Earlier this week I re-posted an old blog post – A Note to New Grievers. When I wrote the post I was in a very different place than I am now. I wrote the post in 2013. Ten years after my sister’s murder. 3 years before my twins died.
When I stumbled on it again it was like reading one of those time-capsule letters. You know, the ones you used to write and bury for your future self?
I found myself reading the lines:
“I can attest that it (grief) will change, it will become bearable, and you will change with it. The suffering of it will end. There will be days that your heart wrenches when you wish they were present to experience a piece of life with you - but eventually those will be mere moments in the scope of your life. You will not be crippled by this painful loss – not permanently.”
And thinking – is that true? Did I really feel that pulled back together?
I miss my sister, Rachael, even now... well, especially now. Whenever things get really hard I miss her extra. I wonder about where she would be on the journey to making a family. I wonder how she would hold my hand through this.
But, I’ve grown accustomed to missing her. It’s woven into the fabric of my daily life. I know how to miss her and move through the rest of my life.
The twins … I can’t breathe sometimes I miss them so much. The weight of their loss sits like an anvil on my chest. It feels crippling. It feels life altering. It feels … like this is the new forever.
But what if my former words are true?
What if this too will fold in, become part of who I am, and I will move again with ease?
What if the longing and the missing become less?
No … I will always long, I will always miss.
Just as I do Rachael, but more.
More because your children come from the most intimate parts of your heart.
Because your children have true pieces of you.
Because losing them is legitimately losing part of yourself.
I’ve been reading through countless grief sites. Story after story about loss and living without your children. Stories about infertility struggles. Stories about kissing infants goodbye and holding funerals for children. Stories about how people overcome or learn to live again.
I’m devouring these stories. I want to know about the men and women who went before me. I want to know how the grief settles. I want to see the beauty in the terrible wreckage.
The end of A Note To New Grievers recounts the Anne Frank quote:
“Think of all the beauty still around, and be happy.”
So here it is (for now) some of the beautiful things I have seen in this painful time:
Five things for now. I’ll do my best to keep my eyes open for more – even if I see it through the cloud of tears – I’ll look for the beauty for my babies. I'm not quite at the "be happy" part yet. But, I’ll look for it because their lives brought joy, and they are the most beautiful thing of all.
This has been a hard week. Before you read any further know that I am down today. This has been a ‘wish I could stay in bed with the covers over my head’ kind of week. This has been a ‘can’t stay under the covers for more than a few seconds or I’ll suffocate’ kind of week.
Nothing in particular happened – other than my children dying 10 weeks ago.
My children died 10 weeks ago.
Even if I space out the words the weight of them still feels like a punch to the gut. Nothing happened this week in particular to make that feel any bigger. That isn’t true either. I can find all kinds of little triggers from this week, but there isn’t one big thing that I can point to and say “that’s what knocked me off, right there.” I had a pretty great weekend just before this. I went out with a friend, I celebrated my Dad & husband, I ran, I played at the lake, I laughed … I was, for the most, part UP … up enough to have my daily cry and move on to engaging in other things.
Then, in the middle of the night Sunday, with no warning, I sat up, clammy and anxious … that panic feeling radiating through my sternum. You know the feeling? Like an internal tremble. I kept swallowing. Then I remembered the first few lines of C.S.Lewis’s A Grief Observed:
“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.”
Nothing in particular happened this week, except my grief did not get smaller. Even when I write here … even when I give permission … even when I show all my scars … I’m still just trying to rush to the end point. I’ve been desperate to get to the part of the story where some meaning is made.
For years, I chased a need for new identity and a way to turn the awful loss of Rachael into something. I pointed my career in such a way to say, “this horrible awful thing happened, but I won’t let the bad guys win, I’ll help people instead.” I found a way to make meaning – not one that would EVER make it okay that she was gone, but one that allowed me to feel purpose in her absence.
