poetry • art • marriage • momhood • faith

The One String We Have

This post addresses healing after infant and pregnancy loss.  It is particularly directed to those who have lost a child, aka “Baby Loss Moms.”

* * *

The remarkable thing we have is a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… We cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude.

— Charles R. Swindoll

I would like to address a sensitive subject.  Of course, aren’t all subjects sensitive when the loss of a tiny life is at the core?  But this subject is one I think merits attention, though many “baby loss moms” (BLMs) would rather avoid it.  I’ll be honest, I’ve ruffled a lot of feathers with this one in the past.  But that is not my intention today.  Rather, I simply ask you to read on with an open mind… and heart.

My husband and I buried our son, John Blaise, just over two years ago.  On the day his life ended, mine was eternally changed. I’m sure most of you reading this can personally relate to the ache of emptiness and shattered plans. It is a pain that no one can understand.  Except, maybe, another BLM, right?

If we’re being honest, sometimes we hold that exclusivity of our grief as a kind of entitlement card, don’t we?  In the wake of our world crashing down around us, we feel on some level that we deserve to have people act one way or another.  We expect people to say certain things.  We think they ought to know what to do.  It’s just common sense, right?  We just took a crushing blow.  How dare they say/do/think something so tactless/inconsiderate/stupid!  Don’t they understand!?

And then it comes.  I’m pretty convinced it’s a defense mechanism, designed to protect our broken selves from more pain, but that doesn’t make it right: We’re hurtful because we’re hurting.

*    *    *

Roughly five years before I lost my baby boy, someone very dear to me had a miscarriage.  And then another.  I was horribly inconsiderate and naive. A horribly inconsiderate and naive friend who had no idea what to say or do, and who was soon pregnant.  But I was also a concerned friend, who loved this BLM dearly, who felt the wall this horrible experience built between us.  I wanted to talk.  Rather, I wanted her to talk.  I was sure that was what I would have wanted if we were to change shoes.  But that wasn’t what she wanted.  Instead, we stopped seeing each other.  She stopped returning my calls.  I wrote angry poetry about her.  And by that time, it had been so long that I didn’t even realize this rift was “still about” her losses.

I was about to write off my best friend.  Fortunately, I wrote her a letter instead.  It was a painfully honest and sometimes harsh letter.  I basically called her out and told her that I wanted to be there for her but I needed her to let me know what was going on too.  There was more to it than that, but that was a big piece of it.

I thank God this friend was receptive.  I don’t think she had any idea until then how much her pain was hurting me, how much it was damaging our friendship.  Thankfully, she responded to the letter and did open back up to me.  It was difficult at first, but the shared trial has only made our bond that much stronger.  And because of that, she was the first person to come to the hospital after I gave birth to my angel.  And she knew to listen, because I needed to talk.  Because we are different.

We are the lucky ones.

I think our case is rare.  More often than not, I fear, friendships are lost because we BLMs are too hurt to overlook and forgive the missteps our friends make.  Maybe …

  • …your zumba gal-pal gave a pathetic platitude after you lost your baby.
  • …your brother refuses to use your angel’s name.
  • …your mother-in-law seems to expect you to be ready to give her another grandchild by now.
  • …your sister told a mutual friend more than you really wanted to share.
  • Or maybe, someone at church happened to say how “strong” you are.

Yes, any of these situations could upset a grieving mother.  We all have our own triggers, and so some of these scenarios might anger one BLM more than another.  But consider that none of them likely stems from ill will.  Perhaps…

  • …the zumba buddy just didn’t know what to say
  • …your brother doesn’t want to upset you (or maybe he gets upset about the thought of his lost niece or nephew!)
  • …your mother-in-law comes from a generation that held miscarriage and stillbirth as more taboo, so she doesn’t realize how long it might take to muster the courage to try again… or maybe she had a miscarriage, but never talked about it and expects you to do the same.
  • …your sister didn’t mean to gossip—she was just concerned about you and thought you’d want the mutual friend to pray for you.
  • …and the person at church had no idea how vulnerable you really feel, or that it’s persistence and faith—not strength—that gets you through the day.

This is not to say that these people couldn’t (or shouldn’t) have acted differently.  But is getting upset with them or writing them off going to solve anything?  Sometimes we say, “They should have known better,” but how?  Infant and pregnancy loss is still a subject that our culture tiptoes around.  As much as we might want them to, we can’t expect people to research the topic or appropriate responses.  The only way to help others know how to handle the subject is to show and tell them.

And the best way to get them to listen and learn … is to teach them gently.

So here is the challenge I give to you:  Is there someone with whom you’ve grown distant because they “didn’t act right” or said something that upset you since your loss?  If so, think about how you might tell them, gently, how that made you feel.  Acknowledge the fact that you don’t think they meant it to hurt you.  And forgive them.  Tell them you forgive them.

You can’t control how they will react, or act going forward.

But you will have played the one string you have, and that is the best way to bring music—harmony—to your life.

Love,
Julie

 

PS – If you’re looking for resources to help open up the conversation with someone, consider using one of Tricia’s past blog posts as a springboard. “The “Yays” and “Nays” of What to Say ” is a good place to start.

 

This post was simultaneously posted at LilAngelsHankies.com.  Lil Angels Hankies is an organization that seeks to help families who have lost a child through infant or pregnancy loss heal.  Lil Angels Hankies makes memories tangible through gifts of embroidered hankies to grieving parents.  They also offer emotional support and resources through their Facebook group and website communities.

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torch bearing quietly

I will not act out, will not
yell or curse or slam doors,
will not make a scene -- you
do not deserve such a chance
to make an example out of me
to be proven right since you
are not. Instead, I'll stand
at this street corner, raise
my hand high and clench that
light which yet remains. It
will burn brightly, quietly,
fiercely before fading as I.

Then I'll be gone but found.

©JAC 2005

Poetry by Julie Ann Cook!

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Love Like Weeds
by Julie Ann Cook
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