Friday, October 30, 2015

What We Need You to Know: Friends of the Parents of Loss

Friends of Loss,

You have a really hard role. You are needed in a way that you’ve never been needed before. It’s also in a way that can test the limits of friendship, on both sides of the spectrum. Your friends are now Parents of Loss, their lives will be forever altered. Life as they know it will now be looked at as before loss and after loss. One Mother of Loss says, "the loss of a child changes our entire being. Our relationships will change. We are learning to adjust to and live in our 'new normal' which means everything in the after will be different."

They will be shattered for a little while, then broken for a long time. They are going through something that is so deep and painful it's hard to precisely articulate. They can't ask you for help because they don't want to be a burden and in some ways, they may be in denial that they need it. Other times they can't tell you what they need because they just don't know what that is right now. They are trying to learn how to do life now after tragedy.

This is probably the hardest one to write in this series, simply because this is the widest population of people within the Parents of Loss' life and in no way do the contributors to this post want to direct these do's and don'ts towards people in our own lives. We are drawing from our experiences but in no way targeting any one person or thing.

With that said, we would like to take this moment to thank you.

If you are a Friend of Loss reading this, the huge impact your selflessness and support has left in our hearts is forever. True friends exist in our lives so that when the day comes that you have to endure any kind of deep pain or hardship, you have people to lift you up and support you at times when you can't do it for yourself. Thank you to those people in our lives that did this for us, showing us how to really be a friend, and are continuing to do this for us every day, no matter how much time has passed. Thank you for every meal, every bottle of wine, every special gift to help memorialize our child, every squeeze of the hand, every hug, every call and text, every card, every time you asked, every time you said their name, every time you check in just because, every time you remember the milestone days in which our hearts are the most tender, every time you say I am here, every time you get mad with us, every time you cry with us, every time you make plans with us, every time you love us, every time you let us go to that place because we need to no matter how many times you've heard it before. For all of these things and more, thank you.

Thank you for knowing how to love us through this dark time and doing what it takes to help carry us through.

Parents of Loss are learning to have grace with ourselves and with others, so regardless if you say the right thing or the wrong thing, at least you said something at all and that's what is important. Any act of support is appreciated to the nth degree, but there are some things that unless you are in their shoes, you wouldn't think of. None of us truly did until being in this place. So this is a resource so that you can know the best things and stray from what you may not know is hurtful. All of us acknowledge and own up to the fact that we lived in a blissfully ignorant state of life before loss and we did not know the majority of these things.

Below are three sections: the most helpful things to say, things to take into consideration, and things you can do on behalf of your friends, the Parents of Loss.

I. Never tell the Parents of Loss any variation of:

1.) "Everything happens for a reason." or "In time you will see that this was God's plan. He works in mysterious ways."

Simply put, no matter what your belief system is, to a Parent of Loss this was absolutely not God's plan, nor did there have to be a rhyme or reason to why this had to happen. Throughout the grief process, they may find a way to cope by finding reason but that's not your job to imply there is such. The way I've chosen to look at it is this:

Sometimes bad things happen. They just do. That's called acts of nature beyond God's control.

Loss is like a huge boulder crashing into a body of water. From the impact comes large waves and then ripples in the water miles away from the impact site. Once it happens, life as you know it is irrevocably changed. At first, you are drowning in the waves from impact. The farther out you can swim out from the waves, the more peripheral your sight becomes to see the ripples that God provides. Trying to keep your head above water within the waves are a dead end down a path you were heading (pain and confusion), the ripples can be new opportunities you wouldn't have had otherwise (redemption and grace), they can be blessings that stem from the devastation (joy and healing).

Instead try: This is not fair, nothing about this is fair. God did not take (baby's name) from you, he is mourning with you. I am so angry and heart broken with you.

If the person is not religious, then justify their feelings in a way that makes them feel like their anger and pain is okay to feel.

The key thing is to acknowledge their feelings, to justify them, not offer an excuse as to why it happened.

2.) "Hold your husband/wife close, grief can really tear a couple apart." 

All of us heard this line a few dozen times. For me specifically, it came within the first few days of losing Hudson. I remember that night as Max and I had quiet time to grieve on our own, he looked at me and said, "I can't understand why this would break a couple. If anything, this holds me to you stronger than ever." The Parents of Loss have just lost their child, it is horrible to put it in their heads that they could lose their partner too.

I sat with one Mother of Loss who had heard this phrase several times and it really got into her head and heart, driving a self-admitted wedge in her relationship with her husband. After losing her first baby to stillbirth and a second baby to miscarriage, she thought her husband couldn't possibly love her because of the person she had become due to grief and the guilt she felt, because it was her fault he had to go through this pain (which in no way is that the case). When she asked him if he regretted choosing her, he scooped her off the floor and told her that whether they can ever have a baby or not, they are in this together, forever, that she is his wife and he loves her beyond measure. Re-writing her story has me in tears and I cannot stress this enough, do not put those kinds of thoughts in the heads of those grieving loss. They need to cling to one another and grieve together, while also learning how to grieve separately because that is inevitable, but always coming back to one another, keeping open about where they are in their grief.

Instead try: Be gentle with yourself and with your spouse. I am praying for you as you learn how to grieve together. Your relationship amazes me.

3.) "I can't believe how strong you've been! I wouldn't know how to function if I were you," or "I can't believe you are already ______________ [fill in the blank... back at work, back at the gym, up and moving around, having a life whatsoever]?"

No matter how upbeat and cheerleader the tone, while this seems harmless it is interpreted as a backhanded compliment. For those emerging from the darkness of loss, it makes us feel like we are grieving inappropriately and should be in a constant state of mourning.

Here's the thing: at a certain point, Parents of Loss are trying to get back to a tiny inkling of normalcy in any way. They may be a total mess on the inside but what good does that do to act the way they feel all the time? Doing that has the potential to create a deep spiral of depression. When they feel ready to do it, they have to lift up and get out to do things.  You have no idea how hard that is. Phrases like this will make them immediately regret leaving the house, their safe place of comfort.

