Wednesday, February 25, 2015

to the friend whose friend grieves

A few weeks ago I asked my friend Lindsey if she'd consider writing a guest post for my blog.  Topic: anything related to helping a grieving friend through babyloss.  Deadline: anytime in 2015.  What she returned to me was this beautiful piece on empathy and friendship.  I wanted to save it for a week when I was maybe too busy to write a decent post, or feeling really uninspired on what to write about, but when she delivered this to me last Wednesday, I knew it would take all of my willpower just to make it to the next Wednesday to post.  

Lindsey, thank you so much for your words, for you love and support over this past year, and mostly for just showing up and being there. I don't think I could ever repay you properly, so I'll just bring you an endless stream of Berger cookies every time I visit Georgia.  Love you so very much, friend.

I'm writing to you, dear Friend Of A Grieving Person.  I'm sure you've got at least one grieving person in your life; if I've learned anything in the last year it's that there is no shortage of grief or pain in this world, and that grieving people are everywhere, disguised as “I'm ok” and “Thanks for asking” people.  Think for more than 10 seconds and I bet you've already identified in your mind who your grieving person is.  Maybe it's someone who lost a close family member?  A friend whose husband died tragically young?  Maybe, like me, it's someone who has experienced loss during pregnancy or a child's infancy.

A little background: I've been told that empathy isn't really my thing.  I made it nearly into my 30's without realizing that I was indeed pretty unacquainted with empathy.  Sympathy vs empathy, what's that even about?  Feeling sorry for someone doesn't come easily for me either so for a long time I figured it was all relative.  I'm sad to say that it's almost like I resigned myself to the thought that I'm good at other stuff, I don't have to be good at empathy.  Grief isn't something I've had much personal experience with either.  Three of my grandparents are still living.  I've never lost a close friend or coworker.  Truthfully, in sheer numbers, pets encompass most of the loss I've experienced in my life. I know now that there is no shortage of grief in my immediate circle of friends, and that grief is a pretty good teacher - empathy being the subject matter.  Part of me wishes I was still in the dark about both of these things, because the only reason I understand them at all now is because someone very dear to me experienced a loss that rocked me to my core.  I write these words to you now, Friend Of A Grieving Person, in hopes that I can shed some light on what the empathy journey is going to be like for you, if you are able to step inside your friend's house of mourning and open your heart to him or her.


 I never expected to receive a text like this:

 “Linds, terrible news.  The baby was born unexpectedly this morning at home, and he didn't make it.”

He didn't make it...

He didn't make it?


I'll never forget what it felt like to read words that took the breath out of my chest and the sound out of my ears and how I just crumpled to the floor, clutching my phone and praying I was reading it wrong.

I wasn't reading it wrong.  My dear friend had delivered her perfect baby boy, unexpectedly, too soon, at home, and he died.  He died right there in her hands.  His whole little 22 week long life was lived inside his mama's body and outside in his mama's hands.  The beauty and gravity of that has been one of the comforts I have drawn when I think about him.  And I think about him often.

When Nasrene texted me that Reece had been born and died, it's not an overstatement to say that my world was rocked.  I have had other friends lose babies, and while it has been heartbreaking in a way each time I've heard of these losses, none of them came close to hitting me like Nasrene's loss.  Because you see, Nasrene is one of THOSE PEOPLE.  You know the ones... charismatic, inspiring, soulful, generous, successful, spirited, determined, pragmatic, kind, truthful, and most of all, a lover of life.  She has done everything and been everywhere and chased dreams and surmounted obstacles and she lives life, fully. She is one of a kind.  She is not someone who deserves to lose a baby.

But then, who deserves to lose a baby?  No one, of course.  It's just that if you've met Nasrene, you'd likely find yourself saying the same thing.  “What?  NASRENE lost a baby?  Not Nasrene!”  She seems to be a person totally capable of handling anything life could throw her way and at the same time the last person you would expect to have to experience loss and heartbreak because she is so full of life and love that you'd think it would just simply be impossible for them to happen to her.  And that is something I've discovered recently to be one of the cruelest ironies of life: that the people we love the most and find to the be strongest, when they experience loss and heartbreak and become broken, our world gets rocked and we kind of don't know what to do next. 

When Nasrene texted me those heartbreaking words, I tried to dig deep and find the “right” thing to say.  I sat there for a minute or two, and finally texted back something like “Oh no. No no no.  I'm so sorry.”  I bet that helped a lot, right?  Like me being sorry and wanting to deny it happened would be helpful.  I'm so glad she was able to hear that I was trying so hard to say something, anything that would express what I felt, since my words were sorely lacking at the time.  What she wrote back floored me:

“Can I call?”

Gulp.  Of course she could.  Gah, I wanted nothing more than to hear her voice and be reassured that my beautiful strong friend wasn't broken, that she was going to be okay, that this was not the life wrecking event I knew it to be.  So of course I said yes.  And then I ran and locked myself in my room so my kids couldn't bother me while I waited for her to call.  And then I prayed, awkwardly:

“Please God, don't let her call until I finish this prayer.”

And then the phone rang.  Ha, that God, what a kidder.  I've gotten to know Him a lot better since that day.

