As the days of August draw in, I am ever more aware of the cracking in my heart. The aching has not subsided but is actually throbbing more and more as we approach the period when my pregnancy should’ve concluded, when my babies should’ve been born, when life should’ve been right. Yesterday, I would’ve been 34 weeks pregnant and my twins would be born some time between now and September 7th - in an ideal world that is. But they were not, will not, are not going to be. It continues to hurt more.
My husband and I are leaving for vacation next week – dog and house sitter are set. We will be gone through the bulk of our “due” weeks (twins shift a pregnancy from due day to a range of days). I’m going to take a blogging hiatus during this time since my energy is lacking. I may return with more blogs, perhaps a slightly shifted focus off the intensely personal and more on grief knowledge. Maybe not, maybe I will be even more introspectively sharing. We will see what happens after we get through these next few weeks.
I have always told my clients that it is important to follow what heals them. I'm taking some healing space. I'm exercising. I'm journaling. I'm crying. I'm laughing. I'm creating memorials. I'm being kind, gentle, and understanding towards myself (as much as I can remember to be). This next season is for healing ... not healing away the broken heart, because it will always be there, but finding a way to live in the joy of having loved, and continuing to love, my children so much. I love Finnian and Maisie so much.
It is still incredibly unhelpful for people to tell me they imagine us having other kids. The insensitivity and invalidation of thinking that will somehow erase the longing for the two we already have stings every time someone makes the suggestion. It will always be more helpful for people to tell me that they remember my twins and to ask me about them, than for people to tell me they just know I'll have another baby.
You would never tell someone whose mother had died:
“Maybe you’ll get a new mom soon,”
“I heard a wonderful story about someone who had a rainbow mom after their loss,”
“I dreamed you were hugging your new mom and you were so happy.”
"Once your new mom is here you will feel happy again."
"A new mom will make things better."
It would be weird. It would be as though you assumed their mother was replaceable with any other mother. It would be as though you thought having a living mother would stop the griever from missing the mother that they already had.
That said, for those who are deeply troubled by the idea that we will somehow stop our journey to raise living children: we intend to try for more children, probably sooner rather than later. We are greatly aware of the challenges that lie in this. We know that there are many variables to consider and many challenges to face. But we are hopeful.
We will consider any future children siblings of Finnian and Maisie. Our heart will expand to love them just as it would have if their brother and sister were alive to greet them. We would never have taken some love away from Finnian and Maisie to spread to the other kids – we would just grow more love.
While love and grief are totally intertwined, one does not erase the other. I am open to opening my heart to more love, because I believe it has the capacity to hold both intense love and intense grief simultaneously. I am open to more love, even if I am terrified of more grief.
Thank you to all who have been reading along the journey. It will always be a goal of mine to connect with other's grieving, whether here on this blog or in whatever next career step I take. The most helpful thing for me to remember is that while it won't ever be okay, I am not alone. You are not alone. Living is in the connecting.
I sat across from a pregnant friend of mine for a small dinner and catch up. Her eyes welled with tears when mine did – our due dates are the same (her full term date and when we expected the twins).
She told me that she wanted to do more for me; That she has cried repeatedly when trying to decide whether to call or give space, that she debated sending me all the wine and chocolate and flowers in the world, that she wished she could “wrap me in bubble wrap” to protect me from any more hurt. She also told me that she has been afraid because I am a reminder of her own biggest fear – one of her children dying.
Her heart is beautiful and open. I’ve also had a similar discussion with a few of my long time best friends on different occasions. They want to do something for me but they don’t know what to do or say, and they grapple with the giant scary proposition of imagining what would happen if their child died.
This got me thinking about what exactly it is that I want or need as a griever. Truthfully, the women who have had these discussions with me have all provided the exact things I have needed (the biggest things). Here are the top three things I’ve needed as a grieving friend:
1. To be reminded that I am remembered and not alone.
When my friend tearily told me that she wished that she could do more, I responded “But you did the one thing I asked you to do – to let me know you were thinking of me. You have done so at random but with consistency since the twins died.”
Do not underestimate the power of a simple text saying, “I’m thinking of you” or “You’re on my mind, hope today is a good day” or “Thinking of your babies today.” These words can remind the griever that they are not alone even if they have isolated themselves. The thing about needing space is it only feels good if you are given the opportunity to choose it – leaving someone alone because you think they need space just creates the feeling that they are forgotten.
The griever is less likely to “reach out to you when they are ready” because they have an internal emotional meter that makes every action feel bigger and scarier before they were grieving. So reach out even if I don’t respond, or I respond with a simple “thank you”… because when the time comes that I don’t need space, or I want a dinner, I will know that you are safe to go to.
2. To feel like my loved one is known.
In the years since Rachael died, 99% of the non-family people in my life have never met her. This fact use to terrify me – “what if no one ever understands who I am because they never see this huge part of me!?” But over time, I have had multiple friends tell me that they feel like they know her through me. I talk about her. I tell stories about her. I want her to be known. Hearing that they feel as though they do makes me feel better, as though I have done my job keeping her memory alive.