Instead try: I am really inspired by the strength you have shown. I admire your grace in this time of grief. You are continuously in my thoughts and prayers. Celebrate that they are standing in front of you in the grocery store, at the office, at Walgreens, at yoga, wherever.

4.) “I had a miscarriage, I know exactly how you feel/what you are going through.” OR starting a sentence with "my sister/cousin/aunt/niece/friend had a miscarriage too...."
This is a very touchy subject that I struggled with including, but it was agreed upon that it needed to be said. This is something we all want to be very sensitive to. It is really important for everyone to understand that a miscarriage and a stillbirth are not the same thing. 

**This is in no way to diminish or discount the grief that can come along with a miscarriage, or an "our pain is greater than yours" shaming platform, please know that.** 

Losing a life you created at any stage is very hard, not fair, and not something anyone can prepare themselves for but it is important to recognize that it is not all the same. The majority of these women contributing their voices to this post have had miscarriages - some before and some after their stillbirth loss, some both - and those women can say that the emotional and physical anguish of grief from their stillbirth is beyond compare.

One Mother of Loss shares her story. "I found out I had lost my first baby at 12 weeks. We loved this baby, this little life. We were attached to the idea of being parents and wondering who this child would be. Then there was no heartbeat and our hopes were gone. I had a D&C a week later which was scary and painful. I was sad and lonely as I watched other friends continue on with their pregnancies and I was starting over. Then we got pregnant again a few months after the miscarriage. We got past the first trimester, we found out she was a girl, then came the 20 week sonogram and were told we had a perfect and healthy baby. I felt her every move and her hiccups. We had baby showers so our little girl had a closet full of clothes and everything we needed to take care of her. We built the crib together, painted the walls, her nursery was ready and waiting. At 39w2d I learned she didn't have a heartbeat. I hadn't felt her at all during the day and thought it was strange. I went straight to the hospital and an ultrasound confirmed my deepest fear - she was gone. We had her name, we knew what pediatrician she would go to, we had her daycare center chosen, I had ordered her Easter basket. She already had a place in our family, we were just waiting for her to arrive and begin the life we had already started to build, and then she was gone. I have never felt so broken and alone. My miscarriage pain was great, but the loss of this child I knew in my womb and had already imagined a life with was tremendous. After laboring for 17 hours, I gave birth to my first baby but she didn't cry, she didn't open her eyes, she was gone. The two types of loss are so different, they just are."

A miscarriage is defined as the loss of a pregnancy under 20 weeks. Loss after 20 weeks and within the first few months of birth is called perinatal loss. A loss after 20 weeks means that you are induced into labor and give birth to your child. The farther along you are in your pregnancy, the more emotional baggage that has the potential to bring. In my own experience, I have a hard time comparing my grief to someone that lost their baby to stillbirth even just a few weeks later than I did. In my mind they were just that much closer to having their baby in their arms and I felt their grief is somehow even heavier than my own. I certainly cannot compare stillbirth to child loss such as SIDS or other causes.

Instead say, “I am so sorry for your loss. I had a miscarriage and I know our losses are not the same, but I understand to an extent the grief and pain that this loss can cause. I am here for you and supporting you.”

5.) One of the most common pains are not what people say, it’s what they don’t say - people that do nothing or say nothing at all. It is important to note that it is better to acknowledge the loss and maybe not have the right thing to say, than not acknowledging it at all. As I stated in yesterday's post: your silence is defeaning. And yes, we notice it.

The best thing to say if you are afraid or don't know what is right is, "I have no words, this is a tremendous loss and I am mourning (baby's name) with you. My heart is heavy, I am here for you." 

A Mother of Loss advises that "if you are paralyzed to say something right away and think too much time has passed, you are wrong. The cards, texts, and phone calls much later after everyone has gone back to their normal lives are almost more powerful. It tells you that someone still cares and is thinking of you all this time later. The grief is still there, I promise...even if it has been months or years."

My own mother told me just this week, a friend asked her how she can help her family friend who just had a stillborn baby. My mom told her be the friend that checks in on the date of loss each month, that is a monthly milestone they will struggle through. The lady asked my mom how long she should do that for? My mom told her, forever. That lady said "yes, that will be what I do. That will be my role." You see, everyone else's life goes on but the Parents of Loss are stuck in their grief. To have someone remember their child or that they are in pain, no matter how much time has gone by, is one of the most thoughtful things the Friends of Loss can do. It helps those Parents of Loss get by.

II. Important Things to Consider as a Friend to the Parents of Loss:

1.) As time passes, a Parent of Loss can be very self-conscious about transferring or projecting their grief onto someone else. We don't want to do that to you and bring you down, unless we are invited to discuss it. We need you to ask us about it. If we want to talk, it will allow us that chance to do it. If we don't want to talk, we won't. But it hurts us more when you don't acknowledge it at all. Please ask us how we are doing, not just within the first month, not just within the first few months, but well after too.

2.) It is important to know that grief is never ending and time is not a magic potion of healing. It can get worse with time. One Mother of Loss says that she is "now almost two years out and it still can come on in waves of emotion where it is crippling to try to get through the day."

For Parents of Loss, there are now sad milestones and memories, like the day they found out they were pregnant, the day they gave birth and if it isn't the same day, the day they lost their baby, the due date, and holidays. They need to experience every season of their loss and then maybe the second go round they will know more of what to expect, or maybe each year brings a different kind of pain, I don't know yet. Losing a child is a "forever" kind of thing. Even if they were totally fine and "normal" at a dinner party last night, the next day could be a different story. I am now 5 months out and I still have days I revert back to intense grief where I don't want to get out of bed, I don't want to put clothes on, I don't want to be a functioning member of society. I just want to stay tucked away to the confines of my grief, alone, cuddling my dog. Then other days I am completely fine until I have a trigger, some days there are no triggers of large emotion at all, but I still cry. I have cried every single one of the last 157 days and I don't see that stopping any time soon.

