Monday, July 25, 2011

What’s in a Word?

After I was able to (somewhat) accept the death of Ellie, I started to seek out other women who had experienced the loss of a baby. Faces of Loss, Faces of Hope, the Compassionate Friends, and the MISS Foundation helped me tremendously as did a few private Facebook groups. I didn’t realize that I was part of such a large community and I often hoped the membership number would never rise. Although I feel I am starting to get to a point where I can offer support to other women, I would prefer to never know another bereaved mother! I want all babies and children to just be healthy and safe. But we all know that isn’t reality.

Last week, my husband and I attended the memorial service of a 24 year old man. His mother worked with us and his fiancĂ© is a summer student worker in my husband’s office.  When we learned of his tragic death (an unsolved murder at the present time), my heart broke for his mother. Although there were very different reasons for the deaths of our children, I could empathize with her; I knew some of the emotions she would be experiencing. There would be: shock, guilt, anger, irrationality, pain, sorrow, and grief. She would be asking why and how something like this could happen and would probably try to blame herself in some way. Knowing this, I struggled with how to help her as someone 18 months further along in the grief journey. In the end I wrote her a brief letter and bought her the book, Beyond Tears: Living After Losing a Child. I dreaded attending the memorial service, both out of fear for seeing another mother in pain and for the feelings I was sure to experience remembering Ellie.

We attended the service and our hearts broke as we watched the family and fiancĂ©. I hope the mass brought them comfort. After the service ended, I wasn’t sure how to get the book and note to the mother, so we walked out to the church foyer where she was surrounded by loving friends, family, and congregation members. We stood there awkwardly for a few moments when she locked eyes with me. She pushed passed everyone and approached me. She began to cry and we hugged. She said, “You know what this is like, don’t you?” And I responded through my tears, “Yes, I do. And I am so sorry.” A few moments later we released one another, and she turned back toward the crowd of people waiting to pay their respects. We gave the book and letter to her husband and quickly left, me in tears and my husband comforting me as always.

Since then I have been beating myself up. I should have said more to her. Having lost a child, I should have some magical words to comfort her; to take the pain away even if for a moment. I should be able to say something to soothe her and to help her make sense of what has happened. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. But then I realized that I didn’t need to. The moment we shared as we both cried, one bereaved mother to another, didn’t require words. Our hearts spoke to one another and our souls recognized a kindred spirit. Sometimes the best thing one can do for a bereaved mother in those early days is to just give her quiet understanding and silent love.

Monday, July 18, 2011


One statement that always perplexes me during the grieving process involves the idea that there is a set amount of time, as in “It’s time to move on.” To me, this statement implies that a parent can be over, or worse, forget, their child’s existence. How is that possible? I am not advocating for remaining in that dark place that we find ourselves in after the death of our child for a lengthy amount of time. I agree it is unhealthy to participate in risky behaviors such as drugs, drinking, or promiscuity as a method of working through grief. I certainly don’t think giving up in any form (at the least becoming a hermit and at worse ending your own life) is a viable option. And I do think it can be unhealthy to focus so much on the dead that we forget the living…or to do some living ourselves. Participating in charity events, anniversaries, birthdays, support groups, ect., can be very cathartic and a good way to channel those overpowering feelings of grief, guilt, anger, and pain. But what is the appropriate amount of time to grieve before “moving on?” The answer is simple to a bereaved parent but for some reason can be a mystery to those who have never lost a child. There is no set amount of time (or right or wrong way) to grieve. And there is no possible way to “move on” from what has happened.

I guess to “move on”, we’d have to be the same person we were before the unimaginable happened. But we all know that isn’t remotely possible. My life is forever defined by the trauma of loosing Ellie. No, that doesn’t mean I cannot go on to have a happy life, but it will never really be complete. There will always be a piece of my heart/soul/being that is missing. I will continue to miss my sweet daughter and wonder what sort of woman she would have been. And I will continue to honor and memorialize her in any way possible.

Instead of “moving on” I think I will “proceed with caution”. It is time for me to do so. But it will probably involve several detours and pit stops along the way. And that's just fine.