The hardest gone

June 6th, 2008

This Sunday I’ll be conducting a memorial ceremony in my garden with a couple who learned, heartbreakingly, that their son would not live after he was born. He was born, and then he died. We will remember and ritualize this passage; we will light incense, stand, chant and cry together.

I am so honored to keep this family company now and forever.

This matter of loss – death– of born and unborn children has been circulating around me of late, and that tells me it is time to take a look at it for myself. All next week I want to share with you writings, customs and practices that can help us face our unfathomable grief. I will be doing a service – a chant – every day next week for this baby, and for every child, unborn or departed. I offer this because of the perfect accident of having a Jizo statue in my garden. You can read more about Jizo here.

If you have the name of a child you would like me to include in my services, please note it in the comments, which you can make anonymously if you prefer. Hereafter, I’ll be conducting children’s memorial services on the first Sunday of every month, and I will include all the names you send. Please consider forwarding this to anyone you think would benefit. The world moves in mysterious ways.

Just the utterance of names and sounds, you see, begins the transformation. Nothing else is required. Nothing else is possible.

And while I will find things to say in my future posts, little I say will likely be as full or rich as this, the inspiration I found lying open in my hands last night:

Silently a flower blooms,
In silence it falls away;

Yet here now, at this moment, at this place,

the whole of the flower, the whole of

the world is blooming.

This is the talk of the flower, the truth

of the blossom;

The glory of eternal life is fully shining here.

– Zenkei Shibayama


  1. Thank you for offering to hold this grief so gently.

    I would be honored if you would include my son Lucas, lost to us in June 2006.

    Comment by nikole — June 6, 2008 @ 10:33 pm

  2. In healing, I offer the name Uhri.

    Comment by Mary P Jones (MPJ) — June 6, 2008 @ 10:59 pm

  3. What a loving gift you are offering…

    I would be honored if you would include the daughter I lost when I was 5 months pregnant with her. Her name was Sarah. Thankfully her twin, Emily, is here on this earth and I am able to hold, love, and care for her, but it is certainly bittersweet. It seems everytime my Emily hits a special milestone, I wonder “what if…”

    Thank you for this.


    Comment by tammy — June 7, 2008 @ 12:41 am

  4. please also include TJ, Kayla and Ruthe, forever in my heart.

    Comment by Holly Lash — June 7, 2008 @ 1:44 am

  5. I have no names, but I offer my thoughts of several unnamed children that I know of who were never born.

    Comment by Shelli — June 7, 2008 @ 2:09 am

  6. Oh, I can’t even tell you how timely this post is to me. Last month I had a miscarriage and I haven’t known where to place it in my heart. I have spent days wondering how to grieve and how work through my sadness. Please include the name Hope. Thank you so much!

    Comment by Jill — June 7, 2008 @ 4:00 am

  7. Please include Tallulah Shaner. Thank you.

    Comment by Anonymous — June 7, 2008 @ 4:07 am

  8. Please include Miles Anderson ~ much love and many thank you’s…

    Comment by stef — June 7, 2008 @ 4:17 am

  9. Excellent post, Karen, excellent!
    Happy weekend

    Comment by david santos — June 7, 2008 @ 3:27 pm

  10. what a beautiful gift you give to those of us who have lost little ones. thank you, karen. peace to you in your ceremony. and to all who have said good-bye to little people they never had the chance to meet and know.

    Comment by GailNHB — June 8, 2008 @ 12:09 am

  11. For closure, for healing, for peace I offer murphy.

    For my dear friend whose experienced six miscarriages before birthing her beautiful son so that she may find the exact place in her heart for him, I ask you to honor those she lost as well.

    Comment by Anonymous — June 8, 2008 @ 12:16 am

  12. in memory of connor

    Comment by Anonymous — June 8, 2008 @ 2:07 am

  13. Please include Sophie, who passed away in September 2003 in the arms of her father and me, her mother, 5 months after she was born, a feisty little sprite and sweet little spirit who we miss every day. They say an angle’s kiss gives babies dimples, and we think that is why her little brother has one when he laughs. If you don’t mind the mix of traditions…. Anonymous

    Comment by Anonymous — June 8, 2008 @ 3:11 am

  14. I’m so glad you mentioned that. In this tradition, we exclude no one, we include every one, every one, of all faiths and backgrounds. Let that encourage you.

    Comment by Karen — June 8, 2008 @ 4:19 am

  15. Thank you Karen, I’ll be sharing this with friends. The words of Zenkei Shibayama are especially healing.

    Comment by Frida — June 8, 2008 @ 5:08 pm

  16. Karen, this is such a beautiful gift.

    In remembrance, I offer Frank.

    Comment by Lisa — June 8, 2008 @ 11:24 pm

  17. Please remember my nameless two who were just brief twinkles in my eye–never becoming more–but wanted nonetheless.

    thank you.


    Comment by Anonymous — June 9, 2008 @ 12:55 am

  18. Thinking of you and all the souls you are honoring today and every day. Thank you for holding the space…

    Comment by Anonymous — June 9, 2008 @ 2:45 am

  19. Thank you for remembering the unborn, the nameless ones that we miss without knowing exactly what it is that we are missing.

