Abraham on March 5, 2005 at 5:22 pm

    Thank you very much

  13. Heather Oman on March 5, 2005 at 7:06 pm

    Russell:

    “Not to speak lightly of anybody else’s pain”…

    Then don’t.

    Frankly, you’re a man, and really do not have the authority to speak of what it feels like to have a miscarriage. Not felt in the physical sense? I’m astonished that you would even think that. No traces left of life with the mother? We celebrated our son’s third birthday this week. If all had gone well, we would have been celebrating another son’s 1st birthday as well. Stillbirths are different, yes, I’ll conceded the point, but it’s hard to imagine experiencing more pain than I have felt each time I have lost one of my babies. So please, no empty words of advice or factoids about miscarriages, please.

  14. Arturo Toscanini on March 5, 2005 at 8:37 pm

    Heather, I don’t think that Russell is speaking lightly of anybody’s pain. Moreover, your implication that the father feels for his children in any way less than the mother is unfortunate, and perhaps a little chauvinistic. Different events mean different things to different people, and you needn’t take Russell’s reaction to miscarriage as an insult to yours.

  15. Shannon K on March 5, 2005 at 8:37 pm

    Russell,

    I thank you for this post. It is inspiring and insightful and beautifully written.

    I am sorry that Heather Oman chose to respond in the way she did. I think it was unduly harsh. As a woman, I too have experienced my fair share of miscarriages. I appreciated your carefully chosen words on the subject and feel you were fair and thoughtful.

    I have two sisters who have struggled to have children for many years and both have experienced miscarriages. You were careful to allow for the singular pain in that special circumstance. It is just one example of how thoroughly and tenderly you addressed this issue.

    You took great pains to pay a loving tribute to your niece and at the same time address some very interesting gospel doctrines. You could not have done a more beautiful job.

  16. Arturo Toscanini on March 5, 2005 at 8:39 pm

    I think that one reason Mormonism has so much to say about death and family and the eternities is that Joseph Smith’s own life was so steeped in death; the death of his older brother, the deaths of so many of his and Emma’s children, the deaths of Zion’s camp, the deaths of his followers murdered by persecutors.

  17. Melissa Madsen Fox on March 5, 2005 at 8:47 pm

    Heather,

    I need to apologize. Russell asked me to read through the paragraph about the miscarriages as he was writing it, and I thought it was worded okay. I had two miscarriages — back to back — before the birth of our third daughter. The first time I was shocked, upset and saddened. The second time I think I was merely put out and made tired by it all. I didn’t feel attached to the babies, either time, since the miscarriages came on relatively early on in the pregancies. Russell knows that miscarriages are painful, and he said so (two other women in Russell’s immediate family have miscarried, one twice at around two months each time, the other at four months). His point, I think, was that miscarriages are often private (sometimes no one knows about them besides the mother — I didn’t tell our family about my second one until our third daughter was born), and so may not challenge our doctrine in as demanding a way.

    Everyone’s experiences are different. I apologize again if we unintentionally trivialized yours.

  18. Russell Arben Fox on March 5, 2005 at 8:54 pm

    “I think that one reason Mormonism has so much to say about death and family and the eternities is that Joseph Smith’s own life was so steeped in death”

    I agree Arturo; an excellent point. Joseph and Emma had so much to mourn, so often. Questions of death and our eternal destinies were no doubt often in the forefront of his mind, and thus constantly in his prayers and his inquires to God.

    Heather, allow me to add my regrets to Melissa’s comment; I genuinely did not mean my observations to be harsh, and I am sorry if they caused you pain.

