Eighteen months into my grief journey, most days it probably seems that I’m doing okay. I even convince myself that I am. My rainbow daughter is here, healthy, and has reintroduced so much joy into my life. She makes me happier than I could have ever imagined. But I’m still not okay.
When sharing about my grief, I tend to focus on my immense love for my son or the good works I’ve done in his name. Or, I share the progress I’ve made along my path of grief. I subconsciously try to project some positivity. I put my happy face on and my best foot forward, and it looks like I’m doing okay. But it’s time to get real, raw and honest. I’m not okay. It’s not okay. It never will be.
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It’s not okay that I only got to hold my son after he had passed away. Or that I was still coming out of anesthesia during those few precious hours, so my memories are limited. It’s not okay that I entered the hospital 39 weeks pregnant and left with empty arms. It’s not okay that I have to wonder which of Jacob’s little sister’s traits he would have shared, and what unique characteristics he would have had. It’s not okay that every pregnancy and birth announcement from even those closest to me will always sting a little. That my absolute joy for my friends when their babies are born healthy will always be tainted with an involuntary but nagging, “Why not mine?” It’s not okay that I will never have anything resembling certainty that any future pregnancy of mine (or anyone else’s) will end happily. Or that I can’t look back on my pregnancies fondly because they either ended in loss or were plagued by anxiety. It’s not okay that I’m still terrified to lose my healthy living daughter. That any risk or worry (exposure to germs, a particularly fussy afternoon) seems like life or death (if she gets the flu she might die; if she’s crying because she’s sick she might die). That literally every time I reference her hypothetically doing something in the future (celebrating milestones, going to school, getting married) a little voice whispers if she lives that long.
This is my reality of living after suddenly, unexpectedly losing my son. This is my reality of parenting after that loss. This is the reality that I rarely share. But if it’s my reality, it’s probably someone else’s, so hopefully, this reassures you that you’re not alone. Day to day, I smile. I experience real joy watching my amazing daughter discover the world around her. I care for her, cross things off my to-do list, and do things I love. But underneath it all, at least some part of me is not okay. And sometimes the shock, the incomprehensibility, the tragedy, the fear, the anxiety, it takes over and leaves me exhausted and immobilized by feelings of failure and insufficiency. Only recently have I been able to acknowledge that this legitimate “not okayness” is at the root of these difficult days, and that realization has been profoundly helpful in navigating these feelings.
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I’ve always been a positive person. Though sometimes I think I’m entirely different after losing my son, I suppose some element of that positivity has remained in my post-loss persona, making me smile and put my best foot forward. But sometimes, I’m learning, for my sanity and my healing, I just have to acknowledge I’m not okay. And it is okay to not be okay.
Elizabeth Yassenoff lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband Erik. She writes for Still Standing and on her blog to honor her firstborn son, Jacob Dale, who passed away three hours after birth due to unexpected complications during labor. Elizabeth is a co-founder of Alive In My Heart, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides connection and resources to bereaved parents in the Columbus area, and she is studying to become an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. Jacob’s baby sister, Ella Jane, was born August 11, 2017 and has brought a lot of light and healing.