In an effort to ease my hurting heart this fall, I am participating in Project Heal: Capture Your Grief. It's a photography/storytelling project to honor the babies we've lost.
Day 5: Empathy
When Riley Grace had been gone nearly 5 years, I attended a ladies Bible group. I was invited by someone who knew my mother-in-law, and I was a bit reluctant to attend, because I didn't really know anyone there myself. Somehow, the topic of babies and babyloss came up and I spoke up and told my story. It all came out in a blur of words and tears, and a room of older ladies was stunned into silence, because it was the first time I'd spoken, save for whatever we had been asked to read aloud. A flurry of "I'm sorry for your loss" and "that's terrible" followed, and soon it was time to leave. A lady that I had seen around, but hadn't really spoken to before, grabbed my hand and said, "When I was about your age, I lost a baby...a son. After he was born and it was all said and done, a nurse came into my room and told me: 'This will stay with you for the rest of your life. This will impact everything you do and it will ALWAYS be a part of you.'"
I was floored. Hadn't I been messed up enough already? What did she mean this would stay with me FOREVER? WHAT?!
Shaken, I thanked her and left, thinking "why would someone tell me that?! If she thinks she was being helpful, she wasn't!"
Five years later, I realize, her words were probably one of the few times someone had been honest with me about grief. It's a part of everything I do. It's stayed with me for the past 10 years, and if I live to be 100, it will stay with me every single day.
I wish that I had thanked her for her honesty, that I hadn't pulled my hand away, that I had stayed and talked with her and asked her what her son's name was.
This May, Riley would have turned 10. I received an incredible card from a sweet lady in church. When this sweet lady was a child herself, her sister was stillborn. We spoke about it, about the hopes and dreams her parents laid to rest when they laid her sister to rest.
Sometimes, it's good just to talk and cry with someone else.
A few months ago, I was in Tennessee with my daughter. We saw something with a dragonfly and she mentioned that it would be perfect "for her sister." An elderly lady overheard us talking and asked where Ella's sister was. I quietly replied that she had died while I was pregnant with her, 10 years ago. The lady grabbed my hand tightly and said, "My daughter would be 55 this year. This pain just STAYS, doesn't it?" I said, "It really does. It stays with you forever. What was her name, ma'am?" She looked up at me and said, "Ann. Her name was Ann."
After the death of a baby, empathy is so vital. Giving and receiving. I've learned to pay attention to what people say to me, especially those who have lived through loss themselves. There's much to be learned from our losses.