Six years ago, my heart shattered. It didn’t just shatter, it broke irreparably. Six years ago today, I lost my son. His name was Malcolm and he was perfect. My beautiful boy was stillborn, and had complications. Though it wasn’t a surprise, it was something that I had spent months praying, begging, pleading God would find a way to save me from. He didn’t.
For the longest time, I couldn’t even walk through the grocery store without tearing up. I would hear a baby cry, walk by the baby isle, or a variety of other things that would bring the pain right back to the surface. In hindsight, I now know this is normal, but with my hormones raging from delivery – yes, delivery. You still have to give birth and your body doesn’t know that you didn’t get to bring the baby home. It doesn’t understand that it betrayed you. It doesn’t understand the pain you feel as you bind your breasts to restrict the milk, or how cruel it feels to have to have your milk let down at all when you can’t use it to nourish your precious little one. In the midst of the pain and transition, you don’t feel normal. You feel absolutely crazy. Not just a little off, but barely holding your head above water as you tread furiously in the deep end kind of crazy. And you are. You are, and you are supposed to be. Let yourself be crazy, feel the pain, process the pain, and gain strength from it.
“God has a plan / reason.”
There were so many well meaning people that did their best to make me feel better during that time. They were sweet to try, but how do you soothe the heart of a grieving mother? You can’t. The one I heard the most was “God has a plan.” Yes, I know he does, but at that moment, all I could do was yell on the inside. I wanted to scream every time I heard someone say that to me. It isn’t that I don’t think he did, it is just that in the moment, how do you reconcile the death of your son with some unknown plan? In short, you don’t.
I didn’t care, or want to care, or care that I didn’t care. I just hurt. It felt like someone had literally reached into my chest and started to squeeze. It hurt to breathe, it hurt to think, it hurt to be. My body was still ravaged by the physical trauma of giving birth and the emotional trauma of holding my son only once in this life. I didn’t think I could go on, and honestly, I didn’t want to. You want to rage, scream, punch the person who said it in the nose. You don’t want to hear that the only thing you wanted in this world, the one thing you can’t have was part of some unknown plan – some plan that you have no control over, no knowledge of and no interest in. All you want in that moment is to have your precious baby in your arms. It is maddening in the moment.
“Are you going to try again?”
Some of the same sweet, good hearted, but socially inappropriate people asked if I was going to try again – at the wake. AT THE WAKE! T-H-E W-A-K-E!!!!! This is wrong on so many levels. The darkness that had enveloped me was so intense, so dark, so deep and thick that it was almost palpable. I could feel the depression, grief and sadness physically. My heart literally ached, and there were times that I felt like I couldn’t breathe. That was not the moment to talk to me about future children. Only because I could barely exert enough energy to function did I not become violent. This ranks up there with “You’re still young, you can have more.” They aren’t puppies, guys, he was my son. I carried him, he was mine. He is mine.
“You’ll get over it.”
Again, not the death of a pet. I don’t want to get over it. He was my son. He belonged to me. He was a part of me. I don’t want to just “get over it.” I don’t want to forget him. I want to love him, do love him. I pray for him, pray that Mother Mary will watch him until I get there. I pray that he knows he was loved, wanted and is cherished. I visit him and talk to him. I know he isn’t in the grave – he is playing in the throne room, waiting for me. He is healthy, happy, not in pain, and playing at the feet of the master. I know this with every fiber of my being, but I still cry. I miss him, I miss what might have been. I especially miss him at Christmas, at the holidays. I see little blonde haired boys about the age he would be and think about him – and cry. I remember the day I met a little boy in an ice cream parlor – he was a little younger than my son would be now, but he had the same name, the same little blonde head, and a mischievous smile. I had both of my kids with me and it was all I could do to hold it together. Yes, six years later I have not “gotten over it.” You don’t get over these types of things, you just learn to live around them. Sometimes gracefully, sometimes not so much.
”I know just how you feel.”
