What I’ve Learned about Grief: Part Two

It’s been nearly 8 months since my first miscarriage, and during those 8 months of crying and watching the entire series of Grey’s Anatomy, I’ve journeyed through the grief like a hobbit. Lots of people have been the Sam to my Frodo: my husband, my Monday night dinner girls, a therapist, blog writers, dead writers (I teach British Literature, remember), and others. I want to preface this post by saying that at the same time, all grief is different and all grief is the same. If you haven’t had a miscarriage, some of these things may still ring true in your life. If you have had a miscarriage, none of these things may ring true, too. Click here for my first post on what experiencing grief looks like. Here is what I’ve learned about my experience with others:

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5. People can say really inane things to you in times of grief, but it’s not because they are cold-hearted or stupid; it’s because they’re uncomfortable. There have been several moments in which someone is trying to give words of condolence to me, and they begin crying or saying cliche phrases, practically begging me to say something hopeful, so they can feel better. I’m not talking about crying with me—I mean a person begins to cry and breathes a sigh of relief when I say something like “I’ll be okay.” It was really annoying at first. (Mini-lesson #2: do not make the grieving comfort you. If you don’t know what to say, the best phrase is “I don’t know what to say, but I’m sorry.”) But after saying out loud in a therapy session that I have had to comfort people because they are uncomfortable with my grief, it was like the fog cleared a little. I understand that people are doing the best they can in a situation that our culture does not really have protocol for.  Miscarriages are felt differently by women, and we don’t have any kind of marker (such a funeral, memorial service, wake, etc.) for this kind of grief.  Thus, people are unsure what to say.  I can think of inane things that I have said to people in crisis and mourning—things I wish I could forget because they were so stupid.

I read somewhere (let’s be honest, probably Brene Brown) that we have a guttural need to make someone stop crying. We want them to feel better and frankly, to stop making us feel uncomfortable. But the best thing you can do for someone wiping snot and tears from their face is just to hold that space for them. Sit with them. Don’t tell them to “Cheer up, ol’ chap, there’ll be sunnier days!” Probably the best thing is not to say anything. Or say that it’s okay to cry in the middle of the hallway. Or say that this experience really sucks.  Just don’t say, “Everything happens for a reason.”

6. In an effort to keep people from saying inane things to me, I have tried to beat them to the punch, and thus minimized my own experience. I fear that we will never be able to have kids. That is a legitimate fear. But when I have said that out loud to people, many have responded, “Oh, you’ll have kids one day! You can always adopt! I’m sure you’ll be pregnant again! I/someone I knew/my best friend’s dog/etc. had 304923840329 miscarriages and now I have 300 healthy children!” I know that this is coming from a well-meaning place and perhaps from that “Please stop making me feel uncomfortable” place I mentioned before, but in reality, I do not, cannot know that I will have children one day. I can hope. I can plan. I can pray. But I don’t know. And truly, neither do you.

Of course, it may feel like you’re rubbing dirty salt into a wound if you reply, “Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t.” In your mind, it may seem like you’re being so cruel and hard-hearted, but don’t you think I’ve already had the thought you’re saying? Don’t you think I’ve realized that there is no way for me to know if I will ever have a successful pregnancy? You’re not bringing something up that I haven’t considered. You aren’t reminding me that I’m a passenger on the Grief Bus. I know this already. Don’t worry about reminding me of the uncertainty—I reside there.

So, in an effort to keep people from saying these things to me and thus sparking irritation in my brain and a twitch in my eye, I’ve prefaced every feeling or fear I’ve had with, “I know we’ll probably have kids one day, but I still feel…” Or worse, I’ve laughed at my feelings! All because I don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable! This is ludicrous.

