When he’s asked how many children he has, Matt Lamont replies, “We’ve had four – but one passed away.”
It’s one of many ways he honours his daughter, Salome. The experience of Matthew and his wife Trea is that few are comfortable with this level of honesty – and yet the loss of a child through miscarriage, stillbirth or death soon after birth is not uncommon.
Salome was Matt and Trea’s third daughter, following Hannah and Bridget. Until fifteen minutes before delivery, there was no indication all was not well. Salome lived for two days. She never left hospital, she could be lightly touched but barely held, and was unresponsive for most of her short life. Salome means ‘peace’ in Hebrew.
St Paul wrote, “The life and death of each of us has its influence on others”. To listen to Salome’s family’s story is to learn that one’s influence is in no way related to length of days.
During her short life, Salome’s older sisters and grandparents spent time with her. She was baptised into the Catholic Church, a baptism bookended by birth and death.
When Hannah was born, the decision to introduce her to a faith community was “fraught”. Matt and Trea met through the Student Christian Movement. Matt had been raised in Perth without much formal religion but confirmed Anglican in his late teens. Trea was a committed, but not uncritical, Catholic.
Along the way, Matt has been drawn to Quakerism, particularly its silence, and to the monastic tradition. “Often this busy household doesn’t feel at all like a monastery…but I do try, regularly, to return to some sense of presence or relationship with God.”
Trea and Matt agreed, “we want to give the kids something, in terms of faith, and starting somewhere is good.” Matt says, “I’ve struggled with the official Catholic position around non-Catholics and Eucharist [but] I have quite a bit of love for the Catholic church.” Pope Francis’ insistence that “The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” (Evangelii Gaudium n47) resonates here.
“I want our children to be in that tradition… to have some critical thinking around it [and] to be able to delve in and find the richness” so baptising Salome was not a difficult decision.
Looking back, Matt recalls recognising “how much needs to go well for any of us to be here”. Salome was born with an e-coli infection and was simply not strong enough to live. “It’s the most extraordinary thing to go from birth and then you find yourself in funeral parlours and cemeteries…” But as Trea said, ‘These are the only decisions we get to make for this child.’ We were blessed to meet Sr Annie Laurie…I felt reasonably at peace with it all and I asked her, ‘what’s going on?’ Her response was, ‘She’s not suffering anymore.’
“We were suffering though, of course…I felt like I was going through a real live stations of the cross. I remember saying to my mother-in-law, ‘This is what Christ looks like, this child.’”
Sr Annie led a funeral for Salome and remarkably, Trea spoke about the birth, and death, of Salome. Matt recalls, “She was able to say… where are you God? [yet] we needed the Christian tradition to help us get through those days.”
Matt and Trea have always honoured the precious memory of Salome, and the experience has been different for Hannah and Bridget at different stages. Matt recalls a recent camp concert when, given the option of dressing as someone who inspired her, Bridget wore wings and announced, “I’m Salome, my sister who died.”
Their son, David, now aged 6, is the next chapter of the story. Matt says he’s a “Phoenix baby, rising from the ashes”. Remarkably, as David reached an age when he understood he had an older sister who died, he grieved for her.
Also rising from the ashes was an artistic gift Matt didn’t know he had. His practice of meditation has expanded to include paintings embodying elements from Celtic and Indigenous worlds. The conviction that the family is still connected with Salome across boundaries of life and death is strong. Having long reflected on the grief and wonder of it all, Matt says “I started to grasp, with Salome, what the kingdom of God actually is….crossing all my barriers and boundaries, the most inclusive reality that I can possibly come across, grounded in love…”
One way of helping Hannah, Bridget and David to glimpse the kingdom is through silence. “We’ve started meditation at home on a Sunday evening…it can be done but it often requires enormous patience…you can feel quite frustrated…but we do achieve some stillness!”
Clearly it’s possible too to reach a place of peace after a devastating loss. After all, ‘Salome’ means peace.
*Some names changed for privacy.