There are no right words. But no words is definitely wrong. Just an “I’m sorry” or “that sucks (perhaps with a bit of profanity thrown in)” goes a long way to making the individual still feel connected to the world.
Perhaps the worst aspect of grief or catastrophe is the sensation of being alone in the experience. The power of making a connection with someone else who has experienced something similar really amazed me.
Joy and sorrow can go completely hand in hand. I found a flip camera recently and there were some videos from the NICU in Chiron’s first week were Paul and I are laughing and joking. In retrospect, it amazes me that we experienced anything other than anxiety, grief or just plain being overwhelmed. But in the moment, the entire range of emotions can occur.
Macabre humor can be one of the strongest weapons in the arsenal to deal and continue functioning.
People are greater and stronger than I knew. The strength and compassion of our friends and family in supporting us has floored us and continues to do so. Humanity and our connections to each other I now am convinced is the main source of our strength as a species.
There’s a catch-22 in the loss of a child: others don’t want to bring them up because they fear it will make you sad, but it is much easier to discuss them when the other party is the one who “remembers” their existence. I think this was particularly pronounced in my case as I have had so much trouble with vocalizing her actual name instead of just using pronouns. Did it right there, see? Aurelia.
There’s an Elizabeth Edwards quotation from a speech she gave in Cleveland that I think communicates the truth about discussing a dead child amazingly well: “If you know someone who has lost a child, and you’re afraid to mention them because you think you might make them sad by reminding them that they died—you’re not reminding them. They don’t forget they died. What you’re reminding them of is that you remembered that they lived, and … that is a great gift.” In our case, Aurelia never lived, but I still think this is true. And based on some friends I have known with miscarriages, I think it remains true there as well.
On the Elizabeth Edwards train of thought, I think she is on to something with her quote on resilience. It was going around the internet about the time the twins were born and stuck with me: “Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before. You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you’ve lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that’s good.” I believe this is what we have done and our family is stronger for it. I didn’t notice it at the time, but my philosophy I wrote about really is the same idea as what she said.
Someone connecting with what you are thinking can be incredibly powerful. When Chiron was born, the most common statement was "Congratulations!," even from the nurses in the antepartum area. While based on the very first truth, say some words, this was appreciated, it always felt a little awkward to me. Were they congratulating me for delivering my son over ten weeks early? This seemed odd to me. One person said the exact opposite, "I'm sorry." And she said this in the context of Chiron's birth, and I remember being so struck by her ability to acknowledge what I was actually feeling. I don't think it is chance that this is a friend who has struggled with infertility.
The effect of someone including your dead child's existence as a part of their universe is powerful. I'm pretty sure the passing comments, texts and messages that acknowledge Aurelia either directly or indirectly, through recognition that I have been pregnant with a girl child or with twins for example were made with no idea how much they could make me smile. Thank you.
There's a semi-secret community of people who have lost children. And whether through miscarriage, stillbirth or death as a child or an adult, everyone apparently belongs and that is nice.
There is no way to quantify grief. I still try to think about whether one type of loss is better or worse than another, but I should know by now that you just can't rank these things.
Labels will always be hard. The one in particular that I really have trouble with is whether I'm cheating somehow to count Aurelia as a stillborn child. The strictest definition typically seen is at least 24 weeks and 500 grams. She died just past 24 weeks and was born at 30 weeks. When she was born, she only weighed 397 grams (though for some reason, this is the only number I don't feel completely certain on). However, she weighed less because she had been dead for six weeks than she did at the time of death. So, I think she probably does count. And I know multiple babies who were born at the gestation she died who are alive and even developmentally normal. I just feel like I'm cheating calling her a stillborn next to those who deliver full-term stillborn children.
The mind of a child enhances existence, even the hard things. Trajan's understanding and processing of the last year has strengthened me and helped me in my own processing. He and his mind remain the thing in the world that most amazes me (just starting to see this in Chiron as well).
I am blessed. And lucky.