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8 Ways to Help a Grieving Parent (and 3 Don’ts)

October-infant-loss-month-2013-e1381331575122

The 15th is Pregnancy/Infant Loss Awareness Day.

I thought about not writing anything since I’ve already written a couple of posts on my losses (HERE & HERE), but since its something I’ll never likely ever forget, I don’t see a problem with posting something again.  My losses- my kids that went to Heaven- they’re a part of me and they always will be.  Regardless of if everyone else has forgotten about them and figured I should have already moved on, I haven’t and I won’t ever “move on”.  That’s like telling an amputee,”Oh, come on- aren’t you over it yet?  Suck it up.”  People would look at you like you were insane or, at the very least, insensitive beyond belief, but for whatever reason, when you lose a child, you’re expected to learn to “deal with it” even sooner than someone who’s lost a limb.  Why do we accept the difficulties that come with learning to cope with the loss of a body part, but we give a time limit on how long it takes to get over losing a part of your heart and soul?

Every single day I wish I wasn’t a part of this club.  I think about my boys all the time ( I knew the gender of one, and -considering I have all boys now- I’m just going to guess that the other was a boy, too), and, years later, it can still feel as fresh as when I heard the doctor say,”I’m sorry, but I can’t find a heartbeat.”

Yeah, I know that there’s some that will point out that if I had the ones I lost, I wouldn’t have the ones I have now, but can I tell you something?  Telling me that doesn’t help- if anything, it can make me feel even more guilty. (Mom guilt is a real thing and it sucks.)  Besides, I’m a mom- I can multitask.  I can be thankful for what I have and grieve the ones I lost- AT THE SAME TIME.

I know.  Mind.  Blown.

The funny thing about the comments well-meaning individuals will say after you’ve lost a child (or anyone, for that matter) is that, most of the time, they aren’t very helpful.  So, in honor of this month, I’m going to give you a list of things you can say (and do) when someone has lost the most important thing to them in this world:

  1. “I’m so sorry.”  Simple.  Straight forward.  No frills.  No BS.  Timeless.  Its like the Little Black Dress of consoling phrases.
  2. “I’m here for you.”  And then ACTUALLY be there for them.  They need you.  Whether its a shoulder to cry on, someone to vent to, or to just sit in silence to not feel alone, they need you.
  3. “I love you.”  I’m not talking about professing your undying love and devotion during their time of grief- I’m talking about letting them know that they’re loved, even when they might be unlovable and pushing you away because they just want to hide away from the world.
  4.  “Is there anything I can do to help you out?”  And then, like #2, follow through.
  5.  “I’m bringing you dinner- what do you want?” They might say they aren’t hungry.  That’s ok.  Bring them a freezer meal (in a container they don’t need to worry about getting back to you).  They will be at some point.  Studies have shown that humans need food to survive.
  6.  “Do you want company?” Be ready to visit them if they say yes.  Don’t just say it.  If you aren’t able to, don’t offer.
  7.  If their child was out of the womb when he/she died, share memories of things you loved about him/her.  Don’t shy away from mentioning the loss.  Their child was real and alive and breathing and a part of their world.  Their child was there, and then one day, they just weren’t.  They’re feeling that loss.  Don’t ignore it.
  8.  Buy them a gift card for dinner for them to go out once they’re ready to leave the house.  A freezer full of meals is nice, but the ability to leave the place where all the memories are- words can’t express how much that meant to my hubby and I.  The loss of a kiddo- no matter how old- is hard on a marriage.  I dare say, it could be the hardest thing your marriage can go through.  A date night away to be a couple again where you aren’t surrounded by ghosts, well, its more important than you could ever realize, unless you’ve been there.

I need to point out that these suggestions can be combined in any number of ways.  Do some, all- the possibilities are endless.

Ok, mathematically, maybe not, but you get the point.  Also, grief isn’t a timeline with a point A and a point B.  A lot of people will stop checking in on them after a while (because those people feel the parents might have “gotten over it” by now), but, the thing is, that’s when things tend to get a little lonely and when you should make an effort to check in.  See how they’re doing.  Let them know you’re thinking about them.

