A dose of reality...

When Kathleen was stillborn, Monica and I became very close in the initial hours surrounding the event. We leaned on each other in a way that we had never had to before and, at least for me, the realization that I could cry and lose control in front of her without feeling like a fool was a huge thing. I remember saying to her in the hospital, "together we can get through anything."

But the first jolt of reality hit only a day later when we got home. Monica came home from the hospital on our older daughter Emily's second birthday. Even though we were exhausted and emotionally drained, we wanted to move ahead with her family party and keep the atmosphere as normal as possible for Emily's sake.

The morning of the party, I got up early and took down the crib that we had set up for Kathleen. It was gut wrenching for me to walk by that room and see it, and it never occurred to me that Monica didn't feel the same way. And, to be honest, I wanted it put away before the party because I thought it would make some people uncomfortable. As shocking as it was for me at the time, I'm assuming that at least some of you reading this now will not be surprised that my thoughtful gesture didn't set too well with Monica. She was angry that I would not consult her before doing something like putting the crib away, and strongly resented the fact that she would not be able to take her time to go through Kathleen's room and put things away over time.

So -- the fact that we were going to have different needs and different ways of processing our grief hit both of us like a ton of bricks. Unfortunately, it was not the last time we would have to face this reality, and it became a real challenge to move forward together rather than alone.

How have your experiences been? Have ways of handling situations worked well for you that would help others to hear about? Are you struggling with a similar issue that would be helpful to get others' feedback on?

11 comments:

  1. I have spent most of my adult life not speaking up for what I wanted. But for some reason - after coming home without Jack - I became vocal. I kept telling my husband we HAVE TO TALK. There was no way I was going to first lose my precious son to then lose my husband. I think it was another gift Jack gave me - to not be afraid anymore with saying what I wanted when it came to him or to my family. Part of it was the fact that I spent less than 24 hours in the hospital (from the time we found out Jack's heart had stopped to delivering him then checking out). I did not spend the time I should have with him... and I didn't realize it until we left the hospital. When the guilt and the feeling of loss from that hit me - I put my foot down. No one was to touch his room.... the door to his room was not to be closed.... his pack-and-play and swing were to stay in the living room.... and yes - I am going to cry every waking minute if I want to.... yes I'm going to be mad if you ask me one more time what's wrong (when to me it was obvious that life without Jack is always going to be wrong).... I had to do it for my own sanity - and for my marriage. My husband later(about a year out)told me that he was so relieved that I was so adamant about my feelings and wants - because he was so afraid to make the wrong move or to cause my heart any more grief. And to this day (we are a little over 2 years from Jack's birthday) - I have to remind myself that men and women grieve different.... he wants to fix things and it kills him that this is something he can not fix.... I just need to vocalize the anger without him thinking I am angry at him.... But with this new back bone - I had to also be careful of my husband's feelings - and I have to admit - it was hard at times to set my grief aside to help him with his. But we BOTH lost Jack - and I had to remember that.

    When I meet new parents that have recently lost - that's the one piece of advice I always give - talk, talk, talk.... never just assume what the other is thinking or wants.... you have to ask and you have to listen.

    Thank you so much for this blog!

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  2. I think my wife and I both new that we were in it together and we had a tremendous appreciation and respect for each other as the only other parent in the world to Abigail. And therefore whilst we grieved very differently we both knew that we both loved and grieved Abigail intensely.

    Most things we came to together but often at different speeds. So perhaps I was having a better day when she was having a worse day. It was also complicated that I had to be back in the hospital for ongoing infertility treatment and that had its own painful echoes. My wife was a bit less involved in these as the problem was my side. I fell into depression too after this whilst my wife coped rather better after the first year. I felt more isolated and lonely from friends whereas my wife felt less need for their validation of our grief.

    For anyone interested I have just posted on what my perspective on how Dad's grieve differently here

    http://livingintherainbow.com/2010/02/23/grieving-dads-guide/

    Thanks again for this blog, it is good to have a Dad's place!

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  3. My wife and I focused on each other when our son Tristan passed away. Tristan was born with a heart condition that we knew about since week 25 of pregnancy. She stayed with him in the hospital while I had to return home for work. This was the hardest thing in the world for me when she and him were gone and I was alone. When Tristan passed away I felt even more alone as you would imagine. My wife and I talked every moment we could and when we felt lonely we would go see him at the cemetery or "his bed" as we call it. We kept the pack and play up for weeks after his death. We have a lot of pictures up and we always talk about certain days and moods he was in. We feel like we are in our own world as you also know. We have changed and sometimes if feels like our friends either don't understand or have moved on from our situation. If I didn't have my wife I couldn't do it. It just makes it tough when we grieve differently. I have found great help in this blog and others like it. I type on the blog I created but we cannot be as honest since it is mostly people we know viewing it.

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  4. Hello all.

    When i gave birth to Angel at 20 wks i was devastated, devastated that she was our miracle baby, the baby we were told that we would never have..
    I wanted to talk talk talk about her ALL the time and my partner didnt, this upset me. I wanted to act if you like ,like she was still here, saying Angel this and Angel that but my partner couldnt understand this. i know he was grieving(and still is, its only been 8 weeks)too but not in the same way as i am. I find it hard to laugh at jokes or something on the tv but he will and this upsets me because i feel like he has 'forgotten' what has happened, which in reality i know he has not. Things got very bad and i felt we just could not understand eachother anymore and parted for afew days... which i think eneded up being a good thing because it took doing that for us to understand that yes we are both grieving but very differently and she has bound us together forever, she was and still is our baby girl.
    thebrighteststar.blogspot.com
    hugs to you all

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  5. One of the differences in the way my wife and I grieve is that she is a very private person with her emotions and is very good at putting her game face on in public settings. I, on the other hand, am much more likely to get weepy or act depressed regardless of who is around. It's hard for me not to be self-conscious of this, because it doesn't fit North American stereotypes about who (in a marriage) is 'supposed' to be more emotional. It helps that she and I communicate a lot, so we two at least know that I'm not necessarily more emotional, I just share it with a wider group of people. It helps me give myself grace to just be who I am. I appreciate the honest posts on this blog, too. It affirms me in my efforts to keep it real. I can hardly believe that we're fast approaching the 5-month anniversary of the stillbirth of our baby girl Selah. My heart still feels like it was run over by a tank just yesterday.

