The Grief Bearer

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A dear friend was working with me at SGM Headquarters this week. I was preparing a package containing a tiny casket we would be delivering for young parents who had lost their baby. His observation, his words, as I packed the sacred package, have not left my mind since they left his lips.

He spoke of the idea of sin bearers. People who were called to the death bed to take upon themselves the sins of the one leaving this earth. They would carry the sin and the penalty for all the sins of the dying soul. The biblical definition of a sin bearer is: A person or animal that acts in God’s sight in a substitutionary capacity, to whom are transferred the sins of others, together with the corresponding penalty for those sins. (biblegateway.com) We saw this often during the times of animal sacrifice. Before Jesus came to be the once and for all, ultimate, and ONLY worthy sin bearer, to take upon Himself the sins of the world.

It was what he said next that I can’t shake, because for me, one of the most powerful and freeing gifts is to be able to give words to the things that mull around in my depths…to give a name to the sacred wrestlings. Sometimes the names come from unlikely vessels in mundane moments. Most of life is lived in those moments, the worthy things anyway.

“Mrs. Gerken, you are the Grief Bearer. You take some of the pain onto yourself when you enter in with a family. You take their grief. Some of it goes with you.”

I stopped for a moment. It is exactly like that. Some of the pain from each heart enters mine, and we carry it together. Every life I’ve had the privilege of honoring goes with me…both the gifts, and the heaviness. It is a rare gift to be seen and understood by another. And, I will be honest. Few people see me these days…few grasp the heart of what I do, and the consuming craziness of this calling. There is a lonely melancholy to being unseen and misunderstood, but oh… the soothing balm, when someone sees. One beautifully broken soul to another…

I can be the Grief Bearer, bringing shreds of hope to the pits of despair, shining flickers of light in the darkness, only because I don’t have to carry the heavy weight alone. Because, in the carrying…I am carried. Covered by His grace. Filled with His love. Moving as His hands and feet. I won’t say I’m always adept at remembering to give it all over to Him. Some of it is worn on me, with me always. The deep lines in my face…the wrinkle in my forehead, the tired eyes, the dark circles from little sleep, the weary ache in my bones to match the ache of my heart, and a face permanently stained with tears…as if tattooed in a stream down my cheeks.

I wear the evidence with great honor, knowing that it is an unspeakable privilege to be used in this way. Poured out, grace oozing from this broken vessel…this vessel whom He loves. I can bear it, because of Him…and because…There are other things that stay with me, as well…

The grateful hug of a mother clinging to hope. The “thank you” that speaks volumes. The celebration of a life, however brief…but always worthy. The otherworldly experience of standing again and again in the place where heaven meets earth and peace that makes no earthly sense fills the room, overwhelming my senses…and quieting every inch of turmoil in the hearts that beat in that place, in that room. That room, where Jesus comes near…as much for the church goer, as He does for the drug addict.

Joy is sweeter after tasting sorrow. And, laughter escapes my lips as often as tears stain my cheeks. This too, is a gift that comes from bearing grief…my own…and the grief of others.

And, most of all…the gift of knowing Him. Of knowing about the love of my Jesus, the One who sees the most broken individual and says, “I choose that one.” The One Who hunts us down with His love. Each soul. Every soul. No one overlooked. No one unworthy. No one deemed hopeless. No one.

I will wear the name Grief Bearer with gratefulness, because He lives. And, because of His grace and love. And, so the next family doesn’t walk alone.

The Insatiable Desire to Mother and to Be Mothered

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It exists in each of us.

The unquenchable, insatiable desire.

To mother our children.

Even when a child passes from this earth, we still long to mother our babies. That may look different for each person. It may be the planning of a yearly birthday party. It may be decorating a grave, spending time, sitting on the cool earth, breathing in the memories with the ache of a longing heart. It may be buying Christmas presents for the Angel Tree or Samaritan’s Purse. It may be the ornaments we hang in their memory. A mother recently shared the need to take her baby’s ashes with her on trips. Several other mothers shared her sentiment. Mothers may start an organization in their child’s memory. Join a crusade to make things better for the next mother. Donate, or raise money to further a cause in their child’s memory.

Reading their stories and knowing my own, I thought deeply about the aching arms. The unsatisfied longing a mother feels in her depths when her child is taken too soon.

A mother still needs to mother, in whatever way that looks like for her. Even when a baby isn’t here for her to care for physically.

Not even the bounds of heaven and earth can quench a mother’s love.

Something isn’t wrong with you, if you find yourself left without a baby in your arms, but still feel the need to mother someone…something…to do something tangible. It oozes from a mother’s heart. It’s a need, like breathing…existing.

This truth I’ve known for many years, but recently, I’ve been struck by another truth regarding the mystery of motherhood.

In the eight years since my own mother went home to heaven, a phenomenon has occurred in my own typically rebellious heart. At least rebellious toward my mother. I didn’t allow her to mother me very often. Occasionally, when it suited me. But, I was prideful. And, gave her few glimpses into my heart, rare concessions. I fooled myself, too. I didn’t need her. I didn’t need mothering.

