A few years ago, some dear friends tragically lost their son.
This past Mother’s Day at church, the mother came to find my husband and me after the service, collapsing into my arms in tears. We stood there, stroking her hair, holding her hands, as she grasped for the words to describe the heart-wrenching pain of being a mother on the day that only serves to highlight her loss.
She told us that she wondered if anyone remembered her boy. We assured her that we thought of him, and them, often. We reminded her one day she would be reunited with her son, and there would be no more tears, and all the sad things would be untrue.
This was, and is, a woman processing the worst kind of grief. She has a husband who shares her sadness, extended family who sympathize, and friends who walk alongside her pain.
But grief is not singular.
We have another friend who recently shared his experience in college when he and his girlfriend got pregnant unexpectedly.
He told his friends, and they advised him to be an upstanding guy and send her half the money for an abortion. That was the messaging in the late 70’s. He was young; his thinking on this issue was undeveloped; he was away from home seeking counsel from his peers. And who doesn’t want to be an “upstanding guy”?
My friend shared the pain of this process, all these years later, grieving secretly. A pervasive grief. Grief, to be sure, but a very different experience from my friends on Mother’s Day.
I told him I was sorry for his loss, and the sadness he lived with all these years. But I couldn’t help feeling my condolences were too little, too late. The loneliness of the grief seemed to have taken up residence in his heart.
I’ve thought of both of these encounters in the last few months and wondered… what does grief look like when experienced openly, and what does it look like when experienced in isolation? I know from personal experience that grief comes at you from all directions, is not linear, and sometimes oozes out sideways. But I’ve never grieved alone.
What must this be like for the men and women who, in fear or isolation, make the choice to abort their child?
Statistics show that one in four women experience abortion, which means behind every woman experiencing an abortion is a man processing his role. Since more than 60 million children have been aborted since 1973, that means millions of men and women have participated in an abortion. That’s a staggering number of people in our society experiencing a very different kind of grief from our friends who lost their son – and they feel the freedom to speak about it often.
Emotions prove to be tricky. When our son was about 4 years old, we noticed him struggling with anger. He was either content, or angry, but nothing in between. An older friend told me anger is our most accessible emotion. It’s the reason why we erupt in the car when another driver cuts us off. We swear, and fume, maybe even honk several times to express our deep rage. Rarely do we say, “whew, that sure was scary”!
In an effort to mitigate his inability to communicate, we began to teach our son to identify his emotions, not just grab for the cheap, accessible one. In a 4-year-old, this looked like acknowledging his feelings were hurt if someone left him out – rejection; or, waiting his turn to play with a toy – patience. As he developed this skill and began to experience a range of emotions, he grew overwhelmed, giant crocodile tears forming as the rush of feelings cascaded over him. It was one thing to label the emotion correctly, it was another to learn how to process his feelings in a healthy way.
So what does grief unprocessed look like?
I believe we’re seeing it played out all around us, in millions of different ways.
Is it why we have such violent video games, or movies and mini-series that depict children being abused, neglected or endangered by adults? Is it why we have a rise in anxiety and depression or suicide, online bullying, delayed age of marrying, absent fathers, a youth-driven culture, and a lack of respect for authority? Are we self-medicating through drugs, alcohol, pornography or loveless sex? Have we grossly underestimated the impact of what it means to be a society that kills small children, and then turns around and demands compassion and kindness towards one another?
Is it possible we have millions of people with unexpressed grief oozing out the side, in ways we never imagined?
Doubling down on this tragedy, and because of the isolated nature of this kind of grieving, hope and help proves to be elusive. If the message is believed that a newly conceived child is only a clump of cells, why would you grieve that?
My friend who funded half the abortion felt devastating guilt once science proved 15 years later it is so much more than a clump of cells. So, inevitably, we have men and women who later learn they were deceived, in addition to living with unexpressed grief.
What does that do to a person’s heart?
I once heard a man speak on grief, and he began by saying, “The first thing you need to understand about me is I’m a father who’s lost his son. It colors everything.”
I fear the color of grief for the millions of men and women who chose abortion for their preborn child is very dark because they grieve alone and unacknowledged, by others and maybe even by themselves, as mothers and fathers who have lost their son or daughter.
While it’s not often done, I know another friend who speaks openly and often of his experience with abortion and grief: Jeff Bradford.
Shortly after college, Jeff was engaged to his now wife, and six months before their wedding, they found out they were pregnant. His family, in an effort to protect him from pain, advised him to abort his child. And just like my other friend, he was young and his own thinking was undeveloped on this issue.
Years later, with four children and very busy lives, the grief made its way to the surface.
Jeff had the opportunity for the first time on a weekend hike with close friends to share his experience and pain, and personally began the long road of healing.
His wife’s journey looked different.
When he tells the story, he describes how bitter roots had grown between them. They had never spoken of the abortion, and so the unacknowledged grief oozed out sideways, leaving her in a flood of tears for seemingly unexplained reasons.
One evening, Jeff was reading a book that shed some light on what his wife was experiencing, but unable to express. He soon found himself in a flood of tears, as he realized the harm he had done to his then pregnant fiancé. And so, they began together through counseling, the difficult process of acknowledged grief.
Today, as the president of Human Coalition, Jeff uses his story to try to stop others from going through the same grief he and his wife has gone through. He uses his story to show the lasting impact abortion can have on individuals, couples, and entire families. And he uses his story to help lead the movement to make abortion unthinkable and unnecessary.
That is not to say that by acknowledging their grief, all was made well. Anyone who has genuinely grieved knows that’s not possible.
Jeff cries every time he retells their story, and his wife experiences deep grief each year around the anniversary of the abortion.
But their tears have a name: Sarah. She is not in darkness any longer, and neither is her parent’s grief.
Mona Wilson serves as a board member for Human Coalition, and has been a friend and fan of the organization since 2011. Mona has worked in the pro-life movement since 2000 and currently serves at Young Lives, a ministry of Young Life that walks with pregnant and parenting teenagers.