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Question of the Month
I feel so alone. Nobody talks about my loss anymore. My husband won't talk about it, and people act as if it never happened. What can I do?

Ann DouglasFrom Ann Douglas . . .

What you are experiencing is a very common and frustrating problem: having people assume that you are no longer in need of their support when, in fact, you need their support more than ever.

The best way to handle the situation is to let people know what would be helpful to you. Be as specific as possible so that there aren't any misunderstandings. For example, you might tell a good friend that you need someone to talk to about your feelings about your baby's death, and you might let your husband know that you would like to find a special way to mark the six-month anniversary of your baby's death.

If you're unable to get the support you need from family members and friends -- and, sadly, that's often the case -- then you might want to join a support group for bereaved parents and/or to seek out the services of a therapist who specializes in grief. You might want to encourage your husband to accompany you to the support group or to therapy: fathers often feel tremendously pressure to "hold it together" -- something that can leave them feeling very isolated in their grief.

The days ahead may be difficult for you, but I want you to know that it is possible to work through the painful emotions surrounding your baby's death and to find joy in your life again. I wish you all the best.

Hope this is helpful!

Ann

Marilyn HeavilinMarilyn Heavilin

First, I would encourage you to find a place where you can openly talk about your child and your grief with people who are willing to listen. Most people find a support group consisting of others who have a similar loss to be very helpful. A support group can be a safe haven where you can talk openly and then gather strength to go back out into a world where people would prefer not to be reminded of your loss.

Most people, including your immediate family, want to think you are doing fine. They want you to be "back to normal." Of course those of us who have lost a child know we will never be "back to normal." Our world has changed forever, but the outside world doesn't want to know that. I have learned to choose my battles and my safe places very carefully.

I have chosen to keep pictures of my children on the wall, and reminders of my children are throughout my house. I light candles on special days, but I realize I don't have to announce to the world why I am lighting the candles. I know, and that is all that matters. Don't be afraid to speak of your child when you feel the need to do so, and do your remembering in ways that bring comfort to you but that don't alienate those closest to you.

Sherokee IlseSherokee Ilse

Having a baby die, no matter the circumstances, is a very lonely proposition. Feeling that no one understands is a common experience most women have. Then once some of the shock wears off, the calls and cards stop coming and others get back to normal, the lonely feelings can worsen. Life can never be the same, yet others LOOK and ACT like it is. In addition, we, the bereaved, in some ways want to have a normal life again. Yet, in other stronger, maternal ways, we want the world to stop. We want to shout from rooftops that nothing else should matter--our baby has died!

The challenge at this point in the bereavement journey (one we never sought to be on, by the way) is to find others who do understand and are willing to talk about it. The temptation to say that family and friends, and even spouses, do not care is great. But that is far, far from the truth. They may care to the sky and back, but generally speaking, most people 1) are uncomfortable about what to say and how to help, 2) are uninformed about what might be helpful, 3) are worried they will make you hurt and cry, and 4) are wanting you to be better . . . so they try things like avoiding the subject or focusing on happier things like parties and dinners. They don't mean harm and they can't read your mind, so they really don't know what you want from them. Thus, it is critical to find a few relatives and friends who, in the past, have been able to go to those tough places of pain with others. Remember, this is traumatic for them, too. And like most people, they will resort to coping with this in ways that they have used before. If they have typically been the "buck up" or "get back on the horse" kind of person they will probably be like that now. Is it even fair to expect them to react in ways that are foreign and uncomfortable? When someone is drowning, is that the time to teach them a new stroke? Yes, we may want them to do it differently and in a manner that fits our needs, but it may not be too easy or even possible for them at this time. People tend to cope in ways they are comfortable with - past behavior is usually a good predictor of future behavior. Accepting this may allow you to not put unrealistic expectations on them when they cannot deliver what you need. This then, might help you avoid another loss, the loss you feel when you expect someone to react a certain way and they don't come through for you.

So now to the important question, how do we find others who are not afraid to allow us to wallow, who don't feel the pressure to make you magically better with their words or actions, which can include avoidance of the subject (for your benefit, of course.) Because this is your challenge, seek out those who understand this kind of loss and who are willing to enter your painful place, knowing they are a warm light beside you, but not your savior or the magician who wipes away your pain. Some strategies are to: 1) call your local places of worship and ask if there are support groups, 2) use the web to locate email friends, often those who have had infant losses, 3) get on mailing lists to receive newsletters from some of these groups who support bereaved families, 4) examine your list of relatives and friends asking yourself, "Who has been there for me and others in the past?" Pick one or two of those people and be honest with them about your need for a caring, good listener. Chances are, if you really think about it, you do have a few people in your circle who would step up if you were to be direct with them about your hopes and needs at this time, 5) locate and interview counselors to help you heal and remember at the same time - just be careful, not all counselors have been trained to understand the dynamics of the needs of such bereaved parents as you. That's why interviewing them is so important. 6) read books on this subject. There are many and it is almost certain that you will feel supported and less alone as these authors speak to you about their own experiences of loss and eventual growth and healing.

That's why I wrote Empty Arms; since I couldn't hug and help each person individually, I sought to do it this way so I could reach out to people like you. Please feel my hugs and concern for you. Know that I too have felt alone, wondering if I could make it to tomorrow. Wondering even if I wanted to make it until tomorrow. Yet, today, years later I am so very thankful to have left much of that pain, though not all of it behind. Most days are good and hope filled and I take notice of the sun when it shines, appreciating what I can of each and every precious day. Yet, I still wish to hang on to some of that raw emotion - the love and the sadness, the hope and the despair, and the memories-good and bad. My children will always be remembered by me . . . I am their mother, that is my job. But thankfully, the deep, intense anguish rarely overwhelms me anymore.

God bless. You are in my prayers.

Sherokee Ilse

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