I’ve just revealed my story. I’m a bereaved parent. I’ve lost my baby. She died.
After the awkward silence settles in and divides us, you mumble something about how you didn’t know. My heart goes out to you. How could you know? There is no mark to distinguish me as a bereaved parent; I look just like you. But if you were to take a closer look, then maybe you would see that grief has taken its toll on my body and has left its subtle traces behind.
My arms look like your arms, but they ache.
They ache from the emptiness they hold. They ache from the extra effort it took to push me out of my bed this morning.
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My eyes look like your eyes, but look closely and you will see them frantically scanning the environment around me as I look for possible triggers. You will see them shift their focus as I enter into a daydream about what could have been or a flashback about what did.
My hands look like your hands, but you might notice the way they can never rest. They are yearning to tie shoes, brush back hair, and grasp onto tiny fingers. They are always reaching for what’s not there; for what will never be there.
My mouth looks like your mouth, but it is full of words left unsaid. It is brimming with all that I want you to know but I am too exhausted to explain. Inside my mouth are all of the things that I want to scream out loud, but I hide behind a forced smile instead.
My ears look like your ears, but mine are attuned to hear what you are really saying.
I can hear the emptiness of hollow sentiments and the echoes left by silence. I can also hear the sincerity and love in your voice, even if your words aren’t perfect.
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My feet look like your feet, but they are fatigued from a neverending journey through grief. Every day they find themselves navigating new terrain, sometimes better and sometimes worse than what they traveled the day before.
They want to go back to a time when they ambled along carefree, but instead, they face another day of traversing this new world I live in where certain footsteps cannot follow.
And what about my heart? Well, my heart is not all that different from yours.
Yes, it’s been shattered and ripped apart. My loss has attempted to destroy it beyond repair, but you may be surprised to see that it is whole. The surface may be cracked and splintered, but it has been pieced back together with the love and support of others. Inside my heart, just like yours, lives hope and the strength to support this body through another day.
So can you see my grief? Because sometimes, even I can’t.
Rachel Whalen is a mother, wife, and Kindergarten teacher from Barre, Vermont. Her life’s work is to keep the memory of her daughter, Dorothy, alive through words both spoken and written. Rachel shares her family’s journey through loss and all that has come after on her blog: An Unexpected Family Outing.