I can tell the religious background of someone offering condolences straight away.

Protestants: My prayers are with their family and loved ones.

Humanists: My thoughts are with you in this difficult time.

Catholics: God grant them rest, and may light perpetual shine upon them. Or My prayers are with them and their families.

Orthodox: Memory eternal! I’m praying for them and the consolation of their family.

Do you see the difference? Protestants and Humanists pray for survivors, but the older traditions pray also for the dead. I used to think the difference didn’t matter. Any and all good thoughts or prayers are welcome in a time of crisis. But when I lost a baby through miscarriage, it was only the prayers that included the baby that comforted me. They were the only prayers that made me feel that the baby was really present with God. They were the only prayers that drew the baby into the whole story of salvation.

A photo from the home funeral of our miscarried baby.

A photo from the home funeral of our miscarried baby.

 Praying for the dead is a Christian habit as old as the tombs where they met in the early years. We can trace prayer for the dead to Mary praying for the life of her dead brother Lazarus. The Church believed so thoroughly that even in Sheol, God is there, that when John the Baptist died, they saw it as him going before Jesus yet again, making a way for his conquering death by preaching to those who had died. Christians who maintained fewer breaks with tradition kept the idea that the dead are recipients of God’s grace, persons held in God’s love as they await fulfillment in the resurrection. The elaborate infrastructure of grief that dominated Europe before the Reformation is gone, but the prayers are not.

 Praying for the dead matters, and it matters especially when a baby dies. When a baby is lost, affirming that he or she was here, that she or he was human is the best solace to the family left behind. When a child is lost through miscarriage or early stillbirth, medical customs often deprive the family of a chance to bury or hold the little one. To the grief of losing the child is usually added the lack of physical closure. Families and communities do not often get to say goodbye. Praying for the dead child is the best, and sometimes the only, way to affirm the child’s full humanity. When we pray for someone, we acknowledge their full humanity by offering them the full mercy and love of God who made them and draws them near.

What’s needed is prayers for the dead, even those youngest dead lost through miscarriages. What’s not needed are the substitutes our culture has invented to patch the hole left in faith when traditional Christian grief culture is removed:

The child is not an angel. Angels are disembodied. Children are humans. Dead children are humans whose bodies failed sooner than usual, but they are still sacred, those bodies. They are still redeemed by God who became human, who in Mary’s womb was once as small as the smallest ones who bear God’s image.

The child was not taken to prove a point. It’s not kind to suggest that God is testing how much a family can handle. We all will die, and we all hope in the Resurrection. But to suggest that God’s healing power must be set up by a prior cruel deprivation, is to misunderstand the freedom of God and the fullness of God’s grace.

Having another child does not make up for losing the one who died so young. It’s not helpful to suggest that a parent chin up in the hope of having another child. The child was not an accessory from an assembly line, but a wondrous creature who was loved and brought into being in love. The lost child doesn’t forfeit humanity or uniqueness when he or she proves our mortality too soon.

Praying for children lost in miscarriage gets to the heart that these false steps aim at: the child is cherished, and loved, and matters. We are all strengthened when we acknowledge God’s grace even in the womb, because God became human that we –even the smallest– might become like God.

October is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. If you or a loved one has lost a baby to miscarriage or early death, this month will likely bring extra sadness and consolation. The cultural calling forth of memories is an ideal time to begin to pray for the smallest dead. If your faith community does not have prayers for the dead, keep the baby in mind while reading Bible passages set aside for funerals. Read aloud Psalm 139 while thinking of the child. Or say {this Orthodox Prayer}.

Summer Kinard is a Greek Orthodox Christian writer with a Th.M. in early church history and theology. Her next book, Tea & Crumples*, shows a woman who lost her baby at 19 weeks gestation navigating grief when all that’s left is faith, tea, and love. In the course of the story, Tea & Crumples offers several examples of the way forward through pregnancy loss. Tea & Crumples is available for pre-order wherever books are sold.

*Affiliate link. If you shop through an affiliate link on my site, I receive a small percentage for referral,though the price does not change for you.