Grief is often described as a ‘journey’ – and I understand why. My journey with stillbirth began 12 years ago this month. I’m still not sure what the ‘destination’ is, but I would describe it as a long hike.
At the beginning of the hike, I was standing at the bottom of the mountain. Looking up at the path in front of me was overwhelming, and it was bigger than anything I had ever done before. I had significant doubts about my strength and stamina to even begin such a task. Part of me wanted to go around the mountain thinking it would be easier. But that was a long trip, too and I wasn’t guaranteed a smooth path there, either.
After staring at the mountain for a long time, I started climbing the way everyone does – one step at a time. I did a lot of stumbling and slid backwards often. I’m still not at the top – and I don’t expect to get there. But I have learned a few things along the way.
I laugh at the thought that anyone could be prepared for this type of journey. None of us are. But if you are at the base of this mountain, take a moment to think about the days and weeks in front of you. You don’t have to start running the minute your feet hit the ground. Take a deep breath, ask questions, and feel the love and support of those around you.
Use the Buddy System
It often feels like we are alone on this path. But there are people willing to be our buddy for the trip. It may be someone you already know, or it may be a new friend that you met only at the mountain. This is the person who can give you suggestions, help you avoid the loose rocks, be your cheerleader when you need support to continue, and will sit down with you when you need to catch your breath.
Fuel your body
We have to take care of ourselves if we want to get up that mountain. It’s easy to have poor or absent nutrition, develop bad health habits, or use substances as coping mechanisms. The work of climbing this mountain is much easier if you are eating properly, getting good sleep, engaging in physical activity, not using alcohol or other substances, and seeking medical attention for health concerns. It may not seem like a top priority at the moment – but it needs to be.
Accept a Hand
Somewhere on the way up the mountain, you will need or want to grab the hand of someone willing to help. Don’t be afraid to do so. It is not a sign of weakness, but of personal awareness. Some hands help with daily tasks. Some hands are professionals who can help you stay healthy. Accept the help you need or that would just make the journey a little less stressful.
Take a Break
The entire mountain doesn’t have to be climbed at once. Take breaks to catch your breath, look around, and see your new environment. Get a drink of water, take a nap, have lunch with friends, laugh, get off the path to see the wildlife, watch the sunrise, do something you’ve always wanted to do. These short diversions are healthy and help you prepare for the next portions of the hike.
Look back once in a while
There are probably more ‘small’ victories than you realize along the path. Those rough patches in the journey may look like planning a memorial service, surviving milestones and anniversaries, being around babies that are the same age as your baby, returning to work, making new friends, adjusting to other people’s reactions, attempting another pregnancy, surviving another pregnancy, or more. Give yourself credit for overcoming those obstacles!
Reach out your Hand
When you are looking back, you will see fellow hikers who are just starting their road up the mountain. Offer them a hand through the rough patches or across the gaps. It can be very healing to give back and it has helped me to appreciate how far I have traveled.
Be in touch with the mountain
This has been the hardest for me to learn and accept. I resented the fact that I was even on the mountain. Finding peace is a challenge if you are at odds with the ground you’re walking on. In time, I began to think of the mountain not as my grief – but as my son. This path is my journey of love with my son – not a journey I was put on because we lost him. It’s not the mountain I had planned, but I have learned to appreciate it. It reminds me of what is important in life and why I continue to put one foot in front of the other.