I answered.  We didn't talk long.  It didn't take long for me to realize I was utterly unable to know what to say, and so we just cried.  We just both cried, sobs for the baby, sobs for the distance between us, sobs for the fact that we both knew this thing that had happened had broken something in Nas that was going to take a long time, maybe forever, to heal.  The last thing I remember saying to her, was an answer to her question, “How am I going to survive this?”  All I could say was “I don't know, but I do know that you will.” 

I've known all along that she would.  But I had no idea what the journey really looks like.


I've been a doula for about 5 years now, and have met many mamas who have lost a baby along the way.  It usually comes up casually when we are talking about how many kids they have, what were their births like, etc.  Baby loss moms are always so gracious with those of us who don't know what we're talking about: “Oh, you lost a baby? I'm sorry to hear that.  I've never had a miscarriage.” “I'm glad to hear that.  It's very difficult.” “I bet.”  Loss and grief and healing and the journey therein are very much misunderstood by those of us who haven't experienced them, something I've painfully come to realize over the last year.  I was utterly unprepared for it when Nasrene lost her baby.  Nasrene and I have been friends for close to 7 years now, and we had really bonded a lot over the course of her pregnancy.  Lots of text conversations about appointments, milestones, symptoms, complications, etc.  The usual “friends who are in the having babies stage of life” stuff.  But because Nasrene is such a special person to me, I really came to love that baby she was carrying because I knew he was going to be something special.  First of all, how could he not be, being Nasrene's child?  But from the start I just knew this kid was going to be a big deal.  He turned out to be a big huge major deal and not at all in the way I expected.  Reece taught me about empathy and grief.

Empathy, when you strip away all the dictionary definitions and anecdotes and get down to the bottom line, is what happens when you feel someone else's feelings as if you were experiencing them yourself.  It's the tight feeling in your chest when someone tells you their bad news.  It's the ache in your belly when you see that someone you love is hurting physically or emotionally.  It's the cold chill you get when someone tells you about their terrifying experience.  It's the experience of being heartbroken over something that didn't even happen to you.  And when it happens to someone that you care for a lot, the empathy response is amplified in a way you might not have been ready for if it's the first time it's happened to you.

I've been sad for people before.  I've cried tears for people before.  I have never, before Reece, been so sad or cried so many tears for someone else that my daughter felt compelled to draw a picture of a purple flower to cheer me up, and hang it above the toilet in my bathroom, because that was where I kept ending up sitting to cry so I wouldn't have to keep explaining to my family why I was crying again.  I have never walked around in such a long lasting emotional fog, or looked at the baby asleep in the crib and felt guilt that my baby lived and someone else's didn't.  Not even the most shocking news stories affected me like this loss.  I was consumed.  I started my period a week early, on the day I got the news that Reece was gone.  Even my uterus couldn't handle the onslaught of emotions I was feeling with the new thing called empathy in my life.

When your friend loses a baby, you struggle to think of anything you can do to help.  You know that anything you do is not enough, because enough would be getting her baby back.  You know you want to help, but you know the help you can offer is so very lacking.  But you do it anyway because that's what we women do, we do something - anything - whether it will really help in the end or not.  So, in your inexperience, you put your game face on and you take her a bottle of wine, and trashy magazines, and chocolate, so she can escape her pain for 5 minutes by staring at glossy pictures of “Sexiest Man Alive: Bradley Cooper” and thumbing past “Who Wore it Better?” comparisons and you try to make small talk and ask if the nurses were nice and who was the doctor and the whole time you are sort of panicking because oh my gah you don't know what to say.  You want to coo over her baby because you want him here, and not gone, but the only thing you can do is choke back the tears when she asks you if you'd like to see the pictures the hospital took, and you say yes because you do, you really really do.  You want your friend to be wearing baggy maternity pants and the hospital mesh panties because she just went through a 41 hour labor and birth, not because she had to be induced to deliver a baby who would never get to celebrate his own birthday.  And you want to say everything, all the right things, and in the end the best thing you can do is just sit and stay and listen and not be scared of her grief.  I am so very grateful that the mama of a precious baby boy named Jeremiah shared him with me.  Jeremiah was born into heaven a few years ago, and his mama taught me the value of just being a friend who is willing to enter the house of mourning.  I wish I could go back to when he was born and be better for his mama, but I didn't know then what I know now, and his mama forgave me for it just like so many other baby loss mamas have forgiven so many other clueless friends. 

Empathy to me now means taking a portion of someone's pain and carrying it around inside your own heart.  Doing this probably doesn't make them hurt any less, but maybe it makes the burden feel a tiny bit lighter to have two people carrying it instead of one?  I don't really know.  I hope so. 

Empathy to me now means thinking before I speak.  This is a major shortcoming of mine.  I never realized before Nasrene's loss how people just say things, words words words without thought thought thought.  What is the saying?  Listen twice as long as you speak?  Something like that? I probably wasn't listening when the person was trying to explain it to me.  How many times have I just let a trite cliché roll off my tongue when someone has opened their heart to me?  Tried to tell me something really important and I respond with something dismissive?  It's been largely unintentional on my part, but entirely regrettable.  Reece's death taught me that words matter.  It matters what you say to a grieving friend.  It matters that you measure your words when they tell you the thoughts and feelings coming from the grief darkened depths of their heart. It matters that you try and say the right thing and also that you realize that you don't always have to have something to say.  Out of the heart the mouth speaks, and empathy is a heart condition.