So if 4 months, 7 months, 18 months out, they are having a hard time, that's pretty normal for grief. They will appreciate your support and for not restricting them to a timeframe.

3) Now to address another very difficult situation for both the Parents of Loss and the Friends of Loss who happen fall into this category. Pregnancy...

3a.) If you are pregnant during the time of the loss, or become pregnant while they are heavy in their grief, please be sensitive and gentle with the Parents of Loss. This is such a tough situation because you don't know how to help or what to do. They were just like you yesterday and then today, everything changed. No matter how close you were to the Parents of Loss beforehand, know that things may change for a little while. It may be really difficult for them to be around you because both pregnant women and babies can be a very common trigger to the waves of grief for someone of this type of loss. They are not only mourning the life they lost, but the life in their mind that they had built of going through motherhood and raising their baby with you. It is incredibly difficult on many levels.

One Mother of Loss said, "if there was someone in my life that was pregnant with me at any stage throughout the duration of my pregnancy, I had a really hard time seeing those babies for a while. I thought I would have an emotional breakdown. It's not that I wanted their baby, I wanted MY baby. It's not that I wanted them to go through what I did, I just didn't understand why I had to go through this and lose my son, all the while, they have theirs. Eventually that changed but for a while it was too difficult to see."

Another Mother of Loss shared, "there were five of us that were close friends from college. We all were pregnant at the same time, though different stages. Our babies would have all been the same age. After our stillbirth, I went into 'survival mode' for a few weeks and I told myself that I was not going to let what happened to us effect the love I had for my friends and their children. Then my grief set in. I'm embarrassed that I had these feelings but it wasn't something I could shut off. I can't just flip the switch to not feel the pain in my heart when I look at them mothering their children, and I don't understand why I can't be too. I look at their little ones and my heart breaks every time I see them because my son should be there playing with their kids too. He should be trick or treating with them. I should be doing Stroller Strides and talking Mothers Day Out with them. My baby should be here and he's not. They can't understand my pain and why I've become withdrawn, I can't relate to their life right now."

Though it may be hard for us to see you, please don't back away from us altogether. We still need you, more than ever, but we may need you from a distance. Text with us and if we ask you about your pregnancy or your newborn, share - delicately - but if we don't ask, don't tell, it means we aren't ready yet.

Parents of Loss, especially the Mothers, are so worried about how their emotions will come out sometimes. They may avoid social gatherings where pregnant people or babies may be, further isolating themselves from the rest of the world. If you are pregnant or have a newborn and there is a social gathering, maybe check in to see if the Parents of Loss are attending and if they are okay being around you. If they are having a hard time with that trigger still, one of the kindest things you can do for them is choose to sit one out so that the Parent of Loss can go, giving them that chance to be around people again. They need that social interaction without the fear of a trigger.

3b.) If you and the Parent(s) of Loss have a mutual friend that happens to be pregnant, regardless if you know they are aware or unaware of it, please have the foresight to tell the Parent of Loss before they are about to be in a social situation where the pregnancy could be revealed/announced or if it is visible. We cannot stress this enough: do not let them be blindsided at a gathering if someone is pregnant and they are not aware, that feels so so so horrible. Prepare them with just a simple, "I'm not sure if you know this yet, but just in case I wanted to let you know that Suzy Q and Johnny are expecting. I know that may be hard for you right now, but I wanted you to know before you see them."

This gives them the option to bow out if they cannot handle it, or prepare themselves emotionally/mentally to deal with it before they have to see them, not try to process in the moment. Processing in the moment can either react in a way that is painfully embarrassing to the Parent of Loss, or if they hold it together, it can result in a bad emotional crash after. Regardless of those things, it is just a kind thing to do so they are not caught off guard with news that may hurt them deeply, given their raw emotional state.

3c.) If you are a friend who becomes pregnant while your Friend of Loss is fighting their battle with grief, please be gentle with how you approach it with them. We totally get it. You are afraid to tell them because let's be honest, there is just no good way to do it. First and foremost, thank you for wanting to be sensitive to the Parents of Loss' feelings but make no mistake, you need to tell them. They will be much more hurt in the long run from you keeping it from them, especially the longer time goes on. Before you announce it publicly, it is good to let them know in some way.

If you feel like you can't tell them face to face or over the phone, you can email them, text them or even send them a Thinking of You card or a letter letting them know that you are expecting. Tell them you didn't want to leave them out of this time in your life but you know they may need some time to process this news and be okay with it. So whenever they are ready, you are there. That way you are putting the ball in their court and not forcing them to respond if they aren't quite ready yet. You are letting them come to terms with it, while being considerate and gentle with their feelings. When they are ready, they will let you know.

One Mother of Loss advised for friends to "avoid saying anything to the effect of: your baby will watch over our baby/future baby, he/she will be their guardian angel. It seems very sweet and harmless but let the Parents of Loss be the ones to say that, if they can get to a place of acceptance to be able to say that. To a grieving mother or father, for you to say that before they do could cause anger because they didn't choose for their child to have the role of guardian angel baby to anyone else's children. They wanted that baby with them here, in their arms - like yours is, and it is not a consolation prize to hear that their precious child, whom they wanted more than anything, will watch over the rest of their friend's living children and future children."

The takeaway for this section is that it's not that your Parents of Loss friends are not happy for you, it just intensifies their pain. We ask you to broach that subject with increased sensitivity.

III. Ways You Can Be Helpful and Things You Can Do For the Parents of Loss:

1.) Several of us had friends who immediately pitched in, creating a meal calendar for people to bring food. They set a cooler outside on our porch for the deliveries so that we could have our privacy. I cannot tell you how important this is to have that privacy - this is not a drop in and visit kind of occasion.