  19. Nate Oman on March 5, 2005 at 9:05 pm

    Arturo: I do not think that there is anything wrong with Heather pointing out that Russell — and any other man for that matter — is at permanent disadvantage when opining about what a miscarriage feels like. This is not chauvinism but biology. Furthermore, I don’t think that Heather’s remarks contain any implication about fathers’ feelings toward their children, only about fathers’ opinions regarding the physical experience of miscarrying a pregnancy. I suspect that generalizations here are difficult to make. For some women, a miscarriage may amount to little more than a late period and perhaps a bit of wistful regret or mild frustration. For other women, a miscarriage can be the tragic and frustrating end (yet again) to months of pregnancy induced sickness, resulting in the need for an invasive medical procedure (yet again) that can lead to permanent cervical damage. There are no doubt times when claims of exclusive feminine access to knowledge should be greeted with skepticism or even male defensiveness. Miscarriage, it seems to me, is not one of them.

  20. Arturo Toscanini on March 5, 2005 at 9:24 pm

    Nate, I think that Russell’s post is amazing—first rate, even. It remains clear to me that Russell went to great pains to approach the topic tactfully and with great care. Heather’s language speaks for itself, “Frankly, you’re a man… So please, no empty words of advice or factoids about miscarriages, please.” It would be a great tragedy if these words ended up embroiling this thread into a battle over whether she was being unduly critical.

    Both Russell and his wife had clarified their point and apologized for any misunderstanding. Let’s leave it at that.

  21. Heather Oman on March 5, 2005 at 9:40 pm

    Russell and Melissa-

    Thanks for your comments. It sounds like your experiences were vastly different than mine. I’ve had 4 miscarriages, all ranging from late second trimester miscarriages to the more typical early ones. Each time there was a lot of physical pain, both from the actual miscarriages and the subsequent D&Cs. In fact, the earliest one was physically one of the most painful, with the cramping, etc. And I have to say that there was a lot of emotional pain, as well, and like I said, I was acutely aware today as we celebrated our son’s birthday that there should’ve been another toddler in the room. So I’ll admit that my emotions were perhaps running particularly high in regard to this very topic today.

    And you are correct in that miscarriages tend to be more private, although in some ways I find that sad. At no other times have I needed support more than when I have miscarried.

    On the issue of doctrine– Certainly I’m not grappling with the same sorts of eternal family questions as a woman who has lost a full-term baby. I know a woman who delivered a baby who was alive before the C-section, then 3 minutes later, once she was born, there was no heartbeat. The baby is in a legal limbo land, with a death certificate but no birth certificate. So was this daughter born under the covenant? Her mother thinks she was. It’s a tricky question, and you’re right, our family is not faced with this doctrinal dilemma.

  22. Kevin Barney on March 5, 2005 at 10:29 pm

    Joseph originally taught that a baby who dies is resurrected with that same body of small stature, and that although it will increase in knowledge, that is its body for all eternity.

    That was not a comforting doctrine, and the good sisters of the church let Joseph know it. So he sought further light and knowledge on the matter, and received (or came up with) the idea that mothers will have the opportunity to raise their babies to maturity in the hereafter, and their eternal bodies will be bodies of full maturity.

    A cynic might look at that and say that Joseph was just playing to the crowd, trying to please his constituents. A believer might say that this is a fine example of nonhierarchical revelation in action. It is really a revelation received and made doctrine by the strongly expressed opinions of the early sisters of this dispensation.

    Lyndon Cook wrote an entire book dedicated to this subject. I ordered a copy from Signature, its publisher (which is pretty good evidence that an entire manuscript existed somewhere), but the book never saw print. I have no inside knowledge of the circumstances behind its being pulled, but I’m guessing that someone (perhaps Lyndon himself) had second thoughts about how controversial such a book might be. I personally think that’s a shame, and I would have liked to have been able to read it.

    I have certain naturalistic tendencies. If I ever lost my faith and left the Church, I would be an atheist. But I don’t think I could ever really be an atheist, because I need the consolations that Russell describes. The death of a loved one is where the rubber meets the road; am I prepared to say that I really think there is no existence after this mortality? And clearly I am not. So I muddle on, walking by faith as best I can.

  23. Stephen M (Ethesis) on March 5, 2005 at 10:46 pm

    Sadly, our church doctrine offers my friends more questions than comfort. I guess it’s fitting that I don’t remember what became of their girl’s little body, because my friends do not know what has become of their little girl.