Things NOT to say and do:

  1.  Don’t say,”He/she is in a better place now.”  Sure they are, but I wanted him here.  Are you telling me that being with me WASN’T a good place?
  2.  Don’t say,”Everything happens for a reason.”  No.  Just, no.  Now is not the time to wax philosophical.  If you say this, be ready to be slapped and watch them say,”Do you know the reason I did that?”
  3.  And, finally, do not- under any circumstance- contact them or attempt to go over there if you can’t keep yourself together.  Their loss is not about you.  This situation is not yours.  I don’t care if you’re the grandparent- it wasn’t your child so you don’t have a CLUE what they’re feeling.  They don’t need to be trying to console you and keep you together when they’re feeling lost and confused and falling apart themselves.   If you love them, get a straw, suck it up, and keep it under control.  They need you to be the calm in the middle of their hurricane.  To do anything else is selfish on your part.  Its ok to shed tears with them, but when it reaches a point where they’re telling YOU that its going to be ok, there’s something wrong there.

These are just my thoughts on it all, but considering I’m speaking from experience, I think I’m a pretty reliable source.

In closing, if you’re readng this and you’ve lost a child, my heart goes out to you.  As a nation, we only recogize the heartache bereaved parents go through for 1 month out of the year, but I know that you don’t just feel that empty feeling during October.  I wish there was more I could do than just offer up kind words, but I also know that unless I could give you back that piece of your heart you lost, there really isn’t much more I could do.

But, boy, do I wish I could give that to you.

october

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Its been 6 years…

Grief

Grief: n. noun; 1.  keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret.  2.  a cause or occasion of keen distress or sorrow.

Loss: n. noun; 1.  The fact or process of losing something or someone. 2. The state or feeling of grief when deprived of something or someone of value.  3. A person or thing that is badly missed when lost.

My own definition: Grief: 1.  something that can sneak up on you anywhere, at anytime from anything and has the power to hit you like a Mac Truck going 1000 miles an hour.

Grief is a strange thing, and the things we can do to ride the waves can be even stranger to anyone not experiencing our particular grief.  The two definitions I gave don’t say a single thing about time limits or how people should react to each, but it astounds me sometimes how people who’ve never been through it will interpret each one.  It also blows me away how people will unintentionally give values to that which was lost, even though those same definitions don’t state that the person or thing of value that was lost must have any particular value to anyone else.

6 years ago, at 12:10 a.m., I said “Goodbye for now” to my son, Christopher Scott.  He was 15 weeks along when he passed, though I didn’t find out until I went to an appointment at 19 weeks.  Initially, everyone gave their condolences and was there for my husband and I, but -like most people who’ve never encountered this situation themselves- they gave our grief a timeline and a value.  I was told things like,”He’s happy and whole in Heaven now” and “At least it happened before you got a chance to get to know him” and-

Actually, no.  Let’s stop at that one for a moment, shall we?

Have you ever been pregnant?  Even if it was a surprise pregnancy, tell me that you didn’t envision his or her future.  Tell me you didn’t talk to him or her.  Tell me- if you have other kids- that you didn’t wonder what features they would all share and picture them all playing together.

You KNEW them.  You knew that at a certain time every single day you’d get sick, and you’d joke that your little bean was already putting you through the ringer and promise them that you’d pay them back.  You knew every poke and prod and eventually could pinpoint what part of their body was working to break your rib.  You knew when their witching hour was and wondered if it would be the same once they were born.

You KNEW them.

I knew my son.  I knew he’d probably look just like his 2 older brothers and that they’d probably all be wrestling before he was even walking.  I had plans for him.  I pictured his future.  So, tell me again- how was I lucky?

See, here’s where I take issue with everyone’s opinions.  Those that haven’t been in my place- or your place, or anyone’s place that has lost someone.  They think I should conform to those opinions and they make comments that either make me feel foolish or bad about my own feelings.

Its been 6 years.  Ya know what?  It still hurts and causes my heart to break all over again sometimes.  I think about our family dynamic and how he would’ve changed it; how they all would’ve gotten along.  Ya know what else?  In neither of those definitions did they give a time frame.  If you look up the 5 stages of grief, you’ll see: Denial/Isolation, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.  Do you know what it DOESN’T say?  How long someone will experience each stage.  Or what order.  Or if one of the stages will be skipped.  Or the fact that even once someone has finally reached the “Acceptance” stage, that a song might come on or a certain date will come ’round that sends them right back into the isolation or anger stage.  Or that, years later, they’re still bargaining even though their loved one is long gone- “If I could just have one more minute with him again- just one- I promise…”

Its been 6 years.  I still can’t listen to ‘London’ by Brandon Heath without remembering that I had been singing that song to him the day before I found out he’d actually passed 4 weeks prior.

