This is the third part of the weekly "What I’d Like For You To Know" series (background on the series can be found here). Today’s contributor is Molly Piper–you can read her delightful blog here. Molly has written tenderly and clearly about her loss (for example, this post), and I’ve learned much from her these last few months. I asked her to tell you her story, and to help us all understand better how to reach out to a friend who is enduring grief.
A year ago I was seven months pregnant with our second child. We found out at our 18-week ultrasound, much to my delight, that this one was a girl. As the last months of pregnancy ambled on, we got more and more excited. We had done the boy thing already; we were ready for a daughter.
Everything was normal as the end of pregnancy drew near. There were no signs of a problem when I visited the doctor that final week. However, at 39 weeks and 4 days, I couldn’t shake the feeling, “I haven’t been feeling this baby move as much.”
We went to the hospital, not really alarmed, but concerned. When they couldn’t find her heartbeat, mine beat fast enough and furiously enough for both of us, as though it were trying to live for her. Ultrasounds confirmed that our child had died.
We delivered her that day—September 22, 2007—Felicity Margaret Piper. She weighed 9 pounds, 5 ounces and was perfectly formed, though her umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck.
I had no category for “stillbirth” before this. Who gets 39 weeks into a smooth pregnancy and doesn’t think they’re definitely going to bring home their baby?
The road we’ve walked the past 10 months has been horribly difficult, the hardest thing we’ve ever walked through in our lives.
Here are some things I’d like people to know about me during this time. Maybe it will be helpful for you as you love other women you know who are living through the loss of a child.
Grieving is horribly tiring. It taxes the body, mind, and soul in unimaginable ways. And I’m not talking about the initial recovery of delivery. (Of course that’s exhausting.) I’m talking about months and months of exhaustion.
There were times when sleep evaded me at night, because of stress, shock, grief, etc. So waking up in the mornings was very difficult. And then to have the motivation to get through the daily tasks of life… yeah, that didn’t happen.
I’m a Scatterbrain.
Most of the people who I know who have walked through tragedy talk about the effect grieving has on their ability to organize, sequence tasks, and just plain remember simple things they never used to have to think about.
At this point, after 10 months, I feel like I’m slowly climbing out of this pit. Now I can actually plan a meal, or invite friends over for dinner, or keep the appointments and commitments I make (although when it comes down to it, I tend to wish I hadn’t made them in the first place.)
This has been hard for me, since I tend to be the organized one in our little family. Well, not so much over the last year. There were many nights early on when I would stare into a full refrigerator for awhile and then decide that there was no food in the house—we’d have to get a pizza.
I Want to Talk About Her.
I’m almost always willing to talk about Felicity. Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only one. Often I deal with internal questions like, “If I bring up Felicity right now, is that going to make this whole conversation awkward?”
Most people won’t bring up a dead child. In his book Stillborn, John DeFrain calls this the “conspiracy of silence.” Sometimes people are uncomfortable doing so; sometimes they can’t think of what to say; sometimes they don’t want to make the grieving parent cry, etc. So they just don’t say anything.
This has been painful for me since we lost Felicity—when people just don’t talk about her, especially in situations where it would be pretty natural to. The friends who have initiated toward me on the 22nd of the month, or brought over a random meal or flowers, or the ones who have asked to see her pictures have been so comforting to me.
I Can’t Grieve on Command.
I’ve had moments since losing Felicity where I haven’t wanted to grieve. In those moments I just want to be a wife to Abraham, or a mother to Orison, or a friend to my friends.
In those moments if someone approaches me and asks how I’m doing, I’m going to say something like, “Fine,” or maybe even “Good!” I don’t want to open up and spill my guts just then.
When people ask the question, “How are you doing?” and I suspect they’re asking into my grief, it can put me in a strange position. It can actually put pressure on me to grieve…right now! This is not the person’s intent in asking, but it is sometimes the unintended result.
Then again I don’t want people to never inquire about how I’m doing after losing my daughter. Sorry this isn’t simple.
Please Ask Specific Questions.
Knowing that friends are thinking of my particular situation and storing up real questions to ask when they see me—questions other than “How are you doing?”—has been incredibly helpful.
I have some wonderful friends who keep our milestones in mind and ask questions relating to those. For example, “Wow, it’s been nine months—does it feel different than other 22nd’s, knowing that now she’s been out as long as she was in?”
Those conversations go places. We really get somewhere emotionally. I feel cared for and understood; they feel let in on this part of my life. It’s a beautiful symbiosis.
Please Avoid the Flippant Comfort of Hallmark Answers.
It’s a wonderful thing to tell someone that you are praying for them or to share a verse from the Bible, but sometimes those words can feel very hollow if you haven’t entered the grieving person’s particular pain. Empathy is the key.
Though I believe with all my heart in the sovereignty of a loving God, having someone come up to me in my sorrow and simply say, “God is sovereign,” or “God is good,” and then walk away is just not comforting. Comfort that is too packaged and composed feels like reading a Hallmark card.
Remember That There’s No Timetable.
Anyone who took a psychology class in college learned about the “stages of grief.” I tend to believe in the stages themselves, but I don’t believe there is anything linear about going through them. I find that one day I’m angry, the next I’m accepting, the next I’m depressed, and so on.
My doctor said to me, “This is one of the hardest things that anyone ever deals with in their life, Molly.” That was so validating for me, and let me off the hook when I wasn’t feeling “better” at month #3 or #6 or now. I’ve become convinced that this is a very long road, not one that can be walked in days or months, but years.
Loving and losing Felicity has forever changed me. I trust it is for the good, because I believe in Romans 8:28, but it rarely feels good.
I feel like a walking contradiction most of the time, confused, unknown even to myself. Friendships and situations that once felt normal feel different, because I am different.
And if I don’t get me, how will my friends? It must be frustratingly difficult to understand me or my grief from the outside. Nevertheless, my friends continue to uphold me, and I’m sure you do the same for your grieving friends, too.
Thank you. It’s hard, but I can tell you from this side of sadness that it’s worth it.