Wednesday, September 9, 2009


I've been thinking a lot about this lately. Its almost been one year since Gavin died. I've spent a lot of time looking back over the last 11 months and how things have progressed, and regressed, and changed. What stands out to me, is how strange (and frustrating) it is that so many people seem to think a grieving person has a choice in how, or how long they grieve. That if they just had more faith, more humility, more sanity, more would somehow not be "as bad" or last "as long". I hear accounts from the other angel baby moms that I know, and my heart hurts for them. Most of them have had searingly, horrible comments made to them about their grief. They've come from friends, family, church members and even Bishops....those in their lives who should be the most sensitive to their pain. Its so confusing to me that something like grief, something we will ALL go through at some point in our life, is so misunderstood by our current society.

Thankfully, I haven't had any instances quite as bad as theirs. Almost all of our friends and family members are so patient, understanding and loving towards Andre and I. They make us feel safe in expressing our feelings, no matter how crazy or scary those feelings are. They let us work through our thoughts without worrying that we will be judged. They give us permission to feel and think what we need to, and they love us no matter what. Its the most valuable thing anyone can do for us. One of the most important things in the healing process is the allowance to feel, and to have those feelings validated.

However, I have occassionally received negative impressions from others. I'm sure a few people read my blog and think some of things that I write aren't "healthy". I'm sure a few probably think all the above...that my grief must be abnormal, that surely other parents who go through this don't take it "so hard". That I shouldn't "allow" certain things to bother me anymore, and that they shouldn't have to be careful of what they say or do around me anymore. That I must be wallowing, or not trying hard enough, or I need to be more humble, pray more, read scriptures more, go to the Temple more. Or that I need to just get over it and force myself to move on. I know this (and it hurts). However, I'm glad those who do think these things at least have had the sense not to say them outright to my face! For that I'm thankful. (a little sad, right?)

The "funny" thing, is what I write on here is soooo censored. I am thinking and feeling things a million times worse than anything I've ever written on here. I usually only write after the storm has blown through, and I've typed and retyped a dozen times. But I can confidently assure everyone that everything I have thought and felt is indeed quite normal for a grieving mother. I have about 20 books on the subject sitting on my bookshelf that all attest to that (yes, even the ones from the LDS bookstore)- its pretty much standard textbook. Normal, natural, and most importantly, necessary. The process of grieving is not just emotional, its physiological. The shock, the numbness, the conflicting thoughts and feelings, the guilt, the circular reasoning...these are all things the brain and body are hardwired to do when faced with such trauma. Its how you survive such immense, physical pain. Its not just "feeling sad" and "missing" your loved one. Its a series of natural responses.

This is reassuring to me most of the time (I'm not crazy after all!)...its only when I start to feel others' judgement that my defenses start to cave in. I'll be trying so hard to take one step forward, and thinking that I'm doing so much better, and then I'm shoved two steps back. Its hard enough having to grieve without others making you feel like you're doing it wrong. (seriously, how hopeless do you have to be to mess that up?!) One of the books I have says that in some ways, the second year is even harder than the the first, because even though some of the pain may be subsiding, most people no longer give you permission to feel and grieve anymore. They are done feeling uncomfortable, sad, and scared because of your loss. They are done being sensitive in the things they say and do around you. They get impatient and frustrated and want you to go back to being "normal". They want to forget about it, focus on their own lives, and move on. How incredibly hurtful and scary for those grieving! There is no magic switch that automatically turns off at one year (or five years, or ten years...)! And no matter how much times passes, there will ALWAYS be moments when the tide comes crashing in and the tears fall. Knowing that other angel baby moms have had such harsh judgement against them makes me so sad...for them, for me, for anyone else grieving a loss. One of the hardest parts of grieving is having to endure the sharp, pointy barbs that others unintentionally (and intentionally and seriously misguided and ignorant) throw our way, especially when its done by those we trusted.

I know it must be hard for those on the outside looking in. Those grieving the loss of a child don't have any visible markings. I have no gaping, bleeding wounds. I have no scars. I have no bandages or crutches. I have no x-rays to prove my injury. I have no prescription to validate my pain. I have no doctor in a white coat telling those around me that I must be allowed to do this, and I can't be allowed to do that, and that it will take 'x' amount of months to heal through a very specific process. And yet, I have been physically injured. Was Gavin not of my own flesh and blood? Was he not a part of my physical body for 9 months? Did I not feel his heart beating next to mine, his breath upon my skin, his body clinging to my side every day for a year? He was a part of me...mind, spirit and body. You may as well have cut off my leg when he died. I feel the emotional, spiritual and physical loss every day. I hurt physically.

It makes me think...if I had been in a horrible accident, if I had lost a leg...would people treat the healing process as negatively? I think if I had lost a leg, nobody would question the need for years of physical therapy to learn how to cope with the loss. Nobody would eye me suspiciously if I continued to struggle to walk for the rest of my life. Nobody would judge my crutches as something that was "holding me back". Nobody would second guess my faith by the length of my healing. Nobody would think I couldn't run a marathon just because I wasn't trying hard enough. They wouldn't say "Don't feel pain, you have the gospel!" or "Don't struggle to walk, you'll be made whole during the Ressurection!" or "You don't need surgery, the Atonement will heal you!" Its laughable, right? Its asinine, actually! And yet these are the very things people think about the healing process for those grieving a very real, and a very physical, loss of a child.

