Scheduling Grief

When my son first died, there was no need to seek out moments to grieve. Grief, in all its shapes and forms, would slam into me often enough on its own–a punch to the gut first thing in the morning; one glance at the quiet back seat of my car, or the empty shopping cart; a simple, “How are you doing?” and wondering how to respond to a question that once seemed so mundane and ordinary and now threatened with confusion and frustration.

stepping forwards, footprintI worked part-time during that first year, and with no other kids, had plenty of time to explore my feelings. All that “free time” was a hurtful reminder that my identity as a mother had been stripped. However, it also allowed me the time to focus on myself and my needs. I had time to write and deeply reflect on all my questions, my faith, my spirituality. The details I spent documenting my grief allowed me to observe my own growth. It was a process of stepping forwards and backwards, but regardless of the direction of the footprints, I could see the trail of grief and healing treading behind me.

Now, more than four years later, life has found that sense of normalcy that grieving parents before me promised I would find one day. The hope offered to me that the pain of loss would never go away entirely, but lessen in its devastation, is certainly true. My husband and I left law school and Provo behind, and Dan has been a practicing attorney for over three years now here in Las Vegas. We have our first home, and a three-and-a-half-year old, a nineteen-month-old, and another on the way. Our every day routine is filled with work, laughing and crying children, laundry, housework, church responsibilities, playing with friends, writing books… Life is busier than it has ever been,  and some days I struggle to multi-task it all!

Then there are days like October 20th, my son’s birthday. He would be five-years-old today. I didn’t cry until I was on the phone with my sister this morning, talking about what a normal day it was. I mentioned we would be letting go of balloons for Ty in the evening, as usual, and then watching the beautiful DVD of still photos and videos  of Ty, but with our kids for the first time. It was the mention of this DVD that brought the unexpected tears, just knowing how emotional and gut-wrenching the beginning always is when I hear his newborn cry from the hospital room. I think my sister, feeling bad for me, asked something like, “Ohh, why do you do that to yourself?” and then answered her own question that it was to honor Ty.

water bucketsYes, it’s that, and sometimes in the moment of breaking down, I ask myself that same question. But I’ve discovered the need to schedule grief. Life moves fast and somehow only seems to get busier, often filled with distractions that prevent the ample time for self-reflection that I once had. It’s sentimental days like today when I tell myself, “I am making time to grieve, to feel” even though most days, I feel pretty normal and maybe don’t sense the need for it. But I have found that when I make time for grief, there are emotions that deserve to be recognized and there will always be healthy tears to cry. It’s all about releasing that grief bucket I once wrote about that no longer fills up as fast, but still drips in its own time. Eventually, no matter how slow the drip, it will always spill over, and that’s a good thing.

memory laneSo today, I have made time for my rituals that pause my every day life and allow me to think about my son, encompassing both the love and pain that is a part of being his mother. I’m wearing a gifted necklace engraved with his name and birthdate. I’m listening to my Josh Groban Pandora station, which I first created to dance with Ty in my arms during our quiet days together in our two-bedroom apartment in Provo. I will stare at his pictures and watch his videos, knowing it will tap at the cracked pieces of my heart, reminding me that the fractures of a broken heart never fully fuse together.  We will write memories and love notes on helium balloons and release them into the night sky, and continue to remind our kids that they have an older brother watching out for them. I do this to myself because it helps me feel close to my son.

Love and pain are intricate companions that can be difficult to separate. For those of you who are hurting from whatever your pain may be, I challenge you to schedule your grief. Find those rituals that make you both laugh and cry–that, despite the pain you might feel, will also remind you of the love in your heart.

Make time. Make room.

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To read more about my story of grief and healing over my son’s death, Borrowed Angel can be purchased online through Amazon or in your local Deseret Book.

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Borrowed Angel is the poignant story of a mother who lost her first child to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). In this captivating book, the author describes her journey through the gauntlet of grief and reveals how hope can be found, even amid tragedy.

Weaving spirituality with a practical approach to healing, Borrowed Angel reflects on motherhood, the grieving process, and the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

4 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I can’t imagine how painful this must have been and is on days like this. I have other close friends who are going through similar hardships and will share at the right time your message of hope and faith. Thanks for taking the time to share as I know your book and thoughts will help all those that read it.

    Martin

    • Hi, Martin! (The very Martin I knew in Thailand, right? =)
      I appreciate you taking the time to both read and leave a reply. It’s therapeutic for me to write it all down, but it also makes me feel better knowing my experiences might help someone else, especially if that hardship is more fresh.

      Hope you are well,
      Erica

  2. Erica,

    My husband and I just lost our baby last Tuesday. Our little girl Piper was born stillborn at 28 weeks. My mom gave me your book and I was comforted by your words and your story about your sweet Ty. Our story is not the same but reading about your grief felt in some ways like reading a journal I had written myself. Right now I feel as though my “Grief bucket” is being filled by an endless waterfall but it gives me hope to think that one day it will slow. I have also been wrestling with the decision if and/or when to return to work (I work at New Haven, an RTC for Teen girls, and really related to your experience as an RT at Telos). Your experience after your loss helped give me guidance with that decision. Thank you for sharing your feelings and your story. Best wishes to you and your family.

    Megan

    • Hi, Megan,

      I’m very sorry to hear about the loss of little Piper. That would be so incredibly hard to be that far along in pregnancy and then go through such a loss. I’ve been thinking about you and all the preparations you must have made up to that point that must be difficult to see right now. I’m glad you are able to relate to some of my writing and experiences. The grief bucket is one of my favorites because it really does feel that way, even now five years later. The flow is more like a dripping faucet now though, and I promise it will be that way for you one day. But for now, let it overrun. Keep talking about it and working through all the positive and negative emotions you feel because all of them are necessary as you go through this very personal journey.

      I am very familiar with New Haven! I interned as an RT back in 2006 with Karie Swenson, who no longer works there. I was only there for a semester, but that is a very powerful place. Telos branched off from New Haven so the program is very similar. I hope you find peace and comfort there when you return to work.

      If you need anything, you can find me on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ericakieferauthor and send me a message. I”m happy to write back. I would also suggest joining a support group when you are up to it. There is a local group in Provo or Orem that has probably reached out to you already, but there is also another separate FB group that I can add you to. It’s helpful to have a place to vent, to reflect, to hear others going through similar emotions.

      Hang in there…
      love,
      Erica

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