Grief is a powerful phase in one’s life. For the one experiencing grief, you may feel as if you are losing your mind! Let me assure you that you are not! “How do you know?”, one may ask. Please allow me to share my experiences here with you.
I am no stranger to grief. It seems it wanted to meet me early in life. As a teenager, I experienced losing several friends. I didn’t know how to get through this process of grief and so I blindly walked through it. I dealt with it in many ways, some healthy, some not. I did not know about support groups and things that are readily available today, and no one knew to direct me to them. I began to put up walls to prevent myself from getting close to people. If I did this I could protect myself from being hurt. Right? Wrong!! Building those walls isolates you even more. I simply did not know that at the time.
Life continued around me whether I was grieving or not. Finally, I met my wonderful husband. We married and started our journey into parenthood. We were so excited and scared when we learned I was expecting our first baby. The pregnancy seemed to progress normally. Then the tragic day arrived! I was in my last month of pregnancy. I went for my doctor appointment and much to my horror, they could not find the baby’s heartbeat. They sent me straight to the hospital to induce labor. Several hours later I was holding my beautiful daughter who was perfect in every way, except she had left us. She was stillborn. No one could explain what happened, why we were experiencing this. We were allowed to hold her for a while to say goodbye and then I was moved to another room. I didn’t know what to expect, so as any new mother would, I waited on someone to ask her name. No one ever did. My mom was there with me and I asked her, “Why hasn’t anyone come to get her name for the birth/death certificate?” She didn’t know but she was determined to find out. She asked a nurse about this who informed her that in SC no birth certificate is given for a stillborn baby and that no death certificate is either. The parents can choose to purchase a “Fetal Death Report” but as far as the state is concerned, this baby is NOT a baby until she breathes so long outside of the womb. This just added insult to injury. My mind could not process this at all.
This nurse had also experienced the loss of a child, so she knew in her own way, how heart wrenching this all was for me. She made me a souvenir birth certificate, copies of Lauren’s hand and foot prints, cut a lock of her hair for me. She asked me her name. She also shared with me a support group that she was a part of.
The next few days were pretty much a blur. My parents made funeral arrangements for us because we had no idea how to do this. My husband was as supportive as he could, be honestly, men and women just grieve differently. I needed to talk, to get these words out of my head. He couldn’t talk. It was just too painful. My mom and I attended the support group meeting. It was filled with couples, singles,young and older, men and women alike. Everyone here had at least one thing in common…each had experienced the death of a child. This is where I truly realized just how differently men and women grieve. One gentleman stood and calmly said, “As a couple you have a choice to make. This life experience can tear you apart or it can bring you closer together. No one can make this decision for you, only the two of you can. You must realize that men and women grieve differently. There isn’t a right or wrong way to grieve, you just go through the process.” What a revelation! Until I heard this I simply thought my husband didn’t have any emotions because he wasn’t grieving like I was! I so wished he was there with me to hear this, but he couldn’t be. He was at work. I waited up for him to get home the next morning. I shared with him what I had learned at this meeting and I apologized to him! I had been so wrong in my thinking. I told him that I had chosen to allow this experience to bring us together not tear us apart and I truly hoped he made the same decision.
As I continued with the meetings, I learned there were things I could do to help me during the grieving process, but that it was certainly a process and all I could do was take baby steps to get through it. Some of the things I learned were:
- Eat healthy meals…most importantly EAT whether I felt like it or not!
- Do not make any major life decisions such as moving for the first year of this journey.
- Talk when I needed to talk.
- Exercise (because it can help clear your mind).
- Scream if I needed to scream.
- Do not do anything I did not feel I was emotionally ready to handle.
These six things helped me begin to walk in this journey. We did not have the internet back then to find online groups such as Compassionate Friends (which I highly recommend). Slowly I began to live again. This whole thing was a learning experience. You aren’t supposed to bury your children! What about things like Mother’s Day? Do I stand at church when they ask the mother’s to rise? The answer…Yes! You are a mother!
Again, life continued all around me. It wasn’t long and I was once again pregnant, but now scared to death! My doctors watched me closely and I delivered a beautiful little girl. Shortly thereafter, our third child was born. It’s a boy! He was a tiny little boy and had to stay in NICU because of his size. When he was seven days old the doctors detected something wrong with his heart. He was transferred to another hospital. Fear consumed me. His diagnosis: Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. The left side of his heart never developed. Open heart surgery wasn’t an option because there was nothing there to repair. His cardiologist told us that we had 24 hours to decide if we would put him through the first surgery which would lead to a series of surgeries and eventually a heart transplant. He was a three pound baby so the prognosis of him surviving the first surgery let alone all of the others was 30% or less. How could we be facing this again? What would we do? I couldn’t tell my husband what I wanted to do because I was afraid he would agree to it and not make his own decision. We talked. We asked ourselves who we were making this decision for and what our motives were. Was this what was best for our son or were we being selfish and putting him through hell because we didn’t want to lose him? For us, the answer was to let nature take its course. We would bring him home and offer him the most life we could for whatever amount of time we had him. He lived nine more days and passed away at 16 days old.
Here we are again in the throws of grief, but this time we had a baby to have to raise while walking this journey. She was so young she truly did not understand what was going on. We simply took things one day at a time. We did end up separating for about a month. Here, we had been married about three years and faced more heartache in that time than a lot of people experience in a lifetime. We did not give up on one another though. We worked things out and are still together today.
If there is anything I can tell you about grief it is simply this:
- There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Everyone grieves in his or her own way.
- Time doesn’t heal all wounds, but you learn to live your life differently. Your identity has changed and you have to learn who you are now.
- Take baby steps. You will have good days and you will have bad days. There will be times that you think you are completely fine and two seconds later you are falling apart. It’s OK. You’re not crazy!
- NO ONE can tell you how long your grief should last!
- You are NOT alone! You do not have to walk through this alone! Reach out to someone, find a support group (even if it’s just an online one).
- Do not feel guilty for being angry at God! He already knows you are. After all, HE CREATED YOU WITH ALL OF THESE EMOTIONS YOU ARE EXPERIENCING AT ONCE! Talk to Him just as if you were talking to your best friend. One day you won’t feel as angry.
Please feel free to contact me. I am available to talk with, cry with, scream at…whatever you need to do!