When someone loses a child, a child...some people second guess, they judge, they question, they doubt! They doubt the validity of your ongoing pain! They judge the amount of time necessary to grieve! They second guess your faith if you continue to outwardly struggle. They assume you aren't praying enough, you aren't humble enough, that you must be doing something wrong to still be healing. That its abnormal and unnatural. They decide you are just choosing to dwell on it and that its unhealthy. They decide they must confront you, they must shove your loss in your face and make you accept it, and then they must force you to get over it. The very words make me cringe...and yet this is what is being done when others judge someone's grief. How ignorant to think that they know how you should be grieving, when they haven't ever lost a child! When they have no idea what it feels like! When they haven't even read any books on the subject! Losing a child is horrible, and as such, you are going to feel horrible!

When good things happen to someone, no one raises an eyebrow when they feel good. When someone gets engaged, people don't say "Don't feel good, 50% of marriages end in divorce!". If someone gets a promotion, people don't say "Don't be happy, you'll probably get fired!" But when something bad happens, its "Don't feel bad, you'll have your son in the Ressurection!" and "Don't be unhappy, he's not in pain anymore!". Its okay to feel bad when something bad happens. Its okay for a grieving person to feel sad, angry, confused. At times its okay for them to feel hatred or bitterness or doubt or fear. They're just feelings, and once felt, expressed and validated...its a whole lot easier to work through those feelings. A grieving person needs a safe place to express those actually say what they are feeling and thinking outloud, without any eyebrows raising...just unconditional love.

There is a real process to grieving and healing from a loss. Your mind, your body, and your spirit all must go through specific things to heal, and its not something that happens in a few months, or even a year. Everyone who grieves must follow this course. You don't have a choice. You can't speed it up or skip certain parts. It doesn't matter how spiritual or how smart you are. You can't outsmart it or outpray it. Your mind and body go through very specific responses...numbness, disbelief, anger, avoidance, may not be in a certain order, and its not the same for any two people, but what it is, is NORMAL and NATURAL and NECESSARY. If there's anything that anyone takes away from this blog, I hope its this....if you know someone grieving, just listen and love. Don't try to convince or explain or justify, don't judge, don't doubt, don't set timelines, don't force, don't push. Just LISTEN and LOVE. That's all we need. Thats all I need.


Erin said...

I love your analogy about losing the leg and the years of physical therapy. I had a fairly easy grief to bear the first couple months, and it's steadily gotten worse. Unfortunately some people think that because I did seem so "okay" at first, that it's going to always be that way. Like the high dose pain meds right after the leg surgery. Yeah, I was pretty comfortable back then. Not so much now.

nancy said...

amen. as i approach NINE years (how can it be?) i echo your words...your thoughts...your feelings.
AMEN and thank you. i could not have expressed it better.

Emily Ruth said...

Your post answered my prayers. I am passing through the hardest time since my boys death, and am receiving the least support.
Thank you so much for sharing your heart and your honest words. It means everything to me.

Barrett, Melinda, & Angel Trinity Adams said...

I couldn't have worded that better myself. I was saying the same things to my family and friends a year ago as I was approaching my 1 year mark with Trin's death, going into my 2nd year. Loosing a child is the worst thing anyone could go changes you forever. There's no such thing as "Normal" or the way things used to find a "New Normal", and that new normal comes with tears, anger, a broken heart that wont fully mend, confusion, etc. Thats just part of it. I love you Bethany! I love your precious angel Baby Gavin...I keep hoping that Gavin and Trinity will come visit us in our dreams so we can still see them, touch them, and hear their voices. I miss my baby girl so much. I'm coming up to her 2nd year, going into year's still painful, but I'm more used to it now. I still have my crashing wave that comes in to break me down...I let it come. Then afterwards I stand back up again. For the rest of my life, that crashing wave will continue to come and knock me down for awhile...but standing back up has gotten easier. I'm always thinking about you!

Stephanie said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you! You don't know me, but I've read your blog for a little while. I lost my baby a few months ago (stillborn) and am feeling so alone. No one wants to talk about him or how I feel. "Everything is fine." I'm glad I'm not too abnormal.

Matt & Staci said...

I'm always up for listening and I've always loved you and will continue to love you!

Karyn Olson said...

Bethany -- I weep for you still. I always will.

Bret and Julie Burnham said...

I love you Beth- I don't know how you feel because I have never gone through anything close to that but I do want to be there for you and listen. Grieve whatever way you need to and know that I will always love you and be there to listen. I am glad that you are able to help other people through your words. You have such a way of writing... from the first post I remember reading of yours about Fresh and Easy to the tear jerking ones about Gavin and your loss. I love your words and your honesty. I am proud of you for saying what is hard to say.
I love you.

Christi said...

May warm arms enfold you at any moment that you may need to feel them.

A young woman, that I have known since she was 2, lost her older brother shortly after her wedding this summer sent me this link. I had watched them both grow up and their mother is an important part of my life and my grief.

My father was killed in a car wreck this last June. He was the anchor of our family and I miss him so much I sometimes feel I can't breathe. I am admittedly a Daddy's Girl.

All of your comments are right on and helped me so much to believe i am "ok" just as I am. Thank you