Thursday, December 2, 2010

Mourning, Questions, and Dealing with People

December 2, 2010

“Things people say” tend to be a popular topic when you’re talking to other people that are grieving. I, myself, have learned that there are few things that you can really say to a person in this situation to make them feel better so instead I have resorted to “I’m sorry.” Because I am. Also, sometimes the person doesn’t always WANT to feel better. They just want to talk.

I remember not long after Toby died when I was trying to sort out the “whys” and whatnot, a well-meaning friend (and they’re ALWAYS well-meaning, which is one of the things that makes it difficult) tried to give me some advice. I told them that I couldn’t figure out why I had dreamed about Toby before he was born and saw him as a toddler, when it was now obvious that he would never reach that age.

Wait, I should explain something…My dreams are often prophetic. I’m not saying that I am psychic or anything at all. But I put a lot of stock into my dreams. They usually tend to be literal, too. For example, we were traveling in the Czech Republic one Christmas and I had a horrible dream in which my boyfriend at the time got a shotgun for Christmas and then chased me through a field, trying to kill me. The next day, I called my best friend back in the US and before I could even tell her about the dream she goes, “You don’t think he would ever try to hurt you, do you? Because I don’t trust him.” That came out of thin air. A few minutes later, I called him and he had good news-he had received a shotgun for Christmas. It wasn’t that long after that we broke up so I’ll never know about the rest of the dream.

As a kid, I had a recurring dream about my cousin, Nick, moving to an apartment that had a cliff next to it. There was water at the bottom and kids would play on the side of the cliff. One day, a kid fell in and drowned. Nick lived in Oklahoma at the time. When I was 7, he moved back to Kentucky and lived with us for awhile. Then they found a place in Sandy Hook. Not long after, we went over to visit and sure enough, there was the cliff next to his apartment building, and there was the creek below it. A kid DID fall, but only broke some bones.

I had many Sam-oriented dreams before he was born. I knew exactly what he would look like as a toddler and often heard his voice. Things he said to me in my dreams are things that he says to me now.

So, I was confused about the Toby dreams. I was telling my friend about this, and in trying to be helpful, they absolutely freaked me out. They said that maybe God has wishes for everyone and what he WANTS to happen and that what I was seeing in my dreams were some of God’s wishes for Toby. So why did this freak me out? Because, to me, it meant that he didn’t have to die. That things COULD have turned out differently. If only I had gotten to him sooner, if only Pete hadn’t fallen asleep, if only he had been born earlier and not been premature…yeah, you see where this is going. I don’t know about other people, but one of the only ways that I have been able to get through this is by telling myself that it was destined to happen and that NOTHING I could have done would have prevented it. If there is a slight chance that things could have worked out differently, or that I could have done something to prevent it, then I really think that would drive me insane.

Plus, I don’t exactly follow Christian ideology and doctrines and while I respect Christianity and people that do follow it; I have never found a lot of Christian beliefs very soothing. In fact, a lot of them scare the hell out of me. (No pun intended.)

 I wonder if other people feel this way, but sometimes I feel very guarded and protected about Toby. Once he died, it felt like a lot of people became involved. I don’t mean “involved” in the sense that they helped us out. Great, I know people are going to take this the wrong way. I mean emotionally involved. Like, they’re grieving, too. With the people that met Toby, I can understand that. Even with those that met him briefly. And it IS kind of funny that the people that spent the most time with him, outside of me, Mom, Pete, Uncle Ray, and Aunt Fran, were the people at the writer’s retreat in Southern Ohio.

But sometimes it makes me angry at the people who weren’t that connected to him that take the grief on as their own and then get sympathy from their own families and friends regarding his death. Sometimes I want to say things like, you weren’t there during my pregnancy! You weren’t there for the birth! You never met him at all! Don’t even try to tell me that you are mourning him more than I am…

And I get that sometimes guilt and wondering what could have been are strong motivators for guilt. My 19 year old niece was killed in a car accident on her way to get chocolate chip cookies in 2004. This was around the same time that I stated getting stalked by the crazy-ass chick that still rears her ugly head up every once in awhile. So on top of Christina getting killed, I had to deal with that nonsense, too. Anyway, I have to say that I was not close to Christina. In fact, I only ever met her a couple of times. I am not close to my sister at all. I’ve only met HER a couple of times. And twice have been at funerals. In fact, sometimes I even confuse myself because I’ve always referred to Robbie as my sister and occasionally it does come as a shocker even to me that I DO have a “blood sister” and two nieces and a nephew that I never see. So when Christina died it was really sad that I never got to know her, spend any time with her, or be an “aunt.” Plus, it was incredibly sad to be at a funeral of a beautiful 19 year old. I still kind of mourn that loss and I never even had it to begin with. So I can understand mourning things that you weren’t necessarily close to.

I think maybe the anger that I feel is tied in with the fact that Pete and I weren’t allowed to feel any grief by a lot of people in the early days. I never imagined in my wildest dreams that people would NOT be supportive after the death of a child. You almost never hear about that. It did occur to me that people might try to blame us, or expect that we must have done something wrong, but I never thought that people would be out and out rude.