Empathy is what makes you cry, late at night, when you are laying sleepless in bed and it suddenly occurs to you to count up the number of women you personally know that have lost a child.  And when the number hits the double digits you feel such a wave of grief come over you and you wonder how?  How do they do it?  How do they all get up every morning and tend to kids and jobs and husbands and not just stay in bed and cry?  How do all these walking wounded mothers keep putting one foot in front of the other?  You want to understand it and at the same time you are completely terrified that by letting the thought of a lost child of your own enter your consciousness.  Do those of us who haven't lost a child really mean it when we say we wish we understood what it felt like?  I'm not sure we do.  But empathy makes it possible for you to take that tiny slice of hypothetical heartache and hold it for a minute and pray for the mothers whose babies are not with them anymore.  And your tears dry and you fall asleep and wake up the next morning and are able to bound out of bed like it's any other day.  But empathy tugs on your heart again and reminds you that it's Wednesday and that means there's a mama in Baltimore who is sitting, watching a clock, and waiting for the day to start.  It is not any other day for so many mamas, and you wish there was something to be done or said to turn back the clock so they were able to have just one more day with their baby.

Empathy is what makes you refuse to delete your 1 gigabyte of text messages from your grieving friend, even though your phone is locking up and you can't store more than a handful of pictures, and you can't download the new Taylor Swift song until you clear up some storage space.  You feel like deleting those messages would be a betrayal, like not being able to scroll back to the day it all happened and remember Reece's birthday in details would somehow mean you are letting him go into the past, permanently.  Of course, time is going to march on with or without those text messages, but words mean something and if you can keep finding unused apps to delete, you aren't letting those messages go.  Then the day comes when you carelessly swipe left and you cry because they're gone, but you realize almost immediately that it's not over.  Your friend is still there on the other end, missing her baby.  The text messages won't stop coming in, because grief isn't something with an expiration date.  Empathy reminds you that you are still needed, and makes you almost relieved to get a “today is hard” message from her because you know when she's talking, she's healing.  And you really really want her to be healed because she deserves to not have to live brokenhearted forever.

Empathy has made it possible for me to accept teaching and correction.  I can't even begin to tell you how many times, how many “aha!” moments there have been in the last 10 months when Nasrene has said something and it suddenly clicked for me, bringing to my attention something hurtful I have unknowingly done or said to some other grieving person.  I am so thankful for these hard lessons.  I don't want to be the bull in the china shop.  I don't want to keep thoughtlessly speaking in canned quips and quotes.  I don't want to be too scared to apologize when I do slip up.  I want to develop the courage to say “I'm sorry – that was thoughtless.”  I don't want to be the idiot stranger in the grocery store who asks personal, probing questions under the cloak of manners.  Nor do I want to be the friend who avoids hard topics, afraid of reminding someone of their lost loved one.  How ridiculous is it, really, that we all are so accidentally self centered to think that us saying something would be the only reason they remember their baby died?  That's truly ridiculous when you think of it.  I know now that most people who are grieving a loss would rather you cry with them about the hard stuff than waste breath prattling on about stupid stuff.  Empathy has injected a great deal of perspective into my life, and I'm so grateful.  At the same time I wish so acutely that something much less tragic had been capable of catching my attention years ago.  I wish I could've known.  I wish I could've been prepared. 

Probably the strangest thing about empathy and walking alongside someone in grief is that I battled guilt along the way.  I am not given to a guilty conscience usually, so this was new territory for me.  I felt guilty that my baby lived.  I felt guilty that I didn't understand.  I felt guilty for feeling so sad.  I wondered if I was somehow wrong to be taking someone else's loss so personally, like maybe I was developing Munchhausen syndrome.  I felt guilty for the time I spent crying, like I needed to toughen up and be strong for my friend.  All this guilt demonstrates to me now just how little acquainted I was with empathy.  I feel certain that there is little a grieving person wishes for more than to just feel like someone else understands.  I can't offer a grieving mom the same solidarity as another grieving mom can – the sorority of baby loss Nasrene has written about makes a lot of sense to me now.  I can't say “I understand” and be 100% honest.  But what I can say is that “I can imagine how you feel.”  Because I really can.  I have imagined it, and it's terrifying, and I never want anyone to walk this path alone.

Empathy, if you are “a do-er” like I am, spurs you to action.  You want to DO something.  You want to FIX IT.  It takes you about .03 seconds to realize that a) there is nothing you can do to fix it, and b) that isn't going to stop you from trying to think of ways to make it suck less.  If you are a do-er friend or sibling or coworker of someone who is grieving, I have a secret for you:  the best thing you can do is just show up.  Show up and show love.  You might be nervous, you might be lost on what to say, you might be scared that you will do the wrong thing.  Love covers a multitude of wrongs and your grieving person will not begrudge you some mistakes along the way.  Just show up.  There will be so many people who won't show up.  I don't mean you literally have to show up on their doorstep; consider first whether your person is a private person and needs space.  But show up SOMEHOW, nonetheless, because it doesn't even have to be a physical in person showing up.  Answer the phone.  Respond to the text.  Write an email.  Send a card.  Send a meal.  Make contact with a local friend of your friend and find out how you can help her help your friend (follow?  Hope so, haha.).  Just. Show. Up.  There will be so many people who don't show up.

