Grieving families. It’s something we just don’t talk enough about.
Every year, when October rolls around, there’s an overall sense of melancholy that creeps up on my Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds. Many of my friends, and an abundance of facebook groups and communities I have joined, put up quotes, photos of memory boxes, tiny footprints and remembrance day vigil candles. All in the name of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness, beautiful and heartbreaking stories are shared of a family’s loss of their unborn, or stillborn babies. Some have experienced the joy and heartache of meeting their babies, even for months, only to surrender them unexpectedly to SIDS or other life threatening causes. All of these stories bring an array of emotion as I read through them and relive each and every mother and father’s worst nightmare of losing a child.
And then I think of my own. And those feelings of lost hope, utter disappointment, confusion, and pain, resurface. It’s a tough month even in light of honoring these babies and their families in a loving, and gentle way. We relive our own experiences and although an entire year or month or week has passed where we actually feel… “okay”, it all comes back.
But what I have noticed lately, is that the people, with whom I seem to be the most interactive with, in regards to baby loss and miscarriage, are other women – both loss moms, and moms who know nothing of baby loss. Even my conversations with my husband have seemed to come to an abrupt halt when it comes to talking about what could have been with our early losses, or our sons or daughters who we just couldn’t bring into this world. But this doesn’t mean he has stopped hurting for them, yearning for them, and most of all, loving them.
Quite the contrary.
I decided to take Remembrance Day for Pregnancy and infant loss, on October 15th, the day we honor and support grieving families – as the day I open that conversation up once again, with the father of the babies I have lost.
It started off hesitantly. He has never been known to initiate conversation about his experience of loss. In particular, his son William whose still body he carried in his arms that agonizing day. And ironically, he tends to lean in when a boy who would have been close to his darling son’s age takes to him. Our dear friend’s son is that very boy. My husband naturally has an overprotectiveness about him when it comes to this little guy, in particular. Being a fast moving, incredibly delightful almost 3 year old, he isn’t easy to keep up with. But somehow Uncle George is almost always mere inches behind him – making sure he doesn’t get into any trouble. Even his parents, our friends, giggle fondly at his overprotectiveness – understanding their bond, and Uncle’s tendency to be a smother mother whenever the opportunity arises.
Or when it’s a friend’s party, instead of playing with the adults, he’s busy snuggling up to his god daughter who would have been the same age as his sweet Lucy. After all, there’s enough Uncle (and Aunty) love to go around, so why not spread it where we can?
So I see him. I see his pain. I see his sadness. I see his regret.
I see when he watches a moving tv episode where a father is given the horrific news that their baby didn’t make it. He quickly turns away, and fumbles around looking for the remote control, ready to make a speedy channel switch.
I see him look at our daughter lovingly, fully immersing himself in her laughter, her silly antics, her smells of cinnamon and fruit, and soaking in every single moment he has with his living child.
I see him fight back tears when his wife cannot. His strong arms protecting me like a shield when I “go there”.
I see him stop decorating our tree at Christmas time as he walks over to the mantel where his children’s boxes once sat, and turn his back towards me to hide the tears coming down his face. Repeatedly whispering to himself “he should have been here” or “she would have been helping us trim the tree right about now”. I only know of these emotions because I see his shoulders gently shivering as his head hangs low.
I see him casually dismissing the condolences from his closest friends, convinced that losing a child is really just a conversation that’s not worth engaging in, even though there isn’t a day that he wishes circumstances were different.
I see him get fired up and angry when he finds out that one of my closest friends who should have been supportive and loving, chose to criticize our grief. And that it was just too much for them to handle, so they resorted to gossip and judgement. He knew this friendship was yet another loss in my life, and he held my hand as I went through the motions of accepting that not all people will understand, accept, or support our experience of grief.
I see him take his pencil and draw out his feelings into what later resembles children that look just like him, dressed just like Little Mama, as he imagines their every nuance, their every feature.
I see him stop drawing his children after too many losses because it takes him to such a dark place.
I see his shoulders drop when he finally admits to me that he just can’t talk about it anymore.
So we don’t.
We’re one of those grieving families that we’ve only read about, and yet we rarely talk about it. And that’s okay. It wasn’t always okay, which is why I chose to reach out to other women and grieving families. It was why I shared my experiences on my blog, seemingly feeling alone at the time. It was why leaving the comforts of our own home meant silently grieving behind forced smiles, until they eventually became genuine laughter… years later.
The fact is, I see him. I see that he too, lost 2 sons, 2 daughters, and 5 more opportunities of hope and love. I see that he yearns for each and every one of them and wishes he never got that dreaded call at work where he had to pretend that everything was okay, or had to rush to the hospital weeks too early only to deliver his son – his son whom he never got to bring home. Nine losses, and he hasn’t even reached the midway point of his life. He’s a light-hearted, gentle, happy, comical man – of few words. But everything in him, in the way he loves and supports his grieving wife, in the way his eyes well up at the sound of a baby’s coo, and in the way he can barely hear the names of his children Victoria, William, Lucy, and Charlie, without cringing – I see a man who experienced loss. And by his choice, has learned to grieve on his own… in the only way he knows how.
And then there’s my 5 year old.
I know what most people see is a blissful monkey, confident in her own skin, smiling from ear to ear. But more often than not, I see her in a different way.
I see… her.
I see that she still cries in her sleep around milestones, later telling me about her bad dreams where her babies “keep running away” from her.
I see how she hugs and shows deep affection towards friends and cousins as if they were her actual siblings, sometimes to a point where it’s just too much. The sad reality is, she may never experience a real life one.
I see her see me – her mom, lying in bed for days at a time, when she knows for darn sure, mommy is physically capable of playing her, but chooses not to. I see her wiping my tears asking me, on repeat, why I’m so sad.
I see her as she’s in the hospital cuddling up to mommy’s big tummy, thinking a baby was going to come home, only to be met with a very different mommy holding nothing in her arms but kleenex and a knitted blanket, emerging through the hospital doors.
I see her as she attends one too many funerals where she is forced to sit in the front pew. Instead of Mother’s Day brunch, she spends hours at the Little Spirits Garden where we visit “the rest of her family” and I see her distributing easter egg chocolates to each one of her siblings. I see her keeping the faith that they’ll miraculously take the first flight down from heaven to scoop up their piece and have a bite.
Instead of fighting over toys, she’s dreaming about sharing them.
Instead of exchanging kisses, she’s blowing them into thin air.
Instead of holding their hands, she’s holding their box of ashes.
When she looks for her baby siblings, she no longer runs to my bump, she looks up to the sky. Instead of drawing pictures of flowers and stick men, she draws circles in mommy’s belly (or her daddy’s, or her own) representing babies that have yet to come out and play. My kiddo is grieving lost hope and the chance to be surrounded by more love, noise, and company.
And she’s learned to accept that this is her reality. And she’s learning to be okay.
Thankfully, she’s never truly alone.
This month, in honor of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness, let us remember the suffering of loss among all fathers and spouses, siblings, as well as grandparents of the babies gone too soon.
Sending love and gentle understanding to all grieving families,