Its been 6 years, but some days it feels like yesterday.

Its been 6 years, but please don’t tell me -even now- that everything happens for a reason, because I still don’t see it and I likely won’t until the day that him and I are reunited in Heaven.

Its been 6 years.  I’ve been through every single stage of grief multiple times over.  I’m sorry my grief doesn’t fit YOUR specifications.

 

 

Counting Kids

How many kids do you have?

Its been 5 years and I STILL don’t know how to answer that question.

Such a simple question- unless you’ve lost a child- and it really doesn’t matter at what stage you lost them, too.  In any case, they were, and then -suddenly- they weren’t.  Does it REALLY matter if 2 of mine never lived outside of the womb?  Does that mean I loved them less?

Sometimes I get jealous of the moms that can answer that question with ease.  They tick off the names of their kids on their fingers, as if checking off a list.  Its so simple for them- all their kids are standing in front of them- or running around like midget insane asylum patients.  In any case, its not an issue for them as they count all their kids.  For moms that have lost a baby, though, we have the option of either going into detail (which can be akin to picking at a scab), or naming off all but the ones we lost, carrying with that the mom guilt of not acknowledging the life- however brief- of one of our own children.

Moms of miscarried or stillborn babies, though, we’ve got a club all our own.  We had a “non-baby”. a baby that didn’t live long enough to “count”.  Since we never had to stay up late with those babies, kiss their boo boos, deal with colic, worry about fevers, laugh at their antics, etc., our babies don’t “count” in the eyes of many.  Sure people will say they’re sorry for our loss initially, but after a while, people feel we need to “get over it”.  They tell us to “look at the bright side” or -if we had kids after the one we lost- they remind us that we wouldn’t have the ones we have now if our other baby had survived. 

Don’t they know we know that?  That every time we mourn the loss of our baby, we get to feel a stabbing pain of guilt because its like we’re saying we wish we had one over the other?  That when we’re having a truly happy moment with our babies we have now, that a thought of our angel babies can enter our mind and it feels like a betrayal?  And then we feel bad for feeling bad?

We aren’t wishing we had one over the other, though; we’re just wishing that there could have been a way we could have had them both.  We know “everything happens for a reason”- it was our mantra in the heartbreaking days and weeks and months after, but despite staring into the eyes of our sweet little kids on Earth, we’re still trying desperately to understand the reason behind our losses.  We tell ourselves that our new baby might have the cure to cancer or bring about world peace, but then we begin to wonder what the world lost when our others passed -or does that mean that their life wouldn’t have amounted to as much?

See, each pregnancy starts off the same: you see the “+” sign and you realize you’re carrying another life.  If its happy news, you start imagining what he (or she!) will look like, who they’ll be, what kind of addition they’ll make to your family, how your life will change-

And that’s where -I think- our little club has it a little worse in some ways.  Our babies never even had a chance.  We never got to experience their personalities; they never found their nitch in our family tree; and, if you lost them early on, there’s even a question about who they looked like.  The only question you got the answer to was how your life would change, but now you have a lifetime’s worth of “what ifs” to replace that one question.

I think its time that people recognize any loss of life as a loss equal to any other.  It shouldn’t be made light of simply because the rest of the world never met our babies.  The fact of the matter is, WE did.  We had hopes and dreams for them and visions of their futures; we grew physically and emotionally with the anticipation of what was to come; we saw them squiggle and squirm on the ultrasound and joked about paying them back for all the heartburn and nausea; we felt them kick and just KNEW they’d have a lucrative career in soccer.

Shouldn’t that count for something?

Shouldn’t it be normal to acknowledge their due date or the date we had to let them go?

Shouldn’t we be able to count and celebrate their Heavenly birthdays without being told with words and looks that we should move on?

We ARE moving on.  We know time hasn’t stood still, as much as we might have wanted it to.  We go to work, we take care of our other kids, live our lives, and keep moving forward; just, sometimes, we want to take a day to remember and count a life that was so extraordinarily important that they left a mark on our lives without living in them; who’s tiny footprints never touched the ground but they touched our hearts; who’s soul purpose was to come into our lives to teach us that sometimes love means letting go and trusting that God not only knows what He’s doing, but that He’ll fill that hole that was left.