    Matt, that was a heart breaking story, from beginning to end.

    Russell:

    “Not to speak lightly of anybody else’s pain”…

    Then don’t.

    Heather, that said exactly what should have been said.

    In my experience, people feel as much pain as they can feel. We should be gentle with them, with kindness. Sure, it is easy to look at studies over the disability that follows various kinds of severe losses, and generally one can state that the duration of the pain may be longer or shorter, but it is still pain.

    it’s hard to imagine experiencing more pain than I have felt each time

    Who would want to. Sadly, in many parts of the world, and historically, that sort of pain was all too common. Consider Joseph and Emma and the three children they buried.

    I think that Russell’s post is amazing—first rate, even.

    I’d agree with that. It may well be in the running for a bloggernacle award next year.

    So was this daughter born under the covenant?

    I think that the problem is that God determines the answer on a case by case basis and that the observable reality doesn’t give us clear answers. For example, there is a hideous spiritual taint that attaches to those who knowingly kill children. It does not attach to those involved in an abortion. So, while abortion is something terribly sad, it is not the murder of innocent blood in the harsh sense.

    Some children are very present prior to birth. Some from conception onward, a surprising and disconcerting fact some have encountered. Others are not quite as manifest. What does that mean? Beats me.

    But we have a good deal of direct observation in the Church without a direct answer that is necessary. I don’t think that there is any better answer, though I’ve always been amazed that the 1000 years following Christ’s return will involve steady temple work. There appears to be a lot of paperwork to clear up before the end can come.

    I should have something wise to say here, but I don’t. I feel so sorry for the people whose loss is discussed. It takes so long for many to recover, often the sense of loss from a stillbirth like the one described can linger with intensity for a year or more (I know, the loss lingers forever, it seems, but people are not prepared for intense loss to linger for so long, especially in our culture where everyone expects everything to be ok by next week’s television episode).

    They have to face people passing along pat answers, and people who feel second hand grief but whose response is to demand comfort from the grieving parents. There are people who just want to sweep one more problem aside, and well meaning people who mis-step where they do not expect or anticipate a problem, not from malice, but from the kind of blindness that comes from a lack of experience — and in a world where I wish everyone lacked that kind of experience. Who wants to be well practiced at giving comfort?

    I know. We will all die too soon. No one lives long enough — Pearson’s “My Turn on Earth ( http://www.scrapbook.com/poems/doc/45/6.html ) speaks a great deal of truth. We all face pain and loss that we wish we could have avoided. And it takes so much time and patience, though towards the end of her life, David O McKay’s wife talked about how the pain of her loss was still with her. Who are we to expect to be better than the wife of such a prophet?

    But in the end, one thing is very true If we truly want consolation, we have to take it, and recognize that the tragedies of life do not always or only invite stoicism, but also a change, a response, an embrace — for all life will have tragedy, but life is change, response and embracing. That is what life is for, however so difficult that is — for us to learn and be tested by how we respond to change and trial.

    They have taken the doctrines into their heart, and found truth and comfort in them; that is as we all ought to do, and it is good enough for me. and may it be for all of us, in our lives and passing through this world.

  24. Stephen M (Ethesis) on March 5, 2005 at 10:48 pm

    Err …

    without a direct answer that is necessary without an answer that necessarily follows from the observation (though that is true of many observations where we have strong conclusions drawn).. Sorry I was too terse there.

  25. Shannon K on March 5, 2005 at 10:54 pm

    Great post Kevin. I love the last paragraph.

  26. Stephen M (Ethesis) on March 5, 2005 at 11:56 pm

    Cross link to related T&S post:

    http://www.timesandseasons.org/index.php?p=502

    To my loss related web page:

    http://adrr.com/living/

  27. JKS on March 6, 2005 at 3:27 am

    “Because we had no hard-fast doctrine to turn to we had to turn completely to the Lord for comfort and make the choice to trust in His perfect love for us and our unborn baby.”

