“I don’t understand mothers who lose a child. Why can’t you just get past it?”
People have whispered these words about me in conversation, especially in the early days after losing our babies, measuring grief “performance” by how much I spoke of my children or how easily tears came, or whether or not I was out in public functioning at a “normal” capacity. She will be ok when she is “herself” again. Always happy to comply and perform, I learned quickly to put on a face for them. To not make anyone uncomfortable by speaking of those dead babies. I put their pictures away. I tried to look as “normal” as possible to everyone but a few who could handle my remembering, my speaking their names. A few who were willing to remember them with me. Without squirming in the chair.
For eight years, I was quiet. I’m an excellent performer. An astute pleaser of people. Never wanting to be an inconvenience, an annoyance.
And, then….God, the One much bigger than all the people I know, spoke to my heart, breathing truth in the broken places, blowing off the layers of dust, the words laying dormant, surprisingly still desperate to be written or spoken aloud…and He gave me a voice. It’s the same voice He gave me in my mother’s womb. The one with words that demand to be expressed, and flow through my fingers like liquid therapy. It’s the voice that sings worship songs while babies are ushered to heaven from their mother’s arms. My voice crackled and wavered, trembling as I remembered how to speak. Mustering courage I cannot explain. Because He is bigger than anyone else…bigger than what they may think…bigger than displeasing someone….bigger than being understood or misunderstood…bigger than our comfort levels.
And, He said…speak. Tell this story.
I have never in the seventeen years since burying my children heard those whispered words from others spoken directly to me. Until recent months. Family members questioned an article I had written for a well known magazine for bereaved mothers (Still Standing), because if you talk about missing your babies or your mother or your husband, or anyone who has died (although society may place a bit more value on the loss if that person breathed breath and lived life on planet earth for a designated number of years. I’m not sure how much time must pass before a life is worthy or grieving, remembering, mentioning, recognizing, or missing. I’ve never really been good at rules like that. You’ll have to consult the experts who deem themselves worthy to decide such things.), if you speak of the missing…something must be wrong with you. The more that I speak outwardly about babies in heaven, and supporting families who grieve. The more I write or talk about the experience of returning again and again into raw grief to walk with another family, the more others feel it necessary to form an opinion, to judge my performance. (Which in all instances, I would think is an indicator that I’ve experienced a great deal of full circle, “healing” to be in a healthy enough place to enter in to support someone else. You know…as opposed to wallowing in grief.)
But, it is interesting. The more I talk about the reality of grief and missing, the more people step away, uncomfortable. Or, like the acquaintance who recently asked me on Facebook why I couldn’t get past it (losing babies) and what my children think of me for not getting past it. Not that my children are anyone’s concern other than my own, as you know…their mother…but what they think is that they have two sisters and a brother in heaven. Two sisters and a brother who lived, who’re worth mentioning. They don’t dwell on it, and in fact, we don’t speak of them often in our home. But, we do occasionally. Because, they’re worth mentioning. And, my children know that every life matters. My children know that Jesus cares about the brokenhearted, and if we can do something to help someone else walking through loss, we ought to. My children know how much time and sacrifice is poured into walking with another family. They know that their mother would do almost anything to help carry that burden alongside another broken heart. My children stuff bears and set up tables and the older one stays with me when I’m working at the office late at night, to help walk me safely to my car. They and their friends paint walls, carry trash, dig weeds, and stuff endless Comfort Bears. College students, boys who grew up in my kitchen, and girls who sewed bears at SGM…bravely stand in front of their peers to speak about baby loss…and the work Sufficient Grace Ministries does. Not only are my children just fine with their mother’s line of work…and her insistence on mentioning that there are people walking through grief and babies worth remembering….I would go so far as to say that they wholeheartedly support it.
Like my thirteen year old said, when the woman’s questioning prompted me to ask him his thoughts: He said very definitively, “No! Why would I think that?! We lost kids in our family. Nothing weird about helping other people who lose kids.”
So, here’s the thing. We as a society are not very good at respecting and understanding bereavement, or loss of any kind. We get uncomfortable when someone speaks of missing someone they love. We are uncomfortable by many emotions. And, often confuse a person’s mentioning of a memory as not “adequately healing or getting past it”. Those words kind of make me want to vomit, if you’re wondering. It is part of the way that we support others at SGM, being real about the missing. Giving a voice to it. Making it ok to speak it aloud. The missing never goes away. You don’t get past that. It doesn’t mean you aren’t functioning just fine as a healthy member of society. It doesn’t mean you’re wallowing in grief. It doesn’t mean you spend your days crippled by emotion and will never laugh again. And, it certainly doesn’t mean you aren’t leaning on and trusting in God to carry you. For the love of Pete…if you weren’t, you may not get out of bed at all. Life on planet earth is tough.
