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.
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.