Then our infertility struggle hit. Through months of tears and needles and disappointment my husband and I fought side by side to try to create a family. And the beautiful day that we found out we were pregnant with twins – the story made sense. How else could we end up with two beautiful children at once if not for this way?
I remember naively thinking, “all the bad things are officially over in my life.”
If I have learned anything about grief, especially fresh sweltering grief, it’s that what goes up must come down. I previously mentioned the waves – the inconsistent crashing of grief washing over you again and again. It doesn’t feel any less shocking though. One day you are breathing a little easier, you think perhaps I’m settling in. You think, perhaps my new normal is adjusted and I’m doing just fine. But then the roller coaster plummets with a gut drop. Not the ‘throw your hands in the air’ kind but the ‘swallow your gum, hope you don’t choke’ kind.
It’s been that kind of week.
I’ve secured the appropriate grief supports. I am surrounded by people who have been through similar pains. I have the books. I know the songs. I practice the breathing techniques. I use creative outlets. I freaking know how this works. (I’m yelling at myself here).
But that doesn’t change it. As much as I tell myself I should be better at this, all things considered, I should be a “better griever,” I am not.
There are simply not enough comforts to make the ache stop completely – not even for the most faithful, most hopeful, or most practical. We cannot escape the experience of grief. It is as intertwined with the experience of life as living itself.
I don’t have a cheery message today. Except that if you are going through this, if you are in it, know that you are not alone. If you are experiencing a down day, or week, or moment – it isn’t because of an inability to grieve well, it’s because this is what grief is. There is no getting around this broken heart, except to live it. I am in it today.
Today, I looked in the mirror and reminded myself that I am human. I am human and my heart is broken. No amount of knowledge, no amount of experience, no amount of understanding or self-will or magic is going to change that. I just have to live it.
I looked at the mirror image and said, “You have to live the broken heart.” Swallow again. My dear friend, one year ahead of me after a similar loss, keeps reminding me to take it one day at a time. One day at time, one foot in front of the other, one second to the next. Even when I want to fight moving forward because it separates me more from them. Because 10 weeks have gone by, and I still desperately wish for backwards time travel.
Swallow again. I’m just going to get through the next 24 hours. In the end, what goes down usually comes up; maybe next time with less bounce. Maybe next week, with less bounce.
When I say, “I miss my babies”
it isn’t in a way I’ve missed before.
It’s as though the corners of my soul were cut off.
It’s as though the most intimate, truest particles of my heart
It’s as though my brain lost the magic in its waves
but instead of flat lining –
it kept going.
I miss them in a way that makes me feel
altered, incomplete, unwhole and irrevocably changed.
And in the depth of the missing,
in the longing,
I realize that my soul grew larger when I carried them.
I realize that my heart had more particles
and that my brain had entertained in new ways.
I realize that they have expanded my capacity for love.
Their absence is an echoing reminder of the new largeness within my heart.
I love them in ways I could never have explained.
Now when I hear the words of other mothers saying
how much they love their children,
I understand why ‘love’ feels like a nearly insignificant descriptor.
I understand that words could never really encompass
the depth, breadth, or width of connection to my children.
So, with simultaneous strokes,
I am missing and loving in opposite directions.
I am expanding.
I am bigger in this weakness.
I am unendingly tied to them.
The shortness of their lives,
the brevity with which they existed on earth,
the length of time we were given,
is not comparable to the intensity with which I know, feel, and experience love
and missing them.
They were more than a flicker,
more than a flame,
and I wish the world had gotten the chance to know them like I did.
I wish that you had all seen their faces too –
not the photoed version, because it lacks truth –
but the one burned in my brain.
I wish this because when all I have are the simple words: “I miss my babies,”
you wouldn’t want to cock your head to the side,
pat my shoulder,
and with a small frown say, “I know.”
Instead, you would be awe-struck,
as though the words could express justly what it means to miss them.
You would feel breathless, encountered by searing truth.
You would feel emblazoned with understanding.