I felt like I had to be completely perfect all the time. If Pete’s dad said something cruel or did something to hurt us, then we were told, “He just lost his wife. You need to treat him better.” He got an excuse. But if I did something that made someone mad it was like, “There’s Rebecca, causing problems.” It didn’t make any sense.

Nobody heard us, and that was infuriating.

I was also thinking about something else recently, too. I know, all of this is probably going to sound really random…anyway…it strikes me that there seems to be a big difference in having another child after a miscarriage or stillbirth and having another child after the loss of a live birth. Mom said I should do a whole blog entry about that. Let’s see how long this thought gets, first…

I have a lot of friends who have had stillbirths and miscarriages and one of the popular things that they find people saying to them is, “Don’t worry, you can have another one!” Not only is this incredibly insensitive, but it might not even be true. Without getting into their medical history, you have no idea if they can have another one or not. Not to mention the fact that it minimizes their grief to something as trivial as replacing a tire or buying a new memory card for your camera after losing the old one.

Still, there is no stigma attached to getting pregnant after that. In fact, a lot of people are relieved when they hear that the couple are pregnant again and they sometimes get the “I’m so happy for you” comments.

On the other hand, if Pete and I talk about having another baby, I have found that we get a lot of “Are you sure you want to?” “Is that such a good idea?” “Really? I don’t know…” and Simon’s speech about how we should wait a year and devote our attention to Sam (as if we are currently avoiding him) like it was any of his business. People fear for our mental health, our emotional stability, my physical health, and from what I gather-their own nerves. So it’s kind of taboo to have a baby after the loss of your live birth, yet encouraged after a stillbirth or miscarriage.

Well, the physical health won’t get any better until I can have the hysterectomy and I’m afraid that until there is a cure for epilepsy I’m stuck with that. I’m probably always going to be a little crazy, too. I’m also practical, though. I don’t want a 5, 6, or 7 year age gap between my kids. I don’t want to raise 2 only children. And I don’t want Sam to be in school and then start all over from scratch. I want my kids to play together, I want to be young enough to be able to play with them, and I want to be able to enjoy my retirement while they’re off in college.

On a similar note, there is always the “at least you have Sam” comment that always gets me. I know I’ve said that before. Yes, I am very glad that I have Sam. And yes, if something happened to him that would probably be the end of me. But Sam does not replace Toby. A new baby would not replace Toby. And while I am grateful that I have one, that does little to ease the grief of losing another.

I could only imagine going to my friend Chasity, who lost her mother, or Emily, who lost her father, and saying something like, “Well, at least you still have one living parent!” That would be absurd.

I have heard the “at least you have one child” bit a lot. And it’s not true. I have two children. It’s just that one is not here. Very difficult question to answer, though. I had to go to the hospital the other day for the gallstones and they asked me how many children I had. I answered that I’d had two live births and one living child. That seemed to suffice, but it was hard to say.


Melissa Allen said...

I'm sure that having to say that is very difficult, indeed!
I am always interested in reading your blogs... you write so well and honestly. You are very selfless to open up your private feelings to the world.
I hope you are having a good da...y.

Ashley Sexton Neff said...

I lost my mom over 4 years ago, and I HAVE had people tell me, "at least you have your Dad and two stepparents, that should make it easier" before. I've wanted to punch them in the face. I've actually HAD to walk away before I did. And t...he all-too-overly-used "it was God's Will and He needed her." Excuse me, I NEEDED HER. Her grandkids needed her. Some people in my family have actually convinced themselves (in order to deal with the grief "better") that Mom committed suicide, even though the medical records and tests show otherwise. Those people, I want to punch in the face. I'm not a violent person, really - so I can definitely understand how angry grief can make a person feel.
I can definitely relate to not ascribing to much of the Christian ideology, because frankly, it scares the hell out of me, too. And no matter how well-meaning their intentions, or how devout their beliefs are, the comments about "being in a better place now" literally make me want to scream at them.
There's not a day that goes by that I don't think of you, Pete, Sam, and your mother, and hope that every day brings you all some form of joy and peace. I love you all.

Rebecca said...

I also hate the "he's in a better place" or "it was God's plan" comments. I don't see how he could be in a place that is better than with me. I'm sorry. I know that sounds selfish, but what mother doesn't want their child with them? And if that's God's plan, then it sucks. He needs to come up with a different one. I was just talking to a friend of mine that lost his partner of 15 years and he said that he gets the same comments. "You'll find someone else," "it's been over a year now, you need to move on with your life," "he wouldn't want you to grieve," "at least you had the time with him that you had," etc. We were also complaining about the people that say things like, "Call me if you need anything" or "Let me know if you want to do something." For a person that is grieving, that's really difficult. There are days when I literally have to look at the calendar to see what day it is. Plus, that just puts it back on you and gives you one more thing that you have to do. I think I might write a book.

Ashley Sexton Neff said...