This has probably read like a stream of consciousness essay and I'm okay with that.  Grief is a messy process and experiencing secondhand grief makes even less sense at first.  I'm also relatively new at the empathy thing and my description here may be sorely lacking.  But in an attempt to summarize I want to say this, to you, Friend Of A Grieving Person:

You cannot possibly overestimate what a show of empathy will mean to your grieving friend.  In fact, at some point in the journey, you will feel embarrassed by how little effort it really took to show them love, and you will wish so acutely that you had not wasted so much time being consumed by your own first world problems in the past.  You will find immense personal satisfaction in the act of empathy, and it will open a window in your heart you didn't know was nailed shut.  Embrace it.  The world and your friend need you and your open heart.  Get past the guilt of lacking grief in your own life and be a person that shows up.


Nasrene, what you have taught me in the last 7 years of friendship is that two people who are polar opposites can be not just friends, but also kindred spirits.  We've crossed a lot of bridges and watched water run under each one of them.  I have had some of the best and most memorable times, cackling with you around campfires in Indiana or under a carport while a Persian grandpa taught me how to eat crabs.  I can think of no one with whom I would rather share a glass of wine or spend a Crocker Springs morning.  I am here for the long haul, girlfriend.  And though I would never ever have wished upon anyone a year like 2014, I am so incredibly awed and thankful for all you have survived.  You and your baby boy have a place in my secondhand broken heart forever, and it is to both of you that I owe a debt of gratitude.  Because on the morning of April 30, 2014 empathy was born in my heart and I was able for the first time to see the world through its filter.  It has changed me.  Thank you for having the courage and patience to let me travel alongside you in this journey.  Asking me to write about it here is a gift I don't deserve and I hope I have managed the words. 

If this were a text message I would end it with a heart and an anchor, for Reece.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

the pendulum swing

It's a weird thing, the pendulum swing.

Like the pendulum of a grandfather clock, my emotions could swing quickly from one side to the other.

Tick tock, tick tock.  Sad happy, sad happy.

Within the first weeks after Reece's birth and death my emotions were all over the place.  Well, they were mostly in the messy heap on the floor, a combination of anything bad and sad you could think of.  It was confusing and sad and scary and just a jumble of feelings and emotions spurred on by postpartum hormones.  One minute I was "okay," the next minute I couldn't stop the tears from falling.

It was as if my emotions had a mind of their own.  I couldn't control them.  I couldn't control my baby from being born early.  I couldn't control him from dying.  I couldn't control anything.

Everything was all over the place, especially my emotions.  But I was mostly sad.  Terribly, woefully sad.

I was lucky that I had so many people around me who loved me and wanted to help me.  They surrounded me.  They came over.  They sent dinner.  They invited me out.  They sent me beautiful things to remember Reece by.  They offered to do anything.  The ones who were out of state checked on me constantly.  They listened to me vent, and cry.  They created beautiful things for me. They did acts of service in Reece's honor.  So much good.  They loved me.  Friends, family, all of them.

I was lucky in that regard and I felt it.

I would feel so lucky and happy and grateful that I had these wonderful people who cared about me and my family in my life, and for a moment I would be flying high....


I remembered.  The reason all of these kind things were happening for me was because something awful happened.  My baby died.  And though all of these kind, loving, wonderful family members and friends want to help me, the only thing that I really truly want---for my baby to be alive again---is something that they cannot give me.  Since they cannot do that, they are trying their best to do everything and anything else.  But the bottom line is they cannot fix this. No one can fix this.

My baby is dead.

And so I come crashing down.  And that immense, profound sadness is sitting there at the bottom waiting for me. The minute I hit the bottom it cloaks me with its shroud of grief.  Breathing becomes difficult because there is pressure in my chest.  The pressure eventually erupts into my head and the tears start.  The tears lead to sobs.  The incredible sadness just washes over.  Surviving becomes the goal.  Functioning becomes an impossible task.

When that cycle was finished?  Rinse and repeat.

This is what my life became.

In May, one month after Reece died, a few of my out-of-state friends came in town, and we all got together, with some of my closest local girlfriends.  A select few of the many who were helping put me back together all gathered, on the same weekend.  It was one of those moments when you look around and see the faces surrounding you and feel so LUCKY to have THIS group of friends, all in the same place at the same time. Friends from different circles were meeting one another and saying, "oh! Nas has told me all about you!" but now they were MEETING in PERSON, and it was just awesome!  They were all there to support me, to rally around me, and to love me.  But in the process they became friends, and it was just a perfect weekend.

I was flying so high after that weekend, I knew a crash was inevitable.  Because that's just how this grief thing works.

The pendulum swings far right, and then swings far left.

I remember saying, "it's almost better when my emotions stay in neutral. Maintain equilibrium. Don't get too happy, don't have too much fun, because grief will make you pay."

It's always there, looming in the background.  Waiting for you to have a day where you have fun and actually feel happy instead of melancholy. And then when it's over, it's waiting for you.  The bear is always there, ready to remind you of your reality.  To mock you because you actually allowed yourself a moment of reprieve.

"You were having fun? Oh good for you. Because I'm hear to remind you that your baby's dead.  How does that feel?"

