Watching a friend experience the loss of their baby and the grief that remains can feel so helpless. Unfortunately, there isn’t a “one-size fits all” approach to support a grieving friend through loss, but there are many ways to be supportive. When my daughter died at 33-days-old, it was the first loss of this type…
There have been two recent baby deaths that emotionally pulled on my heart with my experience with Gabi’s stillbirth. The first was the story of a Little Heart Warrior born with half a heart (HLHS). She had been born a week earlier and was having heart surgery. I didn’t know her or her parents. A friend of mine has taken on a leadership role in the HLHS community. Another friend also knew the parents. Earlier in the day there had been calls for prayers as the little girl was going in for heart surgery. I went to bed with the knowledge that she had been bleeding but they hoped the surgery had gone well.
When I woke up in the morning, I found out that the little girl had died. I felt empathy for the baby and what her family was going through. I felt some degree of helplessness knowing that I am in the baby loss community but not in a position to help. I only know what it is like to handle a stillbirth. I didn’t know the family. Within the HLHS community, I am sure the family can find the initial support they need as they struggle with such a tragic loss. Within a few hours, my life was back to normal even though I was well aware of the family’s loss.
A couple of days later a terrorist attack killed a little girl. This time it was a 3 month old baby in Jerusalem. A car drove through the light rail train stop as her family was waiting to go home after a family outing. Once again I felt empathy for the family realizing there was nothing that I could do to relieve the burden of their pain. I consciously avoided the trap of bombarding myself with information overload, while still following the story. It can be unhealthy for most people, but for me the pain can strike too close to home sending me into an emotional tailspin. I do admit that I watched the 15 second CCTV video of the attack while it was still unclear if it was somebody losing control of their car or an intentional intent to injure.
In Israel caskets are reserved for State Funerals and soldiers. Pictures of the dead little girl wrapped in a white shroud and her identification marker were being posted in a number of Facebook groups. My wife took issue with people posting pictures of a dead baby in some of these groups. Posting such pictures simply crossed the lines of basic human decency.
Based on responses, it appeared that the majority of people agreed that the pictures did not belong in the groups. In some of the groups the moderators took action to have them removed. There were a number of justifications for posting the pictures. Some of the arguments were: the need to shock people, we live in a world that pictures like that make the news or that somehow there was some greater good by created awareness of what happened to this little girl.
At different stages of our lives, major life changes bring new people into our lives and leave others behind. These include changing/graduating school, moving to a new neighbourhood/city/country, a new job, marriage, kids. When it comes to a tragedy, you just wake up one day and the entire core of your world has instantly changed. The type of arguments for posting the dead baby pictures represent some of the people who are likely to disappear or should disappear.
There are people who want to make the loss all about them. They may tell you how hard your loss is on them. They may try to justify the loss by telling you how it fits into their view of the world. They may be there simply to rubber neck the same way people do after a car accident. They may not be able to either feel or express sympathy for the pain you are going through.
When Gabi died due to a cord accident, all of my relationships switched into a role where I could only think about how to support my wife Rachel. She had fallen into a major depression that ran our lives until she died. People who focused on themselves, instead of my needs ended up falling away. People who knew what we were going through stepped up and filled in the void. At least they filled in the void for Rachel. I was so busy focusing on battling day by day that I didn’t even notice how lonely the world around me was.
When Rachel died, I was left to face life alone. As time passed, I had to switch out of the focusing on what I had lost and what I had to live for. It was at that point, I realized how alone I felt in the world.
We are now approaching 4 years since Gabi’s death. We are also closing in on 2 years since Rachel’s death. I am remarried and rebuilding my life. Some of those friendships have been repaired. Some of those relationships are not worth repairing. What is most amazing is the fresh start and new friendships that I have been able to start.
When Gabi died, I felt all alone trying to stop my family from crumbling. When Rachel died, I was all alone losing a 14.5 year marriage that began when I was 20 years old. In the baby loss community, I sometimes feel all alone, as it is rightfully mostly focused on helping out the mother’s through their grief.
Even though I felt alone, I never really was. There were people always there for me, if I was willing to ask for help. When you feel lonely, it is hard to ask for help. Through rebuilding, I have learned that I never need to be alone again.