by Brad Stetson
240 pp, $14.99
In 1958, before seat belts were common, a careless driver crashed into my mother-in-law's car, killing her 8-month-old baby in utero. The doctor, the respected Chief of Staff at a prominent hospital, told my in-laws, "Just go on. It's best that you put this away and move on."
When I called my mother-in-law to ask her opinion about changes in how we manage grief today, she replied, "I was just thinking about her yesterday," referring to the daughter she lost that day 42 years ago. "I was wondering what ever happened to her, was she baptized? How come my mother never asked to hold her? Why didn't we have a funeral? I wish I could have seen her. She was a fully formed baby girl."
If Americans still treat death as a dirty little secret, Brad Stetson's book "Tender Fingerprints" is evidence that we're making progress. Brad and Nina Stetson's journey through and beyond the death of their infant son B.J. after 8 months of pregnancy, is candid and moving, capturing the Stetsons' experience before B.J.'s birth, his baptism, burial, and the bereavement processes that allowed them to move beyond the sorrow.
"Tender Fingerprints" communicates the wisdom Brad received from his ethics professor, his pastor, and others to guide him back to God. I have seen with my own patients how important people and books can be. The sorrow can be so overwhelming that if Christian friends with maturity, compassion, and a clear reminder of God's faithfulness do not stick tight to the couple, the grief can become completely overwhelming.
Stetson's advice is limited because he never undertook grief counseling with a therapist--given his suicidal emotions after B.J.'s death, counseling would have been advisable. He does recommend therapy, but had he experienced it firsthand, he might have had some deeper insights about suffering acquired during the therapeutic journey. In addition, there is an abrupt shift in the last chapter when the Stetson's second child, a healthy daughter, arrives. Besides sweeping the story away from its original theme, this chapter might be difficult reading for grieving couples who are still close to the death, or who haven't yet been able to birth additional children.
Stetson's pastor reminds that grief is paradoxical: "The more you concentrate on your own loss and your own feelings, the worse you feel," the pastor says, "but the more you focus on God's goodness to you, and how you can serve others and help them with their despair, the clearer you understand you own pain". That understanding can be a liferaft. "You mature through it," the pastor continues, "rather than drown in it."
Infant death rates are on the rise, largely due to the dramatic increase in multiple births. This book can be an invaluable resource to couples in grief.