the inner world of grief, part 1

As I approach the two-year anniversary of the loss of our baby boy, I am still trying to make sense of my grief. Our son was much wanted and so loved, long before he ever came to be. Though I never got to meet him, I felt his presence in our short time together. I was half way to term. We had just started to envision our future life with him. We were in bliss. And then…

Exactly two years ago this week, everything changed.
Time stopped. Bliss turned to terror. I imagine I will write more about what happened. But this is more about the aftermath, my attempt to come to terms with my grief, to slowly re-integrate the remnants of my life and find my way through. For now, it goes without saying that after I started leaking and bleeding well into the second trimester on that cold sunny day in January, nothing was ever the same again. In two weeks, he was gone. Forever. Along with every dream we had of our future with him. 

I don’t think we ever really overcome grief. We try to work through it. We try to live with it and accept it. Grief is a lifelong healing process
. Our journey through grief does not have a distinct destination. There is no end point. And the process includes how we deal with what we encounter along the way.

Many are familiar with the five traditional stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. These were first articulated by the late Elisabeth Kubler-Ross on death and dying. In her final book,
On Grief and Grieving,” she and her co-author explain how the stages apply to the inner and outer worlds of grief. While not specific to pregnancy loss, the stages are universal, though misleading in their seeming simplicity. But there are no instructions. The stages are not linear, and we can experience them differently. The fundamental truth they elucidate is that grief is the necessary beginning of healing. It must be experienced. We must be open, we must be present. We must live through it to come out the other side. “Grief is the healing process of the heart, soul, and mind; it is the path that returns us to wholeness.”

In truth, I don’t know that I can ever be truly whole after what I’ve lost. Will I ever feel complete without my son? Or without any living children if I must grieve my fertility as well? Will I ever come to “accept” this fate? I really don’t know. 

After a year had passed, I sought support from a grief counselor who I hoped could help guide me to the other side. I had read a lot about grief and suffering. I had journaled extensively. But I just wasn’t finding my way through. Every new loss I experienced — every bfn, every lost hope, even the loss of my beloved pets who served as my surrogate children — brought up painful feelings of past unresolved loss. I was falling back into despair. I was hopeless, inconsolable.

My guide suffered tremendous grief when her husband died at age 35 from a rare form of cancer. Not only did she lose her partner, but she also buried the prospect of becoming a mother. She later lost her sister and best friend to cancer too. She describes grief as deep pain that inhabits the mind and the body. Heartache. Sometimes the pain is manageable, other times it seems intolerable.
Grief shatters and scatters, she says. Yes. It destroys what we know and love; it steals our hopes and dreams. It leaves us to pick up the pieces. Yet feeling pain and sorrow is a necessary part of our healing. The only way out is through.

She once told me about meeting Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, who became her mentor. She had shared her story and how so
unfair she thought it was. “You poor dear,” Elisabeth said to her, “who ever told you life was fair?” Later when discussing their work, she told Elisabeth the five stages had held so much meaning for her in those early days. “Oh, I hope you’ve got more than that,” Elisabeth replied. “That is just the beginning, my dear.” Indeed

Since then, this woman has spent her life trying to harness the “transformative power” of grief to positively impact her life and the lives of others. Wise, strong and compassionate, she has helped many through their journeys using a process she calls “de-griefing.” This includes
being present for grief (overcoming barriers); normalizing grief (as a real and valid response); accepting that grief is a part of life that does not go away (though our relationship to it changes over time); providing relief from pain (physical, emotional); and most importantly, tapping into grief to enable some kind of personal transformation.

I honestly can’t say I’ve achieved these things. Perhaps the most valuable aspect of our sessions was the real life
validation. Yes, my son died, and it really fucking sucks. I’ve been cheated and I feel empty and alone. I’ve not only lost my baby but every hope I had for our future together. I had to find a way to use this pain to help me through. I had to accept that my strength might be all I had, but it was OK to feel vulnerable. I had to let go of the idea of what was “supposed” to be. I had to accept that I can’t know the future. All part of the process. (She also helped me deal with people who were unable to support me — but more on that in part 2, the outer world of grief.) 

She especially helped me understand my
relationship to grief over time, how each new loss can trigger some unresolved grief. I knew this intuitively. When I lost my grandmother (with whom I was extremely close) nine years ago to breast cancer, it dredged up the feeling of losing my father to cancer when I was 16. It was as if my body and mind remembered: “oh no, here we go again. I know how this ends, in heartache.” And when we suddenly and unexpectedly lost our beloved pup last year — our source of comfort and the object of our parental love and affection during our years ttc — it strangely stirred the grief of losing my baby boy and also my inability to get pregnant again. Every failed cycle is itself a loss, part of the larger loss of my fertility.

We say that time heals, and I think that’s true to some extent. Time can put distance and space between us and what we’ve lost. But even that space is disconcerting. My baby boy is still a part of me. He lives in my heart. As much as we might want to remove the pain, we must feel it or it will only resurface. The raw despair I felt two years ago has somewhat lessened. Instead of feeling immersed and immobilized every waking moment, the pain has slowly subsided from the surface to a constant ache. Yet it’s always there, just beneath, and it still rises up and overwhelms like a wave, knocking me right over. In those moments, I try to breathe deeply and remember that this is my process. It’s part of my story now. That this moment will pass. Sure, the tears still come and they cleanse. And they continue to release the pain, one drop at a time.

I may never overcome my grief. With the memory of my baby boy, it lives deep in my heart forever alongside whatever else I may feel at any time. And this I have come to accept. 