Parents of Loss can have a really hard time wanting to leave the house. Then they finally get to a point where they can get out of the house but nowhere they would want to possibly run into someone. So can you imagine the panic of the thought of grocery shopping or trying to leave the house to pick up food from a restaurant they frequent? Having meals (of all kinds - breakfast, lunch and snacks are so helpful too) or someone to do a grocery run so that you can cook something for yourselves.

2.) If meal contributions fill up and there are more people that want to help, have them contribute whatever they would have spent on a meal towards gift cards to things the couple may like to do together to help escape grief for a bit like movies, restaurant date nights, a cooking class, spa treatments, or to a certain airline for when they are ready to maybe take a healing trip away from everything that reminds them of the life they anticipated having with that baby, but now is no more.

One Loss Mama said, "some friends gave us six free house cleanings to use however and whenever we were in need. Cleaning the house and doing laundry was the last thing we felt like doing but we needed to, so that was one less thing to worry about." Another received a fund that their coworkers contributed to for them to put towards whatever they needed - to help with funeral expenses, to put towards a healing getaway, or whatever was the greatest help to them.

My college girlfriends pitched in and gave us a gift certificate to a hotel chain that was both local and in other cities so that we could use it toward a staycation, relax for spa treatments, dinner together, or put it towards a hotel stay if we wanted to travel. Opening my email to see that brought such a burst of gratitude and it made me feel like they knew we'd need time together to try to lift our spirits and reconnect through the grief.

3) Let us preface this by saying anything and everything we received was incredibly appreciated. Let us also say that none of it is expected of you and there are several other ways to be there for the parents than what costs money. However, some people show their love through gifts so if you feel that you want to gift the Parents of Loss something to help memorialize their child, show support or to let them know you are thinking of them, there are some things that can actually be more difficult than helpful. Deliveries are so thoughtful and special, and again always appreciated because you did something on our behalf and were thinking of us. However, until I was in this position, I didn't realize what to consider, so that is why we are sharing this next section.

From all the contributions I received, this was echoed the most. Simply: Flowers die. You typically get flowers for happy occasions but when you come home from the hospital after having to say goodbye to your child who you will never see again, you don't want to be reminded of something that is typically associated with happy or celebratory occasions. When you are given beautiful flowers, which don't get us wrong - they were beautiful - soon they will start to wilt, the water begins to smell, and little plant flies start swarming. You can't bring yourself to throw them out because those are your flowers for your baby - your baby that died - so you don't want to get rid of them, it's one of the only things you have left. But you need to because they are now dead. Do you follow? I know, it's an unexpected dark rabbit hole.

Also, another something some of us never realized, delivery places such as Tiff's Treats, Shari's Berries and Edible Arrangements are so delicious and wonderful. It is an appreciated, delicious, and thoughtful gesture. However, did you know when they are delivering to a home they will not deliver unless they know someone is there to accept it. In that first week or two especially, the Parents of Loss will have an unpredictable schedule. To avoid these delivery places continuously calling (which, they are just doing their jobs, we know that) or having a missed delivery attempt resulting in further calls to schedule another time, it may be best to wait on this until life calms down a bit or send it to a family member who can take it to them. Hudson was born and we said goodbye on a Wednesday, we were planning his funeral for that Saturday. On Friday, Tiff's Treats were trying to deliver to us but we weren't home because we were making funeral arrangements. They kept calling and calling - at a time I already didn't want to answer the phone outside of immediate family - because they were trying to deliver perishable items. When I did pick up the phone, looking back I do feel very bad for the person on the receiving end because she got a grieving person in a not so wonderful state.

4.) If you want to give the Parents of Loss something meaningful to recognize their child, some examples are:
  • memorial plant like a bush or a tree (however, something to be mindful of - this could give the couple anxiety if that is not their forever home. They may be hesitant to plant it because they don't want to have to leave it someday if they move. One solution could be to donate it to their church so they have a forever place to watch it grow. Or one Loss Momma said she also received a beautiful water rock with her tree so that if they ever moved, they had the rock to take with them.)
  • star named after their child from the Star Registry.
  • blanket personalized with the child’s name or monogram.
  • wooden block carved with the child’s name and birth information.
  • Molly Bear is made in the same weight as the child that passed away, to give the parents something to hold that feels like the child did in their arms.
  • Jewelry in the child's birthstone or an engraved necklace/bracelet/cufflinks with the child's initials on it. This was especially meaningful for me because any future babies we have will share Hudson's initials - HJS - so that they will have an unbreakable bond with their big brother, unique to them only. So when I wear those initials around my neck, it is for him and it is also a symbol of promise and hope for my heart to know someday there will be babies, his siblings, in my arms as so yearned for. 
For one Family of Loss, they said that friends "bought a blooming bed at the arboretum. We chose not to have a grave site because we didn't want to have a sad place we felt required to visit on every holiday for the rest of our lives. Instead we visit the beautiful arboretum through the seasons and see different flowers in our son's memory."

Donations made in the child’s memory to a cause important to the couple is also incredibly moving and allows the couple to feel like their child is leaving a legacy, in turn those dollars go to help others. One friend took the gift they were planning to give us for our baby shower and donated it to a organization that housed children recovering from hospital stays, along with their families. It was so special to know something of Hudson’s would be going to bring other children joy. 

5.) One of the most helpful things you can do is if you know someone that has been through pregnancy or infant loss, please connect them. We cannot tell you how helpful it is to email, text, call, or sit face to face with another Parent of Loss has walked the same road.

One Parent of Loss said that she was connected with a friend’s cousin immediately. “Within a week of loss we received a Hope Box from the Hope Mommies organization from my friend's cousin, along with a care package from my friend who found out from her cousin some things that would be helpful to me as I recovered like No More Milk tea, lactation pads and ice packs for the physical and emotional experience of when my milk came in, a daily devotional book from a mother who lost her child, and then eye cream for my puffy eyes from crying. It was so thoughtful and personal.”