    Thinking of you, your beautiful spirit, in your garden.

    Comment by Mary Ann — June 9, 2008 @ 12:15 pm

  20. Thank you. Please include Kate, Gabriella and Caroline.

    Comment by She She — June 9, 2008 @ 2:16 pm

  21. remembering Olivia

    Comment by made by kort — June 9, 2008 @ 4:24 pm

  22. Please include Ashley, a niece who died at 8 years old of a brain tumor.

    Comment by Catherine — June 9, 2008 @ 6:16 pm

  23. Gabriel

    Comment by Anonymous — June 9, 2008 @ 7:39 pm

  24. Karen,

    Thank you for this gift..

    Thank you for remembering our first little prince, Aiden Bennett, who was born with wings…

    Comment by Sarina — June 9, 2008 @ 8:56 pm

  25. Bella Noelle Rodman

    Comment by LD in PDX — June 13, 2008 @ 2:24 am

  26. Dearest Karen. You have moved me to tears this morning. I didn’t really need another reason to cry … but your heart fills mine. I’m glad I’m not too late to experience this list.

    Comment by Shawn — June 13, 2008 @ 4:55 pm

  27. I just lost my one true love last Thrusday, June 19, 2008. I was 23 weeks. He was all that I have ever dreamed of and anticipated his arrival soooo very much. Reading your good deeds gives me comfort that others will know who he was and that he was loved. Please remember my, Liam Kai Meyer, in your memorial. I hope he knows how much I love him so and miss him. May God protect him until I meet him again.

    Comment by Anonymous — June 25, 2008 @ 4:00 am

  28. Maezen, do you know this book? It is really lovely:

    Comment by DQ's Windmill — July 4, 2008 @ 6:23 pm

  29. Thank you so much for offering to include all of us in your Jizo Ceremony. Would you please add Dakota Jones the children honored in your next ceremony? He was stillborn March 11, 1999. Thank you very much!
    Miracles to you,

    Comment by 1,000 Faces of MotherHenna — September 3, 2008 @ 3:35 pm

  30. Would you please add Elizabeth Hudson to the children honored at your next ceremony? She died April 11, 2008. Thank you so much!

    Leigh~Elizabeth’s Mom

    Comment by mrslmariesmith — September 16, 2008 @ 9:42 pm

  31. Thank you for your email a while back telling me you would offer a prayer for my baby who was never born.

    I think of her often (I think she was a she) and am sorry she is not in my life.


    Comment by A. — November 23, 2008 @ 2:57 am

  32. How very kind of you to do this for us.

    Would you include my son George who we lost after 21 weeks of pregnancy on 20th October this year. He was tiny and beautiful and perfect and so very loved and wanted.

    Thank you.

    Thank you.

    Comment by Barbara — December 19, 2008 @ 10:13 am

  33. What a loving and open heart you have.

    I would be so grateful if you would include our son Kai, born at 17 weeks of pregnancy at 4:37 AM on November 5th, and so missed and wished for now. We named him after the water, and I would be very honored if your jizo could look after our water baby.

    New York

    Comment by Dani819 — December 19, 2008 @ 2:07 pm

  34. Could you please include my babies, who left me before I could name them? There were three of them. I so wanted them to stay, but could not have the pleasure of bringing them on this earth.

    I am so thankful for this gesture of yours. Please pray that they are in peace and that they know that I miss them and wanted them so much to just be. Can you ask God as to what I really have done to afford this misery of infertility?

    I can’t find enough words to express my gratitude. Thank You.

    Comment by WiseGuy — December 20, 2008 @ 1:11 pm

  35. I would love it if you could mention my Hope. Lost at 40 weeks 5 days on August 19 this year. I miss her so much it hurts. Every second of every day.

    Comment by Hope's Mama — December 21, 2008 @ 11:50 am

  36. Please honor Cailyn Brianna, who might have been Ian Matthew. I never knew the sex of the embryo, just the loss of her/his potential.

    Thank you. It helps that someone else acknowledges their brief existence, even if you don't know me personally.

    It is generally too uncomfortable a subject for my loved ones to broach, even though, most days, I wish they would.

    Comment by heeds — June 10, 2009 @ 2:34 am

  37. Thank you so much for your loving service!
    Please include our beloved James Valentine, who died three days after he was born in 2006, and also Daniel, son of my best friend, stillborn at 39 weeks.

    Comment by Valerie — August 18, 2009 @ 3:50 pm

  38. Please remember Chad ~my beautiful just turned 21 year old.I treasure every moment and memory I have of him. He has returned to the stars and the world of angels and is doing good work there~but Oh! How I miss him here.

    Comment by Anonymous — September 27, 2009 @ 3:51 pm

  39. Please include Cedar, my best friends beautiful baby girl who left us in Sept 2008. We love you Cedar.

    Comment by Anonymous — October 28, 2009 @ 5:21 am

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