Monday, February 11, 2013

Grief Lit.

I don't know about the rest of you babyloss friends out there, but when your baby died, did tons of literature, books & articles start flooding your way?

Not that there's anything wrong with that and honestly, I think it's so encouraging that those who care most about you send not only their condolences, but anything they can that they think might keep you treading water. Because that's all we were doing for a very, very long time after Andrew died. Treading water. Sending literature, cards, plants, or whatever means you're acknowledging our loss and sadness. That it's not being trivialized. As much as I felt suffocated by the full mailbox of sad cards and flower deliveries, I felt so thankful that Andrew was recognized at all to a sea of people who had never even seen his face (which is beautiful, by the way).

We sent the plants and flowers away with a friend who works at a nursing home. The people appreciated them there and were willing to see that they were cared for. We would've just let them shrivel up and die... which felt like such a strong metaphor for how we were feeling when our son really did die. We didn't need to watch other things die around us because we were in no shape to care for them. So they went.

But the literature.

I'd venture to say that I read one of the books in the entire pile. It's a children's book and I lost my mind reading it... but felt it was such a good description of grief. Other than that, I didn't even crack open the covers. I hid them away, embarrassed that I needed to own such titles. I didn't want anyone telling me how to grieve or giving me advice on something so crippling and unforgiving. I didn't want someone telling me it would be okay eventually or that I needed to move on and this was how to do it. I did read two books, but mostly just memoirs of those who had babies die before me. I craved that literature, as I wanted to know I wasn't alone. But a psychiatrist's point of view about how to handle the worst thing conceivable? I wanted nothing to do with those words.

All I wanted to do was talk with babyloss friends, cry, and try like hell to get pregnant again so I could mask some of that sadness in the form of a sibling. While having B is much more than that now, it definitely felt like the best salve I could have to ease the pain. And it has... but just like a salve, it only masks the pain a bit. It doesn't eliminate the pain.

Yesterday during B's nap, we were cleaning the utility room in our basement. I swear those pictures are on my list, but travel and a special birthday celebration are taking precedence. I cleaned through all my teaching supplies to consolidate and eliminate some of the stuff I know will be valueless in a few years when I finally head back to the classroom. We organized our camping and hiking supplies, and made room for our tools and other things that belong in basement utility rooms... like dust-collecting tennis rackets.

I came across Andrew's bag. It's a Trader Joe's bag that our friends brought to the hospital full of snacks and goodies the day after Andrew was born. I can't bring myself to use the re-usable bag, as it most definitely feels like Andrew's bag. Yet, it's such a cheap representation of his life and value. But I just don't know where to keep his things. The things he wore in the hospital. The only things he ever wore. The trinkets people sent us and keepsakes, his footprints, certificates of sad things... and the literature. The grief literature that just seemed to pile and pile when we opened our mailbox during the weeks and months after he died.

I only now might be able to crack open the covers of some of them, but I don't know if that's healthy. I'm an experienced griever now, and I do believe my words could very well be written on those pages. I fear the words will open wounds that are salved over and maybe even present more anger than I continue to harbor about losing our perfect firstborn.

Do these books remain on my shelves? What about Andrew's things? Where do those go? They were in the nursery until Benjamin was born, and then we moved them to the basement because we didn't know where else they should go. I moved them from the basement utility room to the basement bedroom closet yesterday because it seemed like a warmer environment for the only things Andrew ever touched. I don't know that I value them a ton, but it seems like I should or at least separate them from dusty tennis rackets and the hot water heater.


I received an email from another babyloss mother, Sarah, over at Land of Abe. She lost her daughter Genevieve in 2011 and wrote an article about how stillbirth and grief are currently represented in our society. It was published over at the New York Times parenting blog yesterday. There are some wonderful comments of those who have both lost and acknowledge. It's a lovely read that's raw and true to what most of us parents who live beyond our babies want-- for grief to be handled better in our society and for stillbirth and {insert how your child died here} to be researched so other families might be spared from the reality of such devastating losses. Head on over there and join the discussion, if you will.


Shell said... [Reply to comment]

All of Leia's "stuff" is in a tote in the room that was to be for her and is now the guest room. I still have a few things out or displayed but I felt it was time to put them away. One day I will show them to Landon, when he is much older and understands. Thinking of you and hoping your week goes well. Shell

RyAnne Carr said... [Reply to comment]

Caleb's "stuff" is finally all in one place-a big closet upstairs...I call it the "boy" closet. His clothes, bedding, sleepers, blankies, everything boy is in there. And along with the three big tubs of that stuff there is one tiny plastic tub on the top of the stack. This contains his clothes he wore, the trinkets we received, some letters, and other things I didn't know what to do with. I know its not the best option-away in a closet- but I feel better now that its all in one place and not scattered all over our house. If I want to really have a cry session I just go back up to the closet.... Good luck with finding a place for Andrew's things...Also-maybe pass the books on, or donate them to the local hospital? I was the opposite of you and read everything I could on grief-still do. So maybe someone else would want them? (not that any of us really want them, but ya know?)

