12 Dec 2015
December might be my very least favorite month. Every where I turn it feels like reminders of the ones I’ve lost are shoved so aggressively and continuously in my face, ripping open scars on my heart.
The holidays. A time when the world wants to shun and hide grief and loss even more than it does in ordinary days. No, let’s cover it in shiny paper, twinkling lights, cheery songs, and glossy family photos so no one has to experience the discomfort of grief and loss.
I write and talk about how invisible it can feel to be a mother to children who died before birth, how that motherhood is so often unseen and unacknowledged in the larger society. I carried them in their too-brief lives, however, and the love was immeasurable.
I feel the same about having had the love of my life die before we were married. Only engaged so I never got to fully be wife or widow. I was told once that I was lucky to not have been married yet when I lost him, as if somehow that made the pain less. She was wrong. We had the love, oh there was so much love and I have experienced the heart wrenching grief of the loss of him.
I have often felt invisible in that grief.
Because let’s be real and honest here, grief makes people very uncomfortable. No one likes to see or acknowledge its presence. It’s force and depth and power not only makes so many very uncomfortable, it often scares them.
They don’t want it to happen to them and they don’t like the reminder that it could.
I used to feel that I had to be invisible with my grief. I used to feel that if I was honest and open about how very much I missed them and longed for them still, even after so many years, I would be judged or criticized or even left by those around me that I loved.
And, it’s true, I have been judged and criticized and even left because people thought I should “get over” my grief and my losses or that I was wallowing in them. I have been told I was “not very spiritual or evolved” because I continue to grieve for my family. Each and every time that has happened, it has hurt. Bitterly. Painfully.
But I don’t hide anymore.
I am a mother who grieves her children and will long for them until the day I leave this earth.
I am a partner who grieves for her love and will miss him until the day I leave this earth.
What I wish people understood is that these facts are true and also do not negate the good and joyful in my life. I am capable of living both.
What I wish people understood is that this continued grief does not make me weak, or unhealthy, or emotionally unstable. It makes me strong. It takes courage and strength and immense bravery to love beyond death, to face the waves of grief when they come, and to live open and wholehearted in a world that doesn’t wish to acknowledge death or grief, to be seen in a world that wants to make your grief invisible.
I wish people understood that while our society runs from grief and death and powerful emotion, I do not. I am not afraid of the hugeness and the power of grief and emotion. I have withstood losses that ripped and tore and battered the very heart in my chest and my heart still beats, still loves, and still lives. I can handle the life and death and grief that comes from loving so completely.
I wish people understood that the platitudes and pressure to move on, the silence and the “concern” about my lack of letting go does not help me or them or anyone. You do not have to understand my grief, but listening, loving, and accepting me wherever I happen to be does help. My putting on a happy face for others may make them feel more comfortable, but it also damages our relationship and hurts me deeply.
I wish people understood that my continued grief does not mean I have not accepted the loss of those I love. I know that they are gone. Accepting their loss does not mean I no longer miss them or long to hold them. I accept that they are gone and I accept that I will always miss them.
I wish people understood that they cannot fix this loss. No words and no actions can fix this loss. It cannot be fixed because there is nothing to be fixed. This grief, this longing is a normal and natural response to the loss of the physical presence of those I deeply love. I am not broken and this does not need to be fixed.
I wish people understood that even if I fall in love again or have more children it would not take away this grief I have for the ones I have lost. I may very well love again and marry someday – and I will still miss the man I loved and lost. If I did choose to have more children and they lived, I would still long for and miss the ones who died. My love and my daughters cannot be replaced. My family will always be missing them.
I wish people understood how exhausting it is to feel like I have to hide myself and my grief from them. Or how painful it is when they shy away from my expressions of grief and love for those I’ve lost, when they try to gloss over my grief with platitudes, or whisper to others about how concerned they are about my emotional health.
I wish people understood I only desire them to simply be real with me. Share your discomfort. Ask for what I need. Ask for what you need from me. Tell me how you truly are. Talk to me if you are concerned. Let me share with you. Let me tell you how I truly am. Let me reassure you of your concerns.
Let’s all just be real and open and honest with each other. Let’s stop hiding behind platitudes and whispered concern. Let’s stop hiding behind “I’m fine’s” and “I’m doing ok” and happy faces. Let’s stop promoting invisibility.
Let’s see each other, exactly as we are. Messy. Imperfect. Uncomfortable.
Let’s give each other the gift of loving each other – exactly as we are, where we are, and who we are. No conditions, no judgments, no hiding.
Raw. Vulnerable. Honest.
All of it is beautiful. All of it is love.
