A Grieving Ritual Following Miscarriage or Stillbirth

A father who says, ‘My sons, my sons’ or like a mother hen who cries for her brood, so God declares, ‘Look away from Me, I will weep bitterly’ (lsaiah 22:4)” (Tanhuma Debei Eliyahu, 154155)

This ritual is intended to take place in a rabbi’s study or in the couple’s home, in the presence of a small, trusted group. The couple is encouraged to sit on hard chairs, reflecting our traditional mourning customs and the hard place in which they find themselves.

Mourning the Loss

All present may chant:

מִן הַמֵּצַר קָרָאתִי יָהּ עֲנֵנִי בַּמֶּרְחָב יָהּ

Min-hametzar karati yah, anani bamerkhav yah.

Out of the depths I call to You, O God; You hear me fully when I call (after Psalm 118:5).

Rabbi or Lay Leader:

We had hoped to gather soon with you, [parents’ names], to celebrate the birth of a baby. Instead we are with you today to join in your sadness. There was in your womb, [mother’s name], the stirring of life. This baby grew inside you, and so, too, in both of you grew dreams and hopes and longing, images of who this baby would be, and of your future with this child. Now there is emptiness and pain as you acknowledge that this seed of life could not grow into a child.

“Out of the depths I call to You, O God; You hear me fully when I call. God is with me, I have no fear. I was hard pressed, about to fall; God came to my help. God, You are my strength and my courage. I will not die, but live, and yet tell of the deeds of God. I thank You for having heard me; O God, be my deliverance” (selections from Psalm 118).

At this point the couple may share their own words about the meaning of this loss for them. When they have said whatever they wish to say, the rabbi or lay leader offers his/her hand to the couple, inviting them to stand and symbolically rise from the low hard place of mourning. At this time a loved one brings forward a baby’s receiving blanket, or other piece of cloth associated with the couple’s yearning to nurture a new life.

Rabbi or Lay Leader:

Although this child left this world before he/she lived with us, he/she will always live on in our memory. We shall remember this child by the Hebrew name [insert name] ben/bat (son/ daughter) [mother’s name] ve- (and) [father’s name].

When we lose someone close to us, something is torn inside. As Jews, we symbolize that experience by tearing a piece of cloth and wearing it over our heart, reflecting what is happening within. The being inside you never grew into life outside the womb. You did not know this baby, except as a stirring, a dream, an invisible presence [for a stillbirth: an all-too-brief presence] in your lives and your hearts. Still, part of you is torn inside, as you acknowledge the end of this potential life that could not be. To reflect the pain you feel on this day, we tear this baby blanket, reciting the time-honored words:

יְהוָה נָתַן נָתָן ויהוה לָקַח יְהִי שֵׁם יְהוָה מְבֹרַךְ 

Adonay natan, va’adonay lakakh, yehi shem adonay mevorakh.

God gives, God takes away. Blessed be the name of God (Job 1:21).

The rabbi or lay leader and those assembled may chant here:

    אֶשָּׂא עֵינָי אֶל הֶהָרִים מֵאַיִן יָבֹא עֶזְרִי. עֶזְרִי מֵעִם אֲדֹנָי עֹשֶׂה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ

Essa eynay el heharim me’ayin yavo ezri. Ezri me’im adonay oseh shamayim va’aretz.

I lift my eyes to the mountains; where is the source of my help? My help comes from Adonai, Creator of heaven and earth (Psalms 121:12).

Choosing Life Again

Rabbi or Lay Leader:

To sanctify this moment of transition to the next phase of your lives, we invite you to take part in the life of our people by choosing the mitzvah of tzedakah (sacred practice of charity), even in this time of pain.

The couple may explain their choice of a gift. (Appropriate charities might include a local Jewish Family Service, expressing the couple’s devotion to family, or a tree planted in Israel.)

All respond:

וּבָחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים

Uvakharta bakhayim.

May you continue to choose life (Deuteronomy 30:19).

Communal Support and Blessings

Rabbi or Lay Leader:

At this time I ask all of you except the parents, to form two lines. [Insert parents’ names] will walk between the lines, as is customary for Jews at a time of bereavement. Feel free to offer words of condolence as they pass between you. (When the couple has passed through:) Together, we offer ancient words of comfort to our friends in their sadness.

All say to the parents:

Hamakom yenahem etkhem,May God grant you comfort.

Rabbi or Lay Leader:

May God who blessed our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah, grant to this family refu’at hanefesh urefu’at haguf, a full healing of body and spirit, abundant blessing from loved ones, and an awareness of God’s presence with them in their pain. As for the baby that was not to be, shelter this spirit, O God, in the shadow of Your wings, for You, God of parents, God of children, God of us all, guard and shelter us. You are a gracious and loving God. Guard our coming and our going, grant us life and peace, now and always, for You are the Source of life and peace. May we as a holy community support and love our friends in times of pain as well as times of joy. And as we have wept together, so may we soon gather to rejoice. Amen.

All present may conclude by singing Oseh Shalom or another appropriate hymn.

Published in Lifecycles Vol. 1: Jewish Women on Life Passages and Personal Milestones, ed. Debra Orenstein (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, NY).

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