by Jenny Parker
It happened almost 18 years ago, but hearing someone else’s story brings the memories back in an instant. The ache of empty arms longing to hold a baby that is not there, the stillness where there should be laughter and little cries, and the overwhelming feelings of sadness and loss. What started as excitement and joy at the news of a pregnancy ended suddenly with emptiness and silence.
A miscarriage is one of the most painful losses that can be experienced, yet one of the least talked about. When it happened to me, I had a good friend to help me, and I discovered that many people I knew had experienced the same pain. The long healing process had begun.
A Little History
Start with a counselor looking for a place to fit in at a large church, add a concerned preacher, a counseling minister, and two other mothers with infant losses and you have the beginnings of a new ministry.
We named it Heart to Heart Ministry. We were brought together by others, but knew right away this was needed. Our goal was to provide something we had not found in our time of need. We knew from experience that losing a child, before or after its birth, was heartbreaking. We needed God, others who would understand our grief, and ways to remember the children we lost.
Heart to Heart Ministry offers something we could find nowhere else. We felt strongly that anything we did needed to be unabashedly Christian. No profound healing can come apart from God. We searched the Scriptures for verses of comfort and encouragement. Our signature verse became, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4).
We looked for Web sites, books, and songs we could suggest as resources to others. What were others doing locally that could be added to our resource list? What was missing? We created packets of information to give to families that included Scriptures, poems, resources, a catalog, a certificate, and a CD of our testimonies.
I was one of two members in our group who had not experienced the closure a funeral provides when a child is lost. The first memorial service our ministry arranged was as much for us as it was for those who attended.
Later we added an additional arm to our ministry—the support group. Formed with a strong dependence on God’s leading, our support groups have resulted in healing and the building of strong supportive relationships. Since we launched Heart to Heart Ministry in 2000, we have conducted multiple memorial services, sent out hundreds of packets filled with resources and testimonies across the United States, and counseled many. We have provided help in planning funerals, accompanied women to doctor’s appointments, and helped start similar ministries in other churches.
Where to Begin
Is your church equipped to minister to couples who have lost children? Here are a few guidelines.
See the Need. One out of every four pregnancies in the U.S. end in miscarriage. Most likely there are families in your church that have been touched by this tragedy. Be willing to seek them out. The loss they have suffered is as painful as other more visible losses. The need to grieve is just as great.
Acknowledge the loss. Every miscarriage results in the loss of a human life. Whether or not the child reaches delivery, whether or not the baby is fully formed, the loss is great. In a matter of hours, a woman goes from being pregnant to not being pregnant without having an infant to hold. There is little to say at this point other than “I am so sorry,” but be sure to say it. The distraught parents are grieving the loss of a person and the loss of the hopes and dreams that accompanied the pregnancy.
Offer support. Connect grieving mothers with women who can minister to them in their time of loss. Mothers who have had similar experiences are ideal candidates for this ministry. Be willing to listen with a heart of compassion. Don’t forget to include the grieving fathers. They grieve differently, but just as deeply.
Compile Resources. Provide materials that offer hope and encouragement to grieving parents. Most hospitals provide support groups and some offer memorial services. Provide a list of Christian counselors in your area.
Offer to arrange a memorial service for the family. A memorial service can provide significant healing while reaching out to others at the same time. We conclude our services with a balloon launch where those present are encouraged to write notes to the child, attach the notes to balloons, and release the balloons toward Heaven.
Jennifer Parker directs Heart to Heart Ministry at Traders Point Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.