So small, means so much
It is my habit to talk up the role of a priest: I believe it to be a meaningful, satisfying and relevant way to live one’s life and commit to others. Indeed, there is a much in our lives which is deeply attractive…we are usually welcome in people’s homes, we are allowed privileged access to the most intimate moments in their lives such as weddings, we are, generally speaking, trusted to give wise advice and counsel, folk talk to us about the things that really matter in life like love, happiness and ‘the meaning of it all’ and we often go to bed at nights in the full knowledge that we may just have helped others along the way of life. In ‘talking it up’ I must not pretend that it is also a rose garden: ministry can be demanding both emotionally as well as physically, and often times our own sense of self and well-being is on the line as we encounter the more distressing aspects of life rather too much (a priest friend once said that when you have conducted too many funerals you need to have a few baptisms!). It was with this in mind that I attended and spoke at the annual service in the Lincoln Hospital for those who have lost babies shortly after birth or who, indeed, suffered still-births. First, may I say that the medical profession handles this area of care with a great deal more humanity than might have been true in the past: each child of no matter what age is treated as a human being and accorded all the respect, love and care that any person would command. Parents are encouraged to grieve as they would for any loved one and there is a healthy externalisation of the matter and an encouragement to talk, to mourn, to weep and to be angry. The annual service is a brave attempt by the chaplains to set this whole area in a divine and eternal context: I say it is brave, because all sorts of strong and demanding emotions are experienced and released when a child dies, and the service does become a focus and centre for deep grief, anger and numb disbelief. The chaplains often bear the brunt of this pain, being available and responsive. The parents and families themselves are also courageous in opening themselves up in an honest way to their pain and raw internal wounds.
Infant mortality is a dreadful thing: some 4 million babies die annually. Even more dreadful is the knowledge that 99% of those who pass away are from poor countries and that three quarters of the deaths could be prevented by simple medical and health interventions (neonatal Tetanus, for instance, kills half a million babies annually). Even in rich countries, much infant mortality is linked to marginalised communities. It is then, right that the United Nations subscribes to the Millennium Development Goal that we should greatly improve the health of mothers and babies worldwide by 2015, and it is right that we should do all we can to support the aim for we will rarely see such pain and hurt as in the eyes of those who have lost their child and there can surely be few families that have not experienced this anguish?