After Miscarriage, Missing The Luxury Of Grieving Rituals around death pervade most cultures. Whether it is a Christian wake or the Jewish custom of sitting shiva, the ceremonies exist to comfort us when our loved ones die. But as commentator Ken Harbaugh knows, there is no entrenched custom to mark the death of an unborn child.

After Miscarriage, Missing The Luxury Of Grieving

After Miscarriage, Missing The Luxury Of Grieving

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A bulb sprouts.

Ken Harbaugh is a former Navy pilot and an NPR commentator.

It has been three months since the miscarriage. We weren't far along, still in the first trimester, so only our closest friends knew we were expecting.

Annmarie, my wife, is fine. At least, her body is fine. There is something broken in both of us, though.

My wife and I have every reason to be grateful. The miscarriage happened early on. Annmarie was never in danger. We have two beautiful girls already. If we want, we can still have more. But the whole experience left us wondering how one deals with a tragedy that happens quietly at home.

A few weeks before we lost the baby, my wife's grandfather died. His funeral, like any other, was solemn. But also beautiful. Everyone came — all 10 kids, from across the country. Distant relatives, co-workers, people from church stopped by to pay their respects. They mourned alongside the family. We buried Grandpa Kel that afternoon, and woke the next morning with the memory of a beautiful send-off.

There is a reason that such ceremonies exist. Who knows if it meant anything to Grandpa, lying in his coffin, but it meant a lot to everyone else. I gave him my gold Navy wings, pinned to an American flag laid on his chest. He was the only other Navy pilot in the family, and I felt the need to solemnize that connection. Others said goodbye in their own way. Some talked to him, some knelt for a while by his side. Most important, we all said farewell together.

Ken Harbaugh lives near Cleveland. He is currently finishing his first novel. Courtesy of Ken Harbaugh hide caption

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Courtesy of Ken Harbaugh

A miscarriage is tragic enough by itself. What makes it worse is the fact that no social custom has evolved to help us through the loss. There is no ceremony, no coming together, no ritualized support. Annmarie and I suffered alone, in silence. Most of our friends had no idea we were grieving. It took me two weeks to tell my own mom.

And it's not as if life stopped, or even slowed down to allow us a moment to reflect. We had jobs to get to, kids to take care of. Real sadness seemed an indulgence we could not afford.

In the months since, I have learned something about this kind of grief. It is not a luxury, but an essential part of healing. So this weekend, after the kids are in bed, Annmarie and I will do something that may seem a little crazy. We will head into the garden with a bulb we've been saving. We will bury it, say a few words, and hold each other. We will finally have our ceremony.

I suspect that watching the first green shoot push up through the earth will hurt. Every time we see it, we will be reminded of what happened to us. But that's alright. Grief cannot be buried forever. With enough time, and a little sunlight, it might just transform itself into something that aches a little less.