The end of this month will mark 4 years since Gabi’s death. It is hard to believe that 4 years have passed since my whole world collapsed around me. Holding her warm body in my arms and seeing the huge knot in the umbilical cord that had taken her life. I just wanted to push the ‘undo’ button and move life back to just long enough to save her life.
All day I had been pushing to see an Endocrinologist to guide us on what to do in the aftermath of Gestational Diabetes. When the doctor finally came that evening he asked my wife Rachel if she thought that she had Super Powers. It didn’t take long to figure out that something had triggered a red flag about Rachel’s mental health. He asked her if she felt like harming herself or committing suicide. She said that she did but she didn’t have the guts to harm herself. At the time, that was good enough for me and as there was no further follow up, I assume it satisfied the Psychologist as well. In the middle of the night a nurse came to give Rachel a shot of Morphine for pain relief. Rachel had previously had an allergic reaction to Morphine. A cousin who had spent the night was alert enough to stop the injection and possibly saved her life. In the two weeks before Rachel’s death, she told me that she had only been pretending to be asleep and was well aware of the mistake.
In the wake of Gabi’s death I took the approach of figuring how to keep my family functioning while struggling with the fact that some of my most basic beliefs had been shaken to the core. There were two books that really spoke to me. The first was called ‘Tear Soup’ which we both agreed is a great book to understanding grief on the most core level.
There was a 2nd book that became my anchor in coping with the putting my world back into perspective. There was one idea that I grasped onto that gave me the hope to keep going on the darkest of days. It said that time would give the loss perspective to the point where things would make sense. The example the author gave was on the birth of another child a few years later. It helped him to break the unrealistic perfection that stillborn babies are remembered by as they never had the chance to experience the difficult challenges of raising a baby.
The day Rachel died, I let go of this belief. The idea that ‘Everything will be OK’ has been re-examined on so many different levels that I now know that it is an important concept not to be taken literally. My son is now 2 months old. I have made another discovery. While the pregnancy had me flashing back to parallels with the pregnancy with Gabi, his life is different. When he does bring back memories of my other children it is almost never memories of Gabi. They are almost always memories of his is older sister who loves him to bits. My little boy doesn’t bring back the painful memories of a sister he will never meet.
In Jewish tradition there are different stages of mourning aside from the more well-known stage of Shiva which occurs for the 7 days following the funeral. There is the period that starts from death until the funeral. During this time some obligations are not only suspended but are forbidden. Prayer is the most obvious application of this restriction. The official reason is that it is because we don’t want any distractions as preparations are made to have the funeral as soon as possible. Another explanation is that it is a time when you really don’t want to be talking to God. It gives the mourner the space to deal with the initial pain of the loss.
Another is the period after Shiva. This time period there are restrictions on participating in public celebrations and other joyous activities like listening to live music. Losing a sibling, spouse or child this period of mourning lasts for 30 days from the funeral. For the loss of a parent the period lasts 12 months. One obvious question is why the difference for a parent and a child. An answer that makes the most sense to me is that losing a parent is the natural order of life. As such the child may move on a little bit too quickly. The extended mourning period forces the child to face the grieving process for the loss of their parent. The loss of a child is so unnatural that a parent does not need to be obligated in mourning rituals. The mourning period will extend outside the 30 days and the parent can determine when they are ready to face the next stage of life; going on living with the loss.
Part of the process of rebuilding my life has been to focus on the here and now as well as accepting that the past is not the future. I am happy and on a path to continue to build that happiness. For closing in on almost two years, I have used this column to examine the loss of Gabi and life in the aftermath of her loss leading to the death of Gabi’s mother. This opportunity to share my feelings has gone a long way in helping me to heal. I hope that it has also helped others especially Fathers who may not feel they have anywhere to turn when facing the loss of a child.
Gabi’s memory has found a safe place to rest in my heart. I find that taking those memories out of that safe space forces me to relive the pain all over again. I am at a point in my grief where it is time to focus on the future and stop reliving the painful past. This will be my last article with Still Standing.
I would like to thank my friend Netanya for introducing me to Still Standing by letting me know about the search for Father’s Day articles. I would like to thank Franchesca for bringing me on board even when I thought I didn’t have much to offer. I also want to thank Lori who has done an amazing job since taking over the reins of Still Standing. On many occasions, she has helped me as I struggled through an article because the emotions were simply too strong. I also like to thank you for taking the time to read my articles. I hope that I have been able to help other fathers through difficult time. I also hope that it will encourage Fathers who have the misfortune of being part of the baby loss community to seek out the help they need.