Grief from the perspective an old man talking to someone who has lost a child:
"Alright, here goes. I'm old. What that means is that I've survived (so far) and a lot of people I've known and loved did not. I've lost friends, best friends, acquaintances, co-workers, grandparents, mom, relatives, teachers, mentors, students, neighbors, and a host of other folks. I have no children, and I can't imagine the pain it must be to lose a child. But here's my two cents.
I wish I could say you get used to people dying. I never did. I don't want to. It hears a hole through me whenever somebody I love dies, no matter the circumstances. But I don't want it to "not matter". I don't want it to be something that just passes.
My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. And if the scar is deep, so was the love. So be it. Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even gouged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are only ugly to people who can’t see.
As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.
In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything…and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.
Somewhere down the line, and it’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O’Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you’ll come out.
Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don’t really want them to. But you learn that you’ll survive them. And other waves will come. And you’ll survive them too. If you’re lucky, you’ll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.”
Unfortunately there's no quick fix for grief or a fast-forward button. But there are things you can do to help take care of yourself, even if it gives you just a few minutes of relief each day.
- Embrace the comfy clothes. Wear your favorite sweatshirt, treat yourself to a new pair of slippers, or curl up in a soft blanket.
- Try reading for 10 minutes before you go to bed - it may just help you fall asleep faster.
- Whether you decide to journal privately, share your story on social media or create an art project, these are all ways to express your feelings. Don't keep it all bottled up.
- Trouble falling asleep or waking up frequently is common while grieving. Don't be afraid to bring this up to your provider. Try laying down for just 20 minutes during the day to at least rest, even if you can't fall asleep.
- Connecting with nature can be very healing - getting some steps in for light movement and feeling the sunshine is a huge plus.
- Find a new way to honor your baby - some ideas: share your story in a support group, wear a remembrance bracelet, paint rocks and hide them around your town, drop off some goods to your local food pantry, create a playlist of meaningful songs.
- Keep hydrated - it sounds silly, but remembering to drink water or tea is important. Your body is physically healing, as well, and needs the nourishment.
What will you do today to take care of yourself? Share any other ideas with us here in the comments.
Bereaved parents are masters at hiding their emotions. Carrying on with work and putting on a happy face so co-workers don’t ask insensitive questions. Saying everything is “fine” when it most certainly is not. Pretending to have moved on and be okay with attending a friend’s baby shower. Becoming experts at forcing back tears, avoiding certain aisles at Target, and ignoring the insensitive small talk at holiday dinners.
Except it's impossible to ignore the harsh comments, reminding us "it's time to move on" or "don't worry, you'll get pregnant again." The reality is everything is not fine. None of it is fine. Grief is beyond exhausting. The heaviness weighs down on bereaved parents every single day. It's a constant battle of taking steps forward and then having triggers interrupt any progress we felt we made.
Finding a support system to walk alongside in the grief journey is important. Being heard and seen by others who have similar loss stories can make an incredible impact on your own healing. We are here when you need to let your mask down (figuratively and literally). It's okay to let someone help you carry the weight of grief. ❤️
1. Allow yourself to mourn. This is the most important and the hardest part of grieving. Grief is the collection of internal feelings you experience after your loss (sadness, anger, etc). Mourning is expressing those emotions outwardly. Examples of mourning are planning a memorial ceremony, planting a remembrance garden, journaling, crying, etc. Many of us were raised that grief needs to be "swept under the rug" and you are "stronger" if you don't cry and keep your feelings to yourself. This is not true - it's so important to feel ALL the feelings while grieving and to give yourself grace. Take it one day at at time - sometimes you may need to take it one breath at a time.
2. Gather important keepsakes. You don't have to be crafty to make something special to honor your pregnancy and baby. Anything you do will be meaningful - trust us. Consider making a basket or shadowbox for special mementos such as your baby’s ultrasound photos, blanket, outfits, sympathy cards, etc. Many bereaved parents set up a shelf or bookcase for their baby's items. It can be very healing to see these physical things.
3. Write your feelings down. It can be incredibly difficult to explain to someone else how you are feeling - this is why we encourage journaling first. Journaling either on paper, on your computer, or even with an online blog can help express your feelings. Many bereaved parents will re-read their journal entries months later and be surprised how far they have come in their grieving journey. Consider writing a letter to your baby—what were your wishes and dreams?
4. Embrace your spirituality. Seeking to find that part of your life through prayer or meditation can bring a sense of peace to some families. But please know that spirituality doesn't have to mean organized religion and church. You could attend a yoga class or meditation workshop - try something that encourages you to focus on your breathing and taking a few quiet moments for yourself.
