One of my guiding principles is openness. I've grown and developed grace for others in part through the personal stories shared by friends and strangers, online and in real life. This knowledge of others' life experiences and struggles has helped me through numerous tough times. If they had not been open and honest, I would have suffered in the dark, not knowing that others had or were dealing with the same thing. I would not have known there were others I could reach out to. I feel a compulsion to do the same. I've always been open, in real life as well as this blog, about my struggles as a military significant other, my journey away from organized religion, my mental illness and our miscarriage. Today I feel the need to share more about this last subject.
Today marks two year since we found out we had lout our baby. (Although that phrase kind of annoys me because it's not like we are negligent parents who "lost" their baby. We know what happened and were he/she went. But that's neither here nor there.) At only 9-10 weeks we were still fairly early. First of all, this timing has always contributed to a feeling that I didn't have a right to grieve so deeply. It's so common. So many others have been through this and seem to be fine. Others have lost little ones much later or upon birth and after, which all seem "worse" or more deserving of grief. At least, more justifiable.
In my head, I know this to not be true, but that doesn't really help. Plus, I've been known to silently judge the grief of others. Whether is was a miscarriage, the lose of a pet, or a grandparent, I didn't understand the bond and therefore didn't understand the grief. I am now horrified by the offensiveness of those judgments, but they affect my own grief experience.
Secondly, sometimes friends and family who have not been through an experience like this don't know how to react. They love you deeply, they desperately want to help, but they have no idea what to do and fear saying the "wrong" thing. They can't fix it and that makes them nervous. I totally get that! I've been there! That same thing happened two years ago. I had no problem with people knowing what had happened, but I hated being the one to tell them. Often times folks would get this panicked look in their eyes. Then I would find myself assuring them that I was ok, we were ok, everything was ok... when in fact everything was far from ok.
Two years later, it's a little different. When I mention the loss, I see (or at least perceive) a progression of reactions. 1) panic that they have forgotten (which is totally fine. I certainly don't expect people to remember.) 2) a flash of judgment as they may not understand the grief. 3) then finally that discomfort of not knowing how to help. My advice to those supporting someone though something like this... press in. Press in to the discomfort, press in to the grief, press into the person. (This is assuming of course that they have initiated the sharing. Always follow the lead of the grieving person. When it first happened I did NOT want to talk about it!)
1) Validate the person's grief and their feelings, whatever they are.
Phrases like "everything happens for a reason", "they are in a better place", or "God has a plan" seem comforting but they can make the person feel like they shouldn't be grieving. A sincere, "This really SUCKS! It's not fair that this happened to you and you have every right to feel the way you do." When in doubt, ask them how this makes them feel. They may need to process through it themselves. Plus that gives you more to validate. "I can understand why you would feel angry/sad/lost/overwhelmed." Keep the focus on them and their feelings/experiences. Even if you have been through something similar it's honestly not relevant unless the person asks. Their grief, there experience, that's what is important.
2) Gentle encourage them to do small things that might help.
Ask when they ate last and can you get them something? Can you take them out for dinner? Would they go for a walk around the block or a car ride? Can you watch other kids, etc. while they take a shower? Just be careful to not imply that these things will "fix" the grief. Taking a shower will not make everything ok, but it might help just enough to make the pain bearable.
3) Be wiling to simply "hold sacred space".
I know that sounds like some hippy, female nonsense but it's really not. Allowing yourself to truly experience grief can be extremely scary and vulnerable. It takes a strong friend to stand watch and protect someone while they are so vulnerable. Sometimes this may mean turning off or monitoring someone' cell phone for them. (With their permission of course.) It may mean validating their experience even if they can't validate it themselves. It may mean calling and canceling/rescheduling appointments for them. Sometimes is just means being quiet and helping them feel safe so they can process the grief.
It's easier to write about this kind of thing in the removed 3rd person, but honestly the above is strictly my opinion and suggestions. It's not intended to be the final word on anything. Always follow the lead of the grieving person. It's also not meant to make any of my friends or family feel like they did anything wrong or let me down. Please don't read through this again and try to figure out which of these you did or if I'm talking about you. I'm not. What I am doing is sharing my experience so that others might find comfort and understanding.
I am a miscarriage survivor. I will never again be the person I was prior to 12/9/2013. But that's ok. Today I will be gentle with myself. I will put one foot in front of the other all day long. I will validate my own grief without judgment. Then I will go to dinner with my dear friend and have a drink. We'll drink to what could have been, what is, and what will be.
Fly free little one. Fly free. We love you!