I’m a Type A person, meaning I like to be in charge and do things a certain way.
What this really means is I like people to do things my way. I mean, it is the best way, isn’t it? 😉
When I lost my first three babies, I felt like I couldn’t talk about them or the heaviness of grief that I was feeling over their losses. People made me feel like I was crazy for even grieving them because they were so little when I lost them. I wasn’t crazy; I was a heartbroken parent whose world had come crashing down. After Caleb died, I refused to pretend I was ok when I wasn’t, even though I felt like that was what people were wanting to hear from me. No longer would I slap on a smile to make someone else feel better – I had lost four babies – I deserved to freaking grieve their loss.
When I began to cultivate my new normal, I began to “try on” various coping mechanisms and ways of being “out loud” with my grief. I felt like I had been silenced for so long that anger took hold and said to the world “too freaking bad, Imma talk about it!” I almost enjoyed making people feel uncomfortable, as restitution for suffering alone after I lost Jackson, Grace and Reagan.
The more grieving parents I met along my journey the more I took notice that we all move through our post – loss worlds differently. I would become enraged when a fellow Grief Warrior would downplay their loss or not want to speak much on it. I thought it was because, like me, society had told them that they needed to do their mending in private and come back to the world when the Grief Warrior could be who they needed us to be – happy and back to “normal”. As if nothing in our lives had been irrevocably changed.
Rather than taking a grace – filled approach with these tender hearts I picked up a shield of self-righteousness and began to tell them that they shouldn’t be afraid to talk about their baby; screw the world, it was their right as a grieving parent to grieve publicly. My heart was 100% in the right place, but there was a caveat I missed in those days – it’s nuanced and imperative – how they grieved was their choice. It’s the Grief Warrior’s choice in how they grieve and if they want to grieve out loud. You see I believed whole heartedly that all grieving families should grieve out loud because our society sucks at caring for grieving people and the only way to change that would be for the legions of Grief Warriors to stand up and say, “Enough! Our babies, our stories, our losses MATTER!”. Which, of course, they do. And anyone who feels as though grieving out loud is the right thing for them should absolutely be free to do so – society’s suckiness be damned.
Not everyone feels the same way. I’ve met many Grief Warriors over the years for whom that is not the path they want to take. I know parents who will acknowledge they’ve lost a baby, or several, and they simply leave it at that. I know a lot of parents who only respond with the number of living children that they have. Or, if they don’t have living children, they simply say “none.” Are they wrong for not acknowledging their babies when a stranger asks a tender question? Are they wrong for wanting to protect their hearts in this way? For a long time, I thought so.
I WAS WRONG.
I thought these heart shattered parents had been done a massive disservice by our society by feeling as though they couldn’t talk about it. I operated under the assumption that everyone wanted to; it didn’t occur to me that for some they simply didn’t want to. It was a personal choice, not always one forced upon them.
The vernacular in the pregnancy and infant loss community varies – some call their babies “angels”, whereas that invites a visceral reaction from others. A subsequent baby born after a loss is referred to as a “rainbow baby” – a highly debated topic within our community. For some it brings comfort and connection between the two babies. For others there is a lot of energy around referring to a rainbow baby because it implies that the baby who died was a “storm” and the rainbow comes after the storm. For some, this creates more pain in an already fractal heart.
What I have come to learn is that sometimes you meet other grieving parents in our community who simply don’t do things the way you do. Holding space for your fellow Grief Warrior is incredibly important, no matter if they share your way of doing things or not. In a world that proffers cliché’s and unhelpful (and sometimes downright unacceptable) advice to those grieving, fellow Grief Warriors can stand in the gap for each other and validate one another’s losses as well as how they are integrating the loss into their new normal. This is challenging to do at times because it may force you to further examine your own grief journey – not because you’re doing it “wrong”, but because maybe you come across something that the other person is doing that is unlike how you do things.
Can I tell you something? This is a gift. It’s a gift because it allows you to learn and grow in how you experience grief through another’s eyes. It provides insight you may have missed and could even provide you with things you want to try as well. Or it could solidify how you are already experiencing grief and know you’re already doing what works best for you.
Some of my dearest friends have lost babies and think the way I grieve or the way I’ve integrated my babes into my life is weird and not the way they choose to do things. I’m ok with that. For a long time, it would bother me; forcing me to answer the question of is there’s something wrong with them and the way they grieve or me and the way I grieve. Lean in, Dear Ones, as I tell you the truth – it’s neither! It’s neither right, nor wrong. It’s whatever works for the individual, the couple, the family. I’ve learned to hold space for those who grieve differently, something that took a lot of time and honest reflection to reconcile, because I want space held for the way I do things. If I choose to name the three babies whose genders I didn’t know because that’s what feels right for me, then so be it! If someone else chooses not to, that’s perfectly fine too. If I choose to throw a party to celebrate Caleb’s birthday at the cemetery but another grieving mama chooses to celebrate alone, in a private and meaningful way, both means of celebrating are valid. You do you. No explanation needed.
As we close our series on holding space, my hope for you is that you’ve learned that creating a container for grief, grief work, processing, mending, and healing for yourself, your spouse and other grieving hearts who do so differently than you is crucial. It’s awkward and makes you feel unsure of your footing at times, but it allows for the cultivation of your beautiful scar and the holding onto hope.
Hold space for yourselves.
Hold space for your spouse.
Hold space for other Grief Warriors.
It’s worth the work.