Are you a mama grieving your baby(ies) this Christmas? Find some love and comfort in the Invisible Mothers: When Love Doesn’t Die book, written just for mama who have lost their first or all their children during pregnancy or infancy to know they are not alone. xoxo
07 Dec 2015
They arrive in brightly colored envelopes of red and green and silver.
Sometimes they make me smile.
I enjoy seeing updated pictures of friends and family. It’s fun to see how the kids have grown over the year for families who live many miles away that that I rarely get to see. I like reading the family update letters often included and hearing what they’ve been up to throughout the year.
These cheery pictures and busy updates also make my heart ache.
I never send holiday cards.
I ache to have my own family holiday cards with happy (and probably silly) photos of my little family to share. I long to be able to write all our names along the bottom – with love from Emily, Ryan, Grace and Lily and the four-leggeds (because my kids would have pets to play and cuddle with).
It hurts my heart too deeply to send cards empty of my family’s images and signed only by me. I never had the chance to send a holiday card with pictures and updates with any of my family members. They all died before the holidays ever came around to create them.
I tried one year to send picture-less cards to those I loved. Tears flowed every time I signed my name and saw it there alone.
With every card that comes in my mailbox, come delight and grief in equal measure. Gratitude for those I love and the beauty of their families and the longing of my heart thumping painfully with every envelope of red and green and silver.
Every year I can’t help but wonder,
What would life be had they lived?
Who would they be?
What would the holidays be like with my family here with me?
You may never notice the absence of my little family’s card in your mailbox.
But I do.
06 Dec 2015
We’re having a giveaway!!
I know how painful and lonely the holidays can feel when your arms are empty and your house silent and still because your baby has died – it is my mission that every invisible mother know that they are not alone and that they are loved.
I do that best through words and writing. Like my book – Invisible Mothers: When Love Doesn’t Die.
Entering the giveaway is simple. Comment here or on the FB post with the name or names of your precious, dearly missed little one for a chance to win a personally dedicated to you and your baby(ies) copy of Invisible Mothers, just in time for the holidays.
Giveaway winner will be randomly selected at 9:00am Eastern Time on Monday Dec. 7th!
05 Dec 2015
Since the death of my fiancé and my daughters, grief has become part of who I am. Grief is as much a part of me as my red curly hair, blue eyes, and freckled skin. It lingers in the sound of my voice and the tears that fall from my eyes.
People typically don’t like to hear me say that. Our culture wants to look at grief as something that comes briefly and then vanishes back into nothingness. Those who haven’t experienced it’s depth and power want to make it something insignificant and small, a temporary blip on the path of life soon to be forgotten.
That is not what grief is.
Grief is a fire that has forged me into who I am and whose embers still smolder in my bones. It’s flames tore through my life and erased in smoke the person I was and the wife and mother I might have become.
Grief made me someone new. I am born of the heat and formed from the ashes. I will never be the same. In surrendering to the fire of grief, I was burned down to the very essence of myself.
Grief is powerful and destructive. That is it’s very nature.
It will burn and shatter and consume the person that we were before the ones we loved so very much were taken from our arms.
Grief is part of me. It lives in my very bones.
But grief is not all of me.
For all of it’s power and destruction, grief cannot touch the essence of me. It cannot take my breath. My bone. My heart. My humanity.
It can never take my humanity, for humanity is love.
Love is the rain and tears that fall to bank down the fire.
Love is the air that cools the heat and clears the smoke.
Love is the earth, scorched and blackened, but never beaten by the flames.
Love is the life that sprouts and grows after the fire has blazed across the landscape.
Love is what overcomes the fire of grief.
Love for the one who was lost.
Love for the ones who remain breathing, living, standing.
Love for myself, the me forged in the heat of the flames and reborn of the ashes.
Yes, grief is part of who I am. It lives in the very bones of me.
So does love. Love is my very essence. Love is as much a part of me as the red curls on my head, the blue of my eyes, and the freckles on my skin. Love is the joy and the laughter and the lightness that bubble within me. Love is the ocean and river currents that sooth the embers burning in my bones.
I am grief and I am love in equal measure.
I was born of the ashes.
I bloom among the embers.
01 Dec 2015
It’s hard to see people we love be in pain and not be able to do anything about it. We want them to feel better, to smile, to laugh, and to be okay again. Feeling better sooner rather than later would be even better.
As humans, we are problems solvers. We want to fix things, to find ways to get past problems or challenges faster and easier. We like things to be neat and orderly and fit nicely into boxes and categories.
