Why Bother with Grief?

Why Bother with Grief?

As we age, we expect to die. We know our bodies do not last forever and this planet we call Earth, is not our final nor eternal destination. But what we don’t expect is when death takes a child, grandchild, niece or nephew. Even though death is a natural phenomenon, it seems terribly unnatural when it happens to a child. 

Remembering Elliott

Sitting down to catch up on the latest events with one of my sisters, she told me some sad news. A mutual friend recently lost a grandchild. He was stillborn. For this reason, we quietly reflected on our shared loss, my son and her nephew, who was also stillborn. Though his death happened a long time ago, it remains a poignant memory. 

Before becoming a mom, the thought of motherhood intimidated me. I wanted to be a loving, protective, and attentive mom, but I wasn’t very confident that I’d fit the part. Yet, after Jacob, our first born came along, I somehow melded naturally into the role of mothering I’d hoped for.  Then after Samuel, our second born, I was even more surprised when I voiced my desire to my husband. I wanted more than two children. I’d never had any complications with my previous pregnancies. So, why not have one more? And we did. But this pregnancy did not turn out at all like the other two. 

Elliott was born without the breath of life. The day before I began labor, a tiny knot in his umbilical cord tightened and cut off his lifeline of oxygen. When labor kicked in the next day, there was no heartbeat to be heard. It was the saddest labor and delivery I’d ever experienced. As a result, instead of carrying a bundle of new life and joy home from the hospital, I carried a heavier bundle, a heart full of sorrow. 

I’d prepared a nursery for this little lad and had anticipated his arrival into our family. I’d cared for our other sons as infants and had the confidence to nurse, burp and comfort this one as well. What I didn’t know was what to do with the unexpected and unplanned death of this child. I hadn’t expected grief or sorrow, but they came anyway.

Grief was like visiting a foreign country without an interpreter or a map. I felt frustrated, angry and lost most of the time. Grief had a way of making me feel vulnerable when I wanted to feel strong. Grief made me feel out of control when I wanted to take control. Grief made me tired, and I wondered how long it would last. My good doctor had assured me that I was not at fault, yet, guilt, known to tag along with grief, made me wonder what I’d done wrong. 

Then, on Elliott’s first birthday, I drove to the cemetery and knelt in the freshly mowed grass staring at his headstone. I ruminated on the events of the last twelve months. Though I remained vulnerable, I was no longer lost or angry. I thought back to how I’d first tried to push grief and sorrow away because I’d not anticipated or expected them to come. But they came and somehow changed me. It had been by far, the toughest year of my life as a mother, and also the most humbling. It was the first time I realized that I was not the blessed controller of anyone’s life, Elliott’s or mine. 

Why bother with grief? Grief is not something we welcome, but if we acknowledge it when it does come, it will teach us something we need to know.

Why Bother Thinking About Our Losses?

Why Bother Thinking About Our Losses?

Sometimes our losses are beneficial, other times, they are not as helpful. When I lose a few extra pounds, I am not anxious to regain them—losing my car keys, on the other hand, propels me into a frantic search.

Some losses lead to personal transformation. Recently, a friend of mine moved her aging parents from the family home. Their large house was filled to capacity with an assortment of furniture, clothes, books and other sundry items, a collection spanning fifty years. Giving and throwing away many of these articles facilitated their move into a smaller, less cluttered and easier to maintain home. Though it was a tough challenge for my friend to help her parents sort through their many treasures, my friend then decided to clean out her own closets. She told me she does want her children to be burdened with the same chore she just completed for her parents. Hers was a happy ending to loss and transition. 

But sometimes we are shaken by losses which are completely out of our hands, the ones we wish we had the power to vanquis, if only we could.  

Beyond Our Control

Loss of a job, our health, a marriage, or a loved one are some of the larger circumstances which can cause strong distress in our lives. Major dilemmas produce much more frustration and stress than a set of misplaced car keys. Confronted by sudden and unforeseen challenges, it is easy for some of us to dissolve into puddles of helplessness, desperation or depression. Other personalities may react with strong anger and a drive for vengeance. Either reaction only exacerbates the problem. Instead of surrendering to our circumstances and becoming victims, there are healthy and helpful ways to live through seasons of a major loss. 