At the PLIDA Conference in November, I recently had the opportunity to meet a woman who pioneered efforts to advocate for mothers walking through the loss of a baby in a time when it was not only unpopular, but in some cases unacceptable to do so. She was courageous. She helped pave the way for others to be brave enough to change the way bereaved parents were treated. She helped to give them a voice. To set them free. Because of her courage, women were allowed to honor the brief lives of their babies, to give them a proper hello and goodbye. She stood in a time when mothers were discouraged from or forbidden to hold their babies, to even see what they looked like. They were sedated, and the “unpleasant situation” was whisked away from the mother, who was told to move on. Years ago, funerals of tiny babies were held while the mothers were kept safely away in the hospital to recover. If a mother cried too long or didn’t seem to heal at a reasonable rate, she was institutionalized, deemed insane. Not only is this pioneer and the few others who existed back in the years when I lost my sweet babies a bit heroic to me for standing with grieving families when few were, but she is also a wonderful author.

Pat Schwiebert, author of When Hello Means Goodbye and Tear Soup, among others, was playing solitaire quietly on her tablet when I walked over the first time. I didn’t know the quiet unassuming woman was one I respected and admired for years, until I heard a conversation about her book as someone said the name “Pat.” I interrupted, and like a crazed groupie, asked for a hug.

I never used to be hugger. Funny thing…when the person who loved you first and longest on planet earth is gone…you might discover you’re ok with the occasional exchange of hugs. Because life is fleeting, and there’s less time for pride and walls that keep people at arm’s length, when you realize that.

I found myself flocking toward her table a few times, soaking in nuggets of her wisdom, drinking of the knowledge she shared like a woman in the dessert who found a rare stream of fresh water. It wasn’t long before I poured out my own emotions as if we were having a therapy session in the exhibit hall. She’s good, that Pat Schwiebert. With her quiet steadiness, covered in a shroud of peace. Gentle peace emanating from her. Like a mother.

I touched one of the silk scarves she had on her shelf. Beautiful, bright violet with butterflies.

“Wanda Wilmetta,” I whispered. The name of my grandmother. My sassy grandmother, who once had bright violet lipstick and a violet suede jacket with fringes.

She gave me the scarf, as a gift. And, I kept it wrapped around my neck, feeling the soft comfort. Feeling loved. Feeling ok in my own skin. Feeling empowered and special. Feeling worthy and seen and acknowledged.

Feeling mothered.

Last night, I was at my son’s basketball game. A couple mothers were sitting in the stands at the game with their mothers beside them. I am almost 40 years old and the other moms are not far from my age, give or take. I noticed the one (50′s ish) mother brushed her (mid thirties aged) daughter’s hair from her eyes. A simple, quick gesture.

And, I felt the stir in my heart. It doesn’t matter how old or young our children are, we still and will always long to mother them. We still see our sweet babes in their eyes. Whether they are wee ones…or whether teenagers…or almost 21…or almost 41…or almost 61.

And, whether we realize it or not when we still have our parents, whether we would shrug them away or wince at their need to mother us, we still need to be mothered…no matter how old we are. We still long to have someone love us the way only a mother can. With a desperate longing we may not even realize or acknowledge in ourselves.

Not only is the need to mother our children insatiable…the same is true of the need to be mothered.

A Father’s Love ~ Baby Owen

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  He stood beside his wife, feeding her ice chips, tenderly. Sometimes using humor to soften the heaviness of weary moments as they waited to meet their son. Because, if he can make her laugh…then all is still right with the world…even when nothing seems right at all. Humor is a wonderful diffuser for the [...]

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Servant to All

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Sometimes in the midst of walking with a family, there are moments when my own cup is filled in the pouring out. There are many moments really. He came to pray with the beautiful parents waiting to fill a lifetime of love into the moments they were given with their son. I met him after [...]

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Winners of the SGM Christmas Giveaway Extravaganza 2014

Thank you to everyone for your patience, and for participating in this year’s SGM Christmas Giveaway Extravaganza 2014! We wish we could give something away to every heart who entered. Please follow the directions on the reply to your winning comment on each post by emailing your shipping information and the item you won in [...]

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SGM Giveaway Extravaganza 2014 Precious Moments Finale

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Today’S finale giveaway…the much loved and coveted Mommy’s Love Goes With You Precious Moments statue!

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SGM Christmas Giveaway Extravaganza Day 4 ~ Two Beautiful Books

I want to wax poetic about today’s giveaway, but I need to post this very quickly. I’m off to support a family about to meet their little one today…and need to make this brief. First…one of my new favorite books to give to offer a piece of hope and understanding to grieving hearts, my dear [...]

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Day 3 ~ SGM Christmas Giveaway Extravaganza ~ Diffuser/Essential Oils Giveaway

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Welcome to Day 3 of the SGM Christmas Giveaway Extravaganza 2014 I’m in a bit of a hurry getting this post up a little late. I’ve been on quite a journey with my health in the last year. Without getting into too many details, migraines and other autoimmune issues have led me to try a [...]

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SGM Christmas Extravaganza Giveaway Day Two ~ Dreams of You items and SGM shirts

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Welcome to Day Two of the SGM Christmas Giveaway Extravaganza 2014… Every year, SGM donates hundreds of beautiful Dreams of You items to bereaved families worldwide. While we never charge families for our materials or services, we’ve had to ask for shipping costs the last couple years. Today, we are giving away to 5 families [...]

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Day ONE ~ Origami Owl PAIL Bracelet and Remembering Heart ~ SGM Christmas Extravaganza Giveaway

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Christmas is hard for those missing someone they love at Christmas. It can be filled with the lonely ache for so many, so many for whom someone or something is missing from the perfect Christmas picture we hold up as an ideal. Growing up, my mother faced many challenges, keeping our family together…raising three children, often [...]

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