Grief is none of those things. It’s not fixable. We can’t rush it or make to move through faster. It is anything but neat and orderly or easily categorized.
Grief is messy. Grief is painful. Grief is confusing. Grief is complex. Grief is not going to go away overnight.
I get it. I’ve been on both sides of the situation – the griever and the one sitting with the grieving.
We can feel helpless and overwhelmed and lost on either side.
So, if we can’t fix things for those we love when they are grieving or make them feel better or make the grief go away faster, how we do help?
Be there with them in it. Instead of pulling away or trying to gloss over the pain and the heartbreak, lean into it with them.
Ask them how they are doing.
Sit with them in silence.
Give them a hug or just sit beside them.
Bring them food or take care of household chores so they have one less thing to try to figure out in the heaviness and disorientation of grief.
Send them cards, texts, emails to let them know you are thinking of them.
Remember them on holidays or the anniversaries of birthdays or death days – then let them know you remember too.
Speak their loved ones names.
Tell them you miss their loved one too – or that you wish you could have known them.
However you decide to share your presence, Be Proactive.
Don’t wait for them to reach out to you.
Grief is overwhelming and too often those living with it feel burdensome or hesitant to ask for support.
Instead of waiting for them to ask for support, reach out to them and offer ways to help.
Can I get your groceries for you this week?
Do you want some company? We can do whatever you need.
How about I take care of your lawn this week so you don’t have to worry about it.
I know _______’s birthday is coming up, do you want to do anything to honor it?
Would you like to go for a walk together? We can talk or not talk, whatever you need.
Send books you have found or see that could offer comfort.
Send them notes to let you know you’re thinking of them.
If something reminds you of the one they’ve lost, send them a message telling them about it.
Do something. Reaching out, even if imperfectly, is almost always infinitely better than not. Grief can feel so very lonely and isolating. Sometimes people think they are helping by giving space or not reaching out – but that usually just increases that sense of isolation.
Also, reach out and continue to reach out even if they don’t respond or respond with no for a while. Your act of reaching out still helps. Don’t give up too soon.
Remember, support is different than fixing.
Your support helps. It comforts. It helps us know we aren’t alone. It brings a little light into the darkness.
It doesn’t fix our grief. Nothing can. Nothing save our loved one returning to us from the grave will ever fix this.
Be patient with us. This thing called grief will last far longer than either of us want. In fact, we will have grief and miss our loved one until the day we join them in whatever comes next.
This pain and this longing and this emptiness that we are feeling is a natural part of losing someone we loved so very much. The greater the love, the greater the grief.
This pain doesn’t need to be fixed – nor can it be. It does need to be acknowledged, recognized, and allowed. Chances are, you will tire of this grief long before it eases or lightens for us. So will we.
It cannot be fixed and it cannot be rushed. It must simply be felt and lived through.
Your support does make the load a little easier to bear.
At some point, it’s highly likely our grief will make you very uncomfortable. Perhaps it will bring up your fears around loss or remind you of old grief of your own. Or perhaps it will seem so foreign and unfamiliar to you that it will scare you.
Either way, please, lean into that discomfort and leave the platitudes and cliques left unsaid.
Telling us that “time heals all wounds” or “he/she is in a better place now” or “it just wasn’t meant to be” or “everything happens for a reason” or any of the thousand other well-worn platitudes does not help.
Whether any of these sayings are true or not does not matter in the least (let’s face it, truth varies widely across belief systems and people). Besides, true or not true, in the face of grief they simply aren’t helpful or useful.
They are an attempt to fix our grief and to ease your discomfort.
And if you’d said such things before, don’t worry – we’ve all said them a time or two in our lives. Even those of us most familiar with grief.
We’re human and we make mistakes. It’s more important to forgive ourselves and make a point to find other ways to handle our discomfort in the future. It never hurts for us to take a good look at why loss makes us feel so uncomfortable or afraid – if fact, if we all did, our world might be a more peaceful and loving place.
In the end, it comes down to this:
If in doubt, simply acknowledge or ask.
If you aren’t sure if what you are offering for support is helpful or not – ask.
If you aren’t sure what they might need or want from you – ask.
If you don’t know what to say – acknowledge that and just say that.
If you are afraid, as many are, that bring up their loved one will hurt them more, ask them if they want you to talk about them or say their name. (FYI, 99% of the time, they’ll say yes.)
Connection and compassion require far less than we tend to think they do.
Be proactive and reach out.
Offer support instead of fixing.
Embrace your own discomfort.
Simply acknowledge or ask.
But most of all, love. In the end, all any of us really want is to feel seen, heard, and loved.
It’s as simple as that.