Shouldn’t a life that important be counted?

 

12 signs you have an adorable parasite

Confession #329:  I’m not one of those “Pregnancy is so amazing- I could do it over and over” women.  I actually don’t understand those women.  At all.

I’m writing this with numb hands, so this is bound to be one of the longest posts I’ve ever written in terms of how long it’ll take me to get it out from start to finish.  WHY are my hands numb, you ask?  Pregnancy, my dears.  Its one of the lesser known evils of creating life from scratch.

Some of the books will talk about the side effects of pregnancy, but I think most women- like myself- always skim over those sections in lieu of the better parts- like “What vegetable does does junior resemble right now?” and “Aw!  He can blink?!”  We skim, that is, until that moment of “OMG!  Why can’t I feel my fingers?!” sets in., and then we’re suddenly scouring the internet and books we own, searching for any evidence that we aren’t abnormal.

So, I thought it was time that someone wrote down all the “joys” of pregnancy in one fell swoop, without the blinding fluff, so that fellow preggers like myself had a go-to guide for what the heck is going on with their bodies.

You’re welcome.  Or, I’m sorry. Or both.

***Just keep in mind that you might be one of the lucky ones that skates through your pregnancy with the greatest of ease.  Every pregnancy is different- take me, for instance.  I didn’t even KNOW I was preggo until I was 5 months- no sickness, no weird early cravings- nothing.  And now my hands are suddenly numb- something that never happened with any other pregnancy of mine.  These symptoms I’m posting are just my general observations of the lesser loved pregnancy details.***

1.  Morning Sickness.  The “morning” part?  Its a lie.  Some lovely ladies may very well feel like tossing their Double Stuffed Oreos at any time of the day, while some might just feel constantly queasy.  Some might be fine after the first trimester, and then there are some who -sadly- only feel better once they’ve delivered.  Of course, then there are those who never feel a lick of morning sickness- you are among the awe-inspiring.  I recently spoke with a girlfriend of mine who is also pregnant and some “well intentioned” woman said it wasn’t a good sign that my friend hadn’t been sick.  If someone -other than a doctor- ever seems concerned, ignore them.  You’ve been blessed.  Accept it and move on.  Chances are, you’ll probably come down with one of the other “joys” of pregnancy anyways.

2.  The need to pee- ALL.  THE.  TIME.  For whatever medical reason is out there, the second trimester is about the only time you aren’t constantly searching for a restroom.  The urge may or may not hit you suddenly.  I remember just recently being on vacation with the hubby.  We had a long drive ahead of us and I was sure I was fine right then.  I got in the car, and suddenly, the bathroom wasn’t close enough.  I know there’s a fantastic medical reason for why peeing constantly in the 1st trimester happens, but -just so you know- in the third trimester, its not just because your baby is taking up larger real estate.  Its also because they like to play kickball with your bladder.

3.  Peeing when you laugh.  Or cough.  Or sneeze.  And it gets worse with every succeeding pregnancy.  I used to laugh at those Depends commercials; now I not only sing along with the Tena Twist commercial, but I wonder if I should check into pricing.

4.  Constant fatigue.  Imagine you’re lying in bed, dying of thirst, and needing to pee a river.  Now, imagine your body says,”Eh- everything’s too far away.  You’re good.”  Sound ridiculous?  Yeah.  Notsomuch.  Sometimes the battle you’re waging is moving vs. not moving, and you won’t even have the energy to come up with a good reason as to why this is even a battle to be won.

5.  Cravings.  I honestly should have known I was pregnant the first time I thought that 4 pieces of cinnamon sugar toast -with more cinnamon sugar than toast- was a healthy mid afternoon snack… all eaten within a 5 minute period.  The funny thing is, I’ve always loved cinnamon and sugar, so this wasn’t a huge stretch.  Some gals might be like me and suddenly have a deeper desire for something they already love.  Of course, then there are those that suddenly find themselves dreaming of something they NEVER would have wanted.  It made me laugh when I heard about a gal who was a vegetarian, and she started salivating at the thought of a big, juicy hamburger.  Say it with me: I do not own my body.  I am merely a host to a parasite with a voracious appetite, and I must bow down to its desires… or else I’ll have dreams about those desires nightly.  Seriously- it happens. (If you start dreaming about something harmful, though, DO NOT indulge.  Tell your doctor- immediately.)

