The Unexpected Elements of Grief

Coming up on the 4 month mark of losing my sons, I now know that I really knew nothing about grief (and probably still know very little).   The loss of grandparents or friends of friends or even miscarriage did nothing to prepare me for the grief of losing my twins after they were born.  There were a few grief elements that were expected, but so many unexpected feelings popped up that I wanted to just share a bit about what caught me by surprise along the way. 

Belief system.  To say that my belief system as a whole was rocked to its core would not be an understatement.   Prior to this, I used to say (and really believed) that things happen for a reason.  It was a way to explain disappointments and remain focused on something good to come.  It worked during the loss of my grandparents, through my miscarriage and failed fertility treatments, etc. And at the risk of offending, I will say the whole concept of “God’s plan”, which is akin to “things happen for a reason” no longer makes sense to me.  I was reading an article the other day that described what made this concept so frustrating was that if you say something was “for a reason”, it means that there was a good reason, but you just aren’t allowed to know it. The reason I can’t reconcile it is that I cannot fathom any reason that would be good enough for my babies to have struggled so hard and died.  Where is the gain for anyone? I just can’t find anything good in that.  There is no acceptable reason that would make what happened to them (and us) okay.   This was probably the most profound discovery about grief – I truly need to work through finding a new belief system. 

I am embarassed for the times that I have said to someone “It will all work out” or “things happen for a reason” – I now realize that it is not an acceptable response and it makes no one feel better, except the person saying it who is trying to make sense out of a bad or senseless situation.  Bad stuff happens. No reason or thin excuse will make it feel better.  For everyone I said this to in the past, I want to apologize for my ignorance.  

Confidence. I had no idea that with grief, I would somehow lose my confidence, my sense of resourcefulness that regardless of what happens, I will somehow land on my feet and figure out a way to survive.  That lack of confidence spread to so many other areas of my life – confidence with friends, relationships, business, etc.  It all took a big hit.  I will say that part seems to be coming back slowly now, but it was a shock in the early stages of grief to feel so out of control and like I couldn’t trust in myself. 

Hope.  Well, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that the day Trace died (just days after we lost Quinn), pretty much all of the last threads of a sense of hope died too.  I didn’t feel like it was worth it to hope for anything, because the result would be more dashed dreams or disappointments.  Again, I will say as time passes, that improves, but I’m skill a bit skeptical about hope.  This feels strange to me, because I have always considered myself a realist, but also an optimistic and hopeful person – even if it was cautious optimism.  I think that I will never be that person again (thus this new blog about finding a new normal), and I believe that some of that hope and optimism will never return, at least not the way I had it in the past.  Perhaps with every fertility disappointment, a little bit of the optimism was depleted, but with this tremendous loss, a big chunk of it is gone…maybe for good.  Only time will tell.  But I can say that I am now able to look forward with a bit of cautious optimism that good things may happen in the future, and work towards making those goals a reality (like adoption).  So, in a way, there are glimmers of hope and they seem to get stronger as time goes on.

Relationships.  Of course I never anticipated the impact grief would have on my relationships.  Now, here’s the surprise – with some friends, it strengthened our relationship in a way that nothing else could.  With some, it established new relationships that otherwise would likely never have been made.  But the sad part is that there are a few relationships – some very close, some more casual, that will be forever damaged by this experience.  Some people who we thought we could count on during difficult times, just were or still are absent.  Other people, truthfully, were selfish and insensitive, saying or doing things that hurt me in ways I never imagined possible and probably can never forget or forgive.  I realize that some people, due to their own life circumstances or past, just don’t have the capacity to do the right thing or be present for us and I try to let them off of the hook and it go.  But it would be hipocritical to pretend that it won’t affect our relationships in the long run. 

Overall though, I will say that this one area of my life was enhanced by the grief process.   Friends and acquaintances (some whom we had never met in real life before) came to our sides and supported us in ways that were so humbling and so generous, that I will never, ever forget those people and what they did for us.   A simple thank you could never be enough to express how deeply we were touched by their thoughfulness. 