I would. Maybe it would give some much-needed insight into what grief is like for people that lose children, spouses, partners, parents, siblings. That close of a connection being broken by death sucks more than any other loss I can think... of. I loved my grandmothers DEARLY - like, they were like parents to me in a way - but NOTHING compared to losing Mom. People don't understand why I am more depressed on my birthday than any other day of the year - when you can't celebrate it with the woman that brought you into this world, it kinda makes it meaningless, cold, and very introverted in the realization that the day you were given "breathing" life, the person that gifted you with those 9 months of development and the agony of getting you here, isn't here anymore. And that's all I can think about on my birthday, seriously. What's worse? Most people avoid me on my birthday because they don't know what to say. So it compounds the grief and loneliness I'm already feeling. The "it was God's plan/Will" stuff really, REALLY, pisses me off. And then they get mad when you tell them, " that's okay if you want to believe that, but I don't" and take offense like you're pooping on their religious beliefs because YOU won't accept THEIR personal truth as your own. It's ridiculously absurd.
I would write a book, Rebecca - I'd title it "I'm Sorry," because that's about the most honest, compassionate, supportive, only thing that can be said when someone is grieving a loss like that. Truly.

Emily Burton said...

@ Ashley-people said that stuff to me after my Dad died. It made me so mad I would just break down and bawl. It's mean and disingenuous to say things like, because it doesn't really acknowledge the person's loss or their grief. Just say I'm so sorry and then listen to what they have to say. For me, that was the best thing anyone ever did, it's something I haven't always done for others who are grieving, but will do in the future.

Rebecca said...

@Ashley. Once the year is up, I might really consider doing that. I don't think people realize, either, how lonely it is and how ostracized you feel after someone dies. You're already feeling so sad and upset and depressed that you can bar...ely get out of bed-and then there's people telling you to call them if you need them, to make plans with them, and everything. Some days, I couldn't remember to brush my teeth or get dressed-much less remember to call everyone who told me to. (If i could even remember who said to call!) Then you get the people who only want to come and see if they can counsel you, lecture you, or bring things to you to "help" you in your grief when the best thing that they could do would be just to show up and hang out. And some people just don't get it, period. Don't even get me started on the ones that you try to talk to but immediately turn every single conversation back around to them and their experiences. Now is NOT the time to monopolize the conversation, folks. I learn something new about grief everyday.

Emily Burton said...

People actually did say that to me, "Well, at least you still have your mom." The worst ever was said by an aunt who urged me to push my grief aside and help my Mom heal. I'm thinking about jumping in front of a bus and you tell me that. Sc...rew you dude!
Having one of something precious, when you've lost something uniquely precious does not make you feel better, at least, it never made me feel better.

Rebecca said...

@ Emily-Pete's dad said to him (2 weeks after Toby died), "Well, at least you can still go home and give your wife a cuddle. I can't." Yeah, well, at least he still had both of his children living, if that was the game that he wanted to play. You can't compare grief like that.

Ashley Sexton Neff said...

It's like comparing a green apple to a red tomato.

Rebecca said...

And it's not a competition you want to win.

Melissa Allen said...

Rebecca and Ashley... I have never had to bare the griefs that you have, therefore, I may have stuck my foot in my mouth with those very words or similar. I can't remember off the top of my head what and when I have, but I must have. I'm everyone does (unintentionally) at times. I want to apologize to the both of you for that.
As a female, I am a nurturer by nature. Add to that 12 years of being a special needs caregiver, and I turn into "Mrs. Fix-it". When the situation is something that I can't fix, my personality tends to split. I will either be too helpful or not helpful at all. I can't really see the gray area.
I can identify with you on a grieving level, but I know its not the same. I know other parents of disabled kids. They understand me better than anyone, really. That feels nice. To know that someone else has gone through the same thing and that your not the only one who has ever experienced this agony.
I obviously differ from you on the Christianity portion of the topic, but I won't push anything on you. I feel that, at some point, everyone will experience God in one way or another and that everyone experiences God differently. As a Christian, I am responsable for telling "the good news", but I am also not supposed to judge. So, I try to live my life loving God and thanking him no matter what happens - good or bad. I try to let that speak for itself.
Anyhoo, sorry for the book-length comment. I am always thinking of you both. Know that I love you! (((Hugs)))

Rebecca said...

For the record, Melissa, you've never said anything like that to me. I talk and probably tell you the same story over and again and you politely listen. (Or else tune me out and manage to look like you're listening and I'm even good with, too!) And it's not the "he's in a better place" or "it was God's plan" that necessarily bother me-it's with the dismissive tone that it is usually said in. You know when you apply for a job and don't get it and you shrug and say, "Oh well, it wasn't meant to be..."? A lot of people use that same tone when talking about death and frustrates me. So it's not so much the words, but the attitude.

Ashley Sexton Neff said...

What sucks the most about it all, is that human beings are, like, programmed to be competitive - the worst or best of something - like it's a banner of achievement or something. Mom always raised me with the "everyone is fighting s...ome sort of battle or winning some sort of race. Celebrate or support them, but realize that your battles and races are going to ALWAYS, ALWAYS be different and there's no comparison, so don't go there." That has always stuck with me through the years.

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