Monday, January 21, 2013

Six Words

A lot has happened since my last post a while ago. I have worked on several things, but I have sold them before I have really even gotten pictures. I also had several commissioned pieces. Above is a piece I worked on last week, as I pour myself back into hard work and creativity as an outlet for pain.

The rest of this post is about a personal loss. If you do not want to read further, please do not feel you need to. However, if you want to know six words to say to someone who is grieving the loss of a baby through miscarriage or stillbirth, read on.

The end of 2012 was the blackest time of my life, so far. I have met the devil at the door to hell, and I turned my back on him. I have gone through the worst experience of my life, and hopefully have not been found wanting. It will be a life-long journey, and we pray we can be faithful.

At 36 weeks pregnant, I was going to a normal prenatal appointment and heard the worst sound of my life: silence. Our daughter no longer had a heartbeat. In the space of a moment in time, she had gone from our world to the arms of Jesus. From a loving cocoon to enveloping arms. From love to Love.

The next morning, we gave birth to our beautiful daughter Elsie. Her body was lifeless, yet it showed the evidence of life through a full head of dark hair, long fingers and toes, and a very pert little nose. There was no known reason for her death. I never got to hear her cry or see recognition in her eyes as she looked at me for the first time.  I was a pilgrim, on a long journey with nothing waiting for me at my destination. And now: I am a wanderer, a nomad, an outcast.

I am a mother, with no baby in my arms.

My husband will never get to hold his little girl's finger as she learns to walk, teach her to love ice cream, help her with math homework, or give her away at the alter. He is a father, without a little girl to take into the play place at Chick-fil-a. He too lost his dream. While we appreciate that many people ask how I am doing, please remember, it was his baby too. 

While we thank God for the little while we had Elsie, the pain will never go away. Had we known she would die, we would have carried her anyway, but that doesn't change the pain we feel. We will carry this the rest of our lives. Yes, we hope to introduce her siblings to her memory one day. Yes, we plan on living a full life by the grace of Christ. Yes, we pray every day that this will make us stronger together and that God will continue to bless our lives. But, we will always have moments where we think "Elsie would be ___years old, what would she have looked like? Who would she have been?"

I did want to share the piece I did last week, but I also want to share a bit about a grieving mother and father, for those who may not know how to react when you experience this with a friend, family member or even acquaintance. Miscarriages (0-19 weeks gestation) happen to 1-4 families. Later pregnancy (20 weeks to full term) loss is about 1-100. This will touch your life at some point and I want to help you help them. Every mother and father is different, but each one just needs to know you acknowledge their loss, you are sorry it happened and you are there to listen or be with them if they need it. For us: the cards, gift cards, facebook posts and meals were appreciated. The gift of plants, trees, flowers, and donations made in her memory were appreciated. Anyone who took time to recognize our loss and celebrate the short life of our daughter was greatly appreciated. Some of the people, we did not even know. Please, do not ignore what happened, just genuinely say you are sorry.

Things parents will not find comforting:
- I'm sorry you lost "it". The baby was a life. If they named the baby, use the name. If they did not name their baby, use the term, "your baby." Saying our baby's name does not hurt us, it is music to our ears. Say, "I am so sorry for your loss of ______."
- "One day you will have more children." or "Be thankful for the ones you have already." While they know that in their heart, all they need to hear is that their baby was a life that you recognize. They will never be able to see THIS baby grow up, see their first smile, see them blow out birthday candles or graduate from high school, etc. Though we carry the hope for the future in our heart, the next baby or any former children will not replace this one. *Not all couples will be able to have more children. You may not know if this couple struggled with infertility. Infertility treatments could require as much as a hefty loan, which they would not be able to get again. They may never get a second chance.* Say instead, "I am so sorry for your loss of ______."
- "Something may have been wrong with the baby." While this may be true in some instances, in other cases it is not.  Even if it is true, no parent wants to hear that something was wrong with their baby, unless it was from the doctor. Its an unfortunate thing that happened, so just say, "I am so sorry for your loss of ______."
- "I know that you are going through, I lost my great uncle..." If you have not lost your baby, your really do not know what we are going through. This is one time, you will not be able to relate, and that is okay. Everyone experiences loss, but the loss of a baby is very very different. Just say, "I am so sorry for your loss of ______."
- "God had a reason." Whether they believe in God or not, its best to just steer clear of playing any God card. If you bring God into it, just let them know that God wants to hold them tight in their grief. He will never leave them, and yes, he too lost a child. It is not comforting to think that God may have taken their child that he gave them, because it comes across as callous, cold and as a punishment. Yes things happen for a reason, but let them come to that understanding on their own or ask God when they get to heaven. For now just say, "I am so sorry for your loss of ______."
"Perhaps it was because you did something wrong that caused this." Every parent has "survivors guilt." They will wonder forever if they did something that could have caused their baby to die. They do not need your help. It is not comforting or even nice. Just say, "I am so sorry for your loss of ______."
- "Perhaps it was because you sinned." You are not God, and you cannot pass judgment. I am not really sure why you thought that would be comforting anyway. If it were true, no baby would live, because we have all sinned. Get over yourself and just say, "I am so sorry for your loss of ______."

If you said any of these to me, please know that I realize you were saying each one in love (minus the last one). I do love you in return and I appreciate the support you were offering. You just may not want to say that to other loss parents.

Things you can say if appropriate:
I/we love you.
I/we are here for you.
I am praying for you. Is there any specific way I can pray?
If you need to talk, I am here for you. (If you say this, you are opening the door to being okay with tears and raw grief. If you are not prepared for that, do not offer.)
We too lost a baby. You are not alone.
You are a mother and a father.
Your baby was very loved.
It is okay to grieve.
How can I honor their memory?

We live in a fallen world, where terrible things happen. God gives us comfort in so many ways, but as a human, we are not always the best conduit for comfort. Sometimes we think we have the best words, but we are not always enlightened. Even some things that in other situations would be nice to hear ("Its so good to have you back at work.") fall on the ear and heart of a mother and father who have lost their baby in a very different and painful way. Be patient with them. They have just lost one of their purposes in life. As a parent, it rocks you to the core of your being and the world will never regain all of its innocence. They will never be able to go back to normal or to live life the same way they had. They will be grieving this baby the rest of their lives.

There are many other things I could add to this list, but these are what come to mind right now. Please, before you try to give pat answers or cliche comfort, think to yourself...I should probably just say, "What a terrible thing to happen. I love you, I am here for you and I am so sorry for your loss of ______."

Every parent is different and will accept your words differently. But hopefully, in a time when no words can heal, they will know that you care. If you were someone who had these words said to you and they were not helpful, what were some words you did find helpful?

Whether it be the parent of the baby, the grandparents or aunts and uncles, it is okay just to say six heartfelt words: "I am sorry for your loss."

"When I count my blessings...I count you twice."