A Stranger to Myself

A Stranger To Mysef | What surprised me about grief

Psychology 101 taught me that grief comes in stages — it follows a pattern.

If we recognize the pattern, we can better understand grief, learn how to cope with it and anticipate what’s ahead. We can also use this formula to measure a person’s progress in his/her grief. I can tell you now THAT is a big fat lie.

There is nothing more unpredictable than grief. It knocks you off your feet when you least expect it. Grief made me a stranger to myself. It’s made me question my own sanity more than once.

Until now, I never could have comprehended the kind of grief that follows baby/child loss—  it’s a different breed. To try to quantify grief is impossible and to say that one person’s grief is any less than another’s is unfair. With that said, this grief is just different I know from experience. In my lifetime, I’ve lost a few grandparents, a close relative or two, several friends & beloved pets.  I had no idea it could be worse… much worse. These loved ones, although deeply missed, had rich histories and full lives. There are photo albums full of happy memories to hold in my heart. In that, it was possible for me to find some peace and acceptance in their deaths. Losing my daughter in labor, on the very day I was anticipating meeting her, left me with a soul-crushing emptiness. What I thought I once knew about grief, I had only just scratched the surface.  I didn’t understand to what vast depths this grief could & would carry me & how it would make me a stranger to myself. It’s full of unexpected twists and turns.

“The number of times the pendulum swings back and forth on any given day makes me feel worthy of the loony bin.”

I was entirely unprepared for the reality that I WOULDN’T move through grief on any predictable timeline or in so-called stages. I assumed it would go something like this: 1 month of denial 2 months anger, the next 4 depression, and so on, but the reality was starkly different. I was experiencing all of these “stages” in a single day, taking turns sometimes within minutes of each other, like a manic, bipolar roller coaster I couldn’t get off. One minute I feel like I have a grip, positive even and like I can bravely face the day. Five minutes later I’m drowning once again in sadness, and fear.  In my darkest moments, I feel a physical pull against my shoulders as if something is slowing me down or stopping me from spiraling further down into my black hole of despair. Minutes later I’m angry! The number of times the pendulum swings back and forth on any given day makes me feel worthy of the loony bin. These “stages” of grief are really more momentary. They should be re-named “the fleeting moments of grief”.

I’ve always considered myself a pretty level headed person. Sad to say, no longer. Despite my brain with all its good intentions telling my heart to stay positive and take the high road, I find it impossible to avoid feeling ragefully angry & jealous!  Anger grips me so tightly that fighting it is futile. Not long ago I found myself feeling so alone in my grief that I actually convinced myself I WAS experiencing this all alone. Grief turned me against the people who loved me most. I even shunned my wife who was by my side all 30 hours of labor, through the birth of our stillborn daughter and who cried with me and kept me going through the weeks and months following. I was out of my mind to think she wasn’t experiencing this pain of grief right alongside me. She lost her daughter too. But grief blindsides you like that.

I was 100% unprepared for the reaction I had when I found out my brother and his wife were pregnant just a short 5 months after losing our daughter. I knew they had been actively trying, I knew it was likely to happen. I told myself many times over that if it did, I would be supportive and happy for them — BUT when it did happen, I was filled with sadness, anger, and jealousy. I was furious at the universe for making us have to stand by and watch the happiness of my immediate family as we were still trying to collect the broken pieces of our shattered lives!! We were being betrayed. I’ve always prided myself on not being a jealous person, but jealousy is my new unwelcome sidekick. My reaction to the news shocked me, as much it did them. I don’t know myself anymore. I hate myself for it and the self-inflicted punishment for feeling this way is by far the worst.

I worked up the courage and sent a heartfelt email congratulating them but also letting them know that the news was hard for me to digest. Their baby would be a constant reminder of my loss & I asked that they please be patient. With time, I would warm up to their baby. When they reacted defensively, I lashed out at my whole family.  I felt like no one comprehended how difficult this was and they weren’t even trying. My dreams were being stolen, and nobody got it. Crazy paid me a visit. I thought it was totally rational when I convinced myself I was just going to cut them all out of my life, leave them behind and never look back. After some time, I came to my senses. I wasn’t really going to abandon them. I even warmed up slightly to the idea of having a niece or nephew.

Several weeks later, the jealous crazy person returned upon finding out they were having a little girl. All the emotions flooded back, accompanied by crying fits. It’s one wild ride… one day fine, the next broken… 3 days fine 4 days broken. It’s hardly a pattern  anything but predictable.

“In grief, you turn to others familiar with it, hoping for any scrap of wisdom to help get you through or at least make you feel more normal in it all.”

In grief, you turn to others familiar with it, hoping for any scrap of wisdom to help get you through or at least make you feel more normal in it all. Sadly the realization is that these people are not always your best allies. I don’t know why but from them I expected more. A few words of encouragement maybe, an open acknowledgment of our loss, hearing them say my daughter’s name out loud… often still the response was silence. I was relying on them to help pull me through, but even in this crowd there’s a loss for words. Child loss is alienating. It is very taboo, even to those intimate with grief.

By contrast, however, I found that some of the least suspecting people burst out of the woodwork and rallied for us! These integral individuals have relentlessly reached out, spoken my child’s name, and have continually sent their love and support, time and time again!  Whether in the form of cards, texts, heartfelt messages, calls or visits, they are building me back up. I am forever grateful to each and every one of them.

The journey through grief means expecting the unexpected, accepting the ups, the downs, and making the best of everything in between, while allowing yourself the space to feel what you feel, free of guilt or judgment (sometimes easier said than done). With each passing day, I know that these fleeting moments of grief will fade and happiness will soon take over beginning to repair the sadness and pain. Don’t beat yourself up over a feeling, for these momentary thoughts are fleeting. They will morph into something better before you can blink and they’re not a reflection of the incredibly brave and beautiful person you are deep down.

Photo credit: adapted from sybarite48 | Flickr

What about grief and grieving process surprised you?

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Hilary Noxon

Hilary Noxon is New York City based artist & aspiring writer. In 2013 she married her wife Sara. Both had dreamed of starting a family and set off down a path to make that dream come true. Hilary very much wanted to conceive and carry a baby, but Sara felt very strongly about having a genetic relationship. The two sought help from a Fertility Clinic to conceive a baby via reciprocal IVF. After sperm donor complications and one failed IVF cycle, Hilary became pregnant with their 1st child. It was a perfect pregnancy and her dream come true, a little girl. On June 21st, 2014 she went into labor 10 days past her due date at 41.5 weeks. She labored at home with a doula for almost 20 hours. When she arrived at the hospital, she was devastated to learn that her perfect baby girl had no heartbeat. Sweet Finnley was stillborn on June 22, 2014 due to an umbilical cord accident which occurred during labor. Hilary started blogging her journey from it’s very beginnings in 2011. What she thought would be a wonderful story for her daughter to enjoy someday, and a way to support others through IVF, became a story of tragedy & grief. Now she feels strongly about supporting a new audience, fellow grieving parents. No one knows the “right” way to move through the loss of a child and she continues to navigate her own ever-evolving path through grief & recovery. There is no “right” or “wrong” way but she believes that facing it head on, no matter how ugly, is the ultimate path to healing.

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