Good Grief - 7 Ways to Grieve with Grace
Updated: Mar 20, 2021
It is an eerie feeling of betrayal to open your eyes to a new day the morning after you've experienced tragedy. The sight of the sun beaming through the cracks of your blinds and the wistful sing-song of a bird almost seem like an invalidation of your grief.
Josh and I laid in bed a while, struggling with what to do. We couldn't lay with our thoughts and stepping out of our room and looking into Liliana's was a particularly difficult feat of bravery that we would have to exercise eventually. Our home felt like a macabre mausoleum of the life we had planned. There was no escaping our reality because we lived in it. All of our memories and all of the plans we made, all of it took place in this house, our home. But we didn't have it in us to go outside either.
Josh rolled out of bed and raised the blinds to the most unbearably perfect day. After a week fo pretty standard rainy weather, this day of all days was inarguably perfect. The sun shone brightly, the birds sang, there was a gentle breeze and from the window, we could hear the distant sound of children playing outside. Josh and I sat at the edge of the bed and I wrapped my arms around him. We talked about how perfect our girl was, how beautiful and small she was, how unfair this all was. It was so hard to process that she was gone; that we had to leave her behind. I held him close and pressed my nose gently against his, kissed him and rested my head on his, tears streaming down my cheeks.
Josh went to make some coffee, and I laid in bed a few minutes more to pull myself together. Every movement was laboured - I felt lethargic in my grief. When I finally mustered the courage to leave our room I noticed that Josh had closed the door to her room and when I made it to the kitchen to grab a mug, I noticed that our Mom and Dad mugs had gone missing. Josh is not a particularly emotive man, and these little things said so much to me about how he was feeling.
I started to see what my world might be like if we were to hide her story away, to pretend it never happened, and it didn't sit right with me. I didn't care if people wanted to dismiss it or minimize it, and there will be people like that. Just know that their deflection is a reflection of their inability to process trauma in a healthy way - that is not on you. Your grief, your feelings, the memories you built for however long, are valid. The people who sit at their kitchen table counting your weeks as a way to make it more digestible for themselves, that is not a personal attack, that is the way they cope. Remember that whenever someone says something hurtful, it is not intentional. Nobody wants to hurt you more than you are hurting already. They are doing the best they can with the tools that they have developed in their life, to comfort you. Even when it really doesn't feel that way.
I stood in the kitchen with Josh and I said something to him along the lines of "I don't want this to be something that we don't talk about. I don't want her room to be a part of the house that we avoid. I don't want to hide our mugs. No matter how long we had her, you are a dad and I am a mom and we will be parents again. And when we have another child they will know about their big sister who is always watching over them." In that moment, we changed the course of her story.
Grief is an ongoing process and it is something I continue to struggle with. But I have developed some healthy and helpful coping skills that I want to share with you.
Talk to your partner
This is paramount. Much like the talk I had with Josh in the kitchen, in a moment where it may have felt more comfortable for him to hide away from the reminders, we were able to find strength in each other. We were able to work through the difficult things we were feeling so that we could get to a place where we spoke of Liliana with smiles on our faces. So that we could speak to friends and family about her with a sense of peace that allowed them to feel comfortable. Because we were able to find a way to settle into our grief, it was easier for the people close to us to sit in that moment with us in a positive light. This comes in many forms. Sometimes this is remembering the hard times, but sometimes this is the simple pleasure of reminiscing on moments of your pregnancy with friends. There have been times when I am sitting with a stranger talking about pregnancy and I will find myself holding back from talking about my favourite parts of pregnancy to avoid the larger conversation. But it is always nice to be able to think back on those moments and talk about them with friends who know our story. Instead of feeling like I can't share in the memories because my child isn't here right now, as though it erases that time from my life.
Do the work
Write down what you are feeling and take the time to work through it. In my time off I read a book that made me look at my grief in a different light. It said to think of grief as the person you miss tapping you on the shoulder and asking you to remember them. Instead of focusing on the negative feelings you have, instead of falling into a trap of self-pity, chose to take that time to remember your favourite memories. In my case, I would think of the feeling I would get whenever she would move, when she would push up against my hand whenever I placed it on my belly or the silly things my pregnancy brain would make me do. To this day, I can't bite into a nectarine without thinking of our girl. When I was pregnant with her I lived off of them. Don't think of your grief as a nuisance, think of it as an opportunity to feel closer to the one you lost.