I laugh and cry more than anyone I know. It took me so many years to speak their names. To stop worrying about if it made someone uncomfortable or caused them to question my sanity or whether I was “moving on” well enough. I used to hate that I cried easily, felt deeply. I hated it because other people didn’t understand it. My strong mother, other women in my family…and most people. Most people think showing emotion is weak, or an indicator of some unhealthy part of you that needs fixing….a cry for help…or, my least favorite, an invitation for advice. I don’t need a reminder to be grateful for what I’ve been given…the preciousness of the people I love is not lost on me. I am one of the healthiest people emotionally that I know…and I cry and laugh every single day. Part of being healthy for me, is being ok with that. There is nothing wrong with having a heart brave enough to feel. Do you have any idea the courage it takes to keep a heart soft in this cruel, broken world, to resist the urge to cover feelings with layers of walls, to resist the safety numbness offers?
I speak about the missing, not because I spend every moment crippled and overcome by it. Not because I am wallowing in death and unable to function in the land of the living. There is nothing meant to invite anyone to fix or be concerned about. I speak of the missing, so that others quietly carrying this weight know they aren’t alone, and that it’s ok to miss someone. It’s ok to remember them. Mentioning a memory is not wallowing in grief. I will remember and mention my babies, my mother, my grandparents, my dear friend Dinah, and anyone else who goes on to glory ahead of me until we’re reunited in heaven. Because they’re worth mentioning. They’re worth missing. They’re worth remembering. They’re worth honoring. Their lives matter. And, I gave up being afraid to speak of what makes someone else uncomfortable, because it’s more valuable to be free to offer comfort and hope in the speaking…than to concern myself with the comfort level of someone else who is choosing to judge what they do not know…and who themselves may likely being carrying unexpressed pain. Just because emotion scares someone else, doesn’t mean I have to be afraid to speak…and neither do the mothers I know, missing their children, everyday….as they drive to carpool, make peanut butter sandwiches, watch school programs, and sit down at the dinner table, living life fully…but always with one (or more) missing.
A dear friend and beautiful mother spoke these words recently in the above-mentioned Facebook discussion on mothers “getting past it”. Leigh Ann’s words are an excellent answer to anyone wondering what it’s like for a mother and family, missing children, and they were and are a great blessing, honor and encouragement to me:
“I so admire Kelly and the work she does on behalf of other grieving families. I have wanted and contacted Kelly to physically help at her ministry and then when it comes right down to it I can not. You see I am not as brave as her. God gives her grace to step into other’s lives and minister to them in their darkest hour. Her work through her grief ministry puts her in situations that can only trigger feelings of sadness at losing not only 1 child but 3 beautiful children, but yet she has the strength to do it. We all grieve so differently…and I am so thankful the Lord lays it on Kelly’s heart as well as other brave parents who come along side her. I only wished in December of 1996 that our family been on the receiving end of such a wonderful ministry.
What would you say to your 6 year old daughter when she asks how her baby brother will go to Heaven, when he was to little to ask Jesus in his heart himself? Or the 11 year old brother who asks if he didn’t pray correctly because his brother died? Or the 9 year old brother who tells you not to cry because Jess is in a better place? Or to the husband who comes home from work defeated because no one seems to realize how hard it is on Dad’s to lose a child? What do you say to yourself when you wake up sobbing even years later because of a dream you had about your son and the suffering he went through, and you don’t want to share those feelings with someone else because it has been 17 years ago and my goodness….probably for fear that someone may think your crazy and you should be over it. Please let me explain, my older children have been wonderful and the Lord blessed us with another beautiful daughter after Jess passed away, whom, by the way, never took Jess’s place but brought much joy and healing back into our family, but there is not a family event, birthdays, Christmas, weddings, and just plain ordinary days that I don’t feel like something is missing. I don’t pout about it or even speak it out loud at the time, but it is an awareness that he is not with me physically.
I am thankful to know that I will be reunited with him in Heaven some day. So you see, although some of us, like Kelly, are in the day to day trenches helping others, some of us are silently in the background praying, and yet others help out her Ministry with finances, time and donations. But rest assured, we never get past it….my prayer for you is for further understanding in this area and to be gentle with those who you felt responded harshly…maybe now you could be one of those who could be strong enough to come along beside and support a truly wonderful ministry in a way the Lord would lead you to do so?….I hope my rambling helps you to understand our feelings a bit better….love and prayers….”
For more information about Sufficient Grace Ministries and the services they offer to bereaved parents visit: www.sufficientgraceministries.org