Saturday, August 23, 2014
Understanding A Mother's Grief Through Her Eyes
I have read a lot of articles on grieving lately. There are so many things that pertain to me and so many that do not. No two people grieve alike, we ALL grieve differently. Although Zeb and I are both Caleb's parents even we grieve differently. A good friend gave me the book "Tear Soup," which I love. It's beautiful and really lays out that everyone's tear soup is made differently and one persons soup may take a lot longer than someone else's.
This post is personal. I am writing about my grieving and the things that help me and are hard for me. I do this for those sweet friends and family I have that may not know what to say. That may not know what to do, that may just be stumped and feel they don't know where to start when talking to me. I want to be clear that the things I write about are NOT written to make those reading to think about things they have done and said and if they ever did or said something that made things harder for me. I hold no anger or grudges for anything that has been done or said thus far and don't want anyone thinking twice about the past. My desire is for those who want to read this to have things to think about for the future and/or help those grieving themselves understand their own feelings by reading mine.
1. Be patient with me and those grieving. It is said that parents grieving the loss of a child have the longest grieving period for any death and can take up to 2 years to grieve that child. While each person is different please don't judge those grieving. Don't think it should take them a certain amount of time. "It's been xx months they should be feeling or acting like this." I think sometimes people think certain things about those grieving (even if not voiced aloud) and it's simply not kind. We can be loving and compassionate and allow them to grieve in their way. They would rather not be grieving and they don't know how to do it. Each day is it's own mountain, some bigger than others. Just try to love and not judge.
2. Those grieving are not themselves. I can personally say that there are things that I used to LOVE that are really hard for me. One being meeting new people. I used to love meeting new people but it has taken a totally different spin now. I am caught off guard with questions like, "How many kids do you have?" That's the hardest one. I never know what to say. Do I want to go into everything? If I say I have a son, since he's not here, they're going to ask. Do I want to explain it? If I say my son passed away they are going to want to know how and when and details. Am I prepared to tell those details? Am I emotionally stable to say those things? And so on. So, social situations are different. Harder than they have ever been before. If you know I may be coming to something where someone is there I don't know, I would LOVE you telling the person beforehand about my situation. Then they know and are able to ask questions like, "What are the ages of your girls?" What are your girls names? How far apart are your girls," etc.
Another situation that is completely different for me now is large groups of people. I hate that this is hard for me. For those that know me you know how social I am and how much I love to be with all our friends and then some. Large groups give me anxiety now. Each day I get up I assess my heart and how much it's hurting. I assess what I have that day and who I am going to see. Depending on what that is I have to layer my heart accordingly to get through the day. I have to make sure I'm emotionally in check for what will happen. Large social situations are the hardest to prepare for. There are so many people and possible scenarios that if something catches me off guard it suddenly leaves me exposed and vulnerable. As soon as I am exposed everything falls apart and it becomes too hard. Because Zeb and I are so social we still love being invited to things. But please know that if we don't make it we still loved being invited, still cherish our friendship and are sorry we didn't make it. For some reason that day was just too hard, please don't take it personally.
3. Conversations. I recently read something someone wrote about their grieving and how they wanted to be asked how they were doing without their child. That is too hard for me. I would rather just have people say in passing, "We're thinking about you." or "We love your family." or "Have you done anything fun lately?" Instead of "How is your new routine without Caleb?" or "How ARE you." When someone asks me how I am as a standard question I have learned over the last 11 months that they aren't asking how I am on a deep level. It's automatic and I give a normal typical response. But when someone emphasizes "How ARE you," I can't handle it. I can't go into it then and there. I can't really answer that question without saying things that are either too personal or too difficult to share in such a setting. It goes back to the layers I have to create to get through the day. Church is hard because I know I will see lots of people that care about our family. While that is a good thing it is also difficult because people want to know things that are just too hard for me to talk about. So if you see me at church and want me to know you care about me, you're thinking about us, or want to know what we've been up to I welcome those statements and questions and love you for them.
4. Let me know if there is anything I can do. Most people won't call you to tell you or text you that they need something when they are simply trying to make it through each day. And if they have already been served by everyone around them they shy away from asking for help. We have been served for months and months and are so grateful. IF you feel like you want to do something or help in some way, I have loved having people just tell me what they are going to do, and appreciate every single act of service and kindness. We have amazing friends and family.
5. Trigger questions are different for everyone. As time has passed I have recognized some of mine. For me there are some questions that are really really hard when asked. These questions may seem like surface questions that are easy to answer but they tear at my heart and I leave feeling overwhelmed and sad. Each question is incredibly hard and something that takes so much effort to face that discussing it will not only expose the wound but cause it to hurt more.
"How is it with Zeb back at work?"