Molly said... [Reply to comment]

I'm in a weird place lately. Thankful to have counseling tomorrow to hash it out a bit. Loved the article. Shared it on FB. Sigh.

Caroline said... [Reply to comment]

Some of Cale's things are in the nursery still - things Finn has never used like the quilts made for him or the box sent by a friend after he died, but otherwise most of his stuff, and all the stuff from the hospital is in a Tupperware box under my bed.


Mama Bear said... [Reply to comment]

A friend just forwarded me the link to the NYT article. I hope it gives a louder voice (or perhaps just a wider audience) to us and our babies.

I read everything I could find in those first weeks. I ordered tons of books on amazon and just recently took them off Bode's bookshelf to make more room for board books. Reading about grief and from grieving parents was one of the only things I could focus on.

The massive pile of cards is still sitting in our tv table. I should put them in a box. Many of Bear's things are also in a reusable grocery bag in my closest, waiting for me to keep working on his scrapbook (I am not a scrapbooker by nature). Many of Bear's things are just around the house, incorporated into all of our things.

Nicole said... [Reply to comment]

I don't really know what to do with Caroline's "stuff" either. I've got all of our sad cards and little keepsakes in an embroidered toy box in our room. Her real important things, like her handprints and hair clipping are in a fire safe hidden away.

I have wondered where I'll put that toy box when it doesn't really need to be out any longer... perhaps it'll be stashed carefully in the guest room closet. Ugh.

Brooke said... [Reply to comment]

I have a wooden box with all the cards people sent for Eliza, another velvet box from the hospital with her clothes and hat in it. And her handprints and footprints in plaster that I keep in our fire safe box.

I have at least as many grief books as you do, but I read all of them. I felt like I had to read them, like someone must have figured out how to survive this and I didn't know how I could possible live through such a loss so I had to find out how other people did it. I felt like I needed a professional to objectively write about my situation because the subjective living of it was so freaking impossible. Anyway, I don't think any of them helped as much as the connections I made online, so you're not missing out. The Empty Cradle / Broken Heart book was probably the best of the bunch. Might be cathartic for you to read, as it will definitely stir up many emotions. I can't handle Max Lucado--his brand of spirituality doesn't mesh with my beliefs, so i donated that one to a charity. I had all those books stacked inside an end table in our living room until after Caroline was born (I guess in case I needed them again for her?). Now they are in a bin in the garage. I really don't want to ever see them again, but I'm not quite ready to let go of them. One of these days I may donate them to the grief support group at our hospital.

Brooke said... [Reply to comment]

Oh--and isn't that article great? I wanted to comment on it but I cannot freaking remember my NYTimes sign in. My brain is mush. Perhaps because i was awake at 9, 11, 2, and 4 last night. WTF, baby?

Ben and Katie said... [Reply to comment]

Tear Soup? Wow that one is different! I received a ton of books and literature too...actually just got one the other day that was on a lady who had a stroke...umm, deals with the brain but nothing like what we are going through. Random.
I am greatful that people thought of us and are still thinking of us but when you are grieving and in the early stages the last thing I wanted was to read a whole bunch of spiritual stuff...also no energy to read, I was lucky to get out of bed! I have to admit that I have donated alot of the reading materials...
Could you do a special shadow box for Andrews keepsakes. Shadow box his lil outfit, add some of his trinkets and hand/foot prints...and then put it in a special place?

Veronica said... [Reply to comment]

Thank you for this post... It's good to hear the honest, far from perfect facts about how the days, weeks, and months unfold with early grief.

I read Exact replica in one day. Oddly, on April 27th, the same day her Pudding died. It was the first real read I did after Alexander was stillborn on Feb 27th. March went by in a blur with house guest and far too much commotion around me for someone who had a kid just die. I look back and still think, "shame on all of you for trying all the wrong things, keeping me busy, making me fake it, making me tolerate, never really letting me acknowledge how fucking bad things just got", because I let it all happen around me. I didn't know what else to do. Finally, about 3 weeks after he died, I stopped taking visitors, i told daniel to stop telling everyone i was ok, and I wrote a mass email stating I was not ok, and this shit was not a sunburn that will heal in a few months, and to get a clue the next time you ask me "how are things?"