There comes the wave of emotions. It's as if you almost forgot for a second, and life was back to "normal."  But you can't fool grief.

Stay in the center. Only slight deviations to the left and to the right. Try to limit the emotional motion...not too happy, because then swwwwwiiinnnggg!  Back over to the left you go.

And then you add a little guilt into the mix, just for good measure.

"You were enjoying yourself, weren't you?  So strange, considering your baby is dead. You really shouldn't be having any fun at all now, should you?"

Tick tock, tick tock.  Sad happy, sad happy.

This has been my balancing act since April 30, 2014.  I've become so expert at this that I've come to anticipate it.  When I went away for a fun girls' weekend in Indiana back in October, I knew it would happen.  I enjoyed every moment with my friends. And even when some unexpected dramatics happened in the group and I felt myself getting sucked in and wanting to "fix" things, I thought to myself, "nope, let it go and deal with it later. Have your fun now, because you'll have to pay for it next week."  It's inevitable.  So I kicked back and enjoyed myself, because I knew the pendulum would swing back to the left.  It always does.

I came home and crashed hard, coming off the high of such a good weekend.  I spent two full days just going through the necessary motions, and cried tears I didn't even know I had left.  Had to deal with that pendulum swing.  It's the nature of the beast.

This past weekend I went away to visit my dear friend. Shannon.  She's one of the friends who came to be by my side back in May when I needed it the most.  She's one of the friends who has done everything she could to help put the pieces of me back together.  She's one of the friends who doesn't get sick and tired of me, and my grief process, no matter how many times I break down and need a little extra.

Sadie and I trekked up to Connecticut despite the impending snow storm to get some time in with Shannon.  After a rough two weeks, and a few awkward conversations with friends who don't really know how to handle "babyloss Nasrene," time with Shannon was just what the doctor ordered.

We laughed, we ate, we drank, we did crafts with the kids, we ate, we drank, we got snowed in, we ate, we drank.  All good stuff.  With Shannon I can say stuff  like, "When I was pregnant with Reece..." and she doesn't recoil.  I don't have to watch what I say for fear of making her uncomfortable. I can just TALK about anything.  And I can say Reece's name in conversation, and she'll say it too. Without worrying that she's bringing up something sad, because she knows it means so much more to me that he is remembered, instead of ignored.  It was such a good weekend for ME, that I knew that the pendulum would undoubtedly swing back to the left when I got home.

Inevitably it happened last night.  On the eve of another Wednesday without Reece, I put Sadie to bed and I could feel my chest tightening up.  I could feel it start to come over me again, threatening to make this Wednesday even more difficult that they already are.  "You enjoyed yourself too much this weekend.  You didn't grieve enough, and now I'm going to make you pay," it seemed my subconscious was telling me.

I put myself to bed early to avoid a rocky night, but I woke up not feeling any better.  It seemed like it was just sitting there beneath the surface, this feeling of overwhelming sadness, just waiting for its opportunity to come out and derail me.

I may seem extra cautious on days like this.  I don't engage in casual conversations as freely.  Too worried that something might come up that I'm not prepared for. "How many kids do you have?" is usually one that can be a trigger on a day where I'm feeling particularly fragile.  And on a day like today where there is sadness just sitting under the surface I was particularly on edge.

I got to work today and went about my day and a few hours in, I heard something that I normally don't hear in the office--a baby cry.  And more specifically, the cry of a newborn.

Was I hearing things?

No, there it was again.

I got up from my desk and walked out of my office and around the corner and saw my co-worker and her beautiful baby boy.  The same co-worker who hugged me and cried with me, her pregnant belly sandwiched in between us, on my first day back to work after my own maternity leave.  She is coming back to the office from her maternity leave next month and she stopped in with her baby to say hello to everyone.

As I stood there and saw her holding her tiny son, I knew this moment could make me or break me today.

So I walked up to her and hugged her and smiled.  Kissed her cheek and told her how good it was to see her.  Touched her son's tiny head and told her how beautiful and perfect he was.  Asked her what day she would be back.  Told her that I looked forward to seeing her.  She was starting to get emotional, and she said we'd talk again soon.

I didn't cry.  I didn't lose it.  I kept it together.  I was genuinely happy to see her.  And her baby IS beautiful and perfect.  If there was ever a day for me to lose it, it would've been today, when those emotions are just sitting beneath the surface waiting to bubble over.

But I didn't let that happen. I'm glad I went up to her and hugged her, instead of taking the easy road of running back to hide in my office.

And although the pendulum still swings, and I'm still feeling the repercussions....I feel like today was a tiny victory.


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

not everything happens for a reason

"Everything happens for a reason."

Do you believe it?

Most of us have said this at some point or another.  I know I have, many times.  It's usually said at a time when comfort is needed.  When something not-so-awesome has happened, and we want to encourage someone (or ourselves) that things will get better.

We say it as reminder to stay positive.  We believe it because we are hopeful.

"Everything happens for a reason."

It means, don't worry.  This didn't work out, but that's because something bigger and better is around the corner waiting for you. One day, you'll look back at this and be GLAD it happened.  One day you'll be GRATEFUL.  One day, the mystical "reason" at the end of that sentence will reveal itself and you will be standing there, stunned in your moment of clarity, as it becomes ABUNDANTLY clear...."THIS is why THAT happened!"

