Empathy is hard. I think it’s very difficult to actually put yourself in someone else’s shoes especially when you’re talking about the death of a child. I know I couldn’t really understand it until I was actually there. Even if people try to imagine what it would be like, going to the place is so dark that they don’t stay there long. So you’re left with all the lines that do not help: God needed her back, She’s in a better place. At least you had her for a little while. Everything happens for a reason. Well meaning, but not particularly helpful. If you’ve ever said these things to me, please know I understand. You didn’t know what else to say. It’s also hard for me to tell you what I need. Because most of the time I don’t know. Or I don’t want to ask. But I have a few suggestions.
Be patient with me. My world has changed. And it will be forever more difficult to navigate this life. I will always miss her. I will always feel her absence. Family gatherings. Prom season. Holidays. A random Saturday at the zoo. All of these things are different for me now and I don’t always know how to get through or explain why I’m upset at what seems like a random occasion. Just know that all of these things are a reminder of what I’m missing with Zoey. Don’t be surprised if I leave in tears. Or if I cancel. Or don’t show up. I really can’t stress this one enough. At times, the thought of even showing up is too much. It doesn’t mean I don’t love you or care about your event. But I had to learn self-preservation. I pushed myself to be “normal” when life was anything but normal. That never ends. And it can be exhausting.
I appreciate the calls, texts and cards that show up out of nowhere. You’d be surprised at how many times they show up right when I need them. Don’t be afraid to reach out. You’re not reminding me that my daughter died. I live with that reality every day. But reminding me that you think of her and that you love me is always welcome.
Let me talk if I start the conversation. I don’t have many live conversations with people about grieving. Most of it is here on this blog. And it really is healing, but occasionally I will need someone there to hand me a Kleenex. If I start talking, please don’t change the subject. I know that’s the easier choice. And I know you don’t know what to say. But trust me: you don’t need to say anything. Just be. And that might be the most important of all—just be there. I’ve said before how isolating this can feel. But I know you’re okay with just sitting next to me, just being present, I won’t feel so alone.
I hide when I cry. I don’t want to people think I’m weak. I feel like I’m putting on a show because everyone is watching. If I fall apart if even for a moment will people shake their head, feel sorry for me and talk about me in whispered conversations? And if I admit that I’m hurting, will I make them uncomfortable? But I don’t always want to pretend that my world isn’t shattered. It is exhausting.
I don’t even feel like me sometimes. The me I’d known for 37 years died that day too. And now I’m trying to figure out who I am again. A mom without my daughter. A broken-hearted passenger on the hot mess express. Maybe the difference doesn’t seem obvious to the outside world, but there are moments I feel like I’m completely losing it. I don’t think my memory is the same. My thoughts are often disjointed. My tolerance for bullshit is lower. Groups of people and parties give me anxiety. Meeting new people makes me uncomfortable—because I know “the” question is going to come up. “Do you have children?” My views on life changed. My views on death changed. I’d like to say that the changes have all been positive, but I’d be lying.
I’m jealous. Jealous of the ones that still have their kids. Jealous of the mom walking with her daughter in the park. Of other women’s pregnancies and everyone else’s happy little families. I wonder why it seems like everyone else has what I dreamed about. And then I beat myself up for thinking about myself instead of focusing on the memory of my daughter. And worry that she’ll think I regret the time I had with her.
And I feel guilty. Guilty for the jealousy. Guilty for not being able to keep her alive. Guilty for failing her. Guilty for failing my husband. My family. Guilty for not wanting to go to holiday celebrations with our families because they are just so damn hard. Guilty for feeling like I don’t do enough for her now. Or for not being able to remember if I told her (picture) that I loved her before leaving the house. Guilty for not taking flowers to the cemetery more often. And for feeling like the arrangements I put together aren’t good enough.
I think about death often. I imagine getting the next phone call. The next one that changes my life again. I tell myself that if I imagine every scenario, then it won’t actually happen. Because I never imagined I’d lose my daughter, but I did. So surely the opposite is true.