5. Develop a support system. You will find many people may say insensitive things to you after your loss - some simply don't know what to do to help you in this situation. We encourage you to find safe people or a support group that you can share your story with. Contact the Massachusetts Chapter of The TEARS Foundation for current groups, dates and times. We recommend attending at least three support groups to see if this is a good coping tool for you. It can be very healing to just listen to other parents' stories even if you are not comfortable sharing.
6. Talk about your grief. Say your baby’s name when speaking with others. Speak from the heart and be honest. Ignoring your grief will not make it go away. There is no quick fix for grief, but sharing your story over and over will help you acknowledge what happened. Please remember that every person's grief is different - there is no timeline or "right" amount of time in healing. You may also notice that you will feel better for a period of time and then a trigger may cause you to feel your grief heavy again - that is completely normal. Grief ebbs and flows just like the waves of the ocean.
7. Take care of yourself. Grief takes a toll on you emotionally as well as physically. Get daily rest—even if you have trouble sleeping, try to at least lay down. Lighten your schedule. Focus on drinking lots of water. Spend time outside - whether it's a short walk or just lying down on the grass.
8. It’s ok to say “No”. Your baby has died. Understand and respect your limitations. If you are not up to attending your cousin’s baby shower or the Christmas gathering this year, it’s always okay to say “No, I can’t attend. Please respect the time I need right now.”
9. Ask for help. Reach out to family or friends and tell them exactly what they can do for you (housework, taking care of other siblings, making a meal, shoveling snow, picking up groceries, etc). We know it can be hard to ask for help, especially months later when people tend to go on with their own lives. But family and friends do want to help you feel better - let them take care of things to help lighten your load. We also recommend speaking with a mental health professional as therapy can be very helpful as you navigate your emotions and start to find your new self. Reach out to the Massachusetts Chapter of The TEARS Foundation for counselor recommendations. Please remember you should not suffer alone - we are here for you.
10. Continue to honor your child’s life. On the anniversary of your baby’s birth or due date, find a way to remember your child. Bereaved parents are so creative and many ideas include lighting a candle, making a birthday cake, painting “kindness” rocks and hiding them at a park, planting flowers or a tree, writing your baby's name in the sand at the beach, making a donation in memory of, asking family and friends to send you pictures with your baby's name/symbol, wearing a special color, paying it forward with an act of kindness like buying coffee for a stranger, etc. We always encourage you to attend a TEARS Rock & Walk for Babies event to honor your baby as it's incredibly healing to see other families from the community together.
What other ways do you honor your baby and cope during your grief journey? Please share them with us.
by Jillian, Patrick's mom
I follow a lot of pregnancy and infant loss groups. The last couple of days have been filled with posts defending Chrissy Teigan. It has triggered so many emotions to hear of the backlash she is receiving for sharing her experience and pictures. I have been very open about Patrick. But in those first few months after his birth I tried to do what I thought I had to. I tried to hold regular conversation with those that visited. Laughed. Joked. But I will tell you that in those few months I honestly did not think I was going to survive it. One night, over three months later, and after a bottle of wine, I decided to sign up for the March of Dimes walk and share Patrick in a more public way. I was so scared of the response I would get. But it was amazing. And it saved me. He was being acknowledged and there was no better feeling. It wasn't about me or Pat. This was about Patrick. We held our son while he died. That instant love we felt with the girls was no different for him. The thought of just acting like he didn't exist was debilitating. We were asked if we wanted an obituary. The fact that it was even a question was hurtful to me in that moment. Everyone else gets one, why wouldn't he? He was here. He existed.
For those that believe some celebrity had time to pose for pictures, I'm happy this is something you clearly never had to experience. Studies have proven the old way of dealing with baby loss were actually damaging women. So hospitals evolved. There are actual organizations that work with hospitals to come specifically for these moments. We didn't have a chance to have one there, but the nurses knew enough to take our phones and snap away. I had no idea until a couple of days later. And I am so thankful. We don't see what others might see. We see Patrick. We see our only moments with him.
Keeping Patrick to myself was sending me in a direction that was not good. Sharing him sent me in a direction that has kept our marriage strong and given us three beautiful girls.
You don't need to understand or agree with someone's coping skills. But respect them. Or at least keep your opinions to yourself before you cause more damage.
This is where we share YOUR stories - your loss matters, your baby matters, you always matter.