How To Grieve
After over 8 months of dreaming, planning, and counting down the days until my son was born, my pregnancy ended in a full term stillbirth.
Stillbirth is defined as the death of a baby before or during delivery, after 20 weeks of pregnancy (it is considered a miscarriage or abortion before then). 1% of pregnancies in the US end in stillbirth, disproportionately affecting black women and poor women. In about half of stillbirths the cause is not known.
Mine - ours - was caused by my - our - placenta. A swift, unpredictable, unpreventable complication that arose in the organ that was created to support my son’s life, and instead through a tragedy of fate, ended it.
This is, to put it mildly, a nightmare experience on all levels (I wrote a bit about it here). And in the weeks since it happened I’ve been spinning around the question: why?
The death of a baby isn’t something that can easily be seen to have a higher purpose, a greater good. An “everything happens for a reason.” I don’t have an answer to make this okay and it’s very likely I never will. So I’ve given up on the why for now and have instead been thinking about the what - what his life meant.
His life meant everything to me. He expanded my heart infinitely, taught me endlessly about patience, forgiveness, connection, joy, listening, trust, nature, hope… basically everything. He changed me in every way possible (and not just the cute new belly button shape I now have thanks to him). He taught me to love in a way I have never known, and his death is teaching me to grieve in a way I have never known too.
But I’m his mother, so of course I feel this way.
One of the common concerns among bereaved parents is that their child’s life won’t have mattered to others or that it will be forgotten. I was worried about this too. But friends and family and acquaintances and people I don’t even know have been reaching out to me to share how deeply his existence has touched them. I’ve had several people even tell me they’ve never cried more over anyone than over him (I know the feeling). And one of the themes that keeps coming up over and over again is that his death has made so many people realize that they hadn’t properly grieved other sorrows in their lives; other deaths, unfulfilled dreams, or significant losses. He has powerfully awakened in others the things they have been avoiding in themselves.
(I’m so proud of him)
If I were to summarize his short but beautiful life I would say he was - is - an opener; an opener of hearts and an opener of wounds. He brought so many of us deeper into love and also deeper into the hidden, unhealed, unprocessed places within ourselves. And while I don’t understand the purpose of his death - of any child’s death - I am starting to see the purpose of his life: perhaps his came into this world to help others heal by bringing their unacknowledged heartaches, their unmanaged grief, their unaccepted sorrows to the surface so they can be recognized, cleansed, and then ultimately healed.
The old adage is true: hurt people hurt people. When I look at the many many issues in the world (many many of which Bead & Reel was created to address) they all seem to stem from people who are hurting (which, is pretty much all of us). This hurt can cause disconnection, anger, violence, mindlessness, and expanding ripples of more hurt to others.
And so if we want to heal the world, we first have to heal ourselves.
I view my son’s life (and death) is an invitation to do just that. To fully grieve. To be brave enough to feel our pains, to face our wounds, to be vulnerable about our struggles. To acknowledge our sorrows, to cry, to scream, to have difficult conversations within ourselves and with each other. To deal with our own hurt so we can release it, finding peace inside ourselves to ultimately help create peace inside our world.
That is my son’s legacy, and I hope you will honor him by finding, feeling, and honoring your own grief.
HOW TO GRIEVE
Acknowledge your loss
Start by putting it into words, both the actual loss (e.g. the person) and the layers of it (e.g. the labels, the hopes, the dreams for the future).
Unfortunately the only way out is through and when it comes to grief you can’t outrun it, hide from it, or numb it indefinitely so instead you must feel it, in all its unpleasantness. Sadness, anger, shame, regret, fear, worry, depression, denial, numbness - these are part of the human experience, part of the grief experience, and the swiftest way to release them is to allow yourself to simply sit with them. They - like everything - won’t last forever.
Feed, move, and rest your heart, body, mind, and soul. Grief is a long, slow, depleting journey so you must find ways to refill and replenish yourself consistently.
Seek and Accept help
Grief can feel isolating but it’s also universal and you don’t have to go through it alone. Allow help from friends, family, support groups, therapists, spiritual advisers, and others who show up along your journey.
Create and do something meaningful in honor of your loss. A person’s impact does not have to stop when their life does.
Be vulnerable, be honest, and be generous with your story. Others truly appreciate it, and it helps all of us feel less alone.
Repeat EACH STEP
Each day, each week, each month. For as long as it takes.