"Are you excited for the girls to start school?" (For the record the answer to this is no. I am not excited. This is the area that causes me intense sadness because it was supped to be my chance to have one on one time with Caleb. Even if he was still in the hospital I would have had extra time with him that I was welcoming and so excited for. The timing of this all is really hard and it's going to be incredibly difficult in the coming weeks.)
"How is it going to be when the girls go back to school?"
If you want to know something specific that isn't hard (isn't about my feelings and difficulties with my situation) just ask that instead of something general.
"How is Zeb's workload?" "Has Zeb been busy at work?"
"Are the girls excited for school?"
"What are you planning to do when the girls are in school?"
6. I personally love talking about my son, but others may not be ready for that or might cause them too much pain. I will include him in typical conversations about my children. The girls are like this. Caleb is like this. The girls had that. Caleb did that. I welcome chances to say things about my beautiful angel. You can even ask me questions about him that you would ask about anyone's child. Like his personality. His favorites. Easy questions that let me remember him and celebrate him are awesome. But if you ask questions about him that are emotionally taxing I will retreat into a shell which causes me to be anxious about social situations. If we are hanging out just the 2 of us I am typically very open and may end up sharing more than you would think. But I need to be the one to bring those hard things up. I would even love you to say something you love about Caleb or some way his story helped you in your own life. He is am amazing boy and I love talking about him.
7. Please don't ask someone grieving the loss of a child if they are going to have more children. I know people care and that they don't mean to cause heartache, turmoil, or anxiousness. But the truth is, that subject is too hard for too many reasons. I personally feel like you shouldn't ask that after the loss...ever. In my mind, there isn't a time frame that is acceptable. Honestly, if the couple does NOT feel like they could have more children they probably will not want to share that with people that ask. On the flip side, IF the person is ready to consider it (which will be different for every single person) I would think they would talk to their spouse about it. Then IF the spouse feels the same they will talk about when that might be and will start sharing it with their friends and family when THEY are ready. So no one even needs to ask. I also think that someone's answer may change so don't ask such a difficult question. What if they say yes and then it's just simply too hard? What if they say no and then they feel differently? I encourage all to refrain from asking this question and wait for the person to bring it up should they decide they want to.
8. Please be sensitive when commenting on the size or gender of anthers family. Before ever even becoming pregnant with Caleb this has been an issue when talking to strangers or meeting new people. I have the hardest time with this comment, "4 Girls? Your poor husband." Honestly, my husband is blessed and knows he is blessed. I can't tell you how many times I have heard someone tell me that. It makes my heart ache. Mainly because my children are with me when they say it. They hear those words and they internalize them. My oldest one day said, "Mom I feel like we are a problem." I was shocked and asked her what she meant. And then she unloaded all the things people say and that even though I would comment something kind or positive about my girls, those words still hurt them, they still hurt her. When Caleb was born I was able to say that I have a son and that deflected those comments like a charm. However, after he passed away I knew they would start again. At only 2 weeks after sweet caleb returned to heaven was when I heard it again, "You have 4 girls? Oh my. Your poor husband." Oh my goodness if they only knew. I left. It's not in my nature to say, "Actually we have a son, but he passed away." My point is that people need to think about others more when making statements about families. You never know that when you ask someone why they didn't have more kids that maybe they wanted more so badly but couldn't or were so sick that even though they wanted another they couldn't physically do it. Or maybe when you ask why they don't have any kids that maybe they have tried to have one for years. Or maybe when a family has all boys and you comment that the mom must be devastated that she doesn't have a daughter that her boys light up her life and she is complete. Or maybe the family of girls that you just said how sorry you felt for the husband really does have a son that was taken in infancy back to heaven. Please please please think about what you say when it comes to the size, gender and make up of anther persons family. It's such a hard thing.
9. Don't compare. Since each situation is different when people say things like, "I know how you feel," or "The same thing happened to my sister," it isn't comforting. A baby lost at 6 weeks is different than a baby lost at 20 that had to be delivered. A child lost at 7 months is different than a child lost at 4 years or 7 years. Even 2 families with children lost at the same age have completely different stories or two women that both miscarried at 6 weeks. They may have similarities and can relate to each other on certain levels but they feel and experience their stories differently. Let each person have their own story, separate from yours and the people you know. Only the savior truly knows our hearts and how we feel and I am eternally grateful for him and all he suffered to be able to succor us.
Those are the things in my heart that I have learned so far in grieving my sweet Caleb. There is no absolute when grieving, each person is different. I take that back. There is an absolute when grieving. Every single person has an ache in their heart for their child and that ache will be there the rest of their lives. Be patient and loving with them. Those are virtues that will always be welcomed.