I know you meant well when you told me to “get over” losing my only child to stillbirth. Upon reflection, I realize what you probably meant to say is that you don’t want to see me suffer the pain of this loss or to live the rest of my life experiencing that pain.
Maybe what you actually meant to say was, “I love you, and I’m sorry this happened to you. I know that it broke your heart into a million pieces, and I want to know how to help you feel whole again.”
I wish you could have said that instead of “you need to get over your daughter and move on.”
From the outside, pregnancy, infant and child loss can be hard to understand.
I know this because I was on the outside for 31 years. I knew people who had miscarried, and I saw the pain it caused them, but I couldn’t possibly understand how they felt.
Theirs seemed to me to be a silent kind of grief. One that they hid all but the topmost layer of. If I looked closely enough, though, I could see there was a lot going on below the surface. Feelings they couldn’t or didn’t want to express out loud, or in public, or to those of us who couldn’t understand what they were going through.
When my daughter died, I was suddenly thrust into this harsh reality of grief and loss.
Difficult things had happened in my life before, but nothing to this degree. For a while, I tried to stay with feelings of gratitude. I was thankful for the time I had with her, and for the support of family and friends. Grateful for the profound experience of love she allowed me to feel.
But loss brings with it so many emotions that it’s impossible to remain in just one.
Anger, fear, betrayal, guilt, regret, hope, longing, fierce and unconditional love…
I’ve experienced all of these and more in my time as a bereaved mother. If I don’t make room for these feelings in me, my body stores them as pain. When I try to shut them down or push them away, they accost me when I least expect it.
If I pretend my daughter never existed, or that I’m not a mother, I suffer more than I have by owning those realities as a part of who I am. As a chapter in my life that I have woven into the fabric of my present and future.
So when you tell me to “get over” my daughter and “move on,” I realize you have no idea what that actually means. Do we ever “get over” loss, heartache, trauma?
I prefer to say we “get through” it. We feel it and we acknowledge it. We put the pieces of our hearts back together, but we’re not ever the same person we were before. How could we be?
Related: A Father: On Getting Over It
We don’t “get over” it or “move on” in the way that’s implied by those phrases.
We’ve been touched profoundly by an experience of love and loss like no other. We don’t “move on” from that to a future where we don’t think about, or love and still miss our babies and children.
I know this kind of love and loss is hard to witness from the outside. For all our talk about vulnerability and authenticity, most of us feel deeply uncomfortable when another human presents us with either of those.
But I can tell you that the experience of them is profoundly freeing, transformative, and healing. And it will take you far beyond easy phrases and reductive concepts like “getting over it” and “moving on.”
It will take you into an experience of your soul. Into truths about love, life, and death that are beyond words.
And that is a gift I will always be grateful for.
Feature Photo by Cody Board on Unsplash
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.