>> Friday, December 24, 2010
This year, I've learned a lot about loss. About how inept most people are at offering comfort. And how we shrink from sharing another's grief.
In the summer, my sister lost a child.
The thing is, that baby wasn't born yet. It was supposed to be born today. A Christmas Eve gift. So, since people never saw it in person, they tend to brush off the grief with insensitive comments like "Just be glad it didn't happen later in the pregnancy!" or "You're young, you have plenty of time to try again."
And so, while my sister was going through the very natural stages of grief, anger, guilt, denial (not necessarily in that order), people who knew what had happened couldn't seem to figure out why she hadn't "bounced back yet". Or why she couldn't just "snap out of it" and get back to life as usual.
The crazy thing is, before this happened I'd probably have said many of the same well-intentioned things. All the pat phrases that offer zero empathy and sometimes border on the insulting. Empty words that show absolutely no intention of entering into that person's grief. And I wouldn't have known the difference.
I've had other friends who've lost babies. I'm ashamed to say that I've never engaged with them in their loss. Like so many, I was wrapped up in the whirlwind of my own life and I just assumed that when the public signs of sadness disappeared, the private grief must be finished too.
I know better now.
Over the past months, I've watched my sister do what every young should-have-been-mother does. She kept her tears behind closed doors. She pushed through the sleepless nights. She put on a brave face to the world, goofing around and cracking her hilarious signature sarcastic comments to make others laugh. She didn't advertise the fact that some days she fought panic attacks when out shopping and it seemed like every other woman was carrying a cute little baby. She went to work every day, started a second degree, bought a cute little dog.
Casual observers would never guess the ache she only expressed in private. But that's because, as advanced and open-minded as our Western culture may be on many things, it's still not okay to publicly grieve the loss of an unborn child. We're not comfortable with that. We shrink from the implications.
And so those who have lost, grieve in silence.
If there was a coffin, we would have a funeral. Friends and family would travel at any cost to be there for the infant's parents. To offer comfort, solace, hugs, even shared tears. But when there is no coffin, we don't know what to do. Don't know what to say.
Friends disappear, either giving well-meaning "space" or out of ignorant disregard. Family isn't guaranteed to get it, either. Those in grief feel isolated and alone when they most need caring attention. And it isn't a time when they should have to demand that comfort. It should be freely offered.
Today, on Christmas Eve, I should have been at the hospital with my sister. I should have been giving that tiny baby its first bath (that's what she did when my son was born). We should have been rejoicing over the miracle of life, and introducing Tristan to his first first-cousin. And I'm sure, another year, that will all happen. But it won't be this year. It won't be this baby.
I've learned a lot about loss this year. For that loss, today I share my sister's sadness and rejoice in hope that this new year will bring healing.
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