Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Ten Years After Loss...

“I had my own idea of grief.  I thought it was the sad time that followed the death of someone you love and you had to push through it to get to the other side. I am learning that there is no other side.  There is no pushing through anything, but rather, an absorption.  Adjustment and acceptance. Grief is not something you complete, but rather endure. Grief is not a task to finish and move on, but an element of yourself, an alteration of your being, a new way of seeing and a new definition of self.”

~ Gwen Flowers, Wings of Hope Living Forward

Ten years ago, I was 30 years old and carrying my second child.  I arrived at an ultrasound appointment, fully expecting to hear that our child was healthy and hoping to learn whether we were expecting a boy or a girl.  Instead, I was informed by my doctor that after 21 weeks of pregnancy, the baby had passed away.

On the morning of April 20, 2004, my husband and I arrived at the birthing center of our local hospital. I was admitted and induced into labor. That evening, with Morgan at my side, I delivered our child - a son we named Eric Jacob. I struggle to describe that day with any one word. Those who came to offer solace had difficulty hiding their fear and concern for me. The day was agonizing and sad, but it was also precious. I can't bring myself to call it the worst day of my life, although I doubt anyone would slight me if I chose to say that it was.

The unexpected loss of our son is likely the deepest grief we will ever endure.  It would have been tempting to surrender to it, but we were already parents to a 7-year-old son.  Before we returned home, I spoke with my husband.  Together, we decided we would find a way to move forward with life. We didn't want our son to shoulder the burden of our loss.  In the days and weeks that followed, we did our best to return to a normal routine.

It wasn't easy.

My physical recovery was hampered by emergency surgery, followed by a bout of pneumonia. Emotionally, I struggled with depression. Many nights, I had trouble sleeping. Outside of work, I found socializing more of a chore than a pleasure. The people in my life offered sympathy and kindness, but it was clear that they were navigating unfamiliar waters. While I was struggling to accept my grief, they were struggling with how to treat me.  At times it was obvious that people didn't always know what to say or what to joke about or what to do when I was around. And I found it mentally exhausting to maintain a brave face.

A few months later, on a Friday afternoon in August, I was working in my office and realized I needed a file from a cabinet behind my desk.  Without thinking, I spun in my office chair and rose from my seat to approach the cabinet.  Almost immediately, I became lightheaded and the room began to spin out of control. I froze in my stance and rode out the incident, hoping I wasn't about to hit the floor. When I recovered from the dizzy spell, I quickly understood what it meant. I was pregnant once again, and whether I was ready or not, life was moving forward.

The following April, just days before the first anniversary of Eric's loss and after a pregnancy free from complication, we returned to the hospital. After twelve hours of labor, our daughter was born. She was in perfect health and she completed our family.  Some believed this signaled the end of our grieving process, and I wish I could tell you they were right.  But nothing is ever quite that simple. However, our daughter's birth was the most important and tangible milestone in our recovery.

It has now been 10 years since our son's loss and the anniversary falls on Easter Sunday.  I've been thinking about this weekend for some time and mulling over the significance of observing this milestone on this particular holiday. I've reflected on where I once was, what I've been through since that day, and where I find myself now.

Today, I am 40 years old and a full decade beyond that moment of tremendous loss. I'll be honest ... thinking about Eric can still bring tears to my eyes within seconds. The sadness over his death has been absorbed as best as I think can ever be expected. I have fully accepted that it will always hurt me to think about our son. Regardless of this, my life is a good one.  And if there's anything I want you to take away from this post, it is this - I believe that many of my happiest days have occurred in the past 10 years.

Overall, we are content. Our son is now in high school, our daughter just celebrated her 9th birthday, and our marriage has thrived.  When Morgan and I committed to moving our family beyond our grief, we also discovered a deeper connection to one another. In the past 10 years, our bond as husband and wife has only grown stronger. Despite the shock and pain of what we went through, we fell even deeper into love. Several years ago, we discovered a mutual passion for writing and through this we have found great fulfillment and happiness. We discovered an incredible online community, developed strong friendships with people from all around the world, wrote and shared some fun stories, and together we will publish our first novel this summer.

What is important to us now is to assist others who are enduring their own loss and grief.  Locally, we became donors for our local hospital, primarily allocating our gifts for the benefit of women and children in our community.  Online, we have become dedicated supporters of Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, a charity based in Colorado.  The mission of the organization is "to introduce remembrance photography to parents suffering the loss of a baby with a free gift of professional portraiture."

When we lost Eric, this was not a service available to us. Knowing how fleeting those moments with him were, we understand how important it can be to a grieving family to receive this opportunity.  Our experience also taught us that people often feel compelled to help a family after the loss of a baby, but they don't always know what can make a difference.

If you have ever wondered how to help a family, Morgan and I strongly encourage you to become involved with this organization.  You can donate, or you can help bring their services to your local area by raising awareness in the community or by connecting a photographer and your local hospital to the charity.

We encourage you to look more into NILMDTS, by visiting any of their sites:

Website: www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nilmdts?fref=ts
Twitter: @nilmdtsHQ

“Time is ungovernable, but grief presents us with a choice: what do we do with the savage energies of bereavement? What do we do with the memory – or in the memory – of the beloved?  Some commemorate love with statuary, but behavior, too, is a memorial, as is a well-lived life. In death, there is always the promise of hope.  The key is opening, rather than numbing, ourselves to pain. Above all, we must show our children how to celebrate existence in all its beauty, and how to get up after life has knocked us down, time and again. Half-dead, we stand. And together, we salute love. Because in the end, that’s all that matters. How hard we loved, and how hard we tried.”

~ Antonella Gambotto-Burke, sayinggoodbye.org

Take Care,


Anonymous said...

Jenn, my heart aches for what you and Morgan went through, but yours is a message of hope and the continuation of life. I love that you both have grown even stronger as a couple and found a talent that you share and can work together. I look forward to reading your book in the summer. Thank you for this message of hope!

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