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…
Finding Hope After Stillbirth
I didn’t notice the dragonflies at first. I was so overwhelmed by grief after my daughter’s stillbirth, it was tough to see much beyond what I needed to do next to get through the day. My daughter, Zoë, was stillborn at 40 weeks and 3 days in July 2011. Her birth was traumatic emotionally and physically due to several unexpected interventions and finding out in labor that her heart had stopped. For the first few weeks afterward, I wasn’t well enough for outings or a lot of physical exertion. Grief after loss is exhausting, and my body was recovering, too. Bringing a cup of tea into my front yard, and sitting in the sun for a few hours was my most exciting recreational activity. Finding hope after stillbirth seemed impossible.
Sometimes I would try to read, talk on the phone, or write. Most of the time, though, I found myself in the strange, surreal state of mind that seems to characterize early grief. I would cry for a while. Then I would just sit and breathe, my mind totally blank, while I watched birds or bunnies playing in the yard. Rays of sun through the trees transfixed me. So did the movement of clouds, and the waves of emotion that I rode like a surfboard.
Grief Cleared Away Everything but the Present
I have practiced yoga and meditation for many years, and so many times I had struggled to sit for ten minutes straight without my monkey mind running through my to-do list or planning my future. Grief had wiped all of that away like chalk dust. I didn’t want to think about the past, and I couldn’t bear to think about the future. All I could manage was the present, so that’s what I did. I was present. I had suddenly become a champion meditator, but I wasn’t too keen on the circumstances of my accelerated achievement.
But back to the dragonflies.
I noticed that when I went outside, dragonflies were always flitting about. In various shades of blue and green iridescence, they danced through acrobatic flights of curves and ellipses, figure eights and swan dives. I had never realized how beautiful they were before. In fact, I had never really noticed them at all. But it wasn’t just their flight that caught my attention. They kept buzzing around my head and landing next to me. Sometimes they would hang out for a few minutes, tilting their gorgeous wings ever so slightly, and then take flight again. Other times they just circled me and flew off. This was odd behavior, in that I had never before been a dragonfly magnet. Now, apparently, I was a landing beacon for them.
One afternoon, as I sat through a really difficult phone call related to the loss of my daughter, a beautiful dragonfly landed just in front of me. It didn’t move for the entire length of that 45-minute phone call. As soon as I hung up and breathed a sigh of relief, off it flew.
Was My Daughter Sending Me Dragonflies?
At first, I took a skeptic’s view of all this. Maybe I just noticed more dragonflies because I was spending more time outside, I thought. Or maybe there were more dragonflies that year for some confluence of ecological reasons. Still, it happened so consistently every time I stepped out my front door, that I began to think maybe this was some kind of “sign.” Maybe there was a “reason” dragonflies were showing up, performing fancy aerial tricks to get my attention, and perching in plain sight for extended periods. This seemed to happen at particularly emotional and challenging moments for me. Of course, I couldn’t know for sure, but I decided to look up dragonfly symbolism, anyway.
“Insight into the mysteries of life and death,” one website read. Check.
“Change,” another said. That could have been the understatement of the year.
“Transformation, particularly in the perspective of self-realization. An understanding of the deeper meaning of life.” Yes, I can see how that could apply here.
I met my friend, Molly, for lunch one day, and told her about my dragonfly encounters. As we talked, I hinted that I was thinking of starting a donation project in memory of Zoë. I wanted to help other moms find hope after the loss of a child or pregnancy. Just as I finished telling her this, a huge dragonfly flew in the open door of the cafe. It headed straight towards us. We gasped as it flew around my head three times before landing on the window next to me, where it stayed for the rest of our lunch.
“If you were looking for a sign,” she said, “I think you just got it!”
Finding Hope After Stillbirth and Neonatal Loss
Finding hope after stillbirth or other loss can be challenging. Many parents I’ve met on this grief journey find signs or symbolism related to their baby comforting. Butterflies, dragonflies, birds, feathers, a special song…these signs seem to find us rather than us finding them. Seeing a special sign can help us feel connected to our babies or children, and remind us that they are still with us. They help us in finding hope after stillbirth or other neonatal loss.
When I see a dragonfly now, I smile and feel a wave of love for my sweet daughter. I feel closer to her, and even a little nudge of encouragement that I’m going in the right direction. I naturally have a skeptic’s mind. If you ask me, I won’t claim to know what it means, or why it happens, but I will tell you that dragonflies still find me everywhere I go.
What signs or synchronicities remind you of your baby or child? How have these helped you find comfort or healing?
Photo by Søren Astrup Jørgensen on Unsplash