And then …
in the sun rising,
in the rain falling,
in the mundaneness of hours passing …
I would still miss them.
you could put your hand on my heart
and feel the edges of my torn soul
and they would be missed the world over.
Then the love for them would bounce through the skies,
and land like a kiss on their cheeks
blown from an impossible distance
unfazed by the separation of time or space
By Tiffany Kann
This is my husband’s first Father’s Day. Of course, we expected my stomach would still be big and round on this day. We thought we would be excitedly preparing for the twins arrival in a few short months. I had a gift planned out for Dan (I’m still going to give it to him) that he could use with the babies. We will still celebrate him because he is still a father.
He is still a Father. Dad. Daddy.
Before the twins died I was talking to a classmate of mine who was working on a qualitative study about how fathers feel after stillbirth. At the time we never thought anything would happen to our own children. But I listened intently as this Dad/fellow classmate explained to me the way society often bypasses fathers after infant loss. He told me about how he had lost a baby and the message he repeatedly received in her wake was that he needed to be strong and take care of his wife. Rarely did someone ask him how he felt about being a Dad.
I remembered thinking about how I wanted to be really intentional in recognizing how much of a Dad my husband already was through our pregnancy. It was important that he knew that his role started before their birth and that I recognized it. So often, we assume a Mom becomes a Mom when she gets pregnant and a Dad becomes a Dad when the baby arrives.
But, Dan did all kinds of fatherly things for them while I was pregnant. He maxxed out their college fund. He bought a Spanish children’s CD so he could learn with them. He checked on me all the time. He carried a soccer ball around the house prepping for Finnian. He imagined what things he would tell Maisie so she felt adored. He talked about where he wanted to take our family during the summers and what kinds of cars he would get the kids. And not just in an imaginary sense, but in a future budgeting preparation. He made sure every craving of jalapeno poppers, strawberries, lemonade, pasta, or burritos was immediately satisfied as though the order came straight from the kids. He attended every single doctors appointment. I will never forget our first ultrasound. D clutched my hand as we waited to find out if we had one or two healthy babies. Then he said, “That’s the heartbeat!” Before me or the nurse saw it. I will never forget the sound of excitement in his voice. That sound rang through my ears through the whole pregnancy – in all our life together I had never heard quite the sound of that fearfully excited wonder from him.
Dan’s only access to the twins was through me until their birth, until he held them gently in his arms. I will never forget the look on his face in the hospital – the way his lips curled in pride as he looked at them before cratering into tears. I remember the way he gently kissed their heads and told them he would always love them. I remember listening to his whisper and hearing the furious rush of love behind his words.
Still, more people reached out to wish him condolences after the loss of our dog than our twins. Rarely does anyone (except other grieving fathers) ask him about the babies, or his experience with it all, or even how he is. And he doesn’t reach out about it. He’s generally quiet anyways. And men grieve differently. D went right into ‘do’ mode after the twins died. He tore up our deck and put it back together. He made over the yard. He threw himself into work and began producing more. He started making plans for trips. He is training for a run. He is doing.
My own Dad has been grieved for 12 Father’s Days this year. He also went into do mode in his grief for many, many years. He will talk to me about memories of Rachael or what happened or how he wished things were different. And hovering under his words, unsaid, is simply “I miss Rachael.” I know he does. He misses her every single day.
In the hospital, my Dad was the last to leave the day I was admitted. On that first day we didn’t know what would happen. The prediction was that we would likely lose Finnian but that I may stay in the hospital 3 months trying to nurture Maisie. At one point the staff did an ultrasound to see how both the babies were. I could only see my Dad and Dan standing side-by-side looking at the screen. Grandfather and Father side-by-side watching the tech check for heartbeats and movement. Finnian had lost all his fluid but had a strong heart beat. Then they panned to Maisie and she too had a strong heart beat. As the tech focused in on her, Maisie wildly bounced (as she often did) and both Dad and Dan jumped and said, “Did you see that!” Patting each other on the back and excitedly talking about our sweet girl …. This is one of the last visuals I have of being pregnant.
