Shadow Child

“When we tapped into the grief that we had tried to contain for more than twenty years, we found it undiminished.”

Those are the opening words to the epilogue of Beth Powning’s profoundly moving book Shadow ChildAn Apprenticeship in Love and Loss.  At the tender age of twenty-four, Beth gave birth to her first son.  He was stillborn.  She named him Tate.

For more than twenty years, Beth kept her grief hidden and repressed.  She never spoke of the loss of her first born.  Her sorrow came flooding back all those years later when a friend shared the story of her own stillborn child.

In Shadow Child, Beth unearths and reflects upon her past in an effort to process and understand the grief she had been hiding.   As she explores her own story, she also brings a taboo subject out into the open.  In writing the book she discovered that stillbirth is a subject “feared and even offensive to those least affected by it, and hidden by those closest to it.”

The response to her book was overwhelming.  Storied poured in from people from all walks of life.  They told of their repressed grief.  The shame they carried.  And of the still-gaping hole in their hearts.

The first edition of Shadow Child was written in 1999.  As a society, I hope and believe that we have made some progress in articulating and honouring the grief we endure when our child is stillborn.

Recently, I served a family who lost their child very late in pregnancy.  The child was born alive, but he did not survive for very long.  For many months, the couple’s life had been filled with hopes, dreams and excitement about the arrival of their baby.  They imagined all the wonderful times they would have together in the years ahead.  They already loved their son.  He was already a part of their family.   And when he died, they felt completely overwhelmed by unbearable pain and sadness.

The couple decided to celebrate their child’s life, and mourn his death in the presence of their community.  They called upon family and friends to witness their story and share in their sorrow.   They didn’t hide or repress their grief.  At the child’s service, they were surrounded by love and support.  The couple’s healing will take time, but at least they are not alone.  The caring and sympathy of their loved ones will be needed and genuinely helpful.

Funeral Celebrant Marcia Thomson, Modern Celebrant


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