I don’t normally post blogs based on what people are Googling, but the last three days I’ve seen an inordinate number of hits on one of my posts, When Your Baby Dies, and noted that a lot of people searched the word “stillborn” which led them to my site. And I’m not talking about a spike of 10-20 hits, I’m talking in the hundreds. Despite being plugged into the daily news and doing my best to stay current on global events, I can’t for the life of me think of any reason that people would be searching so frequently for that term, or landing so often on my post.
But in the interest of helping those folks out, I’d like to tell you how to survive the death of your child.
Please keep in mind, my daughter was a full-term stillborn, so my experience is radically different from someone who lost a child outside the womb. I can’t imagine losing one of my children (my wife and I now have two, a boy and a girl) and having to go through the process of burying them and the memories we made. I can’t imagine how it would feel to stand in Jon or Ella’s bedroom, knowing that they were never coming back. What it would be like to not feel my son’s arms wrapped around my neck again, or not have my daughter beg me to bounce her on the trampoline until she collapsed into my arms, laughing too hard to stand.
I think, honestly, I would die.
I know some of that pain, having experienced it with my stillborn daughter, but the grief is different when you mourn lost potential. Losing someone you’ve had for weeks or months or years…I don’t know. But I do know this: there is a connection between all of us who have ever lost a child. We know the deep sorrow of seeing a future wiped out before it could be fulfilled. We know the intense horror of having to ask “Why?” and “What could have happened differently?” without ever getting a satisfactory answer. We know what it feels like to willingly offer our own life for the life of our child, begging for the chance that they might live and we might die instead.
And we know the futility of such begging.
If you’ve ever picked out your child’s clothes, knowing that it would be the last thing they’d ever wear, you know that sometimes simply breathing is like being pierced with a knife.
If you’ve ever had a doctor look at you, eyes full of fear and mouth devoid of words, you know that the universe itself can seem small and cruel.
These are the pains of losing a child. They are not easy. They are not short-lived. They are not understood by many, save those who have drank from the same cup. They are, however, not permanent, at least not in the sense that each day feels like a fresh reinvention of the concept of hell. Eventually you will wake up and realize that you can go on. You will wake up and realize that the death of your child, though still with you in each heartbeat, each moment, is not going to kill you too.
Surviving the death of your child isn’t easy. It requires help, professional as well as personal. You need to go see a counselor; a therapist; a doctor; a spiritual advisor. You need to spend time with friends and family who may not understand your grief, but won’t shrink away in fear when it surfaces. You need to write down your thoughts, scream obscenities to heaven, cry until you fear dehydration, and battle the twin terrors of exhaustion and insomnia.
If you want to survive, you have to fight. If you give up, you’ll die too.
Only it won’t be the physical death you perhaps long for; it will be the death of your soul, your emotions, the part of you that makes you you. No one is strong enough to walk through a child’s death alone. You’ll crave solitude, and it will be an important part of your healing, but you’ll need community, a group of people who can and will go with you through the struggle, especially in the first few months when the world goes to hell and you can’t even make yourself care about eating a bowl of Frosted Flakes.
It’s a bitter irony, I suppose, that the one thing that helps you survive is family. And yet, it’s true.
If you are one of the many people who have searched for info on stillbirths, or have been moved by life events to read When Your Baby Dies, I sincerely hope that you have the family you need to survive the family you lost. If I could offer any other advice it’s merely this: with the right people around you, the best way to heal is to go full-on into your grieving. Don’t push it off. Don’t try to play hero. Don’t pretend it only hurts a little.
Embrace it. Run into the burning building that is your soul. Once the flames have gone out and everything has been reduced to rubble, you’ll find that by the grace of God and the strength of the people around you, you’re still standing. You’ve survived.
That’s what we all hope for. May you find it.