There will be an aha moment.

Because surely this hardship has happened to get you where you are destined to go.

"Everything happens for a reason."

We say it when our best friend didn't get into their first choice college.  Or we didn't get the job we really really wanted.  Or when a friend is crying on our shoulder, sad that their relationship just ended.

Don't worry, best friend, you'll get into another school, and you'll probably love it even more.  You may meet a life changing professor and completely change your major and future career path and make tons of money in your newfound career passion! REASON!

Don't worry about that job, just be patient and steadfast and you'll get another offer.  And then six months down the line you'll get a sudden promotion you weren't expecting, and it'll be wonderful! SEE? REASON!

Don't worry about that guy, he was an asshole and didn't appreciate you.  When you least expect it, you'll meet someone even better who will sweep you off your feet and fall head over heels in love with you.  THERE'S THAT REASON!

"Everything happens for a reason."

We believe this SO WHOLE HEARTEDLY, because usually when enough time has passed we find it to be true.  In the best of scenarios, we did get a better outcome in the long run.  Or we can at least convince ourselves that we did.  "The contract fell through on the house I really wanted, but this one that I did buy has turned out to be better than I expected and it's in a great neighborhood, so yeah...maybe I didn't want that dream house in the first place."  Regardless, we receive our emotional validation that we were correct.  In the worst of scenarios, we just forget.  Forget that we used this line as a coping mechanism.  Maybe the predicted reason happens, maybe it doesn't...but the line gave us comfort at a time that we needed it and we've since moved on and have forgotten that we were so upset in the first place.

"Everything happens for a reason."

It was shortly after Reece died, and I was on the phone with the short term disability company.  Yet another time I had to explain this awful story to a complete stranger.  The call was concluding, and I could tell that the woman on the other line was struggling with what to say and how to end our call...and that's when she said it.

"Again, I'm just so sorry about your loss, Ms. Mirjafary, but you know what they say...everything happens for a reason."

Say wha?

I'm not sure how I responded.  I'm pretty sure I didn't.  Or if I did it was an "okay, goodbye." Because in the past this phrase provided me comfort...but this time, it provided me...confusion.  I wasn't offended in the traditional sense, but I was just moreso confused as to how there could be any good reason that could validate my baby dying.  I probably sat there stumped for a good hour trying to think of it.

Maybe it was to say that something must've been wrong with Reece for him to be born prematurely.  (There wasn't, it was just a fluke thing that he was born early) but maybe that's what she was getting at...and if so....REALLY?  It happened for a reason?  What, maybe down the line he was predisposed to be a serial killer?  I'm not really sure how that hypothetical is comforting.

Now let's consider the case was that there WAS something "wrong" with my baby (and I say that very tongue in cheek). Let's presume that maybe he had a genetic disease, or one of the trisomys.  I dare you to ask any parent who's lost their child to a genetic issue like that if they were relieved that their child died.  It's basically saying, "eh, you didn't want that kid anyway...there was something wrong with him." which I say, REALLY?  I've connected with many babyloss parents through this journey, and a number of them had children with genetic disorders. And I assure you not a single one of them is glad or "relieved" that their baby died.

Let's take this a different route. Let's say someone experienced babyloss and then goes on to get pregnant again and have a healthy baby.  One could make the argument that since the parent NOW has a healthy baby (which of course, they love), then they must be GLAD that previous pregnancy didn't work out because if it had, they wouldn't have their current child.

Now I haven't experienced this myself, but I have a dear friend who had a baby around the same time I was due with Reece.  And this baby boy was her "rainbow baby," a baby born after a loss.  And the reality of it is, if either of her previous pregnancies had resulted in a healthy baby, her current baby would not be here. That is a fact.  And the conflicted guilt is something she continues to struggle with.  Her most recent words to me were, "I am having hard time.  I feel so much guilt, as if continuing to grieve for this loss is somehow wishing my healthy son away, since he never would have arrived if either of his siblings had lived.  I don't know what to do with makes me feels like such a bad mom.  Like I don't deserve him."

Would you feel comfortable saying to her, "Everything happens for a reason! Your other children died so you could have this one!"  Would you really believe that?  Would you expect her to?

I can't believe that.

I spent months and months and MONTHS trying to figure out what "reason" I was supposed to glean from this experience.  And the answer is....there is none.

There is no reason.

"NOT everything happens for a reason."

It's easier to understand this when you've undergone a personal tragedy.  Because in our society we rely on this concept that things happen for a reason so much to help us get through difficult times.  But when giant life changing tragedies come our way, it becomes really difficult to see what kind of lessons we're supposed to be learning.  When real hardcore earth shattering situations come along and rock our foundation, it feels cruel to think there is some sort of greater lesson that we are being taught. It feels horrible to think that God would find it necessary to make my child die in order to reveal to me some reason later down the line.

"NOT everything happens for a reason."

There was a local story not too long ago of an enormous home that caught fire in Annapolis and killed all six people inside.  Two grandparents and four grandchildren were all killed when a Christmas tree caught fire.  Would you be able to say that this happened to teach us all about how Christmas trees can spread fire and cause tragedies?  We know that already.  Why would we need a lesson at the expense of six lives?  That is too trivial a lesson to be taught at such a cost. I don't buy it.