Do you? Really? You lost a child? Oh, you didn’t? Then, pardon my language, who the F**K are you and what do you know? Seriously, that is the conversation that was in my head. I did my best to realize that people were coming from a place of genuine concern, but dang if you don’t want to scream. Unless you have lost a child, never never never tell a grieving parent that you know how they feel. They don’t even know how they feel at this point. All they know is that this is the most intense pain of their life and the living embodiment of their very heart is going and never coming back. It is soul crushing, life altering and mind bending to live through that. You don’t know how they feel.”
“At least you still have ________________ (one, him, her, them).”
Don’t, just don’t. Do not compare the life of one child to the lives of surviving children. Don’t use them as a crutch because you don’t know how to process the level of grief and pain that a parent is feeling. Yes, I know you are coming at this from a spirit of wanting to help them heal. Yes, I think it noble and kind hearted that you care enough to try. But please, for the love of all things Holy. Don’t say that. Yes, I did still have Tiny. I also had to come home from the hospital without her brother to spend a sleepless night waiting for her to wake up so that I could tell her. I had to explain death to my four year old. I had to be strong and comfort her – tell her it’s ok to cry and hold my sweet baby as her heart broke too. Yes, I still had her, but it doesn’t heal the void of not having them both. Nothing can, and to date, nothing has. The addition to Teeny to our family four years later helped heal my heart a bit, but Malcolm will never be any less present in my heart. I will never not grieve. I will never again face another Christmas without wondering what it would be like to have all three waking up to find Santa’s gifts, visualizing it and having my heart ache for all that might have been, but never will be.
What should you say? I love you. Tell them you love them, sit with them and don’t say a word. Let them know you are there, and will be there as long as they need you. Tell them they matter, that they are precious to you, and that even though they feel more alone than they have ever been, they are not. Most importantly, understand that at times like these, words are meaningless. We do our best to offer up words to comfort, words to shield our own hearts and guard our own sense of helplessness. If it could go on a bumper sticker, don’t say it!
Here is a little more truth for you since I seem to be in an honest mood today. The pain is still just under the surface. It is especially hard to control this time of year. I get up in the mornings thinking of him, go to sleep thinking of him, but don’t say much because I don’t want to superimpose my grief on Papa Bear or Tiny – Teeny was born a few years later. There were times I wanted to die. I swear that the only thing that saved me was Tiny. I distinctly remember one night, the darkness and pain were about to overtake me. I had nightmares, was emotionally raw and physically exhausted from not being able to sleep. I literally wanted to die – until I heard Tiny breathe out and shift in her bed. My guardian angel reached into her crib and poked her. I realized in that moment that I would have to put my own needs aside and wait, Tiny needed me more. I couldn’t leave her without a mother.
So now, on the day he was born, I get the kids ready for school, fed and dropped off. Then I give in and cry. It’s ok to cry, it is ok to grieve, and it is ok for it to last as long as it needs to. There is no wrong or right way to grieve. On his birthday, I will visit him, just as I always do. I will sit with him, sing to him, tell him about his brother and sister. I will tell him I love him a million times. I clean his headstone, kiss it, spread fresh rose petals around it. I give in to the pain, the guilt, the heartbreak. I pray and I sing some more.
I will never be a mother of 3 in this life, but I will always have him in my heart. I will never try to forget him. I will never try to “get over it” or “move on.” For this child I prayed, and unto me he was given… Even if I didn’t get to keep him in this life, he is mine. I am grateful for him, for his presence, and remember that he has taken the sting out of death for me. He will be waiting for me when my time comes.
When I am done, I spend the day doing things for others. Small acts of kindness and service, anonymously in his honor. I try to find those who look like they need a little boost, and I try to lighten their burden. I can’t give him a birthday party. I can’t give him gifts, but I can honor him and the impact that his tiny, precious soul has had on my life.
I ask that if you took the time to read this, please do something kind for another person today in his honor. Do it without seeking recognition, without want for anything in return. Give to the Universe in his honor, do good for others in his memory. That is the best give I can give him, the most impactful gift I can share with him. Hopefully, by doing things in his memory, he can impact the lives of others in a positive way for years to come.
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