6.) Say their name. That is one of the greatest gifts you can give us, say their name to us. One Mother of Loss instructs, "say their name often and without pause. The joy it brings the Parents of Loss to hear their child’s name or see it written is so meaningful. They need others to acknowledge the life that existed."

7.) We may have been the most prompt person before, or someone who wouldn't ever back out of plans. We may have been annoyed by others when they did that. However, loss changes you. One Mother of Loss shares for others to "understand if we back out of plans last minute. You never know when the tidal wave of grief will overtake us. Grief is exhausting. We are just trying to survive and we ask for your patience if there are times that we can't do things like we could before."

We know, this has been a lot of information, a lot to try to digest. It's a very heavy subject but even if you skimmed this over, you are a better friend because of it.

Thank you for taking the time to read this in an effort to know how to help your friend who is a Parent of Loss. They are so lucky to have you as part of their support system. Be there, be present, be understanding. Love them through this, they will feel forever indebted to you because of it.

With gratitude,

Hudson's Mommy, Austin's Mommy, Lennon's Mommy, Greyson's Mommy, Wells' Mommy, Kollyns' Mommy and Olivia's Mommy

Thursday, October 29, 2015

What We Need You to Know: Grieving Family Members of the Parents of Loss

To the Grieving Family Members of the Parents of Loss,

First of all, please accept our most heartfelt condolences for your loss and that as a family unit, you have to experience this tragedy. This is such a hard road for you too, it is not the natural order of life. You shouldn't have to watch your son/daughter, brother/sister, grandson/granddaughter, niece/nephew, or cousin mourn the loss of and lay their child to rest.

To the Grandparents of the child that is gone. This is such a hard role for you because you know the miracle and beauty of what it was like to welcome your child into the world. You were there for all their bumps and bruises, hardships and accomplishments. Now your child has grown up and has been given the remarkable gift of creating new life, of becoming a Mommy or Daddy themselves, and continuing to expand your family. To watch your grown up child in utter anguish as they go through a pain you don’t quite know or understand just wrecks your being because you can't fix it. For some, it may be your first time to become a grandparent and not only are you trying to be strong for your child mourning the loss of their own, you are trying to deal with your pain as well. You might be in a phase of life surrounded by your friends who are becoming Mimis and Poppas or Gigis and Gramps, sharing the stories of love and excitement that their grand babies bring. It is very much a loss to you as well, whether it is your first or fifteenth grand baby, and you need to take the time to mourn.

To the aunts and uncles of loss, I know you too imagined what future family gatherings would be like with this new addition. If you would be chosen as the Godparent and what it would be like to be the cool aunt or uncle. If you already have children of your own, I'm sure you thought about what a new cousin would be like for your little one(s), fondly remembering how important your cousins were to you growing up. You also hold a special bond that no one else does with the Parent of Loss as their brother or sister. Sometimes you have better insight to them than your parents do. The Parents of Loss need you, they may need help being a voice to the rest of the family when they are too broken to have one. Or you may know what they need when they don't know how to ask for it.

To all family members, your world has now been rocked but for the Parents of Loss, theirs has been completely flipped upside down and shattered. Please understand that while you want to hold the Parents of Loss tight, there are things they need to do for their own acceptance of this loss as they go through the various stages of grief which are all over the map. While you want them with you to make sure they are okay, sometimes they do need to be alone to process. Family gatherings may be harder for them than it is supportive for them to attend. Putting on a brave face for large family events may be more daunting than helpful.

However, space is not always the answer. They are going to hurt for quite sometime and both of them at different times. It is important for you to continue to reach out to them, even if you do not get a response back. To them, sometimes the thought of responding is harrowing, but the warmth they will feel in their heart from your outreach is what they need sometimes to get through a tough moment or the day in general. They need their friends, but family is forever and they need your uplifting support more than anything.

Understand that they may not be up for phone calls. Sometimes talking on the phone brings more vulnerability than sitting face to face with someone. If they are experiencing that kind of withdrawal, a card or something more immediate such as a text or an email go a long way.

Something that is very important to remember is that you cannot put a time frame on their grief. They may seem fine when you see them or talk to them one day, but the next they could be a total mess. It comes and goes and the triggers happen out of nowhere.

Loss is hard for the whole family. What is the most family-centric time of year? The holidays. This is a difficult struggle for the Parents of Loss because while they want to continue to be "a normal functioning member of the family" they may also be crippled by the fact that they were starting their own family and now have a huge, gaping void. A Mother of Loss explained, "they may need to take a holiday or two, or all, off for the first year, please be understanding of that. You see, they had already envisioned life at that holiday with their baby. If there are other children in the family, it is so hard to watch siblings or cousins with their little ones when they don't have the one they planned to have and should have there as well. Please be accepting and don't try to force them to participate. Give them permission to skip it if they need to so they don't feel guilty or as if they are disappointing you on top of the pain they are going through."

Below are ways that you can be most helpful, whether you are grieving with them from a distance or a few miles away:

1.) If you can be there for them in the hospital, be there. Whether it is in the room or down the hall. Do whatever you can to be there. It is helpful in your own grieving process to be able to see and hold that baby when it comes. Your children will need the emotional support that only you can provide. I remember praying that my husband's parents could get on a flight and my mother in law did everything in her power to make sure they could get there at the absolute soonest moment possible. Sometimes when it is discovered that the baby is no longer living, the couple is able to go home and schedule within the next 24 hours a time to be induced for delivery. Other times, like in our situation, we were taken downstairs to be induced immediately and there wasn't time to plan.

2.) Have a family member in charge of the communication plan. Find friends of the Parents of Loss to help divide up calls made on their behalf so that is one last thing they need to worry about. Though you are doing the communicating on their behalf, please check with the parents to see when and what they want communicated to the outside world. It is also helpful to establish one point of contact on behalf of the Parents of Loss so that someone else can answer questions or requests for them, rather than those parents having to do it.