The same is true of the babies … although their lives were shorter, although I am the only person who held them alive, although only our parents and sisters saw their faces – I still have so much I could tell you about them. I am so grateful for the friends who have let me repeat stories about ultrasounds and who I thought they would be. I don’t cry when I tell these stories, I laugh and smile and feel the joy of their lives again. We feel joy when we can share our loved ones and by listening and trying to know them you share that joy with us.
3. Permission to grieve as long as needed.
I know that I have talked about permission before. We live in a move- on culture. We live in a culture that believes you are not healing unless you are picking yourself up, swallowing the bad feelings, and moving on. But grief will last as long as love does.
Each death changes us in some way – an important relationship was removed from our lives, parts of our identity are entwined with our relationship to that person, and new information about how life works is being integrated into our personal framework. The best thing for the griever to do is feel all the emotions.
In my opinion, healing is the process of becoming who you are going to be now that you no longer can hold your loved one. That is hard and it takes a lifetime of negotiating new circumstances without them. Give your grieving friend permission to take as long as needed. Tell them “it’s okay if you are sad” or “it’s okay if you are mad” or “it’s okay if you are not okay.” They are going to be those things anyway, but you telling them that you are okay with it removes some of the shame or guilt of feeling like they “should” be better now.
Tip for the griever:
After reflecting on dinner with my friend, I realized that I am receiving what I need in my closest relationships for two reasons. One is the fact that my friends want to know how to console me. I believe that most of us want to “be there” for our hurting friends and family, but we often don’t know how. So instead of asking, many people try to assume the best way to meet your needs. The other reason is that I am open with what I need in my new grief.
This is my tip to the newly grieving or hurting person. You have so much on your plate it seems unfair to pile anything else on, but this is a simple one (even when it doesn’t feel that way). Just say, “I need you to tell me you’re thinking of me;” or “I need to talk about my loved one for a bit” or “I need to know it’s okay if I cry.” If you can just get out that one line of whatever your need might be, I have a feeling that your consoler will meet it – because they have been wanting to all along.
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.
I’m getting married this year. Actually, I’m getting married in just under 4 months. This is a huge life thing - a “for the living” life thing. This last weekend I had my bachelorette party. Despite the fact that we are in the anniversary season, that this coming Friday marks 11 years since my sister’s murder, and that in all previous years I have attempted to wipe July off my calendar … despite all of these things, I celebrated this upcoming life milestone. But it wasn’t without immense reminders from my support system that life is bigger than loss.
Before I explain what I mean, I want to send thank you to my dad who loaned us his lake house, took my friends on boat rides, and fed us two big meals. Thank you to my mom who organized a revealing of the dream dress she had customized for me. And so many thank you’s to my sister, who worked tirelessly, thoughtfully, and openheartedly to create a weekend of memories. They all did this during the anniversary season. They all put a life celebration together for me, even while the all silently ached for R to be there. It never showed, but I know. Their support lifts me up and reminds me of the amazing survival we have all exhibited. We are here, we are alive, and dammit we are celebrating it.
I am also ever so grateful to all of the friends who came out and especially to those who flew across the states, those who spent hours making gummies, those who brought goodies and played games … you are all so incredibly special to me.
Loss can take and incredibly toll on some of us. It can take years to feel as though you are thriving more than surviving. But I truly believe that the difference between those two comes from the support systems that you allow to be in your life. I do believe it is an allowance for these things – every one who came out to celebrate with me (besides my dear family) came in to my life after I had lost R. I had to make a careful decision to let me heart open to each and every one of them. Because when you are so badly bruised and mangled from the loss of your best friend it is incredibly difficult to want to have any one else in your heart. But without these people, I would not be thriving. Without some of these women, I would not have even considered dating my fiancé. Without them, I wouldn’t have even begun to explore how my greatest loss could help someone. Without them, I would have lost who I was, who I am, and who I have the potential to become.
SW (one of my bridesmaids) asked me about the anniversary season when we were finishing a morning jog before heading to the lake house. She did so gently and in a way to feel out how I was doing. Why this weekend? Well, because the dress fitting was scheduled and the lake house was open. Those are the practical reasons why. But then the words came out of my mouth before I had time to process them … “because this year, despite missing R so much, I decided I am going to look life in the face and embrace it.”
As the tenth anniversary of my sister’s loss approaches, looms, in the future calendar days of this year, I’m struck with the immense realization of how loss has shaped my life. For many years I struggled to not let grief be something that defined me … in many ways that felt like losing the battle … but its not. I grieve because I love deeply. We grieve because we have the capability, the honor, the gift to connect to people, things, and ideals that we love. Grief, in all its various forms, has become a marker for living and loving.
My goal is to help others embrace the existence of loss in their lives, to memorialize the connections to their loved ones, and to simply walk alongside them in their loss and life. As the broader picture of this mission begins to unfold in my daily life and study, I hope to use this blog to explore issues of loss, as well as catalog some of my personal experience. Hopefully, in this small way, I can connect to you and while we can’t remove the absence of our loved one(s), we can continue living.
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.