Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Does it ever get any better?

I remember learning something about "stages of grief" at some point in my life. I don't remember when or where but something about denial, anger, bargaining and acceptance seems to sort of float around in my head. Later I learned that this theory of grief actually specifically applies to a terminally ill person, but for some reason it seems to get applied to grievers in other situations. My grief hasn't looked anything like that. There is no set of stairs that I progress up as I pass through successive stages. Instead I have discovered that my grief cycles.

A question I had from the moment I found out I was going to lose my baby was if there was any way I would ever recover. I was fortunate to have a wonderful nurse that had also lost a baby girl many years ago. She listened to my fears and told me about her story. She gave me advice on books to read and all sorts of other support. She was also very, very real. She told me it still hurts (8 years later) and she still misses her every day. I heard this "hurts every day" kind of thing from many others as well. I didn't totally understand. Part of the reason I didn't really get it was because of how I felt in the first few weeks after my loss.

The way I felt for the month after my loss was the biggest surprise for me. I came home, planned a graveside service, said goodbye to my baby and kept on living. In the first weeks I ached for her, I missed being pregnant and I cried, but I felt confused about how I could possibly be doing so well. I felt guilty that I still wanted to do fun things with my kids and my husband and every time I laughed or enjoyed myself I wondered why I wasn't having a harder time. I realize now there were a few reasons for this:

-Shock- it took some time for the grief to really, truly set in
-Peace and comfort from the special spiritual experiences we had when our angel was with us
-Amazing support from family and friends

After about a month I simply fell apart. That is an understatement. I withdrew from people I loved and cared about. I avoided people that I didn't absolutely have to see. I put up a sunshiny fake front to avoid ever talking about what was really going on. I sat in a job interview and stared at the interviewers when they asked me if I was excited about the opportunity. Excited? I couldn't even process what that meant. I'm sure they thought I was the least animated person they had ever met. Everything about surviving got really hard. Going to church was almost to the point of torture. I wanted badly to feel uplifted while I was there, but I was surrounded by people and situations that paralyzed me with heartache. I sat silently sobbing as my sweet little boy wiped my tears and snuggled me. I checked out on the whole mommy business for a while as well. I had no energy to give them. I hated the person I was becoming, but I saw no way out. Thankfully the tender mercies of the Lord shone a light for me. I started to see the world around me again. I started to write my story and share my feelings, just in my own personal journal at that point. I discovered that one hour of uninterrupted time out with my husband had the power to keep my head above the mirky water of grief for a few days. I remembered how daily prayer was like water in the dessert. I found inspiring words in scriptures and other good books. I rediscovered my passion for fitness and the way that a workout is literally an antidepressant for me. In short, I found ways to cope.

Throughout it all a quote from President Dieter F. Uchtdorf (second counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) was constantly on my mind. It was especially significant to me because just a few weeks before I lost my baby girl I had written it, along with some other thoughts, on a 3x5 card and taped it to a cabinet in my bathroom. I had no idea what was to come. It is still there, the words very faded but reminding me and giving me comfort daily: "what you see and experience now is not what forever will be. You will not feel loneliness, sorrow, pain, or discouragement forever."

Now I know a little bit better how to answer the question "does it ever get any better?" The short answer is yes, but that is too simple. My grief still cycles in and out of "those days," the ones that feel like somehow time is just passing by me and I am trapped in a fog. The days when I can't understand why I just feel so tired, or I can't seem to do a single thing right no matter how hard I try. On these days I know it's time to stop and give some time to my grief-- let myself wallow in the ache I feel for the baby girl that should be in my arms, look at pictures that make me cry, hold onto my boys a little tighter and a little longer, shut the world out and just remember how her short life has forever changed mine.

I don't think I have enough understanding of this process just 6 months after my loss to give any more insight than this, but I know that I don't want to forget her even though remembering her hurts, and I know that I have more good days than I used to, and most importantly, I know that what I experience now, is not what forever will be!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Measuring Grief

After my post last week I was fortunate to get some feedback and thoughts from a few friends that inspired me to write this post. Since losing my baby girl many questions have plagued my thoughts. One of these questions was why the loss had to be so late in my pregnancy. If she had to die, wouldn't it have been easier to lose her earlier in my pregnancy when I was "less attached." It didn't take me long to realize that no matter when the loss had occurred it would have been heartbreaking and devastating. I remember when I found out that I was pregnant and how excited I was that I simply couldn't contain it. I had to tell a friend immediately. I was already attached. I would have felt heartache if the pregnancy had ended the very next day. I think about the heartache of those that I know that are heartbroken over and over again each time the take a home pregnancy test and get a negative result. I think about those that have experienced miscarriages, maybe multiple times. All of these things are sad, and the simple fact is, while all of these experiences are different, they all hurt. There is not a grief-meter which we can use to measure the heartache of another person.