And I notice myself laughing at inappropriate times. Making dark jokes with the other moms who do the same. And then worry that I’ve become calloused and angry. That one day you’ll find me alone on the front porch, wearing a bathrobe with a coffee cup of vodka in my hand screaming at the neighborhood kids to get off my lawn (might as well throw in about 20 cats while we’re at it).
And I often wonder as I write these and put them out there for the world to see, if you’ll look at me differently. And wonder why I never learned just to shut up and leave some of it unspoken.
Everyone is there the first few days. But then people go home and back to life. Their normal life full of work and soccer games and grocery shopping. And the truth is you don’t really need anyone but your closest circle there the first few days. Because you don’t even really know they are. You can’t see them through the fog. It’s later. When your broken heart is bleeding but you feel like no one is there to apply pressure. I am lucky. I have strong circles of support. Joe. Family. An amazing set of friends, including my FUT18 moms and other “club” moms. These people hold me up, check on me, send their love and most importantly love and remember Zoey. But grief can still be a very isolating experience. No matter how many people surround you and how wonderful they are, at some point you will look around and think everyone has forgotten you. I think it’s just part of the process.
It can be difficult to seek support even when you desperately need it. You don’t want to seem weak. You don’t want to feel judged. But this is a hard path and sometimes you should not travel it alone. If you, or someone you know, needs support after the loss of a baby, seek out a Share support group. I’ve heard good things about the Compassionate Friends, but do not have firsthand knowledge. You can also check with your local churches and hospitals. I am actively involved with BJC Hospice and they offer a variety of healing retreats, workshops and programs for moms, couples, siblings and communities affected by loss. I’ve appreciated some of the blogs/stories I’ve found at Still Standing. However, my word of warning: I have found on-line support groups to be more damaging than healing. Maybe they are right for someone else. But they were not the right choice for me. If you go that route, be cautious and be okay with leaving them if you feel it isn’t the right place for you.
It might take a few tries, but you’ll find your way to a place that feels supportive and healing.
The light and joy of my life. The person I love the most. The person I miss the most. Tiny human with the most beautiful eyes. Baby girl filled with wonder. The little girl who would throw her fist in the air, and scrunch her forehead. Who made the sweetest baby noises. And who hated bath time. But loved cuddling.
I picture her often, but I have a hard time imagining what she’d look like by now. Would she look more like Joe? Or me? Would those beautiful eyes stayed just as blue? Would her little feet always have been soft as bunnies? Yet I see her in the little girls we pass at the zoo, at the grocery store.
I think of her little personality starting to show. I think she’d be sweet, but mischievous. Giggly. She’d like princesses. But would be trying to kick a soccer ball. She’d have a crayon in hand scribbling artwork everywhere. And I hope she’d still love cuddling with her mommy.
She will always be my daughter. I will always ache for her. I will always want to say her name. I will always wish she was next to me. But she will always be mine. And I will always be thankful for the time I spent with her. I will always be grateful that I am Zoey’s mom.
Shortly after Zoey died, I found this project: Capture Your Grief. I’ve decided to participate again. I’ve appreciated the opportunity to reflect on my journey the past two years. I also know this will be a lifelong path to travel and this gives me time to revisit where I’ve been and continue moving forward.
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month. This morning I attended a ceremony dedicating an “Angel of Hope” statue near me. I joined with other moms, dads and family members in remembering and honoring our children. As I was sitting there listening to all the names, it once again occurred to me that this is what I get. I’ll never hear Zoey’s name called as she crosses the stage at her high school graduation. But I appreciate that I can join this group of other parents in remembering her. A place where it’s safe to say her name out loud without anyone changing the subject.
I missed the sunrise (something about a drizzly, cool fall morning made me sleep in), but I’ll share a photo of the Angel of Hope in honor of Zoey and all the children we miss every day. Thinking of you always my sweet girl.