Recently I had an experience that graphically told me (in a very real and personal way) exactly why bereaved parents become closeted with grief, begin to censor what they say, begin to be choosy about who they will call friend, and generally feel pressured to have their dead children erased from the family tree.
This is one sad day for me.
All my work is to give voice to the long term expression of the continued connection we all feel with our dead loved ones. I have tried to open forums where the bereaved could actully be honest about the many levels of feelings they go through as they move through life after the death of a child. But this recent experience tells me that if it can happen to me, with all the work I'm doing, then it is happening to FAR too many others who are left feeling alone and who give up trying and who end up with no support at all.
If you've read anything from me recently, then you know that for the first time since my son died three+ years ago, I've got many friends and family members around me who are pregnant and giving birth to perfectly healthy beautiful children now. And you know how hard this has been for me to experience.
Well, in the middle of this, I was feeling very conflict. Relieved that they did not have to experience this long-term hell we have lived through, but yet I'm not soaringly, unadulteratedly happy for anyone either. And, in fact, I often find myself faking it. Fake smile. Fake feeling behind the "oh, congrats" and just faking my way thru this happy scene where in reality my heart hurts that my experience is divided yet further from their experiences. It is another distance. Hard to accept and bridge.
But, to add to that process, I mistakenly admitted all that to another friend of mine. She is not a bereaved parent. She is one of the people who told me I could grieve for awhile, but if it carried on, then "we'd have to talk about that." But I forgot that she said that to me three+ years ago. At that time, three+ years ago, there were people around me saying I needed to get over it in three *weeks*! So compared to that, this friend who was giving me three years, well, that seemed like heaven. But, of course, I forgot that she, too, had set a time limit for my experience. As if suddenly in three years time, my son would no longer be dead. So I forgot all that, and confided to her all of my conflicted and scary feelings.
I'm sad to say she came back with the typical rhetoric about how I am killing myself by clinging to my son's death, about how I am choosing to feel pain instead of joy, choosing death instead of life, hate instead of love, etc.
And I suddenly remembered the time limit, that she was not a bereaved parent herself, that loss is loss is loss, but sometimes a person has to have had a real loved one die on them before they can understand.
And I made the choice to let it go (except for writing this article) and turn to the other bereaved parents I know who are at or beyond the same "time from death" as moi. And I realized that I had now made the decision to censor myself with that friend. To not confide my reality to her. To now be fake with her as well as the friends and family who now have new babies, too.
That's how parents end up closeted. That's why grown siblings don't know they had an older brother or sister who died at birth. That's why those dead children end up erased from the family tree. We end up choosing to protect our hearts and memories instead of opening up to the judgement of those who just don't yet understand.
On the positive side of this, the other bereaved parents I turned to were *AMAZING* and *WONDERFUL*-- and you know what they said? It was really simple. No preaching. No pretense. No judgement. No "I love you, but...". Simply this:
Take it as it comes.
It's like being an alcholoic. If you spend time thinking about how you will be without your child for eternity, you'll go crazy. But if you take only *THIS* very moment, just right now, as it comes, then it is okay. You can do it and you *know* you can do it.
The other bereaved parents told me that I was freaking out and having anxiety and conflict over what I *imagine* it's going to be like hanging out with these now "happy newborn families." They were right!!! I was not there. I was not in the hospital room I was not attending the birth. I had not yet really actually spent any time with any of them! I was projecting anxiety and fear where there may well be none.
And the other bereaved parents wrote to tell me what their experiences were like holding the first healthy newborn handed to them after the deaths of their babies. And they were honest. It was hard. It was weird. It was rewarding. It created the tangible reality that this baby was not their baby. It was crushing. It was a different perspective. But it was nothing like my fears of what I imagined.
And they told me that of course I will be conflicted. That it is *normal* to feel as though one is faking it thru and being polite and censored in certain situations. But that when I actually get into the room with new mom and healthy baby, I will hurt (again it's NORMAL) but I will also experience the reality of them not being me, of them having a separate and different reality, of the ability to be happy for them for real while at the same time letting my own experience of saddness to be just as real. One does not cancel out the other.
So if you are a support person for a bereaved parent and you have never had a child (or any loved one) die on you, then consider what you offer them as support. Give them space to have the full spectrum of these realities at the same time. Don't pathologize anything they feel (unless of course they are talking about committing suicide-- THEN get help!). Learn from the way these other bereaved parents supported me.
One last note on this: My revelation for getting through all this was that I do have abundance in my life and am grateful for everything in the here and now. I wrote to another bereaved mom to say I realized that this beautiful sunset out my window was incredibly abundant and existed at the same moment as my saddness for my son and my relief that a friend had delivered her son healthy and alive. I wrote to say "That is abundance."
This mom responded by sending back an epostcard of the sunset with a note that said, "Dear Mommy & Daddy, I know life has been tuff at times, but please know I'm with you in heart and soul always! I love & miss you both very much! Love, Dakota xoxo..."
What an amazingly simple way to acknowledge all we've been through while also being grateful for abundance and being able to separate that from being happy for others in whatever their experience might be.
It all exists at the same time. Not one or the other. Not one thing healed and solved, so we are over it in time for being unadulteratedly happy once again. You have to accept it all, not only parts of it.
My point to all this is that if I went thru this and recovered after the well-meaning friend tromped me, what of the many bereaved parents who don't have support from other bereaved parents like I have. What of those who aren't doing this work that let's me stay in touch with newly bereaved as well as those whose children died 25 years ago or more? What of those who don't have the opportunity to recover-- and then stay tromped, closed, hurt, and alone?
I'm afraid it's those parents who are left to fend for themselves long term. I'm afraid that it's those families where the dead children are erased from the family tree.
And I wanted to say publicly, that I am so sorry if that happened or happens to you. And I wanted to encourage you to try again by reaching out to other bereaved parents for a real perspective that is closer to yours. Write what you feel and contribute here to KotaPress. Join our KotaPress yahoo group discussion forum. Post and read at the MISS Foundation forums. Attend a MISS Passages Conference where you can meet with other bereaved parents as well as medical professionals (and some friends and family members) who are open to finding truly helpful ways to support bereaved parents long-term. I swear there is a place for your voice!!!
And we remember your child, even as others "move on" or want you to forget. Their experiences don't cancel out your experiences. We are all in this together.
Miracles and thanks to all of you!