The nurse delivered the news we had feared. The scans had shown our baby had no heartbeat. As the nurse left the room my wife buried her head into my lap and the chilling verse in Jeremiah 31:15 took on fresh significance:
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”
In the UK, it is estimated that every year 1 in 4 pregnancies end in loss, either during pregnancy or birth. Estimates suggest there are 250,000 miscarriages every year in the UK, and around 11,000 emergency admissions for ectopic pregnancies. This means that around 8 million women, and a shade under 8 million men are affected by baby loss at some point in their life. More than 80% of miscarriages occur within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Some couples choose to keep news of their pregnancy secret until after their 12-week scan. Therefore, there are almost certainly couples in our churches who are grieving alone. Rachels are weeping but their cries are not heard. This can be further exacerbated by church culture. “Sometimes in our own circles today, as believers we often feel obliged to smile in public even if they collapse at home in private despair.”1
This need not and should not be the case. For a long time, miscarriage has been a painful and perplexing path many have walked alone. Wonderfully, this does seem to be changing in the church and in wider society. Awareness is being raised, websites and support groups created, blogs and books are being written.
But what sort of comfort does the Bible offer and what sort of communities does it command us to be?
As we open up our Bibles, we find a God who is close to the broken hearted (Psalm 34:18), who invites us to pour out our hearts to Him (Psalm 62:8). And in John 11:33-36 we observe Jesus weeping at Lazarus tomb. Don Carson says of the events in John 11, “It is important to keep reminding ourselves of the context. Jesus sees all these people weeping, crying, and wailing in the face of implacable death, and he is outraged. He is profoundly troubled, so emotionally worked up over it that he weeps. There is compassion in these tears, but there is also outrage. Jesus is outraged not because he has lost a friend but because of death itself. Death is such an ugly enemy. It generates endless and incalculable anguish.” 2 God the Father is so outraged at death that he was willing for His own Son to die in order that death’s sting is taken away. Because of Jesus’s victory over the grave a day that is coming soon when “Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days” (Isaiah 65:20).
While we wait for that day, the Bible helps us as we seek to construct loving, caring, sharing local churches. We are encouraged to mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15); carry one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2); care for one another (1 Corinthians 12:25); be kind and compassionate to one another (Ephesians 4:32) and comfort one another (1 Thessalonians 4:18).
What will some of these principles look like in practice? Sometimes a family will need space and time to grieve their loss together. We will want to be sensitive and wise. But here are a few suggestions for helping.
Helping in the short term
I still have vivid memories of hugs I or my wife received. I still remember our pastor and his wife’s visit. I remember how people listened intently and loved insightfully. They listened to our sorrow, confusion and fear. Others further away sent cards. What scriptures or song lyrics might you share that will help them know the presence of the God of all comfort? It meant a lot to us that people were involved in the grieving process.
Pray for them, let them know how you are praying. Pray with them. Offer to pray there and then.
Would the family appreciate a meal, help with washing, cleaning or childcare? One person did some calligraphy of a Bible verse for us – another painted a picture with a verse on it.
Helping in the long term
Try to remember due dates and anniversaries but also remember that the grief will come like waves and can last a long time. Grief is a marathon not a sprint. Check in with genuine interest. When others in church are having babies, remember the family. Also, if the couple get pregnant again remember their miscarriage(s) with an awareness of the difficulty they might experience with a new pregnancy. Even simple things like a message when the person comes to mind, “Thinking of you”, “Praying for you”, “We love you”. It really helps when others join you on the journey over a long period of time.
Ask questions like “What is grief like these days?” “When are things particularly hard?” Sometimes they may speak of anger, jealousy, fear. Don’t rush to correct. It’s worth knowing that husbands and wives often process miscarriages differently, ask about their relationship.
As you listen be ready to remind the person of God’s promises, presence, power and purposes. Pray for wisdom to know how to encourage and comfort.
Safe in the Arms of God by John McArthur
What Grieving People Wish You Knew: What helps & What hurts by Nancy Guthrie
When Your Family’s Lost a Loved One by Nancy and David Guthrie
Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy by Marc Vroegop
1. Quote taken from: Horton, N. Calvin on the Christian Life, Crossway, Wheaton, Illinois. 2014. p253.
2. Quote taken from: Carson, D.A. Scandalous, The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Inter-Varsity Press, Nottingham, England. 2010. p132.