After having several unexpected conversations with people this week about Michael’s loss, I want to throw this out there:
Tears are okay.
I understand how you don’t want to upset me, or make me cry. I understand that crying in public is uncomfortable. I understand that we are conditioned to apologize for our griefs (Hell, I’ve done that on many an occasion, without even thinking about it). But if you are moved to the point of tears when I am talking with you about my son, don’t be ashamed! Please. It’s alright. Believe me, I get it. If I let myself sit and consider the full weight of the tragedy called neonatal death, I would be in tears, too. I have been in tears.
You have nothing to apologize for. Your tears just tell me that you care. That’s a nice thing for someone in my position to see, because with the nature of my son’s loss, my husband and I were the only ones who knew him. It’s all too easy for people to pretend it never happened, because they didn’t experience the pregnancy as closely. Michael never lived long enough to make memories with anyone but his daddy and I. So your tears are lovely to me for the fact that you care.
It’s just like asking his name. Most people don’t because they are afraid to, when they shouldn’t be. Speak his name if you know it, and if not, please ask. It’s the only thing I have left of my boy, the only proof that he was ever here. When you speak his name, you acknowledge the fact that he mattered to me, and he mattered to his father.
Now the fear that by doing these simple things you’ll make it worse IS a concern. What it boils down to, I think, is where the griever is in their process. Don’t ask us to comfort you, because we are, quite frankly, incapable of it for a while. You also may want to hold off on asking about the details for the first couple of months. During that time, we’re still sorting it all out in our head, and I know we never even got the coroner’s report back until the middle of July or so. But after that first couple of months, I can probably guarantee you that we want to talk… we’re just floundering with how to go about it. There are all these social rules for what is acceptable and what isn’t, and we don’t want to make you run away. We are trying desperately to hold what is left of our lives together, and we are all-too-aware of how uncomfortable we make people. One lady told me that “if I ever needed to talk, to let her know,” and I took her up on the invitation only to see from her body language how much she hadn’t meant it. Which brings me to another point…
Please only offer the things you can give. It is heartbreaking to us not knowing where we can turn in safety, and situations like that lady above who offered something out of propriety that she didn’t want? Makes everyone uncomfortable. Even if all you can offer is a casserole, or a pie, or some no-pressure company, it is greatly appreciated. Any little gesture gives us hope and emotional support. Also, don’t feel pressured to say anything, sometimes nothing is the right thing to say. At an SCA event I attended, after, one of the nobles approached me before her class started and squeezed my arm. All she said was “I am glad to see you here,” and something as simple as that made me feel so good because she was acknowledging my loss, and offering something she could fulfill: her pleasure at seeing me in her class.
The other thing to understand is that this kind of a loss does not go away. We may heal, we may look like our old selves in a few months, a year, five years… But we just learn how to better carry the hurt. It’s like when you go to the post office and are handed a huge, heavy package to take home, and you struggle with how to grab it at first. You may even drop it, or your grip will slip a time or two. Especially if you are trying to juggle the car keys, your purse, the envelopes you also picked up. But by the time you get to your car, you’ve pretty well got it sorted with how to handle it. Grief is the same. The first few months are the hardest because we’re struggling with how to hang onto it and everything else in our lives. Eventually (and everyone is different, I find I have a pretty decent grip on things 4 months out, but others don’t get there for a year or two), we get it all sorted, and are capable of carrying that big parcel along with everything else, and we look like we have it all together. We haven’t “moved on” because there is no such thing — that implies leaving grief behind totally, as if it never existed, when Grief is the act of loving someone who is no longer here — however, there is moving forward.
So, if you are on the “outside,” my advice to you is this:
- Please don’t be ashamed of feeling. It makes us feel like we aren’t alone, and it honors our experience of our loss.
- Feeling does not make it worse. We live with our hurt all day, every day. Seeing you be upset doesn’t compound anything we are feeling so long as you don’t ask to be comforted (because it may be a long time before we are capable of that). In other words, we’ll feel terrible for a while, regardless.
- Offer the support you CAN give, even if it’s just a silent hug, or a pie (can you tell that I really appreciate food gifts?).
- Give us time to figure out how to carry this giant parcel, and understand that we won’t — can’t — ever leave that parcel at home. We may get a wheelbarrow or a wagon to cart it around in so we aren’t constantly dropping the other things in our hands, but it is with us wherever we go.
Now, it appears I’ve written you a book. But if there’s one thing to take away from this is that:
- Above all, don’t be afraid to acknowledge.
See, with these kinds of losses — miscarriage, stillbirth, or neonatal death — it’s at once all too easy to forget and all too hard to forget at all. It’s a very difficult, touchy, HARD place to be. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from walking this path myself is that there is great comfort to be had when others talk with you about your lost child and treat the subject exactly as they would had the child lived a full life and not mere minutes.