Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Some thoughts, a project?

Your words take me into your arms, curl around me, help me feel loved despite my imperfections. And hearing I am not the only one who struggles with this helps, more than I could ever express.

Grief is a lonely place. Recovery is a lonely place too. And alcoholics tend to isolate. I did. I mean, I felt isolated, and didn't do myself any favors by drinking and hiding behind a computer. I made the best decisions I could with the tools I had, but they weren't great decisions all the time. I always sided with righteous, yet lonely, indignation. Maybe now I can see that it wasn't so righteous, or all that indignant. It was guided by fear of rejection.

Today an ex-work colleague sent me a message on Facebook. I posted a submission request for still life 365 (we need work, people), and it reminded her that she wanted to write to me. She thanked me for my blog and for still life 365. Though she hasn't experienced a loss, she sent it to the people she loved who had. And they conversely told her that it helped to read my words and to see the art of the grieving.

I forget sometimes.

I forget that I have now been in this community for two years and four months. And that I don't always have to be here. In fact, most days, I don't have the compulsion to write about grief. I think about Lucy every day, perhaps every hour, but I am not floored by her death in the same way I once was. I don't cry most days, or even weeks. But that meant something to me when I was newly grieving. It meant something to hear that it gets better, and that I wouldn't have to be stuck in Bloglandia for the rest of my life. Because that is how it felt some weeks, like I had been exiled to this country of women who grief and write, who are smart, amazing and funny, but are located in a hypothetical place located in a small box that sat on my lap. I couldn't go there. I couldn't touch them. I couldn't hug them. I could only read their stories. I felt simultaneously fettered and free--chained to my home and computer where I was free to be myself. I looked for people with time and experience. I laughed at their blogs. "Look," I thought, "women become funny, wise, kind, normal again without forgetting their grief." Integration. I have experienced integration.

A few weeks ago, I sat with someone who basically read out of the "What Not To Say" handbook. She really hit the big five 1. God's Plan, 2. Have another kid, 3. Try a grief therapist. You are grieving for too long, 4. Are we talking about the same baby? That baby didn't even breathe, right?, 5. Other People Have it Worse. Interestingly, I didn't run away. It was the first time in my grief that I allowed someone to have her opinion about tragedy without making it about how fucking horrible what she said was.  My instinct was to nod politely and then never talk to her again. I just calmly disagreed with her, and nodded when there was no response needed. And I called her the next day. I forced myself. And it was fine. We are all people that need to figure out ways to exist in this world, to feel comfort in the wake of destruction and tragedy and absolutely heartbreak. My way is not the way I would recommend for anyone but me. That is something I learned these last few years.

When she started saying, "Other people lose many children, lose their partner of twenty years and leave them with six children alone, (insert horrible tragedy that belittles Lucy's life and death)."  It started enraging me, but I stayed silent. Why do I have to defend the tragedy of Lucy's death? I read recently, "Do we have to feel better than someone else in order to feel okay?" No. We don't. But maybe that helps her deal with her tragedies. Who am I to say? My righteous indignation was more like a shrug at the end of the conversation without the rightness or the indignation. I know my grief, and fuck, it wasn't helped by any one of those thoughts. It was only helped by this space, and the space in me that I created for grief. By allowing myself the time to grieve in the way I needed to grieve--the good, the bad and the ugly of it--I was able to come to this place where I don't need this space.

I keep coming here and writing because I want to write here. Because writing helps me process the intricacies of my life, and there is part of me that writes because I hope someone reads something that helps for that moment. I hoped, last week when I weighed whether or not I should share my battles with recovery, that one person might read my words and say, "Yeah, me too. Maybe I need help."

