Six Months, Six Lessons

Taylor Bates

Today marks six months since my son Ellis was stillborn. Here are six (of many) things I’ve learned: 

  1. Life is full of paradox. Ellis died before he was born. Time feels both long and short. Everything has changed, yet many things are the same. I can feel both bitterness and gratitude, joy and sorrow, love and envy. I can see both darkness and light.

  2. Clichés cannot encompass the mystery of being. For example, “God won’t give you more than you can handle” falls completely flat in the midst of tragedy. God did not “need another angel” and God didn’t do this to teach us a lesson because “everything happens for a reason.” Instead I remember what a dear friend said: “We know God didn’t cause this, but God is here to walk us through it.” I’ve witnessed God in the hearts of all the people who continue to walk alongside us through the hell of losing a child. 

  3. We are not immune from suffering. This is a hard one. Many people told us that Ellis’ death was, “so unfair,” which at first felt comforting and even righteous. Ultimately Hunter and I began to question, “Who would this be fair for?” No one is “too good”, “too healthy”, or too _______ for something tragic to happen. I know, it sucks. For reasons we may never understand, suffering is part of the human experience. 

  4. All we have is the present moment. This is what helped me heal from post-traumatic stress and postpartum depression. Every time I experienced a flashback to the trauma of being in the hospital when Ellis died, my body felt as though it was there all over again. I began to ground myself in the present moment by observing my current surroundings; if I was on a walk I’d gaze at the beautiful trees around me and feel the breeze on my face. I’d use the same technique if I started projecting my thoughts into the imaginary future—Will I get pregnant again? Will this happen again? How will I be able to enjoy the holidays without Ellis? It’s all an illusion.

  5. Change is inevitable. We are are in a constant state of living and dying—our bodies, our identities, and our surroundings. Change is hard, but it’s also where open-mindedness, creativity, and opportunity reside. 

  6. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. There is something that animates all of us and the natural world around us. There is something that, even in the midst of suffering and darkness, is ultimately pulling us toward a greater good. I call that something God. I don’t pretend to understand the “whys” or the “hows” and I’ve started to feel more comfortable in the unknowing. I don’t need to have all the answers. I submit to the reality that I ultimately have no control over life and death. This submission is where I experience Grace.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite descriptions of grace, written by Richard Rohr:

The goodness of God fills all the gaps of the universe, without discrimination or preference. God is the gratuity of absolutely everything. The space in between everything is not space at all but Spirit. God is the “Goodness Glue” that holds the dark and light of things together, the free energy that carries all death across the Great Divide and transmutes it into Life. When we say that Christ “paid the debt once and for all,” it simply means that God’s job is to make up for all deficiencies in the universe. What else would God do? Basically, grace is God’s first name, and probably last too. Grace is what God does to keep all things God has made in love and alive—forever. Grace is God’s official job description. Grace is not something God gives; grace is who God is. If we are to believe the primary witnesses, an unexplainable goodness is at work in the universe. (Some of us call this phenomenon God, but the word is not necessary. In fact, sometimes it gets in the way of the experience, because too many have named God something other than grace.)