3.) Several of the Parents of Loss told me how helpful it was to them for their family members to take care of funeral arrangements for them, which I fully agree with. When you are in the hospital, going through this darkness and confusion, all of sudden there are final arrangements that need to be made. This comes at a time where the couple is in complete and total agony. You can't leave the hospital without making those arrangements - which the thought of leaving the hospital without their baby and saying goodbye for good is one of the most mind-numbing parts of the experience. Their ability to make decisions may be skewed and very clouded. Be patient with them, but if you are able, help take that off their plate while still asking for their wishes. Allow them whatever say they want in place of rest, burial or cremation, specific aspects of the service, but if you can, be the contact with the funeral home, the church, those that make the plaques or headstones. If your family members are looking for ways to help the couple, and are able to do so, instead of food and memorial items that many friends will be doing, have them pitch in to help cover the funeral expenses. This is a tremendous help for the Parents of Loss. 

4.) Another Mother of Loss advises to "check in often," speaking specifically to in-laws. "Check in on your daughter/sister in law, not just your son/brother. Check in on your son/brother in law, not just your daughter/sister. Text daily or at the very least weekly. Drop off meals. Run to the grocery store. Do dishes and laundry without being asked. Bring cookies. Talk to both people in the marriage, not just your biological child/sibling. Not doing so can be damaging to your relationship."

5.) From our personal experience, when we were in the hospital, my brother went to our house to feed and take care of our dog. Even in his own grief, he took it upon himself to let our neighbors know what had happened so that we didn't have to. 

6.) Help others preserve the memory of the child. One Mother of Loss said, "my mom sends reminders to friends and family each year on his birth date and due date so we get lots of texts, calls and emails on those days. I don't have proof of this but know that she does it." To have a family member take that initiative is so thoughtful and supportive. The Parents of Loss don't want their child to be forgotten, so going the extra mile to ensure they don't feel that way is necessary.

7.) Be supportive without trying to “fix” them or justify the situation. This Mother of Loss shared that  "listening is key. As hard as it may be, do your best not to come up with solutions for making it better (like suggesting they see a counselor or asking if they could be experiencing post-partum depression). As a parent, you know there is nothing worse than not being able to fix your child’s pain. This will be hard for you, but it is part of this terrible experience. Don’t accidentally make it worse by saying that it may have been for the best (for that child’s health reasons or whatever may seem applicable), by saying that time will heal (it won’t in this category of loss - time makes the pain more manageable but you cannot ever fully heal from child loss), by saying that there is some reason they will find for the experience (they may make meaning of it themselves at some point, but it is not your place to say such meaning exists or suggest what that may be), that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle, etc. It is human nature to say these things, but it is especially hurtful to hear them from your own family."

8.) It is best not to assume what the Parents of Loss may want in regards to how they recognize the memory of their child. One Mother of Loss says "We have a Christmas stocking for him and my mom followed and got one with his name on it for her house. I think the takeaway being to watch the grieving parents' cues and act accordingly. If the parents want to celebrate or remember, then do the same. If you notice they are pulling back and wish to keep it more private, give them that privacy. Everyone is different, but in my experience there have been moments when I want to talk about what happened and share and say his name, then there are other times, like recently, when it's just too hard to "go there" too often."

8.) Remember that the Parents of Loss are now and always will be parents. They are a mother and father who need to be forever acknowledged as such, even if they do not have any living children. I will always say that Hudson was my first born, our guardian angel baby watching over us and any other children we are blessed to receive some day. I like to think he will know his brother(s) and sister(s) before we do. For family members, please acknowledge this life as a life as well, especially in our presence. I heard it said beautifully once by a woman, "I have five grandchildren - four that we get to experience this life with, and one waiting for me when I get to heaven some day. She is our family's angel baby." This turns something slightly uncomfortable to talk about, and "taboo" depending on the generation, into a beautiful way to remember and acknowledge them.

They will be parenting that missing child until their own dying days. This may be difficult to understand, but it is true. The day they said goodbye to their child is the day their parallel universe began and every holiday, milestone, significant life event, or just when they see a child on the street, will lead them to wonder what life would be like at that moment with their baby. In a way, we hope our family members have that parallel universe as well.

9.) While it is a joyous time and occasion for the family, when it comes to other living children, new babies or new pregnancies, it will be very difficult for the Parents of Loss for quite sometime. My aunt described it best when she said "it's not that you aren't happy for them, but it only intensifies your pain." This Mother of Loss says, "be sensitive when discussing other children in the family, when announcing pregnancies, etc. It doesn't matter if it is the same gender of the child lost or not. Remember that seeing and being around other children will be hard for a while - it may take the Parents of Loss having their own baby in their arms until they feel truly comfortable and happy again being around other children in the family. Approach the topics of pregnancy, babies, hanging out with other children in the family, etc, with sensitivity. Do not hide anything from the new parents, but consider giving both of them separate notification of new pregnancies and the time to process that. Ask them if they are okay. Be gentle with the Parents of Loss, they are hurting tremendously, and give them grace in these situations."

10.) Finally, do not be afraid to say the baby's name. This Mother of Loss instructs family members to "remember their baby with them. Say the baby’s name. As time passes, do not pretend that none of this ever happened. Be there for them on milestones. Remember that in the first year, monthly anniversaries and the due date will be especially hard and it will effect both the Parents of Loss differently. Any acknowledgement of this is so appreciated. Annually thereafter, remember their child with them on key dates such as birth date, death date, burial date, etc. Set a calendar notification for yourself so you can be aware that their hearts will be extra tender on those days each year."
All the voices that have contributed know that grief is hard on everyone and that if it happens in your family, that experience is unprecedented and uncharted territory no one quite knows how to deal with. We all hope that this guide is helpful to you. By taking these suggestions into consideration and acting on them, the Parents of Loss are so lucky to have you. Considerate, loving, supportive you. Some additional references for you to read can be found here:

With much love to you and your entire family,

Hudson's Mommy, Austin's Mommy, Lennon's Mommy, Greyson's Mommy, Wells' Mommy, Kollyns' Mommy and Olivia's Mommy

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

What We Need You To Know: A Collaborative Series of Voices from the Parents of Loss

"Never did I think this would happen to us."
This is the most common phrase that I've heard as I talk with other Parents of Loss.  

