This month is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. It hits home for me. Once upon a time I would have said the month of October defined me. It was everything I knew about myself. It was all I saw when I looked in the mirror.
Five years ago I lost my son. He died under my care, when I was home and my ex-husband was gone. I have been defined by my loss for years, days and hours.
I can only describe grief as an incredible fog. That kind of fog that makes your knuckles turn white from gripping the steering wheel so tight. The kind of fog that raises your anxiety, quickens your heartbeat and makes you wonder if you’ll ever find your way. There have been times when I just wanted to give up. Pull over to the side of the road and surrender. Allow myself to be swallowed up whole by grief, guilt and pain. But if I just keep going, it’s got to end at some point doesn’t it? I pull back onto the road. Going slowly, finding road markers that let me know I’m on the right path.
I suffered from extreme flashbacks … the grey skin of my sweet baby boy, the taste of blood from giving him CPR. I lived numb. Not knowing what to feel, or how to express what my heart was screaming. I went through counseling and I went through the motions. Forcing myself to eat, to find something else that would distract me from the giant hole in my heart.
There are no words in our vocabulary to express the loss of a child. There are not enough hours or days in our lifetime to allow us to “get over” such a loss. There is no recovering from your child dying —whether you were given the gift of holding them or if they died before you met them. This pain is too great.
I’m five years out from the worst day of my life. From the last day I saw my sweet baby look at me, felt the warmth of his life in my arms. Recovery doesn’t happen overnight and it certainly never ends. I am perpetually “in recovery” from the loss of my son. It’s a forever process.
The days following his death, I prayed for a day when I would feel “normal” again. I prayed for the nightmares to end, for the tears to cease and for my heart to lighten so I could live again. I can tell you, by the grace of God, today there are more good days then there are bad. There are also days when I feel sucker-punched, when I still struggle to breathe and when I cry like the day I had to uninstall his car seat from my newly purchased minivan intended to tow three babies around — not two. I used to expect these bad days. I expected to have the wind knocked out of me. I was ready and waiting for grief to rear its ugly head again. Taking me off guard and stealing my focus. While the bad days are fewer, they strike with the same force.
1,965 days later, I am surprised to find my breath is still taken away. I am still caught off guard. Tears randomly stream down my face. I no longer carry tissue in my pocket; I have to search for one. A memory strikes a chord, someone mentions my son or says his name, or worst of all, I hear of another mom who has joined our club — the one that no one ever wants to be a part of. The “my baby died” club.
Today, I cry for the mom who is saying goodbye. The mom who will endure the worst pain she will ever know. The mom who has just began her journey through grief. I pray for her, that she will find her way to recovery. I pray that she will find her way through this darkness — that she will be brave enough to allow herself to feel the feelings she needs to feel in order to find healing.
Five years ago, I thought that the fog of grief would never end, I would never see the sun shine again. I couldn’t imagine a day when I didn’t think of Owen every hour, or when I would be ok not wearing the color orange in his memory. (I wore orange every day for seven months following his death. It was the only way I could tell the world of my son without having to retell my story over and over again in the grocery store check out lane.) I had no idea what today would feel like. There is hope. The weight of reality is heavy. The pain of your dreams dying is real but the fog lightens. If you keep moving forward, very slowly, you will find sunshine again.
In honor of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month speak up. Tell your story. If you can’t find the words, then write them down. You will always carry the weight of loosing a child. I’m sorry but it’s true. The good news is that the longer you carry this heavy baggage, the stronger you get. The muscle builds and you begin to not notice how heavy it all is, not because it gets lighter, but because you are stronger. Remember, you are never alone. You may be a part of a club no one wants to be in, but we are still in it together.
To the Grieving Parent
Video via Today Parents, words by Lexi Behrndt, in loving memory of Charlie.