Thursday, August 12, 2010
Grief is a strange thing. It is hard to wrap your mind and heart around because it is one of those things that changes all the time. Despite the psychologists attempts to fit it into a neat box, to some extent it defies explanation. There are so many factors that influence it; the person grieving, what they're grieving, their belief system, past experiences, and on and on.Some things that one person finds really comforting, another would find completely off-putting and maybe even hurtful. Rituals that one person does to give honor and meaning to the person being mourned, the next person might find odd or even distasteful.
Then there is the language surrounding grief. Let's look at it from the point of losing a baby, since that is what I'm most familiar with. If you want to get technical, the medical field refers to the loss of any baby prior to 20-22 weeks gestation as "abortion" then further sub-categorizes it as "spontaneous" or "induced". I remember when I learned that in nursing school it really bothered me. The word abortion carries with it so many opinions and emotions and is so entwined with the word choice. Anyone who has spontaneously lost a child early in a pregnancy knows there was no choice involved in the matter. Then there is the more common term "miscarriage." This is much more commonly used, I don't know of any doctor or nurse that would refer to the loss of a baby as a "spontaneous abortion" when talking to a patient. Even then, the word has connotations. Some people don't like the word miscarriage because they feel it lessens the importance of their baby's death. For them it carries the connotation that they just lost a fetus, not a baby. Even saying, "I lost my baby" doesn't seem quite right. It holds an implication that if I had been more careful, more watchful, maybe that baby wouldn't have gotten lost. You can't just say, "my baby died" unless you want to get a lot of interesting reactions from people. It is a hard enough subject to talk about and not knowing if the words you are using are the "right" ones makes it even harder.
So, where am I going with this? I'm not 100% sure. I guess I just wanted to acknowledge that it's complicated. I feel for people that are grieving. I'm grieving myself and I know first hand that interacting with others is hard. Half the time I don't even know what to think about myself and how to explain or understand what I'm feeling, but I want so badly for someone to be able to relate and understand what I don't understand myself. I want a friend who is ok to just sit with me and cry. I wish I felt like it mattered to someone else, anyone else, as much as it matters to me.
I feel for people who aren't grieving and who are trying to figure out what to say and do. Don't give up. Be there, but maybe just don't say much. Let your actions do the talking. They do anyway, so you may as well make sure they are saying what you mean. There are no perfect words. Don't try to find them. Just be there. Check on the person. Let them know you love them. If they have kids, maybe take the kids for a few hours so that person can have space to cry and be sad without having to worry they are traumatizing their children.
In case anyone is looking for resources, here's a short book review. When I had my two miscarriages back to back late last year and early this year, I wanted something to read. I'm a reader. Most of the books and information out there seemed to be geared and focused on stillbirth, or losing a child shortly after birth. This sucks, because it made me feel like I didn't deserve to be as sad as those other moms. Anyway, the two books that have meant the most to me in this process are Tear Soup and About What Was Lost: Twenty Writers on Miscarriage, Healing, and Hope.
To be honest, I bought Tear Soup for a friend. I thought it was a children's book and might be a good resource to help her talk about grief with her daughter. Then I read it and I kept it for myself. I like how it talks about some of the things that are mentioned above. How everyone has to grieve in their own way and no one can do it for them. How friends will say hurtful things and how to feel about that and deal with it. It made me feel more normal and ok with my grieving process, especially when I felt that so many things and people around me were telling me my grieving process wasn't right. I think it is a great resource for people who are grieving, but also people who want to reach out to people in grief.
I bought About What Was Lost kinda on a whim. It had the word miscarriage in the title and it was stories, not a professional giving advice. I really just wanted to know on some level that I wasn't alone and I didn't feel that reading a book about how to cope was what I was looking for. Plus I wanted something that would be easy to read and not take a lot of concentration. I found it hard to concentrate on much of anything for quite awhile after my miscarriages. I really appreciated this book. It was comforting to me to read other people expressing their emotions and thoughts. Some I completely related to, others not at all. That really helped me process that this is a very personal journey.
I have also heard rave reviews about Empty Cradle, Broken Heart. I even own a copy that a friend gave to me. I just haven't been able to bring myself to read it yet. I hope to some day.
If you're grieving or have been comforting someone who has, what helped you? What resources did you find the most helpful?