Fear. Perhaps this is one of the worst demons that arrived with my grief.  With a lack of confidence and hope, fear is quick to march in and take over the show.  This feeling has been slower to leave, and seems to pop up intermittently, then escalates quickly.  It started as a fear that I would be forever stuck in the hell of the depths of grief that I experienced in the early days and never find my real self again.  As time went on, it was more fear about losing what I love or harm coming to them that is out of my control. When my husband comes home late from work, my mind races to the worst possible scenario of what might have happened to him (kidnapping, accident or other horrible things).  When my beloved dog is acting differently, I automatically worry that something is very wrong – catastrophically wrong with his health.  When I don’t hear from close friends for awhile, I fear that I have done something to offend them and our friendship will be lost. But mostly, I think I just fear that with anything good that comes, it can be taken away, or something else bad will happen to take away from the good.  Fear is a horrible way to live, always looking over your shoulder or waiting for the other shoe to drop.   I find it happens less often as time goes on, but it still sneaks up and surprises me, and I have a hard time talking myself back to reality in those moments. 

I will say that the passage of time does make everything easier.  I find that I can function in society reasonably well – not bursting into tears at every commercial for infant products or every movie with a pregnant person.  And yet, in the quiet moments alone, I can just sit in my grief and cry, and feel sad, and know that it is okay, and that I won’t feel like this forever.  With time, it does get better.  The loss will never be okay – I will never be my old self.  But I will survive, and my life will go on – hopefully with a little confidence, a dash of hope, a little less fear, and relationships that will support me through whatever ups and downs life will bring my way.

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8 Responses to The Unexpected Elements of Grief

  1. A great reflection on grief and how one copes with it’s curve balls.

    There was also a good article on grief in a recent edition of Time Magazine entitled, “The Good News about Grief”:
    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2042372,00.html

    • New Normal says:

      Thanks. I am not a Time subscriber, so it only let me read the first paragraph or two. If you happen to have the full article and would be willing to share, I’d be interested in reading it. Thanks!

      We had an interesting discussion on the stages of grief in the infant loss support group – the doctor leading it said that in the old days, if you didn’t experience the stages in order and on time, doctors were worried; but that now it is accepted that each stage may come and go in no particular order and for no pre-determined length of time. As you have said, grief is not a linear process – and that is so very true.

  2. Jessica says:

    As I sat here reading your post I couldn’t help but nod along…I have felt so many of the exact feelings you described (some of it I didn’t recognize until I read your words). You are a few months further into this journey and it is reassuring to that hope will return…that is the one part of the old me that I miss the most.

    Thank you!

    • New Normal says:

      Yes, at least for me and others I have spoken with, generally hope will return, but it may not feel the same as before. And sometimes it will come and go and then come back again. Perhaps it is a wiser version of hope – one colored by the glasses of experience. Hang in there Jessica.

  3. Jennifer Rowan says:

    Sue – I cannot imagine or fully relate to what you’re going through. I check in on your blog thru PVED once in a while. It doesn’t help much and I have no advice to offer…. but know that I think of you and your baby boys often, as do other PVED ladies. I hope and pray for your peace and a beautiful outcome with adoption. -Jen (aka Jen817)

  4. Michelle says:

    Hi Sue! Great posts.

    When we “talked” over PM, had I finished “An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination”? Sooooooo good, read the library copy twice, and then ordered a copy for the shelf. She has A LOT about friendships. Check it out. 🙂

    Hugs, MM

  5. I’m so sorry you ever had to ‘learn’ all of these things related to intense, life altering grief. I hate the catch all phrase “everything happens for a reason” because you’re right, there is no reason in the entire universe that what happened to your babies should have happened. None. People say dumb things when they don’t know what to say, when all they should ever, ever say is “I’m sorry.”

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