Borrowing from a Japanese Ritual for Miscarriage Condolences


This Mother’s and Father’s day, bolstered by a podcast and an NY Times piece, we gained the confidence to break cultural norms and borrow from a tradition outside our respective/collective cultures in order to remember an unborn child, lost in pregnancy.

In our culture there is still a taboo around death, particularly around children lost in utero.
By going along with this taboo, we fail those close to us who have experienced the loss of someone they love (including an unborn baby).

Recently someone close to us was carrying twins and lost one right in the middle of the pregnancy. Losing a child in utero is never easy (and I know), but losing one of two babies, and having to carry both thru to full term feels utterly incomprehensible.

When I learned of the loss, I drew a card and wrote out some thoughts, most of which felt awkward and unsure.  I hesitated at sending it, but ultimately I did, because I wanted this family to know I was thinking of them.  Than, when we visited soon after the birth, we brought flowers, and we wrote out two cards, one for the tiny baby I got to see, and one for the baby girl that I didn’t.  I was unsure of how it would be received, but in the end I decided that I wanted to be there for them in joy as well as sadness.

Later, they told me that we were the only one that had acknowledged the baby girl who wasn’t here (in body, anyway). That broke my heart.  Why, in our culture, don’t we acknowledge their pain and suffering in addition to the joy?  In fairness, most people around them wouldn’t even have known there was a twin that didn’t make it, but even of those that did, apparently they didn’t mention it.

As mother’s and father’s day (YES, also father’s day!) rolled around this year, I was thinking of this family, and wanted to mark it for them in a similar, dual sort of way, but once again I was hesitating.  I was both unsure of their reception after some time had past, and I was also unsure how.   Or maybe it’s the reverse?  Lacking a tradition or ritual to follow, made me realize anything I did would be novel, and possibly out of the realm of what this family expected, wanted or needed.
But then one day, as I listened to Sheryl Sandberg get so animated about the irony that happens as time passes after a death, my resolve began to grow.  As friends and family, often we are to shy to mention the deceased for fear of “reminding” the bereaved, when the reality is that OF COURSE that person hasn’t forgotten! But they also aren’t free to launch into their complicated and broad-ranged feelings when asked a simple “how are things?” by a well-intention-ed but superficial loved one because… where would they even begin??  
“…And then I would never mention it again because I thought if I brought it up I was reminding them they had cancer. Losing Dave taught me how ludicrous that was. You can’t remind me I lost Dave. I know that. So when no one says anything, I just feel alone. It’s not that I forget. And so now what I do if someone gets diagnosed with cancer — and unfortunately, this has happened many times since I lost Dave — I will say to them, “I know you don’t know if you’re going to get through this, and I don’t know either. But you’re not going to go through it alone. I’m here to help you. I’m here to do it with you.” And then the next time I see them, I will ask them, “How are you feeling?” Not, “How are you?” but, “How are you feeling? How is it going? Do you want to talk about this?” And sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t, but I don’t let the silence overtake our relationship.”
As I listened, I recalled having read this piece in the NY times, in which the author reached back to the couples’ shared time in Japan to find a way to help them grieve their lost unborn child.  Next stop:
Etsy, to see what sort of elegant, not mass-produced bereavement mementos were available.
bereavement memento found on Etsy
Etsy served up a fair amount of bereavement gifts (but there appeared to be more for pets than for people which will have to be it’s own research & post one day…), but the one pictured above (from the FrivilousCrafts shop on Etsy) felt the most appropriate: simple, heartfelt, can blend in for only those “in the know” to see and feel, and for others to wonder and/or assume as they please.


At the time of the post, they received only the card I drew along with my daughter, but they welcomed the sentiment, and their response confirmed that the lost angel was still very present in their lives, adding a tinge of sadness, but also increasing their presence and gratitude (as is often the case). I don’t want to get on a soapbox, but in the spirit of spreading love, maybe have a think about who in your life might appreciate a recognition of their recent loss?  It definitely opened my eyes to people to whom my sympathy and support was too short-lived (in retrospect).


We welcome your comments, particularly if you try to help break the taboo in favor of supporting loved ones.