I hadn’t experienced death until losing Elijah. Yes, I’ve known friends and family who’ve passed away; I’ve been to funerals and shed tears at the bedside of a loved one battling cancer.
But those losses weren’t MINE, the way Elijah’s is.
I never wanted to look into the open casket at a wake because I wanted to remember the person as I knew them… alive.
I somehow felt the reality of death was something I could ignorantly turn off in my mind.
When Elijah was born, his spirit had already left his body.
The only time I had with him outside of my womb was to experience the realities of death fully, and in turn, life fully.
When I first delivered Elijah, I was terrified to look at him. I had spent months yearning to see his face and dreaming about how he would look.
But when the moment finally came, knowing that he was stillborn, I was unprepared for what he’d look like.
I hesitated when my midwife instructed me to take him.
“He’s beautiful!” she exclaimed, “The most beautiful baby I’ve ever seen! Such a handsome prince!”
Her words reassured me, and she was right.
I am proud of my beautiful boy and want to share him with everyone. After cuddling him and taking in his beauty, I loved having my family take turns holding and admiring him.
The images of Elijah that we have are my most precious possessions, and we’ll never have enough to share.
In the time following that sacred day I quickly learned that what I see may be different from what others see.
I understood when, at the funeral, people apologized and said they couldn’t bear to look at him.
I get it, it’s sad.
But I needed to. I needed to stand beside him in his special box (handcrafted lovingly by his uncle) and show my loved ones what a perfect baby he was.
In the last year, I have had to filter my journey from the outside world.
I’ve lost touch with friends because talking about Elijah is too sad for them. When people ask me about my children, I tell them I have two sons: one who is 11, and the other was stillborn.
Some immediately turn away or change the subject, while others are happy to talk about the son I lost.
Even after having an image of Elijah meticulously edited to hide the wear on his body, someone online told me it needed a “trigger warning” as she was mortified by it.
One would think that in this age of social media, and so much being made public that we could talk more openly about death.
In Canada, stillbirth affects 7.1 of every 1000 births, yet mothers still have to go searching for support. Mourning isn’t something acceptable to do publicly.
We still have to put a “trigger warning” on our reality. It’s like the more tragic a loss; the fewer people want to talk about it.
They, like I was, wish to remain ignorant of these realities and pretend that they don’t happen.
I’ve been made to feel insensitive for speaking candidly about death.
Of course, everyone is different, and I know many other mothers who’ve experienced a stillbirth and want to keep this profoundly personal, intimate experience to themselves, and not share it.
And that’s okay too.
I think that it’s essential for us to create a safe space in our society for those on a grief journey.
Personally, the support that I’ve found has far outweighed the rejection.
I am so fortunate to be surrounded by an incredible tribe of a community which has stepped up and carried me.
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My wise best friend once told me “You can say anything. You really can. I would never tell you that you’re insensitive. Insensitive to me, because I have a living baby?! Not ever. ”
That’s one of the many reasons why I love her. She gets it.
She’s never lost a baby, but she’s on this journey with me.
She treasures Elijah’s memory with me, and in turn, allows me to carry on his legacy.
Being a bereaved mother is hard, and grief is an incredible journey.
The pain I’ve felt has been unbearable at times. So many “negative” emotions: sadness, anger, guilt, fear, all felt at their maximum capacity.
Feelings that I will continue to experience as I grieve.
Feelings that I wish nobody ever had to experience, but I know they do.
Feelings that today, I welcome, because I know I CAN bear them.
I know that it’s okay not to be okay sometimes.
I know that I will always desperately miss and love Elijah and that although his loss is painful, the pain is a result of the love.
Without love, there would be no loss. So I don’t shy away from it.
When something is “triggering” to me, I meet it. I bring it gently into my awareness, and I decide how I’m going to respond to it.
Sometimes, it means avoiding it for a while, but I don’t want any “negative emotion” to have power over me.
While I prefer joy, I know that life is full of so much more.
Death is one of the few guarantees in life, and while we will all experience it differently, it can be a beautifully transforming part of life.
I don’t want anything to be “too sad” for me, anymore. By avoiding sadness, I’m avoiding living and experiencing all there is.
Often, when I expect something to be difficult, I’m met with grace.
Grace that I wouldn’t know if it weren’t for my willingness to struggle.