My Dad was also the first to arrive the next day when I went into labor. He showed up at 4:30 in the morning to be a support to Dan and me. A few short hours later he was consoling us. He reluctantly and with absolute despair inducted Dan into the grieving father’s club. He hugged him and kissed my forehead. And then he told us how proud he was of both of us as parents. We are both parents.
If you know a man that had a child or infant die, they are grieving this Father’s Day. Please take a moment when you see that Dad to pat him on the back and tell him their child was so lucky to have them.
“Finnian and Maisie were so lucky to have you.”
“Rachael was so lucky to have you.”
And then wait while he clears his throat … he might talk to you about it, he might bring up a sports team, he might swig his beer, nod is head and move on. But you will have told him in a very simple way that you remember his children, that you recognize he is a Dad still, and that he is a damn good one.
I've been writing so much in the last few weeks. It is hard to know what to share, what to mull over, and what to keep for myself. But, in the end the goal of restarting this blog was to be open and raw in case someone else needs to hear the words pouring out of me. In case, by some chance, in some way, this is how I can continue to share the love that Finnian and Maisie brought to this world.
After we lost Rachael, I wrote a lot poetry. I stopped writing as much poetry after college, after her case was resolved. Just a poem here or there but not with any intentional editing. In the time that I did write though, the poems just flooded my senses. Recently, the same thing is happening... especially in the mornings, when I sit with my coffee and think about what I wish I could tell the twins, or if not them directly what I could say about them. Robert Frost said, "Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words." I think that is true. Here is one of the poems I wrote this week. It is but an attempt to explain why I keep writing right now.
More Than Words
If I could express how much I love you,
If the words could cascade from my mouth
like a raging waterfall
desperate to reach the ground -
over the cliff of my lips,
like torrents of water
shaping the earth with the message
of how much, how strongly, how deeply
my love runs for you -
If the words could begin to shape
the exact size of my love for you,
if they could carry the weight
in a way that would
create a bridge over the chasm
Then maybe, this endless hole in my heart
that runs through my core,
would not echo with such deafening
If my words, imperfectly stated, could still reach you
then maybe I’d hear your response,
if even in a dribbling,
slight swooshing sound,
like a gentle creek
in the voices I long to hear,
Maybe the sky would open,
maybe heaven would sit lower
beneath the clouds
so we could whisper back and forth:
“I love you, baby”
“I love you, mommy”
and every word ever said
would not have been truer
by: Tiffany Kann
I've been thinking about this idea a lot this week – ‘give yourself permission to grieve/feel/be ok/be not ok.’ It is a very therapist-y thing to say and it is definitely something that I have told clients. With all things we tell clients, most social workers know that it is easier said than done. But … you will also hear this idea from veteran grievers, especially those who have lost a child. In person and from the blogosphere it is apparent that child loss is undeniably, inextricably entwined in the lives of parent’s unfortunate enough to live it. Children cannot be removed from the heart. Moms on every corner of the internet share how the thought of their son or daughter, no matter what age or way or reason they have died, remains etched in their minds daily.
I’m still learning to be a part of this group – I, like all the others, am not here by choice. This grief, this new grief that has taken over my life, has me learning again all about the way loss reshapes you. Despite having lived through the violent, traumatic loss of my sister and discovering ways to stay connected to her while negotiating a life without her presence; despite spending the last decade participating in and facilitating grief groups; despite working with grief and studying traumatic loss … I am not prepared for this tangled group of emotions surrounding my children’s death. So I’m giving myself permission to feel them.
What does that even mean? Permission seems like such a strange word in regards to emotions. Emotions happen regardless of whether or not we wish them too. Emotions are also not inherently good or bad, they are simply representations of the way our body or soul is reacting to whatever circumstance or thought is presenting. We can’t necessarily control our emotions (though we try to) but we can control our actions. So why do we say ‘give yourself permission to feel’? Permission insinuates an authorization granted. I think of it as creating an internal space and allowing the feeling to fill you.