With stressful circumstances, especially the ones which side-swipe us and send us reeling, our thoughts can be our own worst enemies. The messages — that we are doomed, there is nothing we can do, we are ruined, the circumstances are unfair— are powerful, but not always true. Sorting through our thoughts and discarding the falsehoods is a good way to begin instigating steps toward thinking on the things which are true. Yes, I’ve suffered a great loss, but am I destined for failure? We cannot control every event in life, but we can govern what we tell ourselves about the event. 

Though we cannot always predict what loss we might experience in our lifetime, or even prepare for them ahead of time, the healthier our daily life habits, the better we’ll be able to stay afloat when those major, unplanned transitions occur. Strong friendships, an active faith, a well rounded diet, and routine exercise builds our immunity against falling prey to catastrophic events. 

Why bother thinking about our losses? It is worth it to think about how seasons of loss will come, but they do not remain indefinitely. 

Why Bother With Grief?

 

Why Bother With Grief?

June 27th will mark the 32nd anniversary of Elliott Emery Luikens’ death. He was our third born son, a stillbirth. He was full-term, nine pounds, twenty-two inches long and perfect. The only thing he lacked was the breath of life. A knot formed in his umbilical cord and tightened, cutting off his source of oxygen the day before I went into labor. Sadness surrounded his delivery and engulfed me for days and months afterward. 

Grief

At first, I only wanted grief to go away. I avoided paying any attention to it and pretended it wasn’t there. That did not work. I guess grief is used to being ignored and it did not take my rejection personally. Instead, it continued to hang out with me, always nearby and within reach. I didn’t want to touch it. It took up so much space and it scared me. Occasionally, when I did acknowledge its presence, it felt weighty, heavy and constricting. I didn’t want to claim it as mine. I was afraid its heaviness would make me sink and I’d suffocate underneath the length and breadth of it. I was convinced it was a powerful force, something that I had to resist and fight against. Like a bad habit, it had to be conquered or tamed. It might consume me otherwise. Because of its persistent company though, I became intimately acquainted with it. Then I realized how wrong I’d been about grief.  

It is better to pay attention to grief. Ignoring it does not make it go away. It is a natural companion that comes along with loss. Yes, heartache is weighty. The weightiness, though, has its purpose. It slows us down, and forces us to rest more. Loss requires release. Obligations and feats we normally shoulder have to be set down, and laid aside. We cannot function “normally” when we cross paths with something out of the ordinary, such as the death of a child or anybody’s death for that matter.  Anguish is lighter when carried by itself. Unaccompanied by other worries, it is not quite so heavy. 

Heartbreak is raw, and natural. It is not something that you can restrict or domesticate. At times, though, anger tried demanding my sadness to cease. Though anger tried to force a deadline with grief, I discovered that grief is not threatened by anger. Heartbreak is not one to ever kowtow to any such thing as wrath. Nothing can command sorrow to stop, not even our own indignation against it. 

Grief does not require us to isolate ourselves and be alone with it. I knew I was not the first mother in history to bury a child, but it was my first time to bury one of my children. I sought out other mothers who, like me, lived even though their child didn’t. Grief is very personal and everyone’s path through the terrain is different. There are some similar landmarks that everyone sees along this journey though. Other women validated my guilt and confusion. They understood my incomplete sentences formulated from jumbled thoughts. They understood my sobs to be the language of utter agony. Their hugs were the handholds that kept me going as I navigated my way through the uncharted territory of my grief. 

Grief and I became close. At one point, I almost apologized to it. I’d been harsh when it first showed up in my life. I’d tried to ignore it, hoping it would just go away. I was sorry I’d been like that. Just before it left me, it pointed to something it left behind, a little reminder of our time spent together, something to remind me of our relationship. It left me with some empathy. 

Why bother with grief? It is worth spending time with grief because it leaves us with a bit of empathy.