You could say that the Duggars have made their business our business by conducting their lives on television. I have never watched their show, spent any time on their website, or paid much attention to them. I have a friend who watches the show and she informs me that Michelle is a very patient and calm mother who never yells at her kids, even though she has nineteen of them. I have two kids and I highly doubt anyone would describe me that way, so I have to respect Michelle's character for that reason alone. All of this to say that I don't have any opinion on the Duggars or their lifestyle.
I read this blog post first, in which Rachel Stone writes:
The Duggars will always have their critics. But they are people—not a circus, not a freak show, not an ideology. So while I may work out my understanding of Christianity very differently from them, I refuse to believe that there’s nothing I can learn from them; that their concerns and griefs and joys—their stories—are so very different from mine.I very much agree with this.
Next I read about the Duggars having a funeral for their baby and distributing photos that they had taken. A headline suggested that there was some criticism of them, and Google helped me find a nasty article, which perhaps is only what one could expect from a website called Gawker. (I was going to include the link, but decided not to, because it's unnecessarily rude and uses abusive language. If you want to read it, Google can help you find it, too.) It says that it is not normal to take pictures of a miscarried child (it uses the word "fetus," of course), and recommends retroactively that the Duggars should have stopped having children a long time ago. You can't miss the difference between the horrible tone of the Gawker article and the tender love expressed here, in a letter Michelle wrote to her baby and read aloud on her website.
But the real impetus for this post was reading Katie Allison Granju's take on the story here. Katie herself lost a child recently; her eighteen year old son died of complications from a drug-related assault. Katie has been criticized too, like Michelle, for dealing with her grief in her own way. Her post talks about the way Victorians grieved and about how our culture doesn't have rituals for grieving a lost child. The whole post is very much worth reading. Here's one little snippet:
The fact that those photos of Jubilee Duggar’s little foot and hand might make other people uncomfortable – people who didn’t just have their child die – isn’t the point. Memorial rituals and grief traditions are about helping the parents whose child has just died feel comforted and supported. They’re not about pleasing the rest of us, or about conforming to how we would do it, or about conforming to funerary rites that we would prefer. In fact, expressing our own preferences or tastes in criticizing the way another parent chooses to memorialize her recently dead child strikes me as being in far worse taste than anything the bereaved parent might have done.
I wrote in the first paragraph about how I lost a baby to miscarriage very early in pregnancy. I chose to tell people about it. Many women and even some men shared with me about their own experiences. My brother-in-law wrote me an email saying that he imagined their miscarried children playing in heaven with mine. (Michelle expresses a similar idea in her letter, linked above.) Do you find that creepy? It comforted me. I felt supported by people who had been through miscarriage and come out on the other side. I also chose to name my baby, though I haven't shared the name with very many people. I didn't know the sex of the baby but I thought of her as a girl. I had seen her beating heart on an ultrasound and she was very real to me, a child who was already part of our family. I grieved for my baby for a long time. A few weeks after her due date I started to come out of the fog but thinking about that experience still makes me sad.
Of course, not every woman grieves as intensely as I did for an early miscarriage. That's fine, too. Everyone is different. After the earthquake, I felt a lot of impatience with myself and even shame for the way I grieved, and I have come to accept that it's not wrong or weak to feel what you feel (can you tell I went to counseling?). Grief is not predictable, and it's very personal.
I'm very sorry for Michelle Duggar's loss. I find it completely normal to want to take a picture of her baby. I don't think the pictures are in bad taste. (Tweeting them probably was, but that's another issue. Katie's post says that after a teenaged relative Tweeted the pictures, the Duggars chose to post them on their own site. Apparently they were intended just for the family and for those at the funeral.) And I think both Rachel Stone and Katie Granju are right, that we all just need to be a whole lot kinder. Surely everyone can agree with that.