I don’t want to be the bummer friend in my circles, so I’ve said things like, “I’m still sad and I can’t get over it, ha ha, and don’t stop praying for me because I think need therapy, ha ha, and I want to know what the doctor has to say, but I’m afraid it won’t bring comfort, ha ha…” I sound like a maniac. I’ve learned that by trying to say the cliche, unknowable thing first and by laughing when I say heavy things, I’ve been trivializing my grief and trying to downplay my own experience to myself. Which, of course, means I haven’t been able to really feel anything because I won’t let myself. It just comes out in awkward water gun tears and thinly veiled feelings slips.

There are times when you need to speak logic to your emotions. But there are also times that the logic part of your brain won’t let your emotion section do anything. I need to let my emotion section say its piece first.

7. Not everyone wants to talk about grief, but it’s not because they don’t care about you. I swim around in the Sadness Sea pretty much 24/7, even when I’m laughing (at appropriate times) or enjoying myself. JD and I have had hard conversations. I have thought lots of dark thoughts, and this loss and what it could mean consumes my life. I mean, it’s always there looming and because of that, I feel comfortable (word choice?) bringing it up. It’s what I think about and journal about and so it’s something I want to talk about.

Many of my friends will listen or engage in the conversation, some will even cry with me (in a solidarity way, not a “Please make me feel better” way). But some try to change the subject. Some listen and never say a word. Some never, ever ask about it. At first, I thought it was because they didn’t care or that they were scared my miscarriages or sadness would rub off on them (mini-lesson #3: loss is not contagious). Maybe I do represent what they fear, and to be honest, I’ve felt that way about others.

But I think some people don’t want to talk about it because they’re afraid they’ll say something stupid or remind me of my grief (trust me, nothing you say will make me say, “Oh yeah, I forgot about that whole sadness thing until you reminded me of it! Thanks a lot, jerk!”). Or perhaps they don’t have the vocabulary of feelings and experiences to talk about it. Maybe they don’t talk about grief when they feel it, and so they’re not sure how to talk about it with me. Maybe they are so caring that they want to distract me and allow me to have some positive experiences. Or maybe they don’t realize how big of a deal it is for me (these people probably don’t read my blog). There are lots of reasons people don’t want to talk about it, but those reasons are rarely that they don’t care about me.

In my next post, I’ll discuss what happens when the grief feels like too much.

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What I’ve Learned about Grief: Part One

It’s been nearly 8 months since my first miscarriage, and during those 8 months of crying and watching the entire series of Grey’s Anatomy, I’ve journeyed through the grief like a hobbit—reluctantly, fearfully, awestruck. Lots of people have been the Sam to my Frodo: my husband, my Monday night dinner girls, a therapist, blog writers, dead writers (I teach British Literature, remember), and others. For a huge chunk of the time, I felt like I was journeying into Mordor with no hopes of return, but with each day, I feel more like I’m coming back home to the Shire.

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Over the next few days, I’ll be publishing a series of posts on what I’ve learned about grief.

I want to preface these posts by saying that these things that I’ve observed and found like broken pottery after a bombing are based solely on my experience of losing two babies in the span of six months. In some ways, I feel that all grief is the same—it is terrible, aching, mind-exploding loss. But every grief, even if two separate women have the exact same experience of a miscarriage, is different. If you haven’t had a miscarriage, some of these things may still ring true in your life. If you have had a miscarriage, none of these things may ring true, too. Which is why I begin with #1.

1. Grief looks different on people. Some people binge-eat. Some people don’t eat at all. Some throw themselves into their work. Some sit listlessly at work. Some cry. Some throw things. Some want to talk about it. Some don’t. Me? I wrote terrible, bitter things in my journal the in the first days that I never want to look at again. I watched Grey’s Anatomy until I became an MD. I still cry. I order takeout. I struggle to get through the work day. I welcome distraction. I snuggle with Lucy, my dog. I stare at the ceiling. I mine the depths of my soul on a public blog. Grief makes me feel like a different person and at the same time, like my truest self.

2. Grief can be clear-cut. Your grandmother dies. You cry. Someone asks you why you’re crying. You tell them. They understand. Simple.

