A few days ago, I got an honest and heart-full email from a pregnant friend telling me she just didn’t know what to do. Was she supposed to let me know they’d hired the woman I’d recommended as their doula? Should she invite me to her baby shower? She’d been reading my blog so she knew – as much as anyone can know – what I’ve been feeling, and she was still at a loss.
I am incredibly grateful she chose to email me. I remember being the friend in this situation and feeling the same way. What do I do? What does this person who has just lost her child need? I didn’t have the awareness, the guts to do what my friend did for me. In the hope of helping myself, my friends, my family and anyone else who might chance across this, here is what I have to say.
Right now, it is easy for me to isolate and hard to pick up the phone. My reality is both life goes on and grief changes everything. Forgive me for not returning phone calls and emails. I am doing the best I can and you are in my heart. I will eventually be in touch. Keep calling me, eventually I’ll answer and yes, I want to talk to you. Yes, tell me your good news, invite me to your events – give me the option to say yes or no. Don’t keep something secret because you think it might hurt. Chances are it will, but eventually finding out the secret was kept will hurt more.
I ache when I see the pictures of my very pregnant sister-in-law. Our due dates were a day apart before I miscarried in January, then 3 months apart before Benjamin died. I figured that was perfect, was destiny, as it’s the same age difference between our older two children. Am I thrilled for my brother and his wife? Of course. Will I love my niece? With all my heart. Will it tear me apart to meet her? I have no doubt. Life goes on. Grief changes everything.
It hurt to hear my best friend talk about having her third child when I’ve just lost my second. But I would rather know what’s happening in her head and heart, I would rather be a part of her life, than have her keep that from me. Our journeys are all different. I don’t know why mine included this, but I have to believe in a bigger picture. I have to believe there are gifts in this loss, and that in the end, I will grieve the death of my son forever and love the person it made me.
My first boyfriend’s father died recently (while I was still pregnant). I found out from an email forwarded to me by my mother. I wanted to call him when I heard, but was afraid he’d pick up the phone and I’d sob, so I emailed. He apologized for not telling me himself. He didn’t know how. The phone was too hard, email seemed to impersonal. This is the dilemma of our time. We don’t want to intrude, we don’t want to offend, and so we often do nothing.
When babies are born, their parents get to talk about them non-stop, with everyone. When babies die, almost no one knows what to do. I need to talk about my son, about his life and his death. He was – is – a person to me, though no one will meet him. I want to know that I am being thought of, that I, Benjamin, our family are in people’s hearts and thoughts. A hug and a handwritten note are lovely. I will also take a text, an email, a post to my Facebook wall, a tweet, an e-card, a phone call. If you are thinking of me, of Ben, let me know. Now, a month from now, a year from now. Let me know.
If you ask me how I’m doing, be prepared for an honest answer. If you aren’t comfortable talking about it, don’t. If you are, please let me know it’s okay. Ask a question. Say something. I will do my best to be polite, I won’t say too much if I’m not clear how welcome it is. I don’t want to hide my pain and I don’t want to make other people uncomfortable with it either. This is what I am living with and it is a gift to me to know that I can be myself with you. I might cry, I might not. I don’t know how I’ll feel at any given point in time. If you are willing to listen, to be present with however I show up, please let me know. It takes the pressure off me trying to figure it out.
This is not something I will ever get over. Please don’t expect me to. I’ve heard from other baby-loss mamas that the first year is the hardest. Just because it’s been a month, three months, six months, doesn’t mean I won’t be grieving. I will need your love and support if you are willing and able to give it. I will do my best to ask for help but sometimes I don’t know what to ask for, or don’t have the strength or words in the moment. If something feels right to you, do it. If it comes from the heart, I will be grateful.
A few please don’ts: No platitudes or easy answers. No sweeping statements about grief or death or healing – everyone is different. Avoid telling me how I should feel, or that I should be done with it. Feel free to share your story, or your friend’s story or what you imagine might be happening for me – we can have a conversation about that. Telling me “time heals all wounds” is not helpful at all. Don’t assume that because I’m laughing, or having a good time, that I’m not grieving anymore. Don’t worry too much about upsetting me – I will give you the same leeway, the same forgiveness for imperfections, that you give me. Don’t not contact me because you don’t know what to say. Just tell me you don’t know what to say. Trust me, if you’re thinking of me, I need to hear from you.
If you still have questions, ask. If you don’t want to ask me, there are resources online to help the friends and family of those grieving. Here are a few.
Steve and I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support we have received. It has brought tears to our eyes hundreds of times over the last weeks. We love you all. Thank you for being in our lives.
Life goes on. Grief changes everything.