    Andrea,
    I hadn’t thought of things from the perspective that having no answers gives you the opportunity to put all your trust in the Lord. Thank you for sharing your insight. Its a very powerful concept.

  28. Ann on March 6, 2005 at 5:14 am

    My favourite scripture – “Trust in the Lord with all thy heart and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths”. It has supported me through many trials in my life.

    It’s a powerful verse. It tells us that for some cruel situations there are no answers in this life. It’s no accident that faith is the first principle of the gospel. I like the definition that faith includes trust and patience. I’m also reminded that though there are no clear doctrinal answers for every situation in this life, but we are promised “fulness of joy” in the hereafter if we endure to the end. It doesn’t take away the emotional pain we feel, but can eventually bring us a measure of comfort. I also like the quote “grief is the price we pay for love”. At times the price can be extortionate…..

  29. annegb on March 6, 2005 at 9:56 am

    I believe it’s a mistake to try to qualify or quantify life’s painful experiences, to compare. Pain is pain.

    I’ve had two miscarriages, I’ve also bured two children, one was two years old, one was eighteen. I experienced varying degrees of sorrow, anguish, over those losses, and still do. When I lost my first baby at three months, I was convinced it would have been a little girl. I was young and resilient, and I got over it. I had another child. Six weeks later, my husband and two year old son drowned.

    Later, I remarried and became pregnant. I wanted that baby, again I was convinced it was a girl, with all my heart. When I lost her at four months, I wasn’t so young and resilient, life had gotten me down. I mourn her still 20 years later. It took many months for my body to recover. I had my baby girl two years later, but I’ve never stopped thinking she should have had a sister.

    Then the little baby boy who was six weeks old when his father died shot himself. Thirteen years later, I am still coping.

    Each incident has brought pain and loss to my life. One thing, however, that has saddened me tremendously is that many of my friends dismiss their losses in conversation with me because they haven’t had as great a loss as I. I tell them, “stop that. You are in pain. It hurts like hell, I know.” My friends’ pain at her parents bad marriage is no less painful because I have suffered great loss. Pain is pain.

    The question, I think, since I digressed, was about consolation in the gospel. I would be a bunch of quivering nerves on the floor if I didn’t have a sense of humor, but I don’t think I’d have a sense of humor if I didn’t–okay, I’m taking a huge leap here–KNOW that my loved ones are not dead. Nothing is lost forever in God’s world, and yes, McQayla, the rules will be fair.

    As I get older (it happens faster, guys, you won’t believe how fast your bowels go), I am more and more convinced that the rewards in the next life will far out-weigh the punishments and God is going to make everything all right.

    My sincere condolences to your family, Russell, my niece lost her little girl to stillbirth. She had her remains cremated (because they were in the service and moving all over) and we never forget Jelena Marie, born in July.

  30. Geoff Johnston on March 6, 2005 at 1:18 pm

    The heartfelt comments here bring to mind that great comment Elder Eyring made last April in conference:

    When I was a young man, I served as counselor to a wise district president in the Church. He tried to teach me. One of the things I remember wondering about was this advice he gave: “When you meet someone, treat them as if they were in serious trouble, and you will be right more than half the time.”

    I thought then that he was pessimistic. Now, more than 40 years later, I can see how well he understood the world and life.

    It certainly seems that we have ample opportunity in life to keep the promises we made at baptism to “mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.” My heart goes out to your family Russell after this tragedy and to all those others here who have cause to mourn as well. I believe, with you all, that there really is consolation in the restored gospel.

    BTW — I love your posts, Russell. I look forward to them from you.

  31. Heather Oman on March 6, 2005 at 3:57 pm

    Arturo–

    I think Russell’s post is first rate as well, and I appreciate the effort Russell has taken to not offend, and I accept his and his wife’s apologies and clarifications gratefully. I realize that offense and causing pain is far from his intent with this post. But there were some part of his original post that I felt needed to be answered.

