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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2 thoughts on “What I’ve Learned about Grief: Part Two

  1. Dear Ashley,

    My name is Ashlee. I’m co-founder of the Youshare Project, with the mission to connect people around the world through true, personal stories. I recently stumbled across your blog and read a few of your posts, including “What I’ve Learned About Grief,” parts 1 and 2. You write so honestly and beautifully about your experience. I think your story would make a wonderful youshare, because I believe other women who have experienced miscarriage would connect with your story and find comfort in your words. But I also believe friends, family members, and aquaintences would also benefit from your story in learning how to be supportive in the face of grief. I’m wondering if you would consider combining these two parts into one story and submitting it to the project?

    If this sounds interesting to you, I would love to email you directly with more information and formally invite you to adapt your story to Youshare and share it with the project. You have my email address and website. I hope to hear from you soon.

    Best,
    Ashlee
    http://www.youshareproject.com
    ashlee@youshareproject.com

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