We are an incredibly fortunate family.
I have always known I was a very lucky girl, and I have always tried not to take things for granted… although, of course, all of us do sometimes. But I have never been more aware of my blessings than I am right now.
From the moment we began to spread the news of Sebastian’s death, Sean and I have been inundated with love and kindness from all reaches of our various circles of friends. It has been amazing and beautiful, and impossible not to be thankful.
In the grieving books it warns us that people will try to make us feel better by saying, “Well, at least you have _______ (each other, your other child, your health, your fertility, etc.).” This is hard for a lot of grieving parents to hear, because it might seem like belittling or brushing off the grief they feel. But for us, we’ve been thinking these same thoughts from the beginning, and when people say things along these lines, we thoroughly agree. We are acutely aware of how much harder this would be if we didn’t have such good fortune in other ways.
Many people have told me recently that I’m brave, strong, courageous. I don’t feel like I’m any of those things. Instead, I’ve realized something that has become my response: I’m as strong as the support around me. If I were going through this feeling lonely, or isolated, or hopeless, or angry, it would be infinitely harder.
At the risk of sounding Pollyanna-ish, I’m going to tell you about the good parts, the bright sides.
We have each other. The day they gave Sean and me the news, our midwives encouraged us to talk to each other a lot, because this is the kind of thing that can either break up a marriage or make it stronger. We both feel more sure than ever that we picked the right life partner. I can’t count the number of times I’ve thanked God I have such a great husband, one who grieves with me, even though he grieves differently; one who will tell me when he’s feeling sad, and encourages me to talk when I need to; one who tells me he loves me multiple times a day; one who gives the best hugs in the world.
We have our son. Some bereaved parents find it hard to smile and laugh for a long time after losing a baby. When we came home from the hospital after Sebastian’s stillbirth, we walked in our front door and were immediately smiling at the sight of our adorable, hilarious, loquacious firstborn. We can’t imagine not taking joy in him, even as we grieve. (In fact, he is getting his own blog post about how healing it has been to have him around.)
We have amazing families and friends. After the initial calls we made, we told most of our friends and relatives the news via email and Facebook. We knew we would be seeing a lot of these people soon, so we took the time to write a message that we hoped would pre-empt the conversations we dreaded: either “Oh! You must have had the baby? Congratulations!” or awkward silences where people didn’t want to say anything, for fear of saying the wrong thing. Since a lot of my friends right now are pregnant or have newborns, I especially didn’t want to have conversations that would stop abruptly in embarrassment because someone realized they shouldn’t mention such things in front of me. (I know lots of bereaved moms do feel this way, and can’t stand to be around babies or pregnant women, but strangely, I’m the opposite. I can’t deny there are pangs… but when I held my friend’s newborn the other day, it was comforting. I like to remember that in spite of all the tiny, complicated things that can go wrong amidst the countless intricacies of the human body, most babies are born miraculously healthy.)
Anyway, we wrote a message asking our friends to just talk to us – to ask about Sebastian if they wanted to, but not to feel weird talking about other things too. (Sean and I quickly realized it would be impossible, especially with E around, to go around talking and thinking of nothing but our loss: life doesn’t allow for that.) People saw this message as strong and brave… and really, it was kind of the opposite, more like self-defense.
And our friends – you – did exactly what we asked. Never once has anyone trivialized our pain or said something insensitive. Our friends have acknowledged and honoured the process we are going through. You’ve asked us questions about him, recognizing that he was here and real, that we need to talk, and that we are thinking of him most of the time anyway. Also, there have also been lots of normal conversations about everyday things, and we need those too. We have been given food (wonderful dinners and snacks for a whole week, perfectly organized – I almost cried when I saw the first gorgeous, lovingly prepared meal), flowers, hugs, gifts, and especially messages of love. It is staggering.
Yesterday, we held a simple Quaker memorial for Sebastian: an hour of silence in which anyone inspired to speak could do so. We weren’t sure, at first, if we wanted to have any kind of service, because it seemed strange to ask people to come to a memorial for someone very few people met, someone who never lived in the world. But so many people asked us if we were going to have one… and then when we decided to, many more said they were glad we were doing it, even if they couldn’t attend.
I wish all bereaved parents could experience this. It was a truly healing day.
Oddly, it reminded us both of our wedding day. Sitting in the same Friends’ Meeting room, realizing (with astonishment, in this case) that it was full. Seeing so many people we love, from all different parts of our lives, in one place. Knowing that we were being thought of and prayed for by even more people who were not able to be there in person. Wondering if anyone would say anything, and then being amazed by the wise and beautiful words spoken by our friends, Quaker and otherwise. Losing count of all the hugs we were given. Being the focus of so much love. It was humbling and deeply moving.
(E was SO good, too. He was quiet almost the whole time, alternating sitting on the bench or my lap, and sitting or lying on the floor. He did whisper a few times – apparently several people could hear him say he wanted to play the piano – but it was so good to have him there.)
At the end, I managed (barely) to tell everyone about the scrapbook a beloved (expert scrapbooker) friend had made for us when she found out we were having a boy. [She had given it to me at Family Camp after Sean had assured her that I would still love it. It did make me cry to look at it, filled with cute animal paper and so much joy, but it didn’t take long to realize there were a lot of things I would want to put in there. Working on filling it over the last few days was a really good process for me.] I told our gathered friends that there were pictures of Sebastian in the book. I felt compelled to warn them, because I didn’t want to shock anyone… partly for their sakes, and partly for mine. As Sebastian’s mom, I have found myself fiercely protective of his image: I can’t stand the thought of anyone looking at his sweet face and flinching or recoiling because they know they are looking at someone dead. But one friend of mine inspired me by asking, very respectfully, if we might consider showing her the photos we had taken (thank you, C.). And after the Meeting, many people came to tell me how beautiful he was. It was beyond affirming – it was almost exhilarating.
So, although there was no baby born to us this week, we still feel as though we were part of a blessed event.
And as if all that weren’t enough… there are all of you, reading this right now. You guys blow my mind. You have generously gone through it with me, cried with me, and sent even more love. You have gone so far as to thank me for sharing all this, when I am the one who needs to thank you. The words “We are all here with you” feel completely true… and I’ve come to depend on that, on this act of writing my grief, knowing you are listening.
A thousand thanks.