On what was supposed to be my daughter’s due date, we went up the hill on our farm. My spouse brought his banjo to play “I’ll Fly Away,” but our almost 2.5 year old toddler wanted to play music too, so some of the ritual and liturgy I planned for the three of us fell by the wayside. We did end up eating a picnic dinner and lighting a pillar candle with my daughter’s name and birthdate inscribed on it. We will light that candle again on October 15, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, as we remember her, our fourth child who was born too soon.
Since my daughter’s death, I have often found solace in candlelight. I was unable to pray after her death, and, even when prayers of thanksgiving began to creep back into my mouth months later, I tried to swallow that thanksgiving away. I was still so angry. Am so angry. But the candlelight was an unuttered prayer, an attempt to reach out to my baby, to help her feel the warmth of love we felt for her. And to help me feel her love, and maybe even God’s.
Lighting candles for the dead is a ritual that is common in many religious traditions and cultures and has been long practiced in Christianity, despite its lack of Biblical origins. There is, however, a story of God appearing as a pillar of fire to guide wanderers through the wilderness: lighting their path after the sun set and urging them forward, even over unfamiliar terrain. I have had many pregnancy losses and lost many people close to me, and still the terrain of grief is unfamiliar and lonely and even cold. I imagine a pillar of fire guiding me, illuminating the next step ahead, and warming us with the love that persists in spite of death.
I think that is what the Wave of Light does for us Loss Parents on October 15. Lighting candles with anyone who gathers with us that night, and knowing how many others are doing the same around the world, guides us in our grief, illuminates a supportive community, and keeps us warm in our love.
I offer you this prayer if you are lighting candles for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day:
O God, who once traveled as a pillar of fire to guide the Israelite people,
help us to see you in the Wave of Light this night as well, guiding us.
You know the pain that our bodies and souls harbor after losing our children;
you know how lost and unmoored we feel,
and how angry we are with you.
As we wander in the wilderness without these children,
remind us that in your love,
our love for our babies and theirs for us will never end.
That love will be a guiding light for us throughout our lives,
calling us back to each other even when the flame seems faint and flickering.
Surround us with a community of support, who will speak our children’s names,
who will light a candle with us, and remind us that,
even though we are far from our children
and often feel far from you,
we are not alone.
Love journeys with us.