We learn early on in life to keep our emotions in check. Never let them see you sweat, so to speak.
There’s an element of judgment for those who appear to lose control of their feelings in public. We apologize for our tears, tiptoe tenderly around the subjects that may make another uncomfortable. There’s an element of shame attached, even for those who carry the weight of grief heavy in their chests.
As if the pain of loss were not enough, weary grievers find themselves misunderstood and unsupported; sometimes even defending their right to grieve. Getting through the day is hard enough without trying to find the strength to whisper: Please, don’t grief shame me.
Related: There Is No Shame When Grieving
Grief-shaming occurs in likely and unlikely places. Even those we love and trust may speak well-meaning words that do little to bring comfort to our aching hearts.
While our society fails to provide adequate support and understanding of all forms of grief, those enduring pregnancy and infant loss are especially susceptible to grief-shaming.
Grief Shame happens when we compare or measure grief based on the length of a life.
Some may place more value on the loss of a life based on the length of time we spent with our child. We may shame someone for grieving a brief life.
A parent may feel that if they lost a baby in pregnancy, they have less of a right to grieve than someone who experiences the loss of an older baby or child.
A miscarriage that leaves little tangible evidence of a life is often dismissed by society.
None of these things should be measured this way.
When a person experiences the loss of someone precious to them, they have every right to feel the depth of that loss, however deeply. Our grief is uniquely our own. No one else can measure or compare our right to feel pain.
Grief Shame happens when we rush someone to heal before they are ready.
Grief is often mistaken for weakness. Many have a hidden time-table for grief. After the acceptable amount of time has passed, there is an expectation that we move on. If we do not rejoin the land of the living during the expected time allotment, we are considered to be wallowing in our pain.
This judgment sadly comes most often from those who love us and want us to be well. It is hard to watch someone you love, crippled by pain. Bereaved parents share that their spouse or family members may pressure them to move toward healing before they are ready for the next phase of grief.
We must understand that feeling the pain, crying the tears, walking through the agony of missing are all healthy steps toward healing. What we may view as wallowing or remaining stuck in grief may actually be a person’s healing journey toward restoration.
Related: The Cloak Of Shame
Grief Shame happens when we judge a person’s expression of grief.
Perhaps it is comforting to one person to share photos of their stillborn baby. Another may remember their baby in a very private way. Some parents find peace in sharing their baby’s story. Others carry the details silently in their hearts.
A father may prefer to pour himself into work or build something to remember his baby, finding comfort in the “doing.” Whether a parent remembers publicly or privately, whether embracing or avoiding, there is no wrong way to express grief.
Just because a person copes differently than we do, does not give us the right to judge another’s performance in grief.
Grief Shame happens when we diminish another person’s experience to comfort ourselves.
We’ve all witnessed it. The eyes shifting uncomfortably as we list our child who lives in heaven along with those who live on earth. The social shunning, the pursed lips, the broken friendships.
Grief Shame happens when we use words that sting instead of offering a healing balm.
Anything that starts with At least…
I could never….
You’re so strong…
Are you praying about this…did you have enough faith?
You already have ___ children…
What did you do wrong?
If you are feeling alone, carrying the added weight of shame as you wrestle through the wilderness of grief, please know that your baby matters. Your pain matters.
You are brave and beautiful as you take one step in front of the other, living each day without a piece of your heart. No one else is equipped to tell you how to walk this path.
May you feel covered in the grace you need to get through this day, this moment, this breath.
And, may you feel free to find your way through this wilderness in the way that brings healing to your tattered heart.
Kelly Gerken is the president and founder of Sufficient Grace Ministries, an organization providing perinatal hospice services, bereavement support and Dreams of You memory-making materials to families facing the loss of a baby through miscarriage, stillbirth, infant death and the death of a young child. Kelly has walked through the loss of three of her five children, and now reaches out to walk with other grieving families as an SGM perinatal loss support doula and SGM Remembrance Photographer. She is a creator and facilitator of training for birth professionals on compassionate care for bereaved parents facing perinatal loss. Her memoir, Sufficient Grace, was published in 2014. You can read more about Kelly’s journey of grace, hope and healing and the outreaches of SGM, order resources or find her book here: www.sufficientgraceministries.org.