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…
The first year was full of expected and unexpected moments of grief. The tsunami waves would knock us over but somehow we would get up again. Grief is sneaky, it cannot be fully predicted. We knew that Christmas was going to be hard. Even though it was still months away we were already dreading it. We expected Thanksgiving to be difficult because, really, although there was still much to be thankful for, it was hard to be thankful for anything at all when our son had been stillborn 8 months before. What caught us off guard was Halloween. Never did we realize that a silly day full of costumes and candy would be a day that would send us into hiding.
A year before we dressed up as two silly, giddy hippie’s and sat on our driveway with our long wigs on laughing about how the next year we would be the ones with a little one in a costume. We were not going to find out the gender so we had all kinds of possibilities for costumes for the baby. No matter what, we had no doubt that our baby would be the cutest ever. We had no idea what would happen. I look back now and wish that we could somehow embrace that silly carefree, naïve spirit again.
Fast forward a year and as our friends were planning costumes and Halloween party invitations were being received we did not have the energy to do anything. In fact, the more the candy appeared and the more the costumes were talked about both of us began to dread Halloween knowing what it should have been and now what it was not going to be. The closer Halloween creeped in the more we felt as if we could not face the little kids at the front door. We knew that we would not always be that way, but we also knew our limits of what we could handle. The thought of hiding at home in the dark did not seem right. My husband was having oral surgery early on the morning of November 1 an hour away from our home. So, we decided that instead of having a miserable night at home, we would just go to a hotel near where he would have surgery.
I made a reservation. Halloween came. We went by the cemetery and took a pumpkin balloon and I wrote a note on a pumpkin and left it at his spot. It was a Pinterest home décor idea I had found, who knew I would convert it to a decoration at my son’s grave… We started the drive to the hotel and realized we needed to eat dinner. We chose a restaurant and decided just in case there would be kids in costumes eating there maybe we should eat in the bar area just to avoid them. We did just that and had a decent meal and a good conversation. Men and women grieve so differently. About this time I was coming up and out of the fog and darkness but my husband was going down. It was nice to be able to sit and talk and even laugh together. It was not easy but we were finding our way.
Dinner was finished. We paid the check. It had been a successful avoidance of trick or treating. Or, so we thought. Right as we reached the walkway to the door of the restaurant a couple and their little boy dressed in a precious costume stepped in front of us. The employees grabbed their candy baskets and began showering the child with enough candy for the next 18 years of his life. We were trapped and we could not get out the door. I’ll never forget my husband grabbing my hand. He squeezed hard as the tears started to flow down my cheeks. We made it out the door with our heads down and sprinted for the car. We got in and to my surprise both of us sobbed uncontrollably for the next 10 minutes. Once the tears stopped we drove to the hotel. Checked in. Turned mindless TV on. I wrote Max a letter on the computer. And then we fell asleep, relived that the day was over.
It was a horrid Halloween full of grief and sadness, dreams that did not turn out as planned and a messy life that we were just trying to get through. But, it was also more than that. I remember that night as a point in which we realized we were on this journey together. We may not grieve the same. We may not express ourselves the same. We may not understand each other completely. But we were in it together. And, in the midst of the fact that we were hiding out we found a strength in each other that was always there we just had somehow missed it.
Grief is hard. Relationships are hard. Halloween is silly. This year we will dress up our two subsequent children. We will hit the streets with the others. We will take pictures, laugh and have a good time. But, at some point he will squeeze my hand and we will both remember the little boy who should be leading the way. The one giving his sisters a hard time. The one dashing to the front doors to ring the doorbell first. He’s always on our mind. He’s always in our heart. And, he is leading the way, just in a totally different way than we ever imagined. The journey is winding and long but the Horrid Halloween has turned again into a Happy Halloween. I hope the same for you, if not this year, in the years to come.