Shortly after Brock passed away, my aunt-in-law (who works at the hospital where he was born, and assisted with his delivery) handed me a book. It was kept by the hospital and loaned out to parents after the loss of their child to read and return in their own time.
Called Empty Cradle, Broken Heart, the book was ratty and frayed from years of use and many changes of hands. A plastic envelope was taped to the inside cover and filled with letters written by other parents who found themselves in temporary, unexpected possession of this book over the years. In those first few critical days, reading and rereading those letters gave me hope and solidarity. I realized I was not the only one who had been through this, and that life would, albeit slowly, go on. I read the book over the following few months, when I felt able, and obtained a lot of helpful information from it: it’s written with great sensitivity, understanding, and personal recounts from other people in situations like ours, and it covers a wide variety of useful subjects. It helped me quite a lot and I would certainly recommend it to other bereaved parents. You can buy a copy on Amazon for as little as $1.00.
My last course of action before returning it was to add my own letter to the front. I originally wrote it quite early, about a month and a half after my loss, but ended up making some hefty revisions when I looked at the letter again later. I wanted to keep it short and concise, but I also wanted to help other parents avoid making the same mistakes that I, and those around me, had. My biggest lament so far is that I have not been terribly open about what I want (and need) from others. Now that it’s been almost 5 months since Brock’s passing, people seem to very rarely bring him up anymore, and I regret that I have not been very vocal about the fact that I don’t want him to be forgotten, still need to talk about him, and I am happy when he is mentioned and talked about, not sad (I have more articles to post soon that emphasize these ideas).
Here is what I came up with.
Dear grieving mothers and fathers,
I am so, so sorry that you are reading this letter. I know all too well that there is nothing I can say or do to lessen your pain, but know that my husband and I are with you, in spirit, during this terrible time.
Our first child, a precious boy named Brock, was stillborn on October 23rd of 2014. His umbilical cord was wrapped twice around his neck so tightly that it had to be cut before he could be fully delivered. On the 19th, he was still alive with a strong heartbeat; by the 21st, he had passed away. I was five days overdue when we found out that he had passed, and I still wonder, every day, if I might not be sitting here with empty arms if things had happened differently. What if I had gone into labour on my due date, or even a couple days past – why wouldn’t my foolish body go into labour on its own? What if I’d been more insistent about being thoroughly examined on the 19th, when I noticed he wasn’t moving? I will never know for sure if more could have been done to save him, but I will always wonder.
I have had some time to assess and deal with my emotions in the previous 4 months, and I have learned a lot along the way. Your grief journey will be a long, hard one, but do your best to have faith and believe that you will make it through. As impossible as this seems, you may even find that you are a better person, in some ways, at the end of all this. Here are a couple of things that I wish I had known at the beginning of my attempts to navigate my grief.
Firstly: there is no right or wrong way to grieve, and everyone grieves differently; handle it however is right for you. Don’t feel as though you need to mourn the loss of your child at specific times or in specific ways. Moreover, don’t think that certain emotions are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Your grief will come and go in the most bizarre ways. Often, you won’t even know what is going to set you off until you’re there. Try not to let yourself get tied up with worrying about how you are feeling (or not feeling): just let it stay in or come out in your own time. Everyone grieves differently.
Next up, I highly suggest that you are open with your friends and family about how you are doing and what you need. From the outside, people seldom understand what we, as bereaved parents, are going through and need to get by. This is especially true later on, when your grief is not so fresh: around two months after our loss, the cards and phone calls stopped coming in, and people collectively seemed to assume that we had ‘gotten over’ our loss. This is not how bereavement works, but it is hard for our loved ones to understand this from their vantage point. Would you know what to do if you were on the other side of the fence?
One of the comments I receive most often is people telling me that they wish they had done (or could do) more, but simply don’t know how to handle the situation. They’re not sure what is welcome and what isn’t, so feel free to guide them in the right direction. Be real and honest about your feelings: make sure people know how they can continue to help you, even months or years after your loss. Refer them to resources (such as books or websites) about loss and grief, or just talk to them about what you need and when you need it.
Lastly: It probably seems impossible to believe right now, but try to take what comfort you can, as well, in the fact that things will eventually get better. Some days, admittedly, will be terrible… but someday, you will find that the good days once again outweigh the bad, and you’ll find ways to cope that are right for you. I find the advice to take it one day at a time to be terribly clichéd, but it’s also quite sound in this case. I also often find strength in trying to be the person that I imagine my son would want me to be. I’d like to believe that he wouldn’t want me to let his loss define me; he’d want me to go on to be the best person that I can be, and to try to find ways to better myself. When I face difficult situations or lack motivation to do things, I often ask myself, “What would Brock want me to do?” and find inspiration in the idea that I am honouring his memory in as much of what I do as I can. It doesn’t make it any more fair that he’s not here with me right now, but I find it important to try and find as much good in a situation as possible, even if it seems like there isn’t any good to be found. It’s never an easy mentality to keep, but it does get easier with time.
Please, take care of yourselves, and of each other. My deepest sympathies are with you, but I also hope you will both come out of this horrible experience as stronger, more resilient people. Despite this awful experience – having to survive one of the worst fates that can befall a parent – you will come out on the other side of this with the ability to love more fiercely, appreciate more deeply, and the strength to overcome any obstacle. It is very likely that some of the worst days of your life – if not the worst ones, period – are now behind you, and you’re now ready for anything else life might throw at you. You are stronger than you know.