For some reason comparing grief still happens. We hear about somebody's miscarriage in their first trimester and we think (or maybe even say) well at least she hadn't felt the baby move, or, it's better that it happened now before she became too attached. We may hear about a person having a stillborn baby later in pregnancy and think (or maybe even say) that's so sad, but at least she has living children, or at least they can try again. For some reason we may occasionally, and unintentionally discount somebody else's grief because it isn't the saddest story we have ever heard. All experiences of loss are different and unique. In the several dozen stories of infant loss that I have read since I lost my baby, I have never heard a story exactly like mine. A very dear friend that was there for me in any way she possibly could be after my loss, shared her story of loss with me. Even she discounted her own experience some, saying that it wasn't as hard as mine. After hearing her story I ached knowing that she had experienced something so hard. I told her that there is no comparing our two stories. They are both simply very sad. Both of us had our hearts broken. Both of us still grieve for the baby that isn't here with us. Another friend shared her heartache over multiple miscarriages and after talking with her, I learned that even some of those closest to her barely acknowledged the loss that she had experienced. 

The problem with measuring grief is that it is not quantifiable. You can't put it on a scale, place is next to a ruler, or pour it into a graduated cylinder (Oh, by the way, I'm a science geek if you didn't already know). Every person experiences grief differently! Maybe you have experienced loss and within a few weeks you felt peace and were able to face the daily struggles of life, or maybe a year later getting out of bed each morning is still a challenge. Those could be the stories of two people that experienced very similar losses. We can't compare one person's loss to another or one person's grief to another person's because we can't measure it!

Maybe this doesn't resonate with you. Maybe you are sitting there thinking, "yeah, I know what happened to so and so was sad, but really when this other person lost her twins at -choose some number between 30 and 39 weeks- I'm sure it was harder" I'm sure in some small way that may be true. We all face our own challenges every single day. Sometimes we have to go through really sad things and other times our challenges are the everyday frustrations of just getting by. If we stop comparing, we can be far more helpful to those around us that are hurting.

There is only one individual that has experienced the exact hurt and heartache that each of us have and knows exactly how to come to our aid. He is our Savior, Jesus Christ. He knows our pain and our heartache and he doesn't ever comfort us with "I'm so sorry, but at least it wasn't as bad as it could be." No, His words--"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28) do not measure how heavy laden we are. He simply offers his rest. If you have experienced grief you know it is hard work and you are definitely heavy laden and in need of His rest and comfort. He would not tell us that our heartache is not real, or not enough to be acknowledged.

The Savior recognizes our suffering and knows how to give us comfort. He asks us to mourn with those who mourn. Not to mourn with those that mourn things that are sadder than our own trials, or those of a friend, cousin, brother (you get the idea), just mourn with those that mourn. 

So how do we acknowledge the grief of a friend that is suffering and not compare one person's grief to another person's? What exactly does mourning with those that mourn entail? Often (I can say often because it's happened to me plenty and to others that I know) it seems people feel the need to say something "helpful" along with expressing their sympathies. It is well meaning and they are really trying, but somebody experience the darkness of loss may not be ready for those "helpful" things just yet. What they do seem to be ready for are statements like:

I'm so sorry for your loss
I'm so sorry you are going through this, it must be so hard
I'm so sorry, is there anything I can do?
I'm sorry, can I give you a hug (or don't ask, just do it)
I'm so sorry, I'll bring dinner (or clean your toilets, vacuum your floors, babysit your kids… you get the idea)
I'm thinking of you
You are in my prayers

Those are helpful things. Every time I hear words like these I am strengthened to know that there are people in my life that are mourning with me. The word sorry means feeling distress. When you tell somebody you are sorry, you are telling them that their experience is making you feel distress for them--you are mourning with them.

My 5 year old is so good at this. He is such an example to me of true Christlike love. When he sees I'm not feeling well or am sad, he simply says, I'm sorry you don't feel good mom, and gives me a hug. I got to go on his first field trip with him and at one point a girl in his class tripped and fell. As she tried to keep up with the group and rub her hurt knee, my little guy came up beside her and said "I'm sorry you got hurt." It was simple and sincere. He didn't encourage her to toughen up, or move faster or tell her she would be ok in a minute, he acknowledged her hurt in that moment. That is mourning with those that mourn. We all want to feel validated for our feelings. We can give those around us that comfort and that validation in two simple words: I'm sorry. How big or small we may perceive the hurt of somebody else is not what is important. What is important is that they are hurting, and we can help.

I wanted to share some pictures of people that mourned, and still mourn with us (these pictures were a wonderful gift from a friend of my sister in law and they are so precious to me!). As I went through these pictures months after the experience I was again touched to the point of tears by the number of people that selflessly mourned with us, that offered us the simple heartfelt words of "I'm so sorry." There are still countless people that send me messages or simply and quietly offer as we pass in the halls at church- "I'm thinking about you." These words are so simple but so powerful. The pictures below represent just a few of these amazing people in my life. I know you can't see all of their faces, but that's because they were busy mourning with us.



