Monday, January 13, 2014

What you may not understand.

There are lots of things people may not get about grief.  I can only speak intimately of a mother's grief for her baby.  And for that matter, of my grief for Ethan.  I don't speak for every mom missing their baby.  I've had ups and downs with how other's view my grief and healing process.  And I know I'm not alone with this struggle.  It's hard enough to grieve, to experience that all-consuming pain, but to feel judged for how you are surviving such tragedy...that can push someone right over the edge.  It is pretty clear that some people think there is a healthy timeline for grief.  A time period that allows for someone to grieve honestly, openly without eyebrows being raised.  Without loved ones questioning if the bereaved individual is "healthy." 

I'm no longer a hot mess.  Maybe on rare occasion, but not very often really.  I do still feel waves of sadness, some days the waves hit harder than others.  The love and longing for Ethan always feels the same though.  He's one of the first things I think of when I wake up and one of the last before I fall asleep.  And I like it that way.  Maybe it's just that I'm learning to walk in my "ugly shoes," as that poem says.  

When someone older than a baby dies there are memories associated with that person.  Birthdays, milestones, trips to the beach, holiday memories and all of the day-to-day things that fill a life.  These are the memories that bereaved loved ones can remember.  Can reflect upon "the good times" when grief rolls over them.  And when someone is grieving a baby who never made it home from the hospital, there are none of those "good times."  Good times free of trauma and sadness.  So, when grief washes over me I search for ways to remember Ethan.  Just as others do when they are missing their parent, their sister, their grandparent.  I search for ways to remind myself that he was real.  Is a part of my family.  And how do I do that?    Well, some of the ways may actually lead my loved ones to the question I mentioned above.  "Is she healthy?"  Or has her grief stalled?  And as well-intentioned as those questions may be, this is how the bereaved may receive that - "when is she going to move on?"  And that's not going to leave anyone feeling better.

So to those who care enough to pay attention to how your loved one is grieving - thank you.  Thank you for not running for the hills, when their baby died.  Thanks for sticking around and paying attention.  Not everyone does that, so you get points right there.  And since you do love them, consider the possibility that your bereaved loved one can still be healthy and finding ways to keep their baby's memory alive.  Even if that makes others feel uncomfortable on occasion.  Even if it leaves you questioning if they are "healthy."  I say this gently, but genuinely...It's not about you, it's about them.  And their process towards healing through grief.  The through grief is vital here - if someone is working their grief, for as long as that takes them - perhaps forever in ways, that's OK.  And healthy even.  So sit back, take care of yourself along the way - so you don't get vicariously traumatized.  But hang in there, hang in with the one you love.  They need your presence more than ever.  And not so much your questioning of their grief.  Chances are, they are doing that for themselves already.

Here are some things that may have raised an eyebrow or two this past year-and-a-half.  See it through my eyes...

* If I sign Ethan's name to a holiday card, or a birthday card/gift, it's my way of including Ethan in our family.  It's not creepy to do so.  It's validating and inclusive to me.

* If I tell people my REAL number.  That I have 4 children when I am asked.  I'm honoring Ethan's existence.  His spirit.  Affirming that he was real.  I'm being truthful.  And maybe, such honesty, may inspire others to feel comfortable to speak about their losses.  I'm not stuck in my past or living in an unhealthy delusion.  I still have 4 kids - they just aren't all physically here with me.

* If I speak of what my hopes and dreams for Ethan were, beyond the first year after his death, I'm finding ways to honor and remember that an entire lifetime was lost when he died.

* If I drive around with an angel baby sticker on the back of my car, I'm finding an accurate way to represent Ethan in our family.  It's not creepy.  It's my truth.  And it helps the outside world recognize the atypical shape of my family.  A family just the same.

* If I hang photos of Ethan throughout my home, I'm providing opportunities for my family to speak of Ethan.  For those who enter our home to learn about him.  Opportunities for Ryan to learn that he is, in fact, a big brother.  What happened to our family was surreal, particularly for our living children who were all too young to grasp the concept of abstract thinking and death for that matter.  Integrating Ethan's photos allows the door to remain open for our living children to ask about what happened to him, when they are ready to process it in their own time.  To keep him a part of our family going forward in a healthy way.  It's not disturbing to me that all of my son's photos have lots of tubes and wires, so why should it be for others?  It's not disturbing that the few photos of him without such medical supports show him as his body is failing him, looking sick.  Look into his eyes - he was as alive as ever.  

* If I hang a stocking for Ethan each Christmas, it's one small way to outwardly secure his place in our family.

* If I look to include Ethan in day-to-day conversation, I'm searching for ways to include him.  Most parents get to celebrate what their children are doing daily, I'm just trying to find a way to celebrate my son as well.  I'm not focusing on the negative if I bring Ethan up.  His love will always be larger than his death.  If you feel uncomfortable around death, try not to let it influence how you view someone's journey through grief and healing.  Maybe some discomfort could be lessened by watching how brave the bereaved are.

Everyone's grief is individual to them.  The grief therapist in me assures you that research says there is no set time frame to "wrap it up and move on."  The bereaved mother in me knows that the stages of grief aren't necessarily experienced in a neat, linear fashion.  Be patient with the bereaved.  They are doing the best they can.


  1. I'm sorry people have raised eyebrows at what I'd call perfectly normal behaviour.

    1. thank you...i have to say despite some comments or raised eyebrows i'm rather confident in my grief. at least i can say that, right? thank you for always validating my experience. i'm sorry you know from the inside out.

  2. It helped me to read this this morning. On my daughter's second birthday, as I struggle to find ways to remember and acknowledge her in the face of others' judgments, I needed to read this, even for myself. Thank you for writing so eloquently and truthfully.

    1. we all struggle sometimes. and we lift each other up. i'm honored that my random thoughts somehow offered you a hand yesterday. remembering anja with you always.