In the first few days after the stillbirth of my son, it seemed incomprehensible that I would ever be able to function without dissolving to tears every time I thought of him – which was every few minutes. Other people would give me platitudes like, “Time heals all wounds”, and “You only miss him because you love him”, but it didn’t change the fact that I couldn’t have dinner with my husband, go to the grocery store, or even brush my teeth without being interrupted by floods of tears and sobs that took my breath away every time I thought of him. It was easier to imagine that this was my new existence than that I would ever resemble “normal” again.
I remember the day I went a full 24 hours without crying about my son. I can’t tell you when it was or how long it took me to get to that place, but I can tell you that I remember the moment like it was yesterday. I had been looking forward to that day for many weeks. Yet, when I made the realization that I had muddled through an entire day without falling apart on the outside, I was devastated.
I thought it would be a welcome sign of “progress” in my grief journey. I thought it would mean that I was “better”. I thought it would feel like my “normal” again. It was none of those things.
I was unbelievably sad with my new-found ‘progress’. One of my biggest fears was that he would be forgotten. I had already seen casual friends and acquaintances forget that he was a part of my life. I had seen good friends and family members get back into their usual routines and appear that my son’s death didn’t interfere in their activities or happiness. But now that I was seeing it in myself, I was terrified that I, too, would soon forget him. The smell of his skin, the feel of his smooth forehead on my lips, the weight of his body in my arms, the part of my heart that he took with him to a better place.
I was confused. This was supposed to be a milestone that made me feel better, not worse. I felt guilty that I had moved that far in my journey in such a short time (I still have no idea when it was – but it instantly felt too soon). I felt guilty that I didn’t miss him “enough” to cry about him today. But yet I knew I couldn’t continue crying every day. And I knew that the world around me expected me to reach this day.
How could ‘progress’ feel so horrible?
Just as all the days leading up to that one, I had no choice but to accept my feelings and emotions for what they are and keep putting one foot in front of another. In many ways, I am still doing that same exercise 9 years later.
The difference now is that I have learned to embrace the guilt, the pain, and the joy. I understand that ALL of my emotions in this regard come from my love for my son. Not in spite of it. I know that I will NEVER forget him. I have had time to work through the guilt, recall memories with fondness, and be proud of my son. I now realize that much of the grief journey requires creating a new ‘normal’.
I’m sure from the outside looking in, my life looks anything but normal to most people. But that’s ok. It’s MY normal. I wouldn’t be who I am without all of my life experiences – my childhood, my family, my marriage, my career, my living children, and my angel in heaven.
I recognize that my grief “progress” is not measured by how much I love or miss my son. It is measured by my ability to incorporate that experience into the rest of my life. And I can’t imagine my life today without any of my children. I love all of my children more than I can express, I miss my first child more than I could ever describe, and I love what each of them has taught me. It is not my grief that has helped me to progress – but my motherhood. And I feel blessed.