All of this is just to say that grief gets easier. It gets harder before it gets easier, but it does get easier. Not because your child becomes more dead, or because you become better, but just because time and experience help you face situations often enough that you learn how to deal with them. The first time someone said any one of those things to me was a week-long torment of what she said, what I did say and what I wanted to say. I love Dan Savage's It Gets Better Project. God, what I would have loved was to hear those messages when I was a suicidal, goth chick waiting to get out of East Oblivion, Pennsylvania. It would have helped to hear that I would fit in somewhere else. When I read my friend's email this morning, I thought we should have a It Gets Better project for the babylost. People, in all their stages of grief, talking about the ways in which their lives have gotten better, situations that they are better able to deal with. I don't know. It is just something I am thinking. Maybe a day where all of us can sign up with a Mister Linky (I happen to have a subscription, so I can host it.) where we just write a blog post about how it gets better, how grief gets easier to deal with, how we grow. Let's discuss. What do you think?


  1. sounds like a great idea..... one i might even be willing to participate in.......because life does sort of cycle on...... and it does get....easier

  2. What a fabulous idea, Angie. I think our blogs show that it does get better with time, just by the way they progress -- but a single post to make that point (without having to read an entire blog from start to present) from lots of different people -- whatever courses their lives have taken since their loss(es) -- would be a really interesting read. You can count me in. : )

  3. I'm glad that you still come here and write. :) Very glad :)

  4. I love that idea. I thought of Dan's project when I wrote the post the day after Gabe's birthday, and again last night when I wrote today's post.

    I thought of it with Jen, each time I reach out. Hold on, I keep thinking. It gets better.

  5. Every night the things people told me about how my tragedy was so minuscule compared to others in the world come back to me. Sometimes they drive me so crazy that I indeed start wondering if my tragedy is really 'nothing'. The thought that I didn't fight with these people make me think that I didn't defend my baby.

  6. So, I kind of hate that argument that there are bigger problems, bigger tragedies in the world to grieve, therefore the death of one bitty baby shouldn't be so very sad.

    Bullshit. The death of my baby happened to ME, to MY FAMILY, affects my everyday life and heart directly. I wonder what it must feel like to have more compassion and empathy for thousands of unknown tragedy victims than for one friend, one co-worker, or even oneself. I don't get it. I suspect people who find comfort in these greater tragedies have never lived through their own personal tragedy for comparison.

    Anyway, I'd be willing to participate in the project. Don't know that I have anything more useful to say than "hang in there" but I'd love to :)

  7. I love the idea, because, well, it does get easier. In the early days, it was nice to know that I wouldn't feel that awful forever (that scared the shit out of me, I had a hard time imagining living the rest of my life in that much pain).

    And I admire your patience with that woman. I remember the only good advice I ever received was `never justify yourself to anyone` which is hard to do in the face of ignorance. Bravo, lady. xoxo

  8. Ohh, I like this.

    Re; the ignorant: I think for people who haven't experienced much of anything, or are in denial about their own suffering, there are categories. I mean, you pick up the paper and read about Japan, turn the page and read about rape in Lybia and either you're saying, "Holy crap, I need to put the paper down now," or "at least it picks up a bit by page 2." They're both horrible and awful and unfathomable -- and so is losing a baby. It's not really about pain olympics, and we know that, but others really feel the need to organize and typify and make sure these things don't happen to them and stay distant like the bad news in the paper that isn't happening to them either. I'm not sure whether I hate these comments worse or the whole trying to sympathize with your dead baby by bringing up your dead cat line of conversation. Those kinda suck, too.

  9. Love this idea. It seems like the grieving come to the online community in waves, and sometimes I feel like what I write wouldn't be much help to someone new to it all. And then I remember how much it helped to see that there were people who'd been through it and survived.

  10. This is a great idea. My motivation's a little selfish though. I've hit this wall where my normally soft-voiced inner-critic is starting to broach those irritating topics you mentioned. It's bad enough when it comes from the outside. I could use some productive reflection and outward focus.

  11. I really like this idea, Angie.

    After I lost C., I read voraciously. What I was looking for, more than anything, were books, essays, whatever, on what life would be like years down the road. In those raw, desolate weeks and months right after we buried her, I had to know that I was going to come out of this somehow and I needed to hear from other people who were much further along the track than I was.