For me personally, it was the absolute last thing I had considered. I thought at some point in my life, I may have to experience the terrible loss and pain of miscarriage, but never that my child would not have a heartbeat when I went in for a routine appointment in my third trimester. My husband and I met at the age of 23 and started dating. Four years later, we got engaged and then married 8 months after that. We worked hard in our careers, we traveled. We bought the house, we got the dog. We decided to start a family and just like that, we became pregnant. That seems to be the dream, right? So how does it turn into a nightmare in the blink of an eye?

Tragedy is unpredictable. I hope and pray that no one reading this is ever touched by this kind of loss, but if you ever are - whether it is you, a friend or family member - there are things you need to know. As Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month draws to a close, I will be posting three articles over the next three days directed to help the Family Members, the Friends and the Parents of Loss. These posts are a collaboration of voices from myself and several women to help guide you through loss, taken from our own experiences. It is important to note that in no way are any of these experiences intended to single out a specific person or incident in our lives, but to provide others with how to best help or what to say in a time of loss.

None of us knew exactly how to do that well for others until we were there ourselves.

None of us knew how to walk this road without the help of other Parents of Loss.

As a general overview, what everyone needs to know about grief is that it is an exceptionally challenging road. It comes on in waves when you don't expect it and it is a manic roller coaster. It effects the mother and father differently, at different times, and often emotions are triggered by different things. This can mean what may hurt or be difficult for one Parent of Loss may not be recognized as a pain or trigger to the other. It can also mean that while one Parent of Loss seems fine, the other may not be. 

There is a common misconception that as time goes on, the Parents of Loss get better, that time heals all wounds. When it comes to the loss of a child, that is simply not true. There are so many things we have to deal with like receiving formula samples and baby-related coupons in the mail for MONTHS after we've lost our baby because of where we shopped while pregnant or the registries we made. One Parent of Loss says that it was a year and a half after she lost her son and her barista asked her how her baby was. Just when you think you are done dodging those questions, it jumps out at you again and can bring you way down. We meet new people and are asked, "how many kids or you have," or "do you have kids?" Then, we have to watch as everyone we were pregnant with brings their babies into the world and starts their life as parents, something taken from us so quickly and without warning. Right after loss is only the beginning, there is so much more that occurs outside the initial pain of losing a child.  It may have to get worse, much worse, before acceptance can set in and managing the grief can get better. You cannot put a time frame on it.

The love one has for a child is a forever thing. The pain will not go away, therefore, neither will grief.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Five Months

Hudder Budder,

Sweet baby, I'll tell you, I didn't anticipate the love I have for you to run this deep after being without you for 154 days. It has been 22 weeks of learning how to live when you stopped living. It is 2,661,120 breaths I have taken that you haven't. Although you are not with us, each day I love you so much more than the day before.

Sometimes I still feel phantom kicks. They used to make me sad but now I think of them as little hellos from you. I would sit there and smile as you'd squirm away in my belly. You loved to start going early in the morning, middle of the afternoon around 3:00 and right as I was falling asleep at night. If I wanted you to move, I just needed to eat something and there you were, like a little boxing champion. One night, your pup was resting his head on my belly and you starting squirming around right where his head was. That dog jolted and gave me a quizzical look before re-situating himself on my legs.

In my parallel universe, I wonder what we would be experiencing with you right now as you grew and your little personality continued to develop. I wonder what Halloween costume we would have chosen for you. I received a gift of little cowboy boots from your Aunt Karen and Uncle Brad. Even in the month of March, I was already thinking about October. I thought Halloween would be a good chance for you to wear them, if they fit, and Georgie pup could be your horse. I wonder what clothes you would have already outgrown and if I'd be telling you to slow down little baby, you are getting too big, too soon. I would cherish every second of every day with you.

I wish we could all be cuddled together on the couch right now, your dad and I taking turns holding you, making faces to try to elicit a squeal or a smile from you. I wish you were here to rock on the porch swing while we hand out candy this weekend and we proudly smile to dote on you when people acknowledge you and ask your name. Then, you'd make a big noise and we would all laugh. I wish we could put you in the stroller and take you to the neighborhood Halloween festival, experiencing these first time family events with you, our precious son. These moments are ones that will continue to live on in my mind as I always wonder who you would have been and what our life would have been like together, creating memories that never existed with you.

I wish you never left us.

I love you with every breath, every tear, every beat of my heart. Forever and always.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Dreams: An Open Window to the Heart's Emotion

Looking back through some files, I found something I had written. Just this past weekend, I had a conversation with another loss mama about this song so I wanted to post.

Written on July 2, 2015

Last night I had a dream.

In my dream we were in a new house with three floors. The bottom floor was where the kitchen and living space was. The second floor was where our room was. The third floor was where the nursery was. The house was very open, few walls, very much like a loft. However, through the course of my dream, the house continued to change. Walls were appearing and making it difficult to figure out how to get from room to room. I kept trying to get upstairs to you but I couldn't find where to go to get there. I woke up in tears. I went and sat in the nursery rocker, to rock myself back to sleep, and I slept in there the remainder of the night.

I feel like as I work on healing, I'm closing off my heart to you as to try not to feel the pain because it can be so exhausting day after day. I don't know how to balance between trying to be strong and keep my emotions at bay, while also keeping it open to still feel the sadness when I need to let myself "go to that place" where I feel closest to you. It's a new battle I suppose.

It made me think of this song, Burning House. I can't listen to it without tears streaming down my face, it feels so much like my heart sometimes.

