Julian of Norwich walled herself in a cell that was attached to a church so she could pray for her community. (WikiMedia Commons)
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Throughout the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, there are several individuals and organizations who minister to parents grieving the loss of their child, born and unborn.
Even though my midwife assured me that I was allowed to “feel it was a loss” when I experienced an early miscarriage this summer, I could tell that she was caught off-guard by my tears. The dissonance between the grief I was showing and the situation she was describing — the lack of heartbeat in these “products of conception” — was awkward. I think we were both relieved when I left her office.
By the grace of God, I had met Krys Crawley three years ago when I interviewed her for a Catholic Herald article. Somehow, our conversation that day turned to the amazing work her nonprofit organization, Life’s Connection, does with their miscarriage ministry, providing women with direction in recovering their child’s remains and arranging burial. Now in the midst of my own miscarriage, I immediately reached out to Krys and she emailed me back within five minutes offering her help.
My husband and I named our baby Julian, and buried him in a family plot where we will one day join him. A friend of ours who is a priest prayed the Rite of Committal, and with my own hands, I was able to place him in the earth and fill the grave with dirt.
I cannot give you a birthday cake, I thought. I cannot dress you and bathe you and feed you and raise you. But I can do this for you.
It was a month and a day since we found out he was gone. Seeing him safely tucked in to rest, I finally felt able to breathe for the first time in that whole month.
We do not know if Julian was, in fact, a he, but that was the intuition I had. His name is inspired by Julian of Norwich, an English mystic and anchoress of the 14th century. As an anchoress, she voluntarily walled herself into a cell that was attached to a church where she prayed for her community. In this cell, she led a life similar to the one we trust Julian leads now: hidden and unseen, in perpetual contemplation of the face of God.
I am proud of the ministries that exist in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee that seek to honor the dignity of children lost to miscarriage and stillbirth. I knew about many of them through my work for the Catholic Herald, but it was not until I was in need of them myself that I realized how crucial they are. Though Life’s Connection serves women of all faiths and no faith at all, its mission is driven by Crawley’s deep Catholic faith. The Archdiocese of Milwaukee, during non-COVID times, has an annual Mass of Remembrance for babies lost by miscarriage and stillbirth. And though we opted to go the route of private burial, Catholic Cemeteries has a wonderful program whereby unborn children aged less than 20 weeks gestation can be interred free of cost in a communal grave.
Their website puts it beautifully: “In God’s sight, a human person is loved and cherished for being, not for doing; for simply existing, not for the number of days alive. Shortness of life and weakness of body mean nothing to our God who transcends these limitations.”
And that, really, was at the heart of why Julian’s burial meant so much to me. Julian was worth something, but not because his father and I loved him (though we do, very much). He didn’t deserve a burial because it helped us to heal (though it did, very much).
When I found out that I was pregnant with Julian, I had a strong intuition that by his life, this child would glorify the name of the Lord. When I found out he was gone, for a brief moment I felt duped. How can a person no larger than a grain of rice, unseen by the world, unknown to everyone but me, glorify God?
As I placed him in the ground on the day of his burial, I realized how arrogant I was to ever think such a thing of a God who once humbled himself to the very same form that Julian now took. A God who, throughout all of salvation history has favored the poor, the vulnerable, the downtrodden. In Julian’s short life, in his abrupt death, and especially in his merciful burial, God allowed his face to be seen and adored. How could I ask anything more?
For more information on Catholic Cemeteries’ preborn burial program, visit http://www.cemeteries.org/Cemeteries-Services/Burial-of-the-Pre-Born.htm.
For more information on Life’s Connection’s miscarriage ministry, visit https://www.lcmission.com/miscarriage–stillbirth-and-infant-loss.html.