I found blogs, I ordered a few books...but my blog reading took off, and I stopped looking for books with answers or explanations, and just dove into reading about everyone's experiences that mirrored my own. I tore through Blm archives like they were life lines of survival.

Alexanders things, his hat, his blanket he was wrapped in, and was laid on for pictures are all in a cloth pillow case...with the measuring tape, his stat card at birth, and foot and hand prints. This pillow case sits on the top shelf on my closet in or bedroom. Hasn't moved in almost a year now. I figure they'll stay there until the feeling kicks in that they need to go elsewhere. Or, until we move.

Veronica said... [Reply to comment]

Oh, I want to add this pillow case was what my hospital used as a memorial piece... Or keepsake box. Picture an envelope the size of a shoebox..for a pair of flats, not runners, but made of cloth, and when filled takes the shape of a small pillow... That is what my hospital sent me home with, filled with his things. It's his pillow. That's what i've called it... "it's in his pillow..." or, "it's next to his pillow..."

Jeez, and I'm talking about my dead kids ONLY things...ugh..

AshleaD said... [Reply to comment]

As you know, I am not a baby-loss-mom, but I did lose my mom and handling on what to do with her things has been very difficult. We kept her clothes for a long time after she died, and as a child, I latched onto those clothes as an extension of my mom after she was gone. I would go into the basement of my house and visit them. One day, I went down, and they were just gone. My dad had gotten rid of them, not knowing their value to me. I was heartbroken at the time (still am a little bit) that they were gone but can understand more why he got rid of them. Anything I come across of hers, I cannot part with, even something silly like a floral polyester skirt she wore for work that will never in a million years fit me. It's like I still have a piece of her with me. I think its hard to know what to do with the material things that connect us to those we've lost. <3

Kari at A Grace Full Life said... [Reply to comment]

I didn't lose a baby but just had to comment.
This was such a great post and running over to read the post you referred to once I comment.
We hear so much about miscarriage and infertility but I feel like your stories just aren't being told.
I was reading through the comments and I want to hug each and every one of you.
(I swear I am not a stalker)
And make it all better. I know it won't make it "all better" but that is all I know to do when I hear of loss.
I can't imagine losing a child, I just can't.
But I can honor them by reading your stories.
Big, fat, sloppy, hugs.

Amy said... [Reply to comment]

I keep Leah's stuff in a box in the closet next to the big boy's adoption boxes. I like to keep it together...if there's a fire the kids go out first, boxes second.
I read through a few books maybe two or three years out and it helped me, but everyone is different. It felt healing to be able to read things that I could not pick up before.
I still have one plant that I have managed to keep alive (a miracle in itself because we are almost to five years) and it always makes me smile when it flowers.

Suzanne said... [Reply to comment]

I read everything I could, too, in the first weeks and months after my loss. In part because I was still in complete shock that humans experienced this kind of loss. It was all so new and raw and painful. The fact that books were published about it reassured me that yes, I was still on planet earth, and yes, these kinds of things actually do happen. Yes, baby loss is still a first world problem.

But if you're not inclined to read about grief, I'd say send it along to goodwill or donate the literature to another charity. You never know who will be sifting through the books section and come across one of these titles. One of the books might help somebody else.

Emily said... [Reply to comment]

I always thought I was going to get creative with Aidan's things. Display them somehow. I was going to make a beautiful scrap book and have it along side Kaia's baby book...but I haven't yet. All of his things are in a dresser drawer in our spare room. I'm not exactly sure where they will end up...but they won't ever EVER be thrown away, that's for sure.

I read a few things after Aidan died. My local library was sorely lacking in the way of grief material so I bought two books. One was Empty Cradle/Broken Heart and the other was An Exact Replica... Both were good and I would recommend them to others. I would say only go and look at those books you have if you feel you need to. Do you feel 'stuck' at a certain point in your grief? Do you feel like you're not coping as well anymore? If so maybe the books would help, even just to identify what it is you're feeling. Other than that, I can't imagine they would say a whole lot that you haven't already figured out on your own. Self-help books can be seriously over-rated. If you want to get rid of them donate them to a library or grief group. They might help someone else even if they didn't help you.

JoyAndSorrow said... [Reply to comment]

I'm always re evaluating things and wondering if the things I do are helpful or harmful to my grief process. I help run a loss group on Facebook, for example, and I always wonder if reading the posts is counterproductive. Yet it's a forum where I feel I can potentially help others, and some strong friendships were born there, so I can't abandon it. Yet at two years + out...I just can't immerse myself in all of the loss anymore. So I relate to this post a lot. - lindsay