    Russell said of miscarriage: “This is often a tragic event…but it is also frequently an un-felt event, in the physical sense…” As I described above, this has not been my experience at all. My miscarriages were physically extremely painful, and frankly, it made me mad to read something like that that was written by a man who obviously couldn’t have any experience to speak from.

    “..the misfortune overcome without many, or any lingering traces of what might have been…” Again, this has not been my experience at all.

    He also mentioned that a 3 month old fetus has no deep emotional attachments to its mother. I found I felt a deep attachment and a deep sense of loss when I lost my 3 month old fetus.

    I think this post brought up some issues that are very powerful, and it was done, for the most part, in a sensitive and tactful manner. Russell did specifically say that his observations were his own, and I just felt that another observation, specifically one that was female, was necessary.

  32. Stephen M (Ethesis) on March 6, 2005 at 4:29 pm

    annegb

    Nicely said. Very well said.

  33. Anonymous on March 6, 2005 at 5:55 pm

    Russell—
    Thank you for this wonderful post. Your faith, and that of your brother and his wife, is truly inspiring.

    Heather–
    Russell said of miscarriage: “This is often a tragic event…but it is also frequently an un-felt event, in the physical sense…” As I described above, this has not been my experience at all. My miscarriages were physically extremely painful, and frankly, it made me mad to read something like that that was written by a man who obviously couldn’t have any experience to speak from.

    I’m sorry that Russell’s comment so obviously upset you, but I am a woman, and I still feel that Russell was very sensitive and careful in treating the issue of miscarriages. I agree with Russell that “miscarriages are common,” and many happen without the mother even realizing they happened. There seems to be an assumption among many women nowadays that all miscarriages cause severe trauma, but I believe that Russell is correct in saying that is not true in all cases. I think there is probably a wide variation in how a miscarriage affects both the wife and the husband.

    I am from an older generation than most of those who post here, and in recent years I have started to feel that I must be strange and incredibly unfeeling, because I did not suffer as much from my two miscarriages as most women who write about them seem to do. One miscarriage fell in the category Russell mentioned as an “unfelt event, in the physical sense, only realized after-the-fact.” At the time I had two children, and I had three more later. I accepted the doctor’s explanation that there was probably something wrong in the pregnancy, and felt sure that the spirit destined for that body would come to our family in another body. The other miscarriage was more difficult, both physically and emotionally, but once again, both my husband and I were spiritually reassured that I would soon be pregnant again, and that all was well. Ten months later we had a baby boy.

    We have six grown children now, and we feel that our family is complete—not missing two. I realize that some people believe very strongly that they will raise all miscarried babies, as well as stillborn children, in the Millennium, and that may well be true. Perhaps this is another case where each individual situation is different, and each of us can receive the comfort we need from the Lord until all things are made clear.

    Although I certainly don’t mean to dismiss in any way the pain felt by you, or any other woman (and her husband) after a miscarriage, I do believe that Russell’s comments on miscarriage were more inclusive than most, and thus a valuable contribution on this subject.

  34. Heather Oman on March 7, 2005 at 11:23 am

    Anonymous-

    Thanks for your comments. I think the bottom line of all of this is that everybody has different experiences, and works through them in different ways.

  35. J Wayne on December 11, 2005 at 10:09 pm

    Russell,

    In your first paragraph above you stated…

    “My brother and sister-in-law are not the first to do so, and certainly not the most prominent: Brigham Young, Joseph Fielding Smith, and Bruce R. McConkie are among those prophets and apostles who have, at different points, expressed their opinion that stillborn children are “all rightâ€?; that “the eternal spirit enters the body prior to a normal birth, and therefore that stillborn children will be resurrectedâ€?; and not just resurrected, but will at some later point “belong to us.â€?

    I have a friend of mine who recently had a still born baby boy. If you could provide for me the actual references to where and when these things were said, that would be very helpful.

    Many thanks,

    Jason

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