It was the hardest telephone call I’d ever had to make. “He’s gone,” I said quietly. “It’s over.” I could hear my father’s sharp intake of breath, followed by a choked sob. From my mother I heard nothing. Sitting on the narrow bed in our spartan hospital apartment with my husband by my side, I proceeded to convey the news to my parents that their six-month-old grandson had died.
The days and weeks that followed would pass in a blur, and the only thing I could recall from the funeral was the way my friend Grace grasped my hand so very tightly, and how grateful I was that she did so. I remember the friends who came to our home during the traditional week of mourning, and I remember wondering whether I’d ever be able to smile or laugh again. At the time, it seemed unimaginable.
I tried to settle back into my old routine, and just over a month after our son passed away, I returned to work. I had wonderfully supportive colleagues, but it was still torturous at best. Being alone with my thoughts was simply unbearable; silence unnerved me completely. I stopped driving my car to the office and began to travel by bus instead, as being stuck in traffic on my own was wreaking havoc on my sanity. My colleagues did their best to be understanding, but sometimes working in an office full of women led to situations that I just couldn’t handle.
The day I heard that one of my colleagues was bringing her newborn son for a visit was not a good one. I tried to remain calm, but on the inside, I was growing increasingly frantic, knowing there was no way I would be able to join in everyone’s excitement. When she arrived, one of my coworkers ran past me, pausing only to ask happily, “Did you see the baby?” I hadn’t, of course. Nor did I want to. It was nothing personal — I just wasn’t emotionally ready to do so. My wounds were still too fresh. Seeing other babies was too painful.
Fortunately for me, my friend Lesly happened to be standing nearby. She quickly realized what was happening and made a decision. “I forgot something at home,” she said to me. “Come with me to pick it up.” I didn’t say a word, and mutely followed her as she grabbed her bag and car keys, flooded with an overwhelming sense of relief and grateful that she was taking me out of there.
The loss of our child was not a secret, and after he died, I desperately needed to feel that his death was not completely in vain. I promised myself that if I could somehow use my experiences to help others with similar tragedies, I would. When I heard that the wife of a close friend of my brother’s was struggling to come to terms with a baby who was stillborn, I sent a carefully worded e-mail to the friend, asking if his wife might want to talk. “Yes,” he quickly responded. “Stacey wants to hear from you. She wants to talk to someone who understands what she’s going through.”
The connection was made, and Stacey and I began to share our stories and our sadness. We spoke of our frustrations — the people who couldn’t comprehend what we were going through, the people who believed they were helping us when they told us that we had to “get past the loss and move on,” that “there would be other children,” and perhaps most perplexing of all, that “it was better for it to have happened now, rather than later on.” Through our exchanges, we both grew stronger, each of us drawing on the comfort we felt in knowing that someone else understood. As we healed, our exchanges became less frequent, picking up again years later when we found ourselves pregnant at the same time and needed to connect with someone who instinctively knew what the other would be feeling.
I had never been much of an extrovert when it came to sharing my feelings face-to-face, and this was especially true when it came to the death of our son. Showing my vulnerabilities in person was not something I’d ever been good at. As such, being an expatriate writer with friends strewn across the globe had its advantages. While I was not capable of allowing the protective walls I’d built around myself to be breached in my day-to-day physical encounters, I found it much easier to let down my defenses in writing, online. It meant that I could avoid physical reactions when telling my story — people couldn’t see mine, nor would I be forced to deal with theirs.
Writing became my primary form of therapy as I chatted and corresponded with friends in California and Norway, friends whose support became my lifeline whenever things looked bleak. “Remember,” said my friend in California during one such exchange. “Life is a series of choices. You’re going to get hit with a lot, but it’s up to you to choose how you’re going to deal with it.” And I knew he was right. I couldn’t change the fact that my son had died, but I could choose how to live with what had happened. It was up to me to decide whether I wanted to remain stuck in that deep, dark hole or whether I wanted to pull myself out and move forward. When it came down to it, I knew I needed to get out of that place, that I was not prepared to let the pain from my tragedy define who I was forever. I knew that it would hurt more to stay there than to find a way to heal somehow. Through my friends and through my writing, I found myself again, and time became my ally in dulling what my loved ones and writing could not.
This is not to say, of course, that there is no longer any pain. In the weeks leading up to both his birthday and the anniversary of his death, I am often agitated and anxious, not always realizing why until I look at a calendar. The passing years have given me tools that help me to navigate my way through the difficult times, though. I have written and I have shared, and I’ve been profoundly overwhelmed by the support I received as a result. Remarked my friend Isabel one day, “By being so honest and real you enable other people to admit to having feelings too. Imagine!”
And I think that Isabel just might be onto something.
*This story can be found in Chicken Soup for The Soul: Grieving and Recovery.
This entry was posted in Books, Daily life, Family, Friendships, Loss, Self-Reflection, Shameless Self-Promotion, Writing and tagged baby, Chicken Soup for the Soul, child, coping, death, Family, friendship, grief, Loss, recovery, Writing by Liza Rosenberg