3. Grief can be ambiguous. My first day at therapy after the initial vomiting of what’s going on and why I’m there and I have all these feelings and some make sense and some don’t and what am I doing and what is life, the therapist called my grief ambiguous. It’s a loss that is intangible, something that we don’t always identify as grief. I remembered this phrase, “ambiguous grief”, from when I went to therapy in college. My best friend and her family had just moved to China, and I was super sad and couldn’t realize why. I didn’t know that grieving was something you could do without a funeral.

And now here I am mourning babies I have never held, babies that some people would not even call babies. I am mourning the loss of pregnancy (what is) and a baby (what would have been). Not only that—I have feared I will never be able to have children. I am angry with God, my body, the world, etc. I feel sadness-weary, and not only that, I am afraid of sadness. All of these feelings are ambiguous grief swirling around like dementors—intangible, faceless, soul-sucking. Instead of a clear-cut loss, I am left with a web of dark feelings netting me in.

4. In order to move past grief, you have to move through it. After my first miscarriage, I gave myself permission to feel everything. I told myself that I could cry whenever I needed to and I could feel all my feelings because I had read Brene Brown and knew this was important and healthy and whole-hearted. But when the second miscarriage took hold of my throat, I decided that I was freaking tired of being sad and crying all the time, thank you. I refuse this second dealing of grief. I will not be hopping on the Grief Bus today. This resolution resulted in gray skies depression, angry flip-outs at JD, sneering bitterness, and laughing at my own confessions (“Losing the second baby felt like the dashing of all my hopes and dreams. Ha ha.”).

Not only did I not want to tread into the Sadness Sea again, but I was also terrified that I wouldn’t be able to find my way back to shore. I was truly afraid (and truly, still am) that I would wade out and get swept away. Going to therapy has helped with this because I can say what I’m thinking and feeling, and he does not flinch or look scared. He just keeps talking as I’m sniveling after dropping a feelings bomb, and doesn’t ask if I’m okay (mini-lesson #1: that is a stupid question to ask). In order for these strong feelings to dull and slowly be replaced by not-so-suffocating feelings, I have to actually feel. I have to articulate those feelings and hear myself say them. This is a simple lesson we’ve heard a thousand times: if you want to feel the highs, you have to feel the lows. There is no compromise.

When I told my therapist that I was afraid I was never going to come back from grief if I wade in, he said, “You have to wade in. You won’t lose your way—I won’t let you.”

In my next post, I’ll talk about the role of others in my life as I’ve experienced grief.

Communion Thoughts: Broken Bodies and Bloody Messes

This past Sunday, JD and I gave the meditation for communion at church, something we do fairly often.  We focused on the images of broken bread and blood poured out as they have been meaningful images to us in the past few months.  Below is what we shared.

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Sometimes when our sacraments speak to our cancer and depression and dementia, we weep with disbelief that God can know our aching bodies. But then we look up at the cross, and we hear the words from the Table, and we remember Him who touched our hands to his wounds.

Jesus broke the bread, and said to his friends, “My body broken for you.” His broken body is especially poignant for those of us who have broken bodies. For those of us who can’t see, who can’t remember, who can’t walk, who can’t carry a child.

When we take this bread, we grab it for dear life, this brokenness made whole, because we need to believe in a resurrecting God. We need to believe in someone who takes bodies that are falling apart and restores their dignity. A God who gives life back to death and decay. A God who dies broken and then rises to say our name.

Jesus poured the wine, and said to his friends, “My blood spilled out for you.” His blood speaks to us whose bodies have spilled blood when they weren’t supposed to. For those of us who lay bleeding on the side of the road, whose blood comes out too fast for the doctors to replace, whose “sorrow and love flow mingled down” as another baby is lost, whose blood is drawn for others in a tragedy.

When we drink this wine, we gulp it down like a magic potion, this spilled sorrow and love, because we need to believe in a bleeding God. We need to believe in someone who takes our cold bodies and hearts and warms them back to life. A God whose flowing blood will make our blood flow once again. A God who bleeds out and then rises to touch our face.