~ by luna on January 19, 2008.

18 Responses to “the inner world of grief, part 1”

  1. You have many wonderfully astute things to say on the topic of grief, but the part of your post that resonated most with me was the point you make about how subsequent losses have the power to reanimate earlier ones. Once again, I am so sorry for the loss of your son. I am aware that this anniversary, coming so hard on the heels of your recent failed cycle, must be an incredibly difficult time for you.

    And yet amongst all this, you have also taken the time to stop by my blog to offer your support. I just wanted to thank you for all your kind words of advice and encouragement over the last couple of days – they really have meant a great deal to me.

  2. I am so sorry you lost your son. Your feelings of grief are valid and normal. It is amazing how well you’ve learned to deal with the aftermath of such a loss. My thoughts are with you this week.

  3. Disclaimer: This is NOT a comparison between losing a very early pregnancy and what you lost.

    I agree that the scariest thing about loss is that later losses can bring back the pain from the first ones. When I lost my first pregnancy (I just can’t say “baby”), I was hurt and sad and upset, but I also was strangely optimistic. “At least this means we can get pregnant,” J and I would say to each other.

    Little did we know. Every month that went by when TTC naturally, then every BFN after a procedure, that first miscarriage would haunt me more. It wasn’t just the loss of that child (which I’m sure you feel more acutely, having it so much more real at half-term), it was also the grief over what might have been, the missed opportunity seeming more and more unreachable. When I lost my most recent pregnancy as ectopic, all those old feelings from the prior pregnancies rushed up to kick me in the ass. It’s like I had to grieve all three of them all over again.

    Don’t know if this is making sense. Just wanted to say I understand, at least a little bit, how something you think you have gotten past can creep up on you, crush you.

  4. Goodness, I totally feel for you. This post describes so many of my feelings too.
    It is two years on Friday since I found out my baby no longer had a heartbeat (16 weeks) It seems like a lifetime ago and yet so recent in other ways.
    Grief is a complex emotion. I had no idea a person could suffer so much and yet still function fairly well from day to day, hiding true feelings from the world.
    I hope you can find some peace at this difficult time x

  5. My deep condolences for the many losses you call out here, and most especially during this anniversary of losing your son.

    It sometimes feels, Luna, like our thoughts are developing in parallel and finding each other, building a foundation of sorts with every other post. (Lest I sound too arrogant to your readers, let me add that I recognize you are a far more expressive and talented writer capable of evoking great insights.)

    Thank you for continuing to explore and share your thinking here as it’s clearly helping me shape my thoughts and emotions … and leading me to a more coherent understanding of my experiences.

  6. I sometimes think there’s only one thing that has ever happened to me that has truly caused me pain. Everything else, even the death of the twins, is just a pale imitation, a reminder that, long ago, my heart (if I ever had a heart) disappeared without a trace.

  7. What a beautiful post. Your words ” In two weeks, he was gone. ” capture so much sadness and so much loss. You write beautifully about how you have worked with your grief over the past two years and you are an inspiration. You encourage me to feel my pain and to allow it to transform me, something I have not thought possible. The fact that you are doing this helps me to think that I can open myself, allow myself to feel and carry on stronger and changed. This was a very important post for me, thank you.

  8. This is a beautiful and thoughtful post. What a blessing your guide has been.

    And I am so sorry for your loss.

  9. Everything you write about grief & the loss of your son rings true for me too. I’m almost 10 years down this road. Most days, I just live my life, & I’m often happy, but not a day goes by without thinking of my daughter in some way, & grief still has the power to knock me off my feet, often when I least expect it. I don’t think you ever “get over it — it becomes a part of who you are, and you just learn to live with it. Thank you for a wonderfully eloquent post.

  10. Grief sticks around, and talking/writing about it is all you can do to ease the pain at least a little.

    I am so sorry for the loss of your darling son.

    When I worked with geriatric patients, one day an elderly woman was naming her children to exhibit for the MD on call how lucid she was…she listed the ones who had been visiting, and then said loudly, “And don’t you leave out (name of lost baby). She was my daughter, too, and I’ll never forget her!”

  11. […] notes. Many sincere thanks for your support and kind comments on my last few posts. Writing about my grief and experience dealing with people who don’t understand has helped me immensely to process […]

  12. […] it happened… I’ve been feeling pretty reflective these days, with my grief welling up as it does, especially around significant dates. I’m remembering how I felt two […]

  13. […] I process this, I’m reminded of the non-linear stages of grief, in which denial and bargaining are revisited, even as you try to come to terms with depression and […]

  14. […] worked with a grief counselor on my attitude towards the future. I had read books on loss, on mindful living, on dealing in […]

  15. Your words have touched my heart. I’m so very sorry for the loss of your son. My son was stillborn at 36 weeks in September. Last week I suffered a miscarraige at 10 weeks. My overwhelming grief has forced me to search for someone else who understands. I have felt so alone. All the feelings I pushed down and attempted to bury with my son have come back tenfold with this loss. Hearing about your journey through grief is giving me hope. I was blessed to be able to find your writings.

  16. […] is a lifelong process. A better approach for me has been finding ways to integrate my grief into my life, trying to […]

  17. […] have done it before. When you know what it’s like to lose someone before they are even gone. Grieving is such a sorrowful business. Your body remembers how to do it. Your heart knows where it is […]

  18. […] the second anniversary, I shared the poem I wrote when he died. After writing about my grief process, I had nothing more to say. That spring I painfully remembered his due date while grieving my […]

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