I learned a lot of things through the loss of a baby. I learned about others, about life, and about the world. Mostly I learned about myself, and about God. I’d like to share my learnings with you.
1. I learned how to cry.
And I don’t mean just etiquette-dictated sniffles that guarantee people around you don’t get squirmy and uncomfortable. I mean big, gasping, body raking, wailing sobs. I learned just how emotionally and physically healing tears are.
And as I really learned how to weep for myself, I learned how to weep for others. To feel their pain and grieve alongside them.
2. I learned that going through the grief process is good.
So many people in our Western society act and talk like grief, and the process, are a sign of weakness. That we just need to pull ourselves up by our boot straps and get on with life. Life’s tough. Deal with it. In that way, though, deal with it doesn’t mean do something about it; it means ignore it, and it should go away.
Usually, though, if you don’t acknowledge your grief and deal with it—really deal with it, by allowing yourself to go through whatever stages you will personally go through and acknowledge your pain—it will manifest itself in some other, negative way.
3. I learned that everyone grieves on her own timetable, and you should never allow anyone to rush you through the grief process.
For some people, they can go through all grief stages and grieve intensely for a week and be done and nicely healed. For others, it takes weeks, months, or years. While you don’t want grief to end up consuming your life and future existence, you need to allow yourself to heal on a timetable suited to you. Don’t let anyone push you, unless, of course, you really aren’t healing and are utterly absorbed in self-pity that doesn’t improve.
Be patient with yourself. Let others know what you’re ready or not ready to do.
4. I learned that people are often really clueless about how to “deal” with someone who has lost a loved one, especially an infant or baby in pregnancy.
They don’t know what to say; they don’t know how to react. So they avoid you, and you feel avoided. Even pastors don’t always know how to act toward you.
5. (And this has to do with the above point.) I learned that people have the innate capability of saying the stupidest things and should listen and think more before they open their mouths trying to be helpful.
I’ve even been guilty of this.
My parents didn’t really know what to say to me, and they’d experienced the same type of loss themselves.
Often, people didn’t extend the grace, mercy and patience I needed. I already felt battered and bruised, and ill-spoken words left a few more dents and marks. Like the obstetrician friend who said, “Oh, just forget about it and try for another one.” That left me stunned. From a doctor? Really? She acted like it was so easy to do. Just put it on your to-do list and check nine months and a baby off.
Then there are the spiritual friends who try to spiritualize the event by quoting Scripture or saying, “Your baby’s in a better place now.” (True, but I wanted her here, with me!) or, “You’ll get over this.” (I knew that, but it certainly didn’t feel like it at the time, and looking at getting over it didn’t help me deal with the painful present.) Or the ridiculous: “God wanted another angel in heaven, and He chose your baby.” First of all, that’s not where angels come from; angels are angels and humans are humans. Two entirely different, created beings. And how small that makes God seem. I’d want to scream out: “Well, God, then if you want another angel, either make one—a real tiny one—or go take someone else’s “angel.” Leave mine here! I think you have plenty of angels in heaven already.”
Then there was that stranger at the post office who was eyeballing my two boys and thought she’d make friendly, motivational conversation by saying, “Do you just have the two boys? Well, you should try again for a girl!” She oozed sweetness and smiles.
I narrowed my eyes and shot back at her: “Well, I had a girl, and she died. And now I can’t have any more children.” That silenced her. I didn’t handle that one too well, but hopefully she thought about her poor assumptions and was more careful the next time around, when she had the opportunity to offer a good word to someone else.
I’ve learned to listen and think more and keep a stapler close by to use on my lips.
6. I learned that death is not a beautiful thing.
An ICU nurse told me “Death is beautiful” when they wanted to disconnect the respirator they had lodged into my dad’s lungs, even though he was sitting up and communicating with us. For a brief second I believe her. Then my mind shot back sixteen years to what it was like holding my precious Victoria in my arms. The silence, the limpness, the gasses that filled up in her little body and turned her fragile skin a dark hue.
Death is ugly. It involves deterioration and pain and heartache and devastated dreams. It rips your heart and guts out, twists them around and strangles them, and stuffs them back into your body in all the wrong places. It sucks the air out of your lungs, dulls your brain, and scares you to madness. It makes you feel panicky, and empty, and alone.
Of course, death is often beautiful for a person struggling with the ravaging effects of cancer or a fatal disease. Then it can be a relief to everyone involved. But it’s still pretty ugly. So many people are wasted shells of their former selves when they die, after having fought and struggled against the disease. They’re exhausted. And while the end may be peaceful, I think it’s a stretch to say it’s beautiful.
I know, “Precious in the sight of God is the death of His saints.” I believe that. I really do. And when death comes knocking around my believing friends and family, I remember that, and it gives me hope. God doesn’t look upon death the way we do. But I’m human, and all I have is my human frailties with which to deal and confront death. I don’t want to begrudge anyone his heavenly reward, but I know how it feels to have to say goodbye and be left behind on this earth. And frankly, it usually sucks.
7. Death can be a time for celebration.
I know. Now I’m sounding hypocritical or waxing philosophical. But for the reasons mentioned above, death can be a time of celebration. A time to thank God for the life he brought into your life. And in particular for mothers, the life He gave you to carry for as many months you held life in your womb. The joy of being blessed with the movements of life: the wiggles, the hiccups, the arm and foot punches. It’s the time to remember a special life. And thank God for it.
8. I learned that loving involves a lot of risk and potential heartache.
It might be easier not to make yourself vulnerable to it, but love is the most important thing in the world. Not exposing yourself to it, not taking the risk and protecting yourself from it, makes life barely lived or experienced. It robs you of life the way God wants you to experience it.
