This essay originally aired on February 4, 2016.
August 28th, 2012 was the most difficult day of my life. That morning at work, I received a call from my wife. She was nearing full term of her pregnancy with our second child. She had recently been to the doctor who gave her a clean bill of health, and we were excitedly preparing to welcome this new child into our home.
I picked up the phone and she wasted no time saying “Come home now. Something's wrong.”
All the way to the hospital, we comforted each other saying things like, “I'm sure it's nothing”, or “the doctor is probably going to tell us to go home”, but the nurse who saw us showed immediate concern. She got out the equipment to check for a heartbeat. She quickly went and found a doctor, who came back with urgency on his face. He eventually told us, “I'm sorry, I just can't find a heartbeat”.
That moment was the darkest of our lives. We wept in that exam room as we never had before. We couldn't imagine how life could continue after that moment.
But in all the darkness, our community saved us.
Our friends, family, and church were the ones who stepped in and asked how they could help. We were numb, but we could feel tiny glimmers of light and hope in small gestures like helping us prepare a funeral service, providing financial assistance so that we could travel and mourn with friends and family, bringing us food, sending flowers, and so much more.
During moments like these, some are quick to offer well-meaning but misguided advice like “God must have needed another angel” or “everything happens for a reason”. What we really needed were the people who provided space to be angry or filled with lament. Our most meaningful support came from those who said they were in mourning with us, or that they had lit a candle in our baby's honor, hoping to provide us with light amidst the overwhelming darkness.
We found out very quickly that a loss like the one we experienced is not something that you can overcome alone. I only found my footing again because I knew I had others to lean on, who would help me share the burden. I needed people to acknowledge my experience and provide stability to a journey that had taken an unexpected turn.
This is why we should all strive to provide community for each other. We must offer ourselves to those who are in need of comfort and peace. It is only through these gestures that those who are in pain may take the next step forward.
We may never get over the loss of our baby Madeline, but we know we have a community that will walk with us each day because they shared in our pain when we needed them most. I believe in my community.
Wideman is a campus pastor at the 3rd Way Collective, a student organization at Penn State University Park. He lives in State College with his wife and two daughters.
He is a part of an organization called "Learning to Live: What’s Your Story?" Another organization, “Helping Grieving Hearts Heal,” will be staging a performance called “Growing from Loss through Grief to Transformation” at the State Theatre in State College on March 22.