For as long as I can remember, when I met people who would ask, “How many siblings do you have?” my answer was always “one.” But I recently had an epiphany: That answer isn’t true.
I don’t have just one sibling; I have two. So why wasn’t my eldest sibling in the count?
I never met Paul Francis. He lived—and died—before I ever came to be. Why should my sister be acknowledged because she has lived 34 years (and counting), but my brother not because he lived only 6 weeks?
That I never had the chance to play Hide & Seek with him doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be acknowledged.
That I never rode my bike to piano lessons with him doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be remembered.
That he never got to experience family trips to Scotland and Nova Scotia, road trip adventures, and lots of singing and silliness, doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be counted.
I don’t know why Paul Francis died, but I do know how he died (miscarriage), and more importantly, I know that he lived (albeit briefly). So why do the early miscarried get swept aside? “It’s common to miscarry, especially your first child,” people will say. So what? Why should the fact that the loss is common make us act as though the individual never existed?
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“It hurts to bring it up,” others might suggest. That reminds me of a Facebook post by a friend of mine whose child died several days after birth. She shared this quote by Elizabeth Edwards: “If you know someone who has lost a child, and you’re afraid to mention them because you think you might make them sad by reminding them that they died—you’re not reminding them. They didn’t forget they died. What you’re reminding them of is that you remembered that they lived, and…that is a great gift.”
Paul Francis lived, and he deserves to have that acknowledged. If mere mention of a miscarried child’s short life brings indescribable pain and one runs from referencing him or her as a result, burying the reminders not only doesn’t serve those little lives, but it doesn’t serve the grieving heart, whose incapacity to acknowledge is evidence of a need for healing. And we don’t find healing by stuffing—we find healing by releasing, wrestling, grappling, and honouring.
Those who have lost a child to stillbirth or to miscarriage late in pregnancy often—and rightly—memorialize their children with hand and footprints, even photos. But such tangible memories can’t be made with children like Paul Francis, who die as young as 6 weeks post-fertilization; so what can be done?
One website about miscarriage shared this quote from a grieving heart: “The mention of my child's name may bring tears to my eyes, but it never fails to bring music to my ears. If you are really my friend, let me hear the beautiful music of his name. It soothes my broken heart and sings to my soul.”
My sibling can have a name. My parents never knew if Paul Francis was a boy or girl, but if they’d had a son, that would have been his name. Incidentally, Paul means “small; humble” and Francis means “free.”
My sibling can be continually referenced in my life. Now, when asked how many siblings I have, my response is matter-of-fact: “two.” And I leave it at that. If asked, “Brothers or sisters?” and “Are you the oldest?” I casually reply, “My brother is the oldest, and he’s in Heaven; then there’s my sister, then me.”
Sometimes there are no further questions. Other times, there are, and I treat the conversation about the life, and loss, of Paul Francis before birth, as I would if any other sibling of mine lived and died after birth.
My sibling can touch lives. As someone who spends her life advocating for the rights of pre-born humans, I realized my lack of reference to Paul Francis was a betrayal of my beliefs—for if the pre-born are as valuable as the born, if I would reference a sibling who only lived until the age of 2, 10, or even 20 years, why not acknowledge this sibling? Do I really believe Paul Francis was just as human, just as precious, just as unrepeatable as a late-term fetus, infant, toddler, or teen? Would I hide the death of an older sibling? Then why hide the death of a younger sibling?
By referencing my deceased sibling, some people inevitably ask what happened, and when you explain miscarriage, that individual is challenged to look at miscarriage in a different light—to look at it as a great loss, as losing a born child is a great loss. As a result, my deceased pre-born sibling becomes the impetus for a discussion about how we view the pre-born, and an opportunity to normalize treating the pre-born like the born. By not dismissing his death as “oh, well, it was just a miscarriage” but treating it seriously, my example invites others to share their stories of loss, revealing even their own miscarriages. At which point I can ask questions to further healing such as, “Have you named your children? Have you thought about planting a plant in memory of your children to have an object of life to remember them by?” When we do this, we often validate the feelings many women and men have silently felt, but never viewed as legitimate.
In response to this new approach of my sibling count, a friend responded, “If I were to do that, when people ask how many siblings I have, I’d have to say 17 because my mom had 7 miscarriages.”
Well what an opportunity! I say, “Bring it on!” You can be guaranteed my friend will get some kind of reaction to an answer of “17,” and it will open doors to talk about how we view the pre-born and how we work through the heartbreak of losing children. It will also acknowledge each and every one of her siblings as valuable enough to warrant attention.
Had Paul Francis not died, he’d be celebrating his 35th birthday right about now. And as I think about it, I’m a lifetime overdue on writing him a poem (something I like to do for loved ones) to honour his life:
I do not know what it is like,
To live with an older brother.
But one thing that I do know,
Is that you made our mom a mother.
You were first to grow in her womb,
And in that way we’re connected.
We both spent time beneath her heart,
And with love we were infected.
Would you have written poems like Dad?
Or, like Mom, sing me to sleep?
Maybe like our sister you’d have been a peacemaker,
Or an avid reader of all things deep?
I tell others about you now;
I didn’t do that before.
I pledge to remember your existence.
Telling of you opens a door.
Why, Paul Francis, was your life so short?
Do you have the answer now?
For us we stay in mystery,
Trusting God, to whom we bow.