Don't be afraid to share your story
You know now how common it is. You know that there is an overwhelming number of us who have suffered in any number of ways on our journeys to motherhood. There is no shame in your experience or how you feel. There is no reason that you and your significant other should have to battle these feelings on your own. There are countless resources available and all kinds of platforms that allow you to connect with people who are going through what you are going through. Maybe I am one of those outlets, and maybe I am not what you are looking for, and that's ok. But I promise you, whatever support you are looking for; it's out there and it is waiting for you. Talking about your story will not only help you heal but it will allow you to carry on the memory of your child. No matter when you lost them, at any stage, the life that you created and the future that you imagined for your child counts. Connecting with other moms will help you feel less alone and will validate what you are feeling.
Realize nobody is trying to hurt you and be open about how you want to be supported
I want to really instil this in you because it is so very easy for someone well-meaning to say something so wrong that it sends you spiralling. But you have to remove yourself from that train of thought. I know it is hard sometimes, believe me, but even the most insensitive of comments are said with the best of intentions. Nobody is trying to be an asshole. I found it helpful to take a deep breath, find my center, remind myself they are doing what they can with the tools that they've been given. There is that standard talk-track that people are given. You know the lines: "He needed him/her more" "At least you weren't further along" "At least you know you can get pregnant" "This just wasn't the right baby" and the list goes on. They have no idea why that would make us feel anything but comfort or reassurance. If it is someone you are comfortable with, feel free to let them know why that would be upsetting to you. Let them know what you are looking for. If what you want is for someone to just listen, let them know that you don't want them to feel like they have to say anything. You just want them to listen and maybe hold your hand. They will be grateful because most people have no idea what to do in these moments and that's when they default to the things you don't want to hear.
Have a routine
Routine will keep you from getting lost. This is your breadcrumb trail in the woods. I gave myself a few days to lay there and feel what I was feeling and then I started implementing a routine to my day. I started my day by making my bed and then making a coffee. I sipped my coffee and indulged in some light reading with Murphy outside. I read a book about grieving that way I was not only getting up and out of bed but I was working through my mess. When that was done I would get changed and try to go to the gym for a little. Even if only to walk on the treadmill. It helped me work out my frustrations. Although I will caution you to go at off times to avoid run-ins. It did happen to me a few times before I was really ready to see people that I knew. But I handled it. When I got back from the gym I would sit outside a little longer to eat something for lunch and read a little. I would snuggle up with Murphy for a nap before cleaning the house and preparing dinner. My days ran like this for months and slowly I started to find my footing again.
For the first few weeks, I spent the first hour or so of the day in bed. I listened to the birds sing and I stared at my ceiling fan. This I will admit was not the best way to start the day, but it is what I needed at the time. When I started implementing a routine to my day the most important part was getting outside. You might be wondering why this wouldn't just fall in line with the routine section. It's because the benefits for me were so impactful that this needs to stand alone. Josh and I got a bird feeder and hung it from the tree in our backyard. I spent mornings sitting on the back porch sipping my coffee with Murphy by my side. I felt the sun on my face and the cool morning air woke me from my fog. Eventually, as the weeks went on I started to spend a couple of hours outside reading. If reading is not your thing, you might try your hand at an audiobook or maybe just take the opportunity to walk your dog. I promise you, being outside will help.
Find ways to honour your child
When we lost Liliana, it was only a short while after we had lost my father. My mother, the angel that she is, called the funeral home to see if we could lay her to rest with her Nonno. I am grateful that she stepped in and made that call for me because at that moment the thought of being back there crushed me. But it gave me so much comfort to know that they would be together - never alone. I could always go and see them because it was a short 2-minute drive from our home. My father wanted so badly to meet her and knowing that weighed heavily on me after we lost him. But knowing that she would be with her Nonno until I can hold her again was the closest thing to peace I could muster. We held a memorial on March 28th for our parents and siblings. The memorial was beautiful but incredibly difficult. I am thankful to have a place to go and sing her happy birthday or just visit when I feel like I need it.
I also spent a lot of time writing and planning for the Resilient Mommy Blog. Working on something in Liliana's name that might help other women gave me purpose and gave her brief time with me more meaning. She would live on in memory and make a difference long after she left my arms. This was the most healing way that I could honour her life, however brief. I have a lot planned to pay it forward and I can not wait to share that with you all. I really want to do things that will be impactful and lasting in our community of resilient mommas.
The response that I have had has meant the world to me and the connections that I have made with you all has healed me more than you will ever know. I want to thank you all for your patience while I took a few months away from this passion project of mine to cope with the difficult milestones that have taken place since I last shared a post. My father's first anniversary came and went followed by Liliana's and the postponement of our big Italian wedding amid COVID-19. In these uncertain and frightening times, Josh and I choosing to make the ultimate commitment to one-another in our living room was what changed the tide. Taking control in a world that has afforded us so little of it is the most powerful way to realign yourself. Thank you for following along with me on this journey.