The first year after pregnancy, infant, or child loss can be so hard. Nothing is the way it should be, and grief can feel like being lost in a wilderness with no map or compass. Here are a few things I learned in my first year after loss. Hopefully, they can help you find your way.
1. It Doesn’t Get “Easier,” You Get Better at Living with It
A bereaved parent said this to me in the first year after my daughter was stillborn. It troubled me, as I’m sure it troubles you if you are in your first year after a loss. I prayed every day it would get easier. Yet when I heard this advice, I recognized the ring of truth. It’s not because it doesn’t get better; it does. If you are still in the heartbreaking first year after a loss, know that you won’t wake up every day in tears for the rest of your life. You will heal, in time.
It’s just that words like “easier” and “better” are difficult to apply to life after the loss of a child. My heart will never ache less, I will never miss her less, and it will never be less wrong that she isn’t here. But all of those things weigh less now than in the beginning. Maybe that’s because I’ve built up my “grief muscles” over time. Maybe it’s because I’ve lived with it for six years, and I’m getting used to it. I don’t know. But I am better at living with it. And you will be, too. One day. I promise.
2. The Only Way Through It Is Through It
Distractions can only take you so far. Granted, sometimes they’re necessary. Grief is hard enough without making it a full-time job. A little distraction now and then can be a good thing. But if you never face your loss, it won’t just go away.
If you want to heal, you have to allow yourself to feel grief and all the other emotions that go along with it. Finding productive ways to do this is important. Getting support is crucial. Being kind, gentle, and compassionate with yourself while you experience these feelings is essential. But like climbing a mountain, there’s no way to get there, but up. There’s no gondola ride this time. But thank goodness, there’s a trail. And you don’t have to go it alone.
3. Some Friends Will Walk Beside You After Your Loss
Some friends will brave the wilderness of grief with you. They’ll throw on their pack, grab blankets and a flashlight, and join you on one of the roughest journeys of your life. They’ll ride the emotional rollercoaster of your grief, rage, and search for understanding with you because some people are just golden. They really are. And sometimes, they’ll be the ones you least expected.
But some friends will take one look at the shattering of your heart, and they just won’t know what to do. Some friends may stick around for a while, trying to figure out how to handle themselves, or wondering if you’ll soon get back to your “old self.” Some might say hurtful things without meaning to, or suggest that you need to “get over it” and “move on.”
I hope this doesn’t happen to you, but if it does, just know that it’s not about you. It’s not your fault. You’ll never “get over it.” We live in a society where most of us have no idea how to confront grief with compassion. We might have vague recollections of a time when “bringing a casserole over” was what people did. But for most of us, death and grief are removed from our lives. They’re kept safe within the confines of a TV screen, book or internet. Real life death and grief scare a lot of people. Maybe most people. Sometimes these will be the people you least expected.
You shouldn’t have to deal with additional pain after the loss of your child, but friends and family who may not “get it” can sometimes be the cause. For now, surround yourself with those “golden” friends and family. Put yourself in situations that make you feel good, seen, cared for, understood. Get support. Heal. Those things are more important than meeting someone else’s expectation of what your grief ought to look like, or what timeline it ought to follow.
4. You Aren’t Alone
If you are in your first year after the loss of a baby or child, please know, you’re never alone. There are many of us out here who have been down a similar road. The baby loss community is made up of as many types of people as any other group, but we all share the experience of grief and loss. Many online forums, support groups, and websites (like Still Standing!) abound where you can find resources, community, and friendship. You’re not alone.
What have you learned about grief since your loss?
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Robynne Knight is a writer, educator, and acupuncturist who lost her daughter, Zoë, to stillbirth in 2011. She is passionate about sharing her experience with grief and loss, and helping others find growth and healing through her writing, private practice, and sharing support and resources through The Zoë Project.