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  6. I am dealing with a similar dynamic right now, though the circumstances are different.

    I don't take credit for this idea at all, but it helps me.

    I keep trying to remember that our family is like a mobile, like kinetic art, that is suspended from one central axis and moving with the breeze. When one member is gone, there is a tipping of the mobile and everyone struggles to reposition... to some degree you can and to some degree you cannot. All the pieces usually converge in a less-than-pleasing knot.

    I have been so stretched that I somewhat unintentionally changed roles so I could keep breathing. Some people do not seem to care for the change!

    Maybe I am being harsh, but I feel that it is a testament to how important she was that we are all are in a struggle to find a new balance. I don't wish anyone a struggle, but I feel it is good for us to struggle.

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  7. Thank you all for your comments.

    I spoke at a grief group this week for people who had lost loved ones of any age and under any circumstance. When I asked if any of them had ever felt totally alone in their grief, nearly every hand in the church went up. I don't think it matters what our individual story is, we all feel like no one else can completely understand how we feel or why it makes us act the way it does.

    It doesn't matter how strong your relationships are or whether you are walking through this time hand-in-hand with your spouse/partner who shares the same loss as you, all the pieces fit together in a unique way for each of you. While that makes it lonely sometimes, it can also be a really good thing, since it allows you to learn from each other and get a perspective you otherwise would not have had. Face it, any new coping tool that can be uncovered is a welcome gift.

    Robb touched on a difficult issue for a lot of men -- feeling like we are grieving in a way that is acceptable in our culture. I feel that is an added burden that men must deal with, and every time someone like Robb is able to express himself honestly, we all learn. Many men have the same concerns, but simply don't dare say it out loud or write it down.

    How sad is it that we even have to take into account what others might think of us for showing emotion or acting depressed because our child died? I felt the same way and could have earned an Academy Award for my public performances sometimes.

    Ultimately, this is the very thing I hope this blog will provide. An honest, anonymous forum for people to share. Keep in mind that it is not just those who write here (and on similar forums) that learn -- but all those people who read it that we have no clue about.

    Thanks again everyone. I learn something every time I read your comments.

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  8. Well, I dont speak very good English, but I also lost a baby and I think that's why we speak the same language.
    It is touching to see how a father can talk about your loss.
    I'll be reading your blog. Ceci de Argentina.

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  9. Tim,

    Once again, you translate the feelings of the heart so well. I appreciate your perspective and appreciate you asking those thought prevoking questions. Would you mind if I copied your response to the questions asked on my blog? I have written about how men and women grieve differently and continue to ponder how best to move forward. If I have your blessing to share your comment & link to this beautiful blog please let me know. Thank you for all that you continue to do for others while honoring Kathleen.
    www.persuitofourfairytale.blogspot.com

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  10. It would be fine to use the response and link to this blog. Thanks for thinking of me.

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  11. My wife and I found ourselves with a baby girl we chose to call Raven who was pronounced to have some heart issue at 20 weeks and then at 25 weeks we were given confirmation she had a bad heart defect. At just over 35 weeks we received the bad news at a specialist in Birmingham, Al that though she had felt her move on Sunday, one day later on Monday her little heart had given up the battle. Our little Raven was dead, what awful words to utter, but it was true.

    We were told they set up an appointment with the doctor back in Montgomery, Al our home town on Wednesday and at this appointment they told us to go home and pack and return to be induced. We came back and checked in to the hospital just after lunch on Wednesday, and she was induced but our little girl did not deliver till 4:17pm on Friday. While we were waiting for the birth of our still child we asked if we could get some guidance on what must be done with her body and the chaplain was called. He spoke with us for a while and left some resources among which was the little book "A GUIDE FOR FATHERS WHEN A BABY DIES"

    When he left my wife starting reading the little book and shortly after a nurse came in and I noticed that she was crying as she laid the book down. After the nurse left I picked up the book and was going to read it to her, to help her thru the grief because it was my job as the MAN to be tough and fix her, but this little book got under my armor and made it fall off. It gave me permission to feel the pain of my baby's death and I was embarrassed to start crying in front of my wife but I could not hold it back. I was extremely surprised at her reaction that it was ok if I did what was so unnatural or wimpy to me and showed my emotions.

    It is amazing how much help this little book was to us in dealing with the loss and grief.

    We knew our little girl was spared the life of misery that was ahead of her since the heart specialist told us her heart was so bad it was likely not repairable, but we still had hope till the heart stopped and we knew she had gone to a better place where we will see her again, but it is awful we dont get to hold our little girl and yesterday a month later was her due date and we get constant medical bills which are just further daggers in the heart that there is nothing but sorrow. No little one to hold.

    But this book should be given to everyone going thru the loss of a child, because I truly believe this awful event has brought us closer largely due to this book where many people are pulled apart.

    We should not forget that the Nelsons had to go thru such an awful event in the loss of Kathleen to help us with the loss of our little Raven.

    I hope I can be able to help others like you helped us.

    Wayne Chastain
    email
    chastainhvac@knology.net

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