    Many of the books I read talked about subsequent pregnancies, some had first-person accounts of what life was like after the new baby had arrived safely...that kind of thing. I recall reading those accounts, staring blankly at the page, thinking, "So, it's happily ever after when the next baby is born alive? That's it? End of story?"

    The only thing I found that resonated for me was Beth Powning's book where she talked about living life and parenting, 5, 10, 15, 20 years later. She laid it all out there, unapologetically and honestly, of what life is like decades on.

    I'll be eight years into this in August. Yes, it does get better...compared to those first weeks, months, and that first year of anniversaries. But there's no point when everything becomes all right again...For me, there's not been some lightbulb movement of "Hurray, life is back to normal." It's very much the "new normal" here and always will be. C. has a quiet, enduring presence on the periphery of our daily lives. Her presence (or we might even say her absence) is felt at every Christmas, every family celebration, every milestone that her siblings attain. And to her siblings, talking about her is as natural as breathing. My six year-old drew a family tree in her Year 1 class and included a grave marker with her sister's name on it (the teacher was a little taken aback).

    This is the reality of our daily lives. So, yes it does get better...but we are forever altered as a result.

  12. I keep thinking about this, and thinking I didn't mean to say that we should call it It Gets Better. Maybe It Gets Manageable. Or It Gets Easier. Or It Gets Not SO Fucking Horrible. We need a name. Maybe the Grief Path. We could each keep the blog list/Mr Linky as an archived resource for new peeps.

    I also think that each person that contributes a post, should title the amount of time out from their loss they are. Any other ideas?

  13. I like the idea of going with a road or path metaphor. That's what I see it as most days. And true, "it gets better," is not the optimal title...I think in my early days, I'd have kicked anyone in the shins if they said that to me...even coming from the perspective of best friend had gone through multiple, recurrent m/c and said something similar along the lines of "it's hard to believe now, but yes, there will be a time when life gets better." It didn't console me much then, just infuriated me, even though I know it was said in kindness.

    "The Grief Path" is very good...the nature of the grief and my grieving has changed over the years as the path winds on...

  14. Great idea. You are full of them you are! And I like the idea of the Grief Path.
    I think it is so important for outsiders to know that it gets worse, MUCH WORSE, before it gets better. Then sometimes when it is "better" it can go and get worse again, at the drop of a hat, without warning. I think people were watching me grieve and were confused as to why it wasn't linear and things weren't happening in order, according to some sort of process laid out in a grief text book.
    Also, I remember when Hope died, I sought out stories worse than mine, as I wanted to somehow force myself to realise how lucky I still was. I would come across stories of women losing all their children and their husband in a house fire, or a man losing his wife and kids in an accident, or a woman dying during the birth of her first child and leaving her husband alone. But I would come to realise - that I still hurt. That my story might not have been as epic as some or as "tragic" in the eyes of others, but it was my story, my tragedy, and I was still suffering. As Tash said, no point playing the grief olympics. We're all losers here.
    Wonderful post, Angie. Sometimes I cringe saying it gets better as I don't ever want to feel disconnected from this pain, as the pain ties me to her, but you do learn to live with it - it being the "new normal".

  15. Sorry, this is a bit of a blurt. I agree there is no pecking order in grief. Nobody wins here.

    In a group therapy meeting I attended before Christmas a bereaved parent was co facilitating. She kept on saying (well, at least twice) "it gets better" and she said things like "you won't always feel so dreadful, I sometimes go all week without thinking painful thoughts about my son." I felt a bit angry towards her and a bit resentful that she was saying these things that were not helpful in the least.

    I didn't find it helpful because it's like I am not ready to stop grieving like I am assuming she has. I know there is a path and we reconcile things on our way, and I see that one of the things I have reconciled is my connection of sadness and longing to love and the desire to mother. But acknowledging the space I am in, shows where I am on the path. I know she is not bad or wrong and I am not the more sensitive version of a bereaved parent.