There is no reason.

While there may be an explanation as to how or why something happened, that cannot be depicted as some cosmically linked reason.

Sometimes it's simply systematic thing which happened to cause another and then another.  An unfortunate chain of events.  Not necessarily that there is some great lesson that must be learned, or force ourselves to try to find amidst a cloud of grief.

There are tragic and horrible things that occur all over the world.  There are wars going on right this moment. Innocent people who just happened to have been born in war torn areas can wake up one morning and have a bomb dropped on their head.  Are they supposed to generate some deeper meaning from this? Of course not, they can't. They're dead.  Could you walk around their war ravaged town, full of death and desolation and in good conscience say, "well...I guess this happened for a reason?"

"NOT everything happens for a reason."

There are children starving right this moment.  Would you look a starving child and say, "don't worry, everything happens for a day you'll get food to eat and you'll be really grateful for it!"  Of course not.  It's a ridiculous sentiment.

Obviously in these extreme examples it's easy to see evidence of the fact that not everything happens for a reason.  Sometimes people have shitty things happen to them, or they are born into shitty situations, or they have a shitty cross to bear, and it's no doing of their just IS.  Sometimes bad things just happen.  And sometimes really bad things just happen to good people who don't deserve them.  But there is no greater lesson to be learned from that.  It simply IS.

"NOT everything happens for a reason."

It took me a really long time to accept this and get over the concept that there needed to be a reason for my son's death.  I struggled for months to figure out what I was supposed to learn from it and why God would do this to me. It's pretty useless to say things like, "Why did this happen to me, God?" but I will admit that I asked a few times.  I needed to know...what reason was I to take from this?  What lesson was I to learn?  What penance was I being asked to pay by giving up my son?  I struggled and struggled and struggled until I decided I wasn't going to waste my time trying to work through my grief and burden myself with the task of determining the greater lesson I was supposed to be learning.

Because there is none.

"NOT everything happens for a reason."

There is no reason my son died.  It's something that happened.

There is no life long lesson I'm supposed to be taught by bearing this grief.

Sometimes bad things happen to good people.

God is not punishing me.

God still loves me and is walking this journey with me.  I know it because I have this thing called hope.

This is simply a horrible thing that happened.

I can stop searching for a reason.

That is so FREEING.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015


This weekend I hung out with my friends Melissa and Jason and watched the Superbowl with our kids.  I am, admittedly, a rabid football fan, but I really had no vested interest in either team this year, so I really didn't care too much for the outcome.  Like most Americans, I chose to enjoy the halftime shows and the commercials more than the actual game.

(Especially with that ending.  I mean, c'mon.  Who throws on second and goal when you have Marshawn Lynch?  But that's a different discussion.)

I really enjoyed the halftime show, and even some of the commercials.  But I somehow missed the one that had lots of people talking later in the week.  The commercial that was dubbed "the worst commercial of the SuperBowl."

I'm talking about that Nationwide commercial. The one where the kid dies.

I'm not sure how I managed to miss this commercial, or maybe I just missed the actual ending of it, because I do remember seeing parts of it on the TV, but I suppose it happened to air at a moment that I was doing what I normally do with commercials---tuning them out.  So I didn't quite "catch" it in the moment.

But my Facebook newsfeed told me all about it.

"Way to go, Nationwide, way to be the SuperBowl buzzkill."

"Did Nationwide intentionally want to bring everyone down during the Superbowl?  Inappropriate!"

And even better...

"Just what I want to think about while I eat my nachos...dead kids.  Thanks Nationwide!"

I totally get it.  It seems "out of place."  And I've since watched the commercial, purposefully.  I saw it on one of those celebrity news shows that did a piece on the Best and Worst Superbowl commercials of 2015.

It was dubbed the worst.

The main reason why?  Nobody wants to think about grief and loss.

Especially not during the SuperBowl.

In the days since the big game I've seen the topic pop up on lots of babyloss blogs and sites for grieving parents.  Everyone has an opinion.

There are some that say, this is a necessary PSA.  And if you're bothered by it, you are not living in reality.  Well done to Nationwide for speaking up on an issue that is sometimes preventable.

There are others that say, why is this so strange?  For many people grief and loss are a huge part of their day, a reality that can often feel isolating from the rest of the world. Kudos to Nationwide for bringing it to the forefront.

Some others felt it was a painful reminder.  That there are so many people who have dealt with childloss or babyloss, why does it have to be thrown in their face and brought back up when they're merely trying to do something normal like watch the Superbowl, and "move on" in life, learning to live with their grief?  Thanks to Nationwide, for pouring salt in their wound.

And then there is a larger majority, made up mostly it seems, by people who've never experienced childloss or babyloss, who think it was completely inappropriate and poorly placed.  Not the time, not the place, and certainly not what people want to think about when they're watching a football game.

A Superbowl buzzkill.

There's no wrong reaction, I don't think.  But I do find that people react very differently depending on whether or not they've experienced a loss like this.

Surprisingly I don't have much of an opinion.  I'm sure the old me, who never thought that this kind of loss would happen to me, would've been very bothered by it.  I probably would've been one of those people who thought it was poorly placed because it's depressing and sad, and didn't fit into my neat bubble of what's supposed to happen in life.