I had a dream about a burning house.
You were stuck inside,
I couldn't get you out.
I lay beside you and pulled you close,
And the two of us went up in smoke
Love isn't all that it seems.
I did you wrong.
I'll stay here with you,
Until this dream is gone.
I've been sleepwalking,
Been wondering all night.
Trying to take what's lost and broke
And make it right.
I've been sleepwalking,
Too close to the fire,
But it's the only place that I can hold you tight,
In this burning house.

In this burning house.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Pan Seared Veal Parmesan

One of Max's favorite dishes is Chicken Parm. There was only one night last week that I could cook at home and decided to make him a spruced up variation as a thank you for being so supportive during a hectic two weeks of work. The picture does not do this dish justice - blame that partially on a hungry self without patience to plate a picture-perfect dish - but trust me, the taste was divine.

I made this on Thursday, October 15 during the Wave of Light with my special Our Bud Hud candle burning as I cooked, then on the table with us as we ate. 

Yields two servings
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 Veal Scallopini fillets
  • 1.5 handfuls of Spinach
  • 1 small Spaghetti Squash
  • Your favorite sauce (we love Newman's Own)
  • Red pepper flakes (optional)
  • Shredded Parmesan cheese
Prep time: 8 minutes
Cook time: 10-15 minutes

Season both sides of veal with salt and pepper. Due to the thin cuts, the veal cooks very fast so this needs to be the last thing you do.

I was short on time so I didn't bake my spaghetti squash, I took the short cut and nuked it. To do this, pierce holes around the outside of the squash with a fork. Set on a plate and then cook in the microwave for 8 minutes. Half the squash lengthwise with a knife and discard the seeds. Once seeds are out, scrape the insides from top to bottom (along the horizontal axis) to get the spaghetti-like strands.

In a skillet, heat the olive oil until smoking, then add the seasoned veal. Pan sear it on both sides for 4 minutes per side. Move to a shallow baking dish, top in sauce and then set in the oven on 200 degrees to keep warm and to slightly bake the sauce on top of the meat.

Using the same skillet, add the spaghetti squash, scraping up the browned bits from the veal, then add the spinach. Allow the spinach to wilt down, then add about 3/4 cup of sauce to the pan. Fold the spaghetti squash, spinach and sauce into one another to combine.Want to turn up the heat? Go ahead, shake those flakes (red pepper that is) over top and stir it in.

Once contents of skillet are well blended, remove the veal from the oven. Plate the spaghetti squash, followed by veal then add cheese to your liking.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

It's a Bittersweet Symphony, This Life

Today was probably the biggest day for my career. But in my eyes, it shouldn't have happened.

For nine years I have been doing fundraising and special events for non-profit organizations. In the first seven years of my career, it was mainly large-scale events. For the past two years I focused mainly on the fundraising aspect with a few small events sprinkled in. When I first interviewed for my job, I was blown away by the Center's mission and the scope of brain research they conducted, I wanted to be part of it. When they told me they were starting a capital campaign, I knew it was where I wanted to be to achieve the trifecta of a non-profit career: a capital campaign, a groundbreaking and a grand opening.

In January, my boss and I met with various production companies to find the right one to help us execute our Groundbreaking event. At that point, I was 4 months pregnant and knew that I wouldn't be able to really do the groundbreaking. The UT System Board of Regents were meeting in February to approve our building design and request, given the funds we had raised to date. If we were approved and could do a Groundbreaking in May, I would be able to do it but not full out at 8 months pregnant. If it got delayed to the Fall, I would be on maternity leave. I met with these companies wanting the best but knowing I wouldn't get to truly see it through.

And then everything changed.

No longer would I be on maternity leave from July to... this week. I was to come back from Maternity Leave on Monday, October 12. That made today incredibly bittersweet. Ever since I started this job I looked forward to a Groundbreaking event that I'd get to work on. Then we decided to start a family, I got pregnant and my career goals were no longer in the forefront. I was excited for the Center but my passion and desire to be a mama was FAR more important so I was okay with it. 

After Hudson passed, I took a month off work. When I came back at the end of June this Groundbreaking project was on my plate. I thought it would be good for me, I needed to keep busy and totally throw myself into something to offer a distraction. However, I had a mental block and really couldn't get myself over the hump to be all the way "there" from a cognitive standpoint. Here I am working for a center of brain health but I was doubting my own. It was hard to be in the right mindset half of the time and I was terrified that I wouldn't have myself together enough to make this event into what it needed to be, what it should be.

I didn't feel like I was "all there" until the few days leading up to it. The early, early mornings with late nights put me back in the groove again and able to focus on what I needed to (as much as I could). My team trusted me to do it, they let me lean on them when I needed to, they allowed me to delegate and took on any task asked of them. They believed in me and because of that, I could believe in myself.

While I'm so proud to be able to have done it, to have this huge career milestone, in the back of my mind, all I can think about is how I wasn't supposed to have this. I would have tried my hardest (and maybe succeeded) in talking Max into letting me stay home or at the very most try to work out a part-time arrangement. As I had entered my 8th month of pregnancy, I was very conflicted of what I would do. I've been a career woman, very goal-oriented, I crave a schedule and being in an office setting. I went into non-profit because I had a passion for certain causes and wanted to end my day feeling the reward of working for a greater good. I didn't want to give that up. But taking that reasoning, wouldn't being a mother to my son be my passion? Wouldn't that alone be the greater good? Whether it would have been feasible for us financially or not, I don't know, but I know I would have at least tried.

So I sit here. Reflecting. Feeling proud of the work accomplished with the help of an incredible team and that they are individuals that come through for you in the clutch - both on a professional level and a personal one. I am so glad I was trusted with this opportunity and was able to carry it out to the best of my ability. This gave me a chance to tap into a part of my old self again and feel that energy, that adrenaline, and the rush. It was thrilling, terrifying, engaging, and humbling all in one. I am so thankful.

However, I wish I could have come home to my son tonight instead.