Here we are—both members of the involuntary club that non-bereaved parents can only hope will never drag them, screaming and weeping, into its fold. It’s a curious task to spend each day living a nightmare that causes the world to shudder and then turn away, preferring to carry on as if we don’t exist at all. It is with this understanding that I purposefully acknowledge you, your child, and your grief.
In this message of solidarity, I am not going to commend you for being brave, strong, or inspirational. Of course you are all these things, but we both know that such accolades ring hollow when you are really just doing what you must to survive, and that you continue to move forward each day simply because there is nowhere else to go.
Certainly you know by now how exhausting the work of grieving is. Ultimately this grief is your cross to bear—after all, nobody could have possibly known your child as well as you do. Still, don’t be afraid to lean on others for support during this time. Of course, this can be tricky; people are funny creatures who may suddenly exhibit the emotional intelligence of a tree stump when confronted with the death of a child. Non-bereaved people with orderly lives might view your grief as a problem that needs to be solved or a pathology that needs to be treated. Such people don’t understand that your grief is simply a reflection of the deep love you have for your child, and that it is a completely healthy and fundamentally human response to loss.
Similarly, you may find that some people feel inclined to offer “advice” to help you along your journey. They may encourage you to find solace in work, exercise, or hobbies, not understanding that such momentary distractions are not a remedy for grief. They may also try to offer you “perspective” by comparing your experience to the hardships of others, trying to convince you that life without your child cannot possibly be as terrible as you say it is. Such people do not understand that you are not merely mourning the loss of a relationship with your child; rather, you are also grieving for all the beauty, love, and laughter that your child will never get to experience in this life.
Likewise, people may encourage you to “look for the positive,” perhaps by urging you to be thankful for any living children you might have, or by reminding you that you can always have more children (as if they can somehow guarantee this outcome for you). These people do not understand that your children are not replaceable or interchangeable like a pair of shoes. Sometimes you may have the energy to correct them, but other times you may simply be too exhausted to respond. Either way, don’t listen to them—you know that your child was their own unique soul, and that no other person can take their place in the world or in your heart.
Other people may try to console you with empty platitudes, perhaps by telling you that everything happens for a reason. When this happens, you will wonder what reason there could possibly be for your child to miss out on an entire lifetime. If you are braver than I am, maybe you will sardonically ask such people to enlighten you as to what this reason is—really, you would absolutely love to hear it. There may also be people who try to ease your pain by proclaiming that your child is with God, and that this somehow makes everything okay. Even if you do believe in Heaven, you also know that love demands connection, and that abstract notions of spending eternity with your child in another life do not quell the crushing pain of your empty arms and broken heart.
Alternatively, there may be people who look the other way and remain silent, rather than face the discomfort of being present for you in your grief. They may wait for you to reach out and solicit their support, believing that offering their love and kindness will not make a difference in the wake of your tragic loss. This will hurt. But I very much hope that there will be people who rise to the challenge of building your support system one tear-filled conversation at a time, and that they choose to actively love you during what will likely be the most difficult experience of your life.
Finally, as time goes on, it is likely that some people will become impatient when you do not reach a peaceful resolution with your grief. These people do not understand that you began a new life the moment that your child died—the “other life” that you are now forced to live as a bereaved mother. Some of these people may disappear from your life completely when they realize that the “old you” is never coming back. There is no way around the fact that this will be a painful pill to swallow, but accepting their absence is the best thing you can do to help mend your loss wound. You will find that the people who truly love you will stick around and do what they can to support you through your ongoing grief journey. They may not always say and do the “right” things, so be patient with them. Tell them what helps and what hurts, because the ones who matter will listen.
The difficult truth is that you must learn to navigate a new normal that will ultimately be a shadow of what your life could have been if your child was alive. Yet in this darkness, I hope you find a glimmer of solace in knowing that there is a compassionate, engaged, and all-around-amazing community of loss mamas who understand your pain and want to support you. There are more of us than the world at large would care to acknowledge, but we remain a fierce bunch that refuses to grieve in silence, shame, and isolation.
Your fellow loss mamas want you to know that your child matters, as does your grief. Don’t be afraid to love your baby just as ferociously as you did during the brief time that you shared with them before they left this world too soon. Despite what others may tell you, your love for them will not wane—not after five years, or ten years, or twenty years—nor should it. So do what you must to honour their memory and your motherhood: Speak their name, share their life, and with each new day, continue to give them all the love they deserve.