In my last blog I mentioned the wonderful support system of friends and family that have given me permission to grieve. Their permission isn’t because they have the authority to tell me whether or not I can feel, but because they create space for me to express the emotions in this, whether that is through talking, crying, or even laughing.
I’ve noticed that people either struggle with feeling bad or they struggle with feeling good after loss. I think we all struggle a little bit with both, because our minds take over and tell us we should or should not be feeling that bad/good. We worry about what that feeling means about us. We worry the feeling itself is indicative of either our inability to heal or conversely if it is too good, our lack of love for our lost child. I do a little bit of both myself and I noticed it this week. So I took time to give myself permission to experience each feeling fully.
My husband and I went on vacation this weekend. Packing my bags felt bittersweet because I knew that we were only able to go on this trip now because I am no longer pregnant. As we were getting ready to leave, my Mom reminded me to “allow yourself to feel happy and enjoy your husband.” My mom is a veteran griever. She misses my sister all the time and she still wells with tears when she talks about wishing Rach were here. But my Mom also is a constant reminder that we have to accept joy too. So I took her advice. And I laughed a lot this weekend. When the thought of guilt arose I mentally granted myself permission to feel happy. My laughter was not an indication of remarkable healing after Finnian and Maisie’s death. It wasn’t a denial of their constant presence in my mind. My laughter wasn’t even an admission that it is “okay” for them to not be here. My laughter was simply the expression of joy that still exists when spending time with my husband.
During our trip, we enjoyed each other’s presence, we talked about anything and everything going on, and we reminded each other of our unwavering dedication to survive all the hard things together. It was exactly what was needed and I’m glad I had the permission to feel it.
But … it didn’t end there of course. We didn’t return with a miraculous feeling of having shed the grief. Monday evening, after wading through the pregnant bellies on Facebook, and thinking about all the babies and twins we had seen that weekend – it hit me how much I wanted them back. I want Finnian and Maisie back. I can’t have them, but the longing doesn’t go away, not even a little. At first, I tried to fight the tears back not wanting to “ruin” our momentum. Then I remembered to give myself permission. D looked at me surprised when he realized the tears falling again and our conversation went like this:
D- “Are you okay? Did something just happen?”
Me – “I think I just need to be sad for a little bit.” I surprised myself with this statement.
D- “Do you want me to sit with you or give you space?”
Me- “I don’t know.”
And so he sat with me. And I cried. I cried with a sore heart. I cried with an empty belly. I cried until the tears just stopped on their own. It wasn’t an indication that I was falling apart. My tears didn’t mean that I am undeniably broken or dismantled. They meant that I miss Finnian and Maisie. And I allowed myself to feel every inch of missing them in those moments. My wonderful husband also granted me permission by not trying to change it or remove the pain. That is not easy for him. He grieves differently. But he let me anyway.
I’m going through it. I never liked the description of grief in stages or phases. It doesn’t fit what I have experienced or witnessed. Other mothers have described the grief as coming and going in waves. This seems like a more accurate description to me. Only the waves are not rhythmic like the ocean. These waves crash, cascade, and drizzle without rhyme or reason. They come and go in an a-rythmic, non-linear, unpredictable manner. I hear this spreads with time … that the intervals themselves change. I’m still becoming. I’m still integrating this new identity into my life. I am the mom of twins that died at birth. I don’t know how long it will take to weave these fragmented pieces of the new me together … perhaps a lifetime.
Hi, I'm Tiffany. I believe in the power of stories to connect us to each other. I write about life after loss and all the love, longing, and learning that comes from it. Grief is big, love is bigger. My newest stories are about motherhood (after both infertility and loss). In my experience, love doesn't get bigger than motherhood.
© Tiffany Kann and Loss & Life, 2013-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Tiffany Kann and www.lossandlife.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.