Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Running the Course

Grief is a weird thing. I’m so glad I captured Brennan’s birth story in my previous post. Every birth story is as particular and unique as it is universal. And we don’t tell our stories often enough. Especially the ones that are painful. I realized, following Brennan’s birth and death, that I had joined another unique social group. Before the birth of my first son, women did not tell me their birth stories or give me advice, but my expanding waistline bridged that gap and I was able to hear many good and helpful (among the cruel and unhelpful) things. Similarly, this time I was opened to hear stories from those who have walked a road like this one before. It hurts me deeply that there is so much pain out there, but I have also been able to find strength and hope that life continues, often in beautiful and grace-filled ways.

So, one of the things I wanted to discuss today are the helpful vs. unhelpful things that you can do for someone who is grieving, keeping in mind that my list is not a universal list, but just a start.

  • send notes, texts, Facebook messages, and call.
    • Even if I don’t answer, which is usually the case for phone calls because I can’t keep it together for a conversation about this, it means a lot. It means that the death was real, that it’s important, and that I’m not alone in this. And the people who continue to touch base with me, even weeks later, make me feel better. Brennan may have died, but the impact of his life and death have not been forgotten yet.
  • hug.
    • I’m not usually open to lots of physical touch, but in grief, this is one of the best things. Better to show me you love me than to try to explain why this happened.
  • offer to help.
    • I haven’t been able to figure out what to tell people to do, it feels weird and un-American to ask for/accept help, but the offers are appreciated.
  • if you feel the need to say something, simple is better.
    • The best things people have said to me have been: “I love you.” and “I’m praying for you.”
  • try to explain why this happened.
    • Let me tell you this – there’s no good reason why this happened. Death may be a welcome friend at the end of a glorious and well-lived life, but the death of an infant or child is tragic. I can’t explain it and neither can you.
  • tell me I look good or, really, any comment on my physical appearance.
    • I may look good to you, but in my particular circumstance, I’m a little furious with my body in this moment. My body was a traitor, it sustained an injury without my knowledge with led to a fatal malfunction. And I’m mourning the loss of my baby, the loss of my pregnancy, and my body is a brutal, constant reminder that I am no longer pregnant. So, yes, I may be regaining a waistline, but I’ve lost so much more.
  • rush me to think about the future or project a future which may or may not be
    • Some people want to ask about or predict future children, as if another child will make me forget the one that I bore. Brennan was a special, unique, one-of-a-kind baby. While there may be more children for us, someday, our hearts are not ready to consider it. And nothing will diminish the loss we have experienced. 
The worst, well-meaning thing that was said to me came on the Monday following his Thursday birth. I stopped by the office with my husband, to pick up a few things, to look through my e-mail, to make sure things would be ok if I was out of the office for a while. And one of our sweet ladies came up to me and said, “I lost a baby, too. I was Catholic at the time and the priest said to me, ‘God needs little roses in his garden, too.’” I held it together for the moment, but the grief and the pain were raw! The honest response that I wanted to shout was NO! But, what I said, because I’m her pastor, was, “I understand that may have been helpful for you, but I just don’t agree. We can talk about it more another time if you like.” 

I don’t agree because I don’t think God is a monster. If I truly believed that God was a micromanaging sadist who literally caused some to die out of season, some to lack clean drinking water or food, some to be murdered, some to be raped – I would not be a Christian! To read more about my thoughts on things being all a part of God’s plan, everything happens for a reason, etc., see this blog post from last year, ironically around this same time of year. 

So I keep running this course, letting the grief run its own course in me. I keep busy. I play with my first son. I do dishes. I run errands. Most of the time, the grief is turned way down in the background. But every once in a while, it swells unexpected and I have to take a moment to either embrace it and work through another piece of it OR stifle it down and stuff it away, knowing I’ll have to unpack it later. 

Some things that have made the grief swell:
  • The first time I drove by the hospital where Brennan was born…and died.
  • Walking by the baby room at our church’s daycare program, where we had already put a deposit down for Brennan’s spot.
  • Touching my tummy.
  • Realizing there’s no reason not to eat unpasteurized cheese, drink alcohol, eat lots of fish, breathe paint fumes, etc.
  • Seeing Brennan’s name in the church worship guide and a white rose on the altar to recognize his death.
  • Realizing that’s one of the few places his name will ever appear.
  • Knowing his name will appear for our All Saints recognition…and there’s no good photo of him to share.
  • Wondering if Brennan will grow up in glory or if he will always be an infant held in God’s arms.
  • Erasing my due date and projected maternity leave from the church’s long-range calendar.
  • Reading a book that I should read with James to explain what has happened and knowing there’s no way I can read it to him.
  • Feeling like Andy and I literally lost of piece of ourselves.
The strangest thing that happened this past week was on Saturday, when I took James to go pick peaches at an orchard about an hour away. We got out of the city, got out of our usual routines, and did something entirely different. I realized I hadn’t yet taught James where some food really comes from, like that peaches come from trees, not just the grocery store. So we walked through the high grass, scattering the grasshoppers. We picked peaches that he could reach. He carried a little bucket. We shared a bowl of homemade peach ice cream afterwards. And I felt happy. Then I felt guilty. Now, I know I should not feel guilty for feeling happy, but it was just such a strange feeling. A little glimpse of something other than the sea of ok and not-so-ok I’ve been swimming in lately. The course continues.


  1. You are awesome, my dear pastor. In your grief you are still the shepherdess taking care of everyone. Thank you for sharing your feelings. It is comforting for you to share the same feelings that I have of God.

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  3. This was our experience, almost to the letter, 19 years ago. All of it continues: different, less sharp perhaps, but ever-present, and in the most surprising of moments. A cold, clear day. Sunlight on the kitchen floor. A song. Today, a blog.

    Your words do help. And you are not alone. Prayers for peace for you, Jessica.



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