    Sometimes the only emotion I have is grief and I didn't want to know that it goes away.

  16. Lots of thoughts. None of them fully formed. I like the idea. I think I found it like a life sentence when Laura died and people said "You'll never get over it". The early days were so desolate and wrenching and miserable and isolating that never moving past them would have been a torture. I now know it is possible to live with baby loss. I'll never get over losing Laura, but I am getting over the trauma.

    So yes - there is some kind of movement or path or journey that happens, but you also mention the space that you allowed yourself to grieve and I think that is a very important part too. I think the one enables the other.

    I'm buried in the last days of writing a thesis (yawn) on experiential learning and art-making. These two words have emerged as significant themes - the learning journey and the learning space. I know here you are talking about the grieving path and the grieving space, but it is about us 'learning' to live in these places, or finding a way to 'be' in these places.

    Sorry total thesis mode.

    Thank you for your ongoing honesty.

  17. Julie, I have to agree with you. I hated hated hated when people said time will heal. You'll feel better. But then again, I talked to two less than two month women, and they kept saying, "Will I feel this way forever? Tell me it gets better."

    And I was torn with what didn't work for me and what they clearly needed, so I kept saying, "The pain gets less intense, but it is easily summoned. I just don't HAVE to summon it. Like a black and blue, you don't have to push, but it will hurt if you do push it, or bump it." Anyway, I don't know. I think it is a valid and very important point. But I think the point is not to lecture a newcomer, but rather just say where you are at right now. LIke, RIGHT NOW, at two years and four months, I can watch movies with births. I can hear someone talk about God's Plan without skewering them....Or this is the ways in which life has gotten easier to deal with.

  18. I'm in.

    Thank you for your words...some of what I've been feeling and not adequately expressing. You said it just right.

  19. Love love love this idea! Ho badly I needed those messages of hope in my earlier days. I wish I could go back and tell the me drenched in grief and sadness that it does get easier and you will be happy again.

    I'm in.

  20. Yes.

    I am so glad I write my letters to Freddie each month; it helps to see how I have grown through it and changed. Some things that were so huge have receded, others have yet to be dealt with. But it is a path I can see I have walked.

  21. I think it's a great idea - it's what I was desperately searching the internet for when Emma first died. A place where people who knew could tell me about it.

  22. I too was searching the internet when Dresden died.. but not only for peoples early experiences.. mainly for peoples LATER experiences.. (one of the grief books I read said on average it takes someone 7 YEARS to feel normal again.. I didn't want that!) I wanted to see through others that had been there that they were able to get through it! That one day I could smile again and mean it, that every day my heart wouldn't feel like it was crumbling inside of me, that one day I could think of my boy and smile at his memory.. I'm there now and would love to try contributing to this (my writing capabilities seem crap these days, which is why I said TRY! hhahaa) Once again, Angie with her awesome ideas!!

  23. i didn't read all the responses, but, Angie where you said you were torn on telling someone it gets better because you didn't want to hear those same words... I get it.. BUT it doesn't mean the same thing if someone hasn't been through what you've been through. I feel like if someone had lost a baby and told me that in time I would feel better that I would have believed them and appreciated their words.. BUT if joe blow said it, I'd want to punch him in the face! haha

  24. i'm in. please let me know.

  25. Yes. I would like to be a part of this x

  26. Wonderful idea! And I'll send something in for
    SL365 soon too.

  27. I don't know how you restrained yourself to this woman, but I admire that strength...

  28. I think it's a great idea. Though, I was so irrational at some points in my early grief, that I am not sure I would believe that it would get better.

    The only thing that saved me was that I got pregnant again three months after my son's death. I think that if I had not had that little person growing inside of me, I might have killed myself. But I can say that the spals group and a couple of babyloss friends helped me immensely, too.

    Thank you for your blog. It helps me more than I can say.

  29. love this idea. love it. you did amazing shrugging that women off.

  30. I'm really going to try to do this. I know I'm late, as always.


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