(First let me apologize for the length of this post. Once I got typing, I just couldn't stop. Thanks for being a brave soul and sticking with it if you get to the end!)
I'm at it again. Reading that is. In the weeks and months after Shyla went to Heaven, I read every book I could get my hands on about infant loss and grief. I needed to know I wasn't alone and the feelings I was having were normal.
This time, I'm at it to help make informed decisions. As I mentioned before, we are working with the funeral home to start a lending library of books to help those who are grieving the loss of some one they love. We are donating books primarily related to the loss of a child, but I already have a few books on loss in general I hadn't yet read, so I started reading.
Last night after Ethan got tucked in, I started reading Good Grief by Granger E. Westberg.
In this book, the author primarily discusses the "stages" of grief and examples of many types of loss, not just loss through death.
The first stage is, of course, shock. Westbert says, "...when the sorrow is overwhelming, we are sometimes temporarily anesthetized in response to tragic experience." I can say that I don't think I felt the shock as much with Shyla as I did with Jakin. Which I think is odd. Shyla's death came as a total shock. We thought she was healthy and happy. I did get the feeling something might be wrong, or otherwise we would not have went to labor and delivery that night. But with Jakin, we had seen his tiny heart beating much, much too quickly during ultrasounds and we knew that his heart could not keep beating like that forever. But, still, when the cardiologist and the ultrasound tech noticed something was wrong, I did not cry. I squeezed Ben's hand and just kept asking questions about what was next. On the way to the OB, I did not cry. I prayed and I told God what Lazarus' sisters told Jesus and what Angie Smith so poignantly prayed for her daughter, "Lord, the one you love is sick" and repeated over and over a scripture that had been given to me, "Life and not death will be my part and I will share the story of the Lord." But when we arrived and the doctor scanned my tummy for any signs of life, none were found. I still did not cry. I asked him what choices I had and asked him if we could go home. A few tears ran down my cheeks, but nothing like the sobbing that took place when we saw that still black and white screen almost 15 months ago. I really didn't let loose and cry until the day before Jakin's funeral. My milk had came in and I no longer could walk around pretending my physical pain was from anything else. I had to face it...and it hit me hard.
Stage two is when we express emotion. I guess I really hit this on Saturday, the day before Jakin's service. The difference with Shyla is that emotion was bubbling out of me from the first moment we knew she was in Heaven. I didn' hold back anything. And I pretty much haven't held back anything since that moment, until we were told we would do it all over again. Say goodbye to our sweet baby. My husband has shown his emotion more freely with Jakin's loss. Maybe that is why I have not shown mine like I have in the past. I'm not sure. About showing emotion and men, Westberg says, "The Scriptures clearly show that when great calamities came to the hardy men of faith they wept bitterly; their 'tears were with them all the night long'." Westberg is quick also do describe the difference between showing emotion and emotionalism. One point I was glad he made was to point out how a great fault of intellectual Protestantism has tended to stifle emotion. The church has went so far out of its way to not be led by emotions (emotionalism) that most Sunday morning services resemble more of a lecture series than worship service. God has blessed us and He is worthy of praise! Not merely showing up, shaking hands and going home. Real, living, thankful beyond words, praise!
Stage three of grief is when we may feel depressed and lonely. Been there. Done that. Even those who are close to us don't really know the full extent of our loss. Actually, our own minds have yet to wrap around it I think. It is not just that we lost a pregnancy. We lost a child...two children. Our children. Children that we had planned spending the rest of our lives enjoying. The hopes of seeing their children as well. Our futures as we saw them here on this earth forever changed, not once, but twice. Westberg points out that the loneliness and depression can be helped by "the constant, consistent, concern who really care about them " who mourn.
The fourth stage is that our grief may create phychosomatic symptoms. We can grieve so hard our body may ache and we may feel physical pain. I do think grief also can make the physical pain (from childbirth) more excruciating and thus the recovery process longer.
Stage five is when we may become panicky. When we get to the point that we can no longer focus on other things, we are forgetful and easily frustrated that our minds do not seem to function like they should or used to be able to. I know after Shyla died, it was probably at least 4-6 months before my mind really started focusing again. When we got pregnant with Jakin, I noticed a slight relapse, but I just figured it was "pregnancy brain". Now I see that my grief from Shyla may have been causing these symptoms. Now I can see the effects of this again already. But, this time I'm prepared and wont think I'm going crazy. I've been here before. Westberg points out, "When we have been briefed about some of the tricks grief plays on our minds, then we are not overwhelmed by the disturbing thoughts that seek to take over." I will not wonder if I am going absolutely crazy when I loose my keys for the third time in a week or when I can't find a random object and then it appears in the fridge. It's normal...for me anyway...
The sixth stage is when we feel a sense of guilt about the loss. Now would be a good time to point out just because he has these listed in stages does not mean they are cyclical. They do not always move in a set time line. Guilt, for me (and most loss mama's I talk to) starts very early in the grief experience. When the life inside you is depending on you to keep it alive and something happens. It is natural to start wondering what you did wrong...what you could have done differently and in most cases the answer is NOTHING. Most mama's do everything in their power to keep their little ones safe. But that doesn't mean those thoughts don't cloud your mind. I know they did (and do) mine sometimes.
Stage seven is when we become filled with anger and resentment. "When we have something precious taken from us we inevitably go through a stage when we are very critical of everything and everyone related to the loss" I found this stage (thankfully) not to be as large an issue for me. I know my doctors did everything they could. This more goes back to the guilt issue for me. I feel like I should have insisted on this or that being checked. I did harbor some resentment to "the system". Whoever decided that women should not be checked for clotting disorders BEFORE a woman becomes pregnant or at the beginning of pregnancy was crazy! I hope to someday advocate for these tests to be mandatory...as one mama put it, "Stop testing me for STD's and test me for something I might really have!" Anyway...about not being resentful... :)
Stage eight is when we resist returning to life as we knew it. We feel as if "we must not allow things to go back to normal again." For us, we know "normal" is objective. We will never be the same. The author warns that while we must attempt it, when we try to get back to life as normal, we may find it to be very painful. I know I did. Going back to work was a decision I agonized with....and I will probably agonize again. It's not that I don't like my job, I do. I work in a great school with great kids and staff. But going back to that same office and the same people and walking the same halls was very difficult. Very. And now, I have to do it again. As Westberg discusses this stage, he discusses how differently people used to mourn. Black arm bands or veils used to be worn as a sign of mourning. People could take much time off work and people spoke of loss and death. He says that it "is part of the task of friends to help keep the memory of loved ones alive, to show concern for one another and particularly when someone has suffered a great loss". So, friends, thank you for doing just that. For reading this blog, for writing Shyla's name and praying for Jakin. You all mean so much to me and my family.
Stage nine is when hope gradually starts coming through. Hope, for me, usually begins immediately, but in small doses. As time passes, and God works on my heart, hope is more evident. Spread hope. Be kinder than necessary, you never know the path another person is on. YOU could be the hope they need on any given day!
The tenth and final stage is when we struggle to affirm reality. When we face the reality of our loss and begin to live life again we realize we have either come out stronger or weaker. My prayer for each of you is that you come out stronger. That you are now equipped to help others through these stages and be the hope others need to see. I pray that we do that as well.
Overall, this book was good. I would recommend it for anyone who knows someone who is going through loss, not just to the person in the depths of the loss experience. We know the stages...we live them...but our family, friends or co-workers may be curious about grief and this book is a good one to cover the basics.