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.

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4 thoughts on “What I’ve Learned about Grief: Part One

  1. Sweet Ashley, I wanted to, many times, come and hug you and share in your grief. You are absolutely right, grief is different for everyone, even if you have experienced the same set of circumstances. I had two miscarriages as well and it was a pain that I thought I would never recover from. The best advice I ever heard was from a Doctor I went to see after my first one. He said “You will never “get over” this until you have a baby”. I heard all types of well meaning advice from family and friends but his words were the ones that rang true. I will miss you at BCS and I will continue to pray for you and J.D. to have a sweet little one to hold someday. Wade deep in your grief and never make excuses for it. It’s okay to grieve for as long as you need to. Love you!

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