Art by Marion Roth

A Prayer for the Nameless

Each Yom Kippur our rabbi invites a few congregants to write a prayer leading up to the Yizkor Memorial service. Their words are always resonant and humbling. Two years ago, my short story “Sylvia’s Spoon,” winner of the 2007 Lilith Magazine Fiction prize, had been republished, and I mentioned to my rabbi that I was once again overwhelmed by the response to this tale of early pregnancy loss. 

I told my rabbi that as a writer, if I get extremely lucky, a story that I send out into the world will come back to me in the form of more stories, a call and response of sorts. I described some of the moving and raw notes that I received about about miscarriages and abortions and babies never acknowledged or mourned.

It was only after my rabbi asked me to write a Yizkor prayer for these babies that I began to think of my own story. Almost twenty years ago, I’d lost a pregnancy a few months before Yom Kippur, and I remember sitting in shul, wondering if I had the right to recite Yizkor for my baby. I felt that there were no prayers for this life or for my husband or me. No way to heal.

On the eve of this Yom Kippur, I offer this prayer for anyone who has ever lost a pregnancy. 

A Prayer for the Nameless

On behalf of those who have endured the private grief of early pregnancy loss, I pray.

I pray extra hard for the men and women who are still trying to conceive. I wish for them a respite from the loneliest of lonely griefs. I hope they find comfort and promise somewhere, in prayer or the stories of the Biblical Sarah, Rivka, and Hannah or others who have shared this specific pain.

I pray for these men and women to have patience with well-meaning loved ones who fumble for the right words of comfort. There are no right words. I hope that they find the ear of a friend or a stranger and unburden themselves. Please God, allow them to let go of their shame and their timelines. Bless them with the courage to trust.     

I pray the loudest for the nameless. The babies who never made it to the bimah, never received the rabbi’s hands upon their crowns or the blessings—Y’vorech’cho adonoy v’yishm’recho. Y’ayr adonoy ponov aylecho vichuneko—neither for a baby naming nor a bar or bat mitzvah. 

I pray for the parents who named their babies and allowed themselves to wonder whether their children would inherit their grandmother’s perfect pitch or father’s love of board games. I pray for the parents who went on to make families, but who honor a due date and ponder a life that wasn’t, a broken memory that inhabits a crevice of their souls.   

I call out to God, to give strength to those suffering from this hidden grief. Let us respond by remembering. Let us pray for them. And let us pray—for the nameless. 

Michelle Brafman is the author of Washing the Dead and Bertrand Court, two works of fiction. Her writing has appeared in Slate, the Los Angeles Review of Books, LitHub, The Nervous Breakdown, Tablet, Lilith, and elsewhere. She teaches at the Johns Hopkins MA in Writing Program and lives in Glen Echo, Maryland with her husband and two children.

2 comments on “A Prayer for the Nameless

  1. Jenn Schwab on

    This was originally posted a few weeks after we lost our baby and the day before Yom Kippur. My pain was so raw then. These prayers, these words, have brought me so much peace. At such a low point I felt a little less alone knowing that there were others who struggled with how, or if, to honor their babies during Yizkor. I honor my baby with these prayers.

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