Two years out from Lucy's death, a friend called to tell me a mutual acquaintance lost her son at 36 weeks. Stillborn. No reason found. Could I talk to her?
Same as Lucy's death. Of course.
I wanted to talk to her. This person was present for me, you know, the one time I ran into her. She just stopped what she was doing and sat. She listened and cried with me. I left feeling like a fat fool, getting all blubbery and snotty in front of God and everyone, but also I felt immensely grateful for the safe space she created. I wanted to seek her out again, but I didn't want to burden someone with a new friendship that would most certainly be completely one-sided.
I am finally two years out. Maybe I can be present for someone else. Maybe I can just listen. Maybe it isn't all about my dead baby. Maybe I can be the person I wanted in my early grief. I made plans with her almost immediately after the phone call. We met for coffee.
photo by marina.shakleina
"I just want it to go away. The pain. I don't want to think about it anymore. He wasn't a person," she said. "He wasn't a person yet."
He was a person to me, I thought. Lucy was a person to me, but I get what you are saying.
I nodded. I did not think her not wanting to acknowledge or remember her son was at all weird or strange. I thought her way of grieving was as normal and natural as mine. Whatever feeling I had about my daughter's death, whatever the reaction, the opposite reaction lurked right behind it. Did I want to take pictures of Lucy? Yes. I took them, but at some point in the hours leading up to that decision, I thought no, I wouldn't. I couldn't. I arrived at a decision, but I wondered the whole time if I made the right one. I realize now, I just made a decision, neither right nor wrong, just the one that worked in that moment. I did the best I could.
"You won't feel like this forever. But I can't tell you when that will change, just that I know my feelings about Lucy have changed through the years."
She said she just wanted another baby right now. She wanted to move on. She didn't want to talk about it anymore. She didn't want to think about him anymore. It was an unfortunate thing, but it was over. She didn't want to be one of those women whose whole lives become about their dead baby.
There was an uncomfortable silence. I write about my dead baby. I have an altar to my dead baby. I blog about my dead baby. I have an Etsy shop in which I paint about my dead baby. I hang out with other people who have a dead babies. My whole life has become about my dead baby. She looked at me.
"I am one of those women," I said.
"But what you do is good," she reassured me.
"I am not offended, but I still am one of those women. It doesn't feel nearly as depressing as you make it sound."
"I can see that," she whispered.
I couldn't explain it in a way that didn't sound defensive. I wanted to tell her what it is like now, how I am completely different, but that isn't a bad thing. I feel like I have integrated Lucy's death into my life in an organic way, but maybe it is strange. Maybe I am a cautionary tale for newly bereaved parents. I look sad from the outside looking in. This life seems surrounded by sadness, baby death, grief, bereavement and losses upon losses but it is actually full of love and joy and gratitude. It is the opposite of depressing. All of those things I do seem like love to me, they are my ways of parenting the baby I cannot parent. That is what it feels like from the inside. It feels like comfort. That was it. She was still on the outside looking in, she still hadn't quite figured out that all of this--the dead baby and the grief that comes with it--is her life now too.
In my early days, the days of keening and leaking breasts, I didn't want anyone to inform me about grief. I wanted nothing to do with anyone who tried to tell me anything about what grief was about, or what to expect in the first year of babyloss. When I searched for other women with dead babies, I didn't search for people two years out from their loss. I searched for people on the same time line as me. I didn't search for people with wisdom. I searched for people just as lost as me, just as ripped open, just as damaged, who grieved the same way I grieved. I looked for a place where I seemed normal.
We grew quiet together and I realized that perhaps it was not comforting at all for her to talk to me, as my friend thought. I couldn't offer her what was comforting, because that thing that is comforting is different for each of us. It is like a claw game in the arcade, you can reach blindly into a pile of comforting things, and pull out some shiny thing that works for one person, and it looks like some cheap, anger-inducing cliché for another. And really, here I was, sitting with a woman I respected, liked, felt heartbroken for and with, whose loss was like mine, and I was seeking to comfort her. Had I learned nothing in my grief? Nothing I said or could say would have comforted her, because there is nothing comforting about your baby dying. Our babies died. That is pitiable. That is sad. That is fucking heartbreakingly uncomfortable.
All I could really do is cry into a cup of coffee with her.
Since the death of your child(ren), have you been asked to reach out to someone who has lost a child? What was that experience like? Did you reach out to another babylost parent you knew after your loss? Was it comforting or more upsetting? Have you met a fellow babylost parent who grieved in a different way than you? Did you feel defensive? Did you understand?