Especially not during a commercial for the SuperBowl.

But now I watch it and think, "hmm. That's interesting that they chose that angle."

I don't feel particularly affected by it, but I do think that is has it's place.  Is it morbid?  Yes.  But so have been much of my thoughts since April 30th, 2014.  I'm not bothered by that.

Or maybe I'm just desensitized.


I do feel a bit of a kinship, though, to it's new reputation.  That of a buzzkill.

There used to be a time I didn't write about grief and babyloss.  And sometimes I really hate that I write about it.  Mostly I hate that grief has become such an active player in my life that I've had to learn to tackle it.  It would be lovely to block it completely from my mind, throw a smile on my face and just resume my old life.

But that won't work.

Because I had a child, and I think about him and who he would've been every single day.

And I miss him.

Talking and/or writing about it has simply become my vehicle.  And there's the other part of me that feels so much relief to be able to get the words out of my head and written down somewhere.  There's the part of me that feels alive and understood again when I connect with someone who tells me that they have felt the exact same way and can relate.

I love that I found my voice.  I hate that it needs to write about this.

I'm such a Gemini.

In the first few months after Reece died, I couldn't write about my grief, but I could talk about it.  And even when I didn't talk about it, it was all over me.  It was everywhere, it was all around me, and written all over my face.  It hung over my like a black cloud.

In the past few months, as I've actively tried to become more vocal, I've started to feel glimpses of my old self coming back again.  Seems ironic because now I'm actually WRITING about the things that plagued me over the past year, just as I feel like I'm making tiny improvements. I do believe that writing has helped me to work through some of the things that I just let fester inside of me after losing Reece.  Now I can have a few "good days" in a row, instead of  one bearable day sandwiched between a week's worth of awful ones.

But to say that I'm back to normal would be a lie.  Because I'll never be the same girl I was before this happened.

Sometimes when I share my blog I want to give a little disclaimer.  One that says, "Read with caution.  This is heavy stuff.  I've been known to write stuff that makes my friends cry.  I'm not trying to, it's just my way of dealing."


"You really don't have to read this if you don't want to, I just needed to write it out. Sorry to be a downer."

Sorry to be a buzzkill.

It happens in real life or friend is talking about their pregnancy and then I walk in the room.  They either awkwardly stop talking about it and quickly shift topics, or continue to talk about it and try their best to avoid eye contact with me.  I can almost hear their thoughts, "oh please don't let her bring up her dead baby, please please please....I just wanted to talk about the new nursery furniture I picked out."

You guys, I get it.  I'm not dumb.  It's okay.  I wasn't always on this side of the babyloss fence.  I know it's tough to navigate how to "deal" with a bereaved mom.  I know it's awkward to be my friend right now.

It's tough and awkward for me too.

Sometimes I want to say to my grief, "you know, I used to be a really funny person before you came along. I used to be the life of the party, and I had lots of friends who could be sarcastic and silly with me.  They didn't need to handle me gently like they do now, or constantly worry that they might say the wrong thing.  I didn't make people feel uncomfortable.  I didn't always blog about sad and scary things." 

I used to write about shoes (yay!), and camping (ugh), and trips in my city or visiting friends.  Even my crush on Ryan Lochte during the Olympics.  Sometimes I read my old posts and it's like I'm reading them with fresh eyes for the first time.  Damn, I was funny!

But now I write about how going to Target terrified me last year.  About how going to court to fulfill my civic duty filled me with dread.  About how I've made some wonderful friendships in the worst of circumstances.

Sometimes I get really pissed off that this is now my thing to deal with.

I don't want to be known for babyloss.  I don't want to be the one who has to explain how it feels from this side.  I don't want to write things that make people cry.

I don't want to be the buzzkill.

Thanks, Nationwide commercial.  We were just trying to enjoy the Superbowl.

Thanks, Nas.  We were just trying to make small talk.

The reality is, for me, I feel kind of the same way about my effect on people as I do about the commercial's effect on people.

Mostly...I kinda don't care.

Sorry if it ruins your lunch.  Sorry if putting yourself in my shoes for a moment ruined your day.  Sorry if it made you sad for a few minutes.  Sorry, not sorry.

But if for a moment you thought, wow, thank you for sharing that.  Maybe you're thinking, "I have a friend who lost a baby and I don't know how to relate to her."  Now I know what she might be thinking or feeling.  Or maybe you thought, I've felt these feelings before, but I never spoke out about it, because maybe you lost your baby at 13 weeks, 10 weeks, or 8 weeks.  And you didn't feel you had "the right" to grieve (you so do) because people didn't know yet, or you weren't that far along (doesn't matter, loss is loss).  Or maybe you had a loss 30 years ago and buried it deep in your soul and put on that brave face and moved forward in your life...because you didn't want to be a buzzkill to those who around you who love you.  You wanted to get better for them, even if you didn't feel better.

Sometimes life is really effing tough.

You can't always be the life of the SuperBowl party. 

But you can always have hope that one day you will laugh with reckless abandon again.  And it won't be a cover up to make people feel comfortable.  It'll be genuine.  And you'll smile not because you force it, but because it just happens somewhat involuntarily.  I know because I'm getting there.

Slowly, but surely.