9. I learned that I am not really the captain of my ship, in complete control of my life.
Teachers and leaders might pump your psyche and ego up by telling you that, but it isn’t true. There are WAY too many variables in life—too many for that to be remotely possible.
That distinct and hallowed role belongs to the Creator. As well ordered as I think I have my life, it could all go awry or disintegrate in the next second—by my own careless word or hand or someone else’s. No wonder my grandmother always tacked on the epitaph “God willing” to every hope or plan she uttered. She wasn’t very educated, but she was one smart lady.
10. I learned I’m not the good person who didn’t deserve to suffer like I did.
I learned that it's more of a miracle when I’m not suffering, and everything’s actually humming along nicely, according to plan and going my way.
Look at the world around us, outside of our nice middle or upper class, or even lower class sphere. The reality is that much of the world is an ugly place saturated with bigotry, anger, hate, self-serving motives, pain, suffering, lying, cheating, stealing, laziness, greed, etc. It is unrealistic, and arrogant, actually, to believe we won’t be subjected to some of it in our lifetime.
And may I say here: Don’t blame God for it. Man is not inherently good, like so many politicians and liberal preachers say. The world is not basically good. The people in it are broken, sinful creatures. Really examine your heart and your motives. What’s the true answer? Be honest. Man has no trouble finding trouble on his own. And passing the trouble onto others.
There is goodness out there, but the source is not man.
11. I learned that I took all of the good things in my life for granted, including the people in it.
I’d forgotten how precious life is. I’d become jaded and hardened. I probably thought I’d deserved all of that goodness and love. I didn’t.
I’ve always been the type to kind of squeeze everything out of a moment and out of life, but I’d become cynical and careless about so many things. That horrible realization only further pummeled my already squashed heart. But it was a costly lesson I needed to learn. And hopefully I’ve learned it well.
12. I learned that eventually self runs out. (This goes along with not being the captain of your own ship.)
Eventually you run out of options. You have no place to go. You can’t make any snappy, clever decisions to change the story. You can’t talk your way out of it. No one can give you any hope or help you change the story’s gut-wrenching ending. You are where you are, and you’re wedged in a corner with no way out. You either cry out for help, to the One who can help, or you can retreat farther into the corner. Or you try to come out swinging. At the air.
Everyone usually wants someone to blame. To point a finger at. (I could point my fingers—all ten of them and my toes—at the doctors who misdiagnosed my pregnancy complication and gave me such poor medical care. But it wouldn’t have helped.)
You’re actually in a good place when your self really runs out and you admit it has, and you have no control and nowhere to run or hide. You hang yourself out like an exposed sheet on a clothesline, being whipped in the wind. At that point you can start healing, really healing, and discovering what life is about, and living life in a different, more fulfilling way.
13. I learned that God brings more good and lasting changes out of the pain in life than He does out of the good things.
Through suffering, you can sometimes learn life’s most important lessons.
We pay more attention to personal pain. We take it personally. We examine and twist it around to examine all angles of it. We play with it in our hands. Our hearts continually dust it off and peer at it, again and again and again. We give it to our minds to try to analyze. And the brain peers at it some more.
But pain and loss is when we’re more likely to let God work on us. And it changes us, usually for the good, if we’ve listened well.
A lot of people like to let loose that passage around the time of loss and pain that has to do with God working everything out for good. What so many don’t realize is that it doesn’t say that everything that happens is good. It says that God works everything out for good. Big difference. And then there’s the rest of the passage so often ignored or omitted. God works everything out for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.
So the question then becomes: Do you love Him? Do you want things to be worked out for good? Do you want things in your life to have purpose? I mean real, everlasting, eternal purpose?
14. I learned that I need a Savior, really badly.
I learned just how misguided and selfish I could be. That hurt. A lot. It still does when I think about it and remember my life twenty-two years ago. I could have directed all of my anger onto God, which is okay, (King David did it, and God can take it), as long as the anger doesn’t stay placed there. Sometimes I think people re-direct their anger onto God because they can’t handle being so upset with themselves or their fellow men. He ends up being the easy, convenient scapegoat.
My pastor said that in some way, we’re all struggling in this journey toward God.
I don’t know about us all struggling toward God, but I do know that we’re all struggling, and that we all have a God-sized hole in our hearts and souls that only He can fill. And I do know He’s the One who gives life, because I’ve tried to live life without Him being an integral part of it, and I know how different life is when He’s in it and in control.
It’s full of love and joy and hope, and real purpose. Not just me-focused purpose.
It’s the most important thing I learned on that painful journey.
There’s nothing better than finding God, especially after He’s been pursuing you all of your life. You learn just how blessed you really are, how precious life is, and how much joy there is in it!
So that’s my story.
What’s yours? What have you learned, or are you learning through your loss? What has helped you? What’s hurt? What encouraging word can you give to others? What encouraging word do you need today?
What direction would you like to see this blog go? Do you think I should “sign off” on it and say, “Goodbye.”?
While I’m officially taking the month of February off (the first time I haven’t written a formal weekly post since October, 2012), I’d like you to let me know what you, the reader, would like. Do you want to continue growing together? Would you like me to switch to providing you with more reference material for neonatal loss, grieving and healing? Would you be encouraged by devotions to help you get through your grief?
Please give me your feedback, and I’ll be praying.
I’m looking forward to hearing from you!!
Once again, until next week,
Thanks for joining me!
It’s been a blessing to take this ride with all of you!