Tuesday, November 12, 2013

How to Share Your Happy News with a Grieving Mother

I am not an expert! I only know my own experience, but I think what I have to share is at least somewhat universal. After loss (miscarriage, stillborn loss, infant death etc) your world stops, or at least you wish it would. Other's lives do not stop. Your closest loved ones may be deeply affected as well, but the news of other's new babies or pregnancies will likely not affect them quite the way it does the grieving mother.

I have read quite a few articles and blog posts about what to say, (check some out: here, or here) and what not to say to a grieving mother, but what about the times when you need to share something with them that you know will hurt?

An experience shortly after my loss made it obvious to me that many felt very uncomfortable sharing their happiness around me. Sadly, it was to the point that I ended up feeling excluded from their conversation while I was still right there with them. I do not have hard feelings towards those that were involved because I realize that generally in similar situations in my past when I was around others that experienced loss I didn't know what to say and ended up awkwardly avoiding certain topics and conversations. I have learned so much through my experience and I don't expect other's that have not had to journey through this storm to understand all of those things that I'm just beginning to get.

If you know me well you are probably aware that I generally do not wear my heart on my sleeve. I do my best to appear ok whenever possible and feel pretty uncomfortable getting emotional in front of others. Some call this strong, it's not. I consider it a serious weakness. If I could get past it I could share so much more of myself with others and that would probably be a good thing. Because of this many find it hard to read me and know what I'm thinking and feeling. It also probably makes it seem like I'm totally cool hearing about all the new babies constantly coming safely home. Please do not take what I'm saying to mean that I don't want others to have that! I would never wish the pain I have experienced on anybody, EVER! I want people to be happy and joyously experience the wonder of parenthood. I know that joy, I have my precious little boys upstairs asleep right now, and when I just peeked in on them, it made my heart swell and eyes tear up. It is absolutely amazing. The only reason hearing good news causes me pain is that it does a really good job of reminding me of the baby girl that is NOT upstairs sleeping in her crib, or snuggled in my arms, or crying through the night and causing me sleep deprivation. So should you not mention these things to me? I don't think that is a reasonable solution. Instead I want to share a few ways to make that reminder a little less painful and maintain your relationship with loved ones that are going through infant loss.
  • If you recently found out you are pregnant and need to tell a grieving mother, try to make it private. Do not bombard the poor woman with a great big family gathering and smugly cute pregnancy announcement, but definitely don't try to keep it from her! You may decide to tell her in person in a quiet private place, or over the phone, or maybe in writing. For me, any of these options are ok, and chances are I will be able to show my happiness for you for at least a few minutes, but may need an easy out after a bit to be alone with my emotions.
  • Don't be upset if they don't seem happy. For a newly grieving mom, happy is foreign, awkward and may even feel wrong. Let her be authentic. If she gets teary and simply says congratulations, let it be. It's what she can handle.
  • If you are having a baby soon or just had a baby and somebody close to you experienced loss, tread lightly. Don't anticipate that they will be anxious to hold your baby to help heal their wounds. They may not even want to. However, holding your newborn may be exactly what they need. Give them the opportunity to if they would like, but be sure to not push their comfort level. I vary almost daily on my emotions with this, and somebody dear to me recently had a baby. She lovingly knows that I have days that I want to hold and snuggle her baby, and days that I'm ok keeping my distance.
  • Talk to them about their baby! Ask sincerely about how they are doing, and show them that you really do want to hear the real answer. 
  • Don't exclude them! If they do not want to be a part of the conversation they can get out, unless they are physically trapped, like in a car or something. 
  • Try to avoid complaining too excessively about pregnancy or child rearing woes, but be real. Something that got tiresome for me was people complaining about being almost to their due date and not having the baby yet. I've been 40 weeks pregnant twice and would give anything to have made it there that third time. It's not the most comfortable state, but it is likely better than the alternative. Full disclosure-- 40 weeks pregnant is not miserable for me at all. Sleeping is tough, but I feel generally pretty good. Other things didn't bother me because they were less applicable to my situation, so know the person's situation and find out what is the hardest thing for them to hear about. How do you do that? Ask them!! I LOVE when people ask me if I'm comfortable talking about certain topics. It puts me in the driver's seat and lets me steer the conversation in a direction that is best for me.
Ultimately, be kind and caring. Sometimes people say stupid things, but when the intention was kindness it's sometimes better than saying nothing at all. Don't hide things because you think it will hurt them. Exclusion hurts badly too, so trust those dealing with loss with your happy news, rather than pushing them away. Grief can cause a pretty intense feeling of isolation. I would rather have friends that are pregnant and enjoying new babies than no friends at all.

As a personal side note, I want to thank all those that have done all of these things for me. I am surrounded by so many compassionate, loving and thoughtful people in my life. I consider myself very fortunate to almost never encounter unsupportive people that make no attempt to be sensitive to my feelings. So if you are one of those awesome people in my life that is always there for me and has simply done your best, even if you are worried you've said something dumb, thank you for just trying!

Me loving on my sweet niece when she was only hours old
I'm sure she had said her goodbyes to my sweet Eirlyse that morning.