After my daughter Rebecca’s recent birthday and death day, a relatively new friend sent me a message asking, “I believe every person has a reason for being - if you also believe thusly, have you discerned what Rebecca's purpose in her much too short life was?”
First of all, I would like to acknowledge how beautifully this question is phrased. This friend is a spiritual adviser and has worked with people of many faiths as they are dying. She recognizes that her beliefs are not the beliefs of everyone, and her question left room for me to disagree with her. It turns out that I do agree with her: I believe that every life, no matter how short, impacts the world in some way.
Second, I want to point out that this is not a question that anyone should ask a recently bereaved parent. It’s been 15 years since my daughter died, and this friend knows that I am willing to talk openly about my daughter’s death. That greatly changes the situation. In the situation of a stillbirth or neonatal loss, though, a recently bereaved parent is more likely to be in a stage where they can’t see what purpose their child’s life and death has served. They are surrounded by pain, grief, anger, depression, and many other dark feelings. They may feel they were cheated out of the future they had envisioned. To ask them what purpose their child’s life served will feel insulting and possibly amplify their pain. If they bring up the topic, it’s certainly appropriate to talk to them about it, but until they have healed some of their wounds, they may not be ready to move on to this stage of understanding.
So what purpose did Rebecca’s life serve? I think that there are many answers to that on many levels. One of the first things that came from Rebecca’s death was that my ex-husband and I established a scholarship in her memory. We used the memorial donations from friends and family towards this scholarship, plus we put in a large amount of our own money over five years. The Motorola Foundation matched our donations as well. This is something we never would have done if it hadn’t been for Rebecca. Now each year we get the joy of seeing the scholarship reward someone who devotes time and service to the Marching Owl Band (aka the MOB) at Rice University. The annual report on the scholarship often brings me to tears, but they are good tears!
One of Rebecca’s other gifts was to her siblings who were born after her. I had planned to breastfeed Rebecca, but I wasn’t very passionate about it. I knew it was best for the baby, best for mama, cheapest, etc. However, when I was holding Rebecca’s dead body in my arms, I was hit with the most overwhelming urge to nurse her. I knew logically that I couldn’t nurse her, but the hormonal urge was amazing. That response drove my dedication for breastfeeding my subsequent children. I had a very rough start with nursing my twins due to their slightly early arrival (36 weeks 5 days) and rampant thrush which impacted my supply, but I was determined to breastfeed them. Eventually we succeeded and nursed until they were almost 18 months old. If it weren’t for that experience with Rebecca, I probably would have given up as so many overwhelmed and undersupported mothers do.
As part of my breastfeeding devotion, I discretely nursed all my subsequent children in public. It was something I never questioned that I was going to do with my twins since I knew if I left society while breastfeeding them, I’d pretty much never see other people for many months. This actually triggered a chain reaction. My friends, who hadn’t publicly nursed their first children, realized that if I could discretely and comfortably nurse my babies in public, they could do the same with their younger babies. I am sure these women’s change in their stances on breastfeeding in public helped other women feel more comfortable, too. I see all of that change as having been instigated by my experience with wanting to nurse Rebecca so desperately.
On a much deeper level, Rebecca’s death taught me a level of compassion and understanding that I would never had known had I not lost her. While I had lost family members and friends prior to Rebecca’s death, the death of a child is incomparable. Only a few years after Rebecca’s death, I began speaking publicly to help health care providers, especially those in the natural childbirth community, have better resources for dealing with infant loss. Through feedback I received from those who heard my presentations, I know I made an impact in the lives of others who subsequently lost babies. My e-mail address and phone number were circulated for a while in the midwifery community of Austin, so I would periodically get messages or calls from women who had lost a baby and who needed to talk to someone who truly understood. This in turn has led to the life coaching work I do with bereaved families.
On a metaphysical level, Rebecca’s spirit periodically stayed near me for almost four years after her death. At the time, I didn’t really believe in such things, but I knew what I was experiencing. I didn’t discuss it with anyone because I didn't think anyone would believe me. I unfortunately didn’t know that I could interact with her, but I was aware when she was around me. She was the first departed soul I know I encountered and experienced. After her youngest sibling was born, I believe her spirit moved on to whatever her next mission is.
I believe in reincarnation though I respect that others don’t. I think that my experience with Rebecca in this life ties to my most recent past life in the 1920s-1940s wherein I had both a late miscarriage (four or five months gestation) and an abortion (not my husband’s child). I have also seen another male life of mine hundreds of years ago wherein I lost a child in battle; that loss greatly shifted my soul’s beliefs and actions in this world. Somehow I think that my losing Rebecca in this life was to help me process those previous losses in a way I did not or could not in the previous lives. I can’t be certain of this, but it rings as truth for me.
One other meaning for Rebecca’s short life came up for me in recent months that was deeply profound for me. In a healing session, I learned that Rebecca’s soul also needed the experience of coming into this world and leaving it so quickly. She was not happy about her quick departure, but it served some purpose in her soul’s growth. This isn’t all just about me and my loss of her! I still haven’t fully understood what that purpose might have been for her soul, but I know that she too gained something from the painful experience.
© 2014 Green Heart Guidance