Words and Grief

I’m a hardcore introvert. I need vast swathes of uncommitted time built into my life, specifically to do nothing. Talking to people, going places, doing things, can be exhausting for me, especially since I’ve spent the last 2 years grieving and the 50 Shades of Sleeplessness that grief entails. I used to be a radio DJ, so I talked to literally millions of people on a daily basis; with training, it was way easier than it sounds, but it still required an effort, and I would go home and spend 15-30 minutes in complete silence at the end of the workday, just to decompress. I don’t talk on the radio anymore, but I am a college student, so I write all the time now. Words and communication are how I’ve earned my living for close to a decade. I also write this blog, such as it is. Sometimes, expressing myself articulately is very simple; some days, I write a discussion post for class and shut the computer thinking “Yeah that wasn’t my BEST work but it’s what you get, I don’t care.”

I remember my first day back at work after I lost Elijah. I wanted to disappear, to become invisible so I didn’t have to deal with anyone and none of my coworkers could see my newly un-pregnant body. I finished my radio show and walked past another office, where one of the salesmen was working.
“Hey Rebecca, how are y-ou?” I saw the moment he realized that he was asking a STUPID QUESTION. I’d taken two weeks off to lose my son and recover physically; he knew I’d lost Elijah, he was just saying normal things to a coworker on a Monday, but he knew as he spoke he was saying the WRONG THING, and he felt so, so bad. I saw his utter dismay all over his face. Honestly, it just made me laugh a little bit.
“I’m good. Did you have a nice weekend?” I asked, and we had a short conversation and then I went on my way. It was very normal.
I never resented his question because his regret was so obvious. I wanted to be as normal as possible and show him there were no hard feelings; after all, none of it was his fault and he didn’t mean to ask a newly bereaved mother how she was when of course, OF COURSE, she wasn’t okay, or fine, or good, or anything close to it. I’m sure he kicked himself for the rest of the day.

People will say the wrong thing. It’s completely inevitable. My uncle, whom I love dearly, said something like “God wanted your babies to be with Him and He just couldn’t wait.” My husband and I just nodded, and accepted what he said in the spirit intended: to grieve with us and comfort us. I found no comfort in the concept that God took my babies because he couldn’t spare them to me for a measly 80-90 years; I did, however, find comfort in the fact that my uncle loves us and was trying his best to console us, however clumsily he expressed himself. He didn’t mean to say the wrong thing, just like my coworker didn’t.

I hope you find people who never say the wrong things, who only ever say the exact right thing at the moment you need to hear it. I also wish you the ability to eat pasta every day and still lose weight, and all other mythical good things. The vast majority of people mean well, they just don’t know what to say or how to say it, and sometimes that means they say nothing. My brother never called or texted me after we lost Elijah. He’d called after we lost Faith, but not after Elijah. His wife, my sister-in-law, was due with their baby about a month before Elijah. I think he just didn’t know what to say—what was there to say? All the words in the world wouldn’t change the fact that my babies were gone. I haven’t asked him about the radio silence after Elijah. After all, I didn’t call or text him either. We’re not terribly close, unfortunately. I’m willing to never bring it up to him, and just let it go, but sometimes his silence hurts my feelings, and I have to let it go again. [AND again, and again…]

But honestly, silence is better than stupidity. If you don’t know what to say, say nothing. Let the grieving person drive the conversation about their loss–if they want to talk, great; if not, also great. Sometimes a person in deep grief wants to talk about normal things and be as normal as they can be. If they bring up the topic, listen and be there for them. If they want to be as natural as possible in public and then sob in their car the whole way home, that’s fine. Let the grieving person call the shots about their grief.

I’ve lost my fair share of relationships to this grieving process. You learn quickly who’s there for you and who’s not when your life is laying in ruins and you feel like you’re dying. I think the relationships that I lost were already very strained, and my grief rendered me unwilling and unable to shoulder emotional burdens that weren’t mine to carry. Losing these relationships has been another source of grief in a very long and sad process. I love and miss the people who aren’t in my life anymore; I hope someday we can be reconciled, but it’s out of my control. I do know I won’t go back to unhealthy relationships. If someone wants to be in my life, they need to be adults and take responsibility for themselves. I think that’s been part of the double-edged nature of grief: you see things much more clearly, which is good, but it also shows all the cracks and gaps of yourself and others, which maybe you never wanted to know about but now you can’t unsee. It’s hard. I take comfort in the fact that there are no cracks or gaps in God or His love for us.

Surround yourself with people who love you, who are willing to focus on helping you and being there for you. Make it a priority to care for yourself emotionally. Find a grief counselor, join a grief support group, or one of the many groups that support people who have lost their babies. Unfortunately there are many, many people like you and me, and they know how we feel.

Forgive the people who mean well but say the wrong things, as much as you can. Sometimes the hurt and anger can linger in my heart, but I have to remind myself that most people are clumsy, not cruel. I think Americans are culturally maladroit with death, especially premature loss; we don’t like to be reminded of our mortality.

After all, there are no words to make this better. There are no words for the depth of the loss you’ve suffered, no magic wand to be waved, no way to forget. [I wouldn’t want to forget, even if I could.]

Trust the people you trust. Be gentle with yourself. Take care of yourself, honey. I see you.

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