6.  Food aversions.  The evil brother of cravings is aversions, and sometimes its not just the taste that turns the stomach.  Sometimes the thought of the process the food had to take to get from farm to plate is all it’ll take to make you queasy.  The funny thing about aversions is that they’ll sometimes follow you even after pregnancy.  I woke up one morning to leftovers from the night before sitting in our sink.  I no longer find Hamburger Helper helpful.

7.  Mood Swings.  If you find yourself crying while watching the Folgers or Zillow commercials- well, ok, those make me weepy even NOT pregnant.  However, if you find yourself breaking down in the produce aisle because the only ripe avocado has a hole in it and then you get enraged at the insect that chose to eat THAT particular avocado, and then you get more upset because now you have to find something else for dinner, but then you get happy because you see frozen pizzas on sale- you just might be pregnant.  Shirts should be made available to all pregnant women that have a sort of apology or warning saying,”I’m hormonal- be nice.”  Of course, then we’d probably spill something on them and break down because it was our only clean shirt right then.

7.  Overheating.  Is it getting hot in here?  Nope- its just you.  Your baby and extra padding is now keeping you at a temp sometimes equal to the fires of Hades.  I’ve, personally, tried sleeping with an ice pack under my neck, slathering lotion all over while my fan blows on me, and sleeping in nothing but my knickers.  The thing is, its an all consuming kind of heat, so it really doesn’t matter what you do.  You can’t remove your skin, so you’re kind of doomed.

8.  Inability to breathe.  I’ve been told that when the baby drops, that I’ll regain use of my lungs, but seeing as how I kind of need my lungs to breathe, this information isn’t all too useful.  Sometimes, when I stretch my arms up really high and twist a little, I’m able to catch a big enough breath to keep me from passing out, but more often than not, I feel as if I have a tiny intruder slowly suffocating me from the inside.

9.  Rockin’ and rollin’.  As your baby gets bigger, its real estate gets smaller, so -just like you’re moving constantly to get comfortable- Jr. is, too.  The funny thing is, though, I don’t think my little guy is always trying to get comfortable.  I think he somehow obtained a bitty baby jackhammer and is attempting to increase his living space.  Whatever the reason for his insane movements, though, there are times that they go from being entertaining to being just plain downright painful.

10.  Heartburn and acid reflux.  Ah, yes.  There’s nothing I love more than the feeling of my digestive system being set on fire.  And its TRULY a not-so-rare treat when my stomach acids make their way up my throat and I nearly choke to death on them- and I positively LOVE when this all occurs while I’m getting a rare moment of restful sleep.  Pure bliss.

11.  Carpal Tunnel.  Also known as “I miss the use of my hands.”  This symptom is one that I’ve only recently been privy to during the course of this pregnancy, and I’ve got to say, I’m quite thankful for that.  If you’ve ever woken up and had to wait for your arm or foot to follow suit, then you might slightly know how AWESOME it feels to have that same feeling all day long in both hands.  Its been explained to me that the extra fluids I’m carrying cause pressure in nerves and such.  Its also been explained to me that the baby might just be sitting in a position that is incompatible with the circulation to my hands.  All I know is, its taking me FAR too long to write this post and its all due to my fingers feeling wonky.

12.  Restlessness at night.  Now, this is the real kicker.  We get to be exhausted ALL day long, and when night falls, sleep eludes us.  It makes sense, to a degree, when you take into account the need to pee, the overheating, the inability to breathe, the baby rockin’ and rollin’, the heartburn, the -God forbid- acid reflux, and hands that are so numb it hurts, but it just doesn’t seem fair.  Sleep should be our reprieve from the pregnancy pains, but, instead, it gets interrupted or done with altogether BECAUSE of the other pregnancy symptoms.

So, there you have it- 12 pregnancy sentences- I’m sorry, SYMPTOMS- that COULD happen to you.  If you’re just starting out, good luck and I hope you’re one of the lucky ones I’ve spoken of.  If not, console yourself that you aren’t alone and, also, that millions of us have eventually made it through to the end.

Eventually.

Its ok, though.  It’ll all be worth it when you’re holding your new little parasite in your arms.