Advice from a friend

I have been wanting to talk to my new friend Molly (who lost her beautiful daughter Lucy 4 1/2 years ago) for months now.  I keep texting her and calling her - like a complete stalker.  I finally got her on the phone yesterday and had no idea what I even wanted to say to her.  I think I just wanted to be reminded that someone who I really like, who is funny and fun and wonderful, has gone going through what we are going through - pain, loss, heartbreak, devastation.  Or, like I told her, maybe I just have a "girl crush" on her.

We talked for a while, while both of our new babies napped (her Zoe is 4 1/2 months old).  She gave me some good advice that she has learned through trial and error.  My BIGGEST question for all bereaved parents is what they say to people who ask how many kids they have.  I know that I will never ever deny Max, but how exactly do I say it?  I have asked practically every bereaved parent I know.  They tell me "Oh, I tell everyone who asks" and then I say, "What are the exact words you use?" because it is all too terrible to even say out loud.  I have heard all sorts of answers.  People always tell me to just say that Max is dead - "Screw people if they can't handle it," they tell me, "you have to handle it every minute of every day".  Agreed.  On the one hand.  On the other hand, even I would like benign conversation once in a while.  When people ask me, they don't really care....and I also don't really care to share Max, my love, with someone who is just asking to ask. I end up sharing my deepest pain with a complete stranger, which is just too ironic since I am hardly ever asked to share it with people who I have known most of my life.  Lately I have just been saying, "We just celebrated my oldest son's second birthday", because we did.  I am not not disclosing the whole story to be kind to the person I am talking to (by not ruining their day and telling them about Max)...I am being kind to me.  If they say, "Does he like being a big brother?", I can say, "I think he really does."...because I think he really does.  

Molly told me that when she is meeting a new person, she doesn't tell them right away.  She gets to know them first and lets them get to know her.  She finds that when she does that, and they later find out what happened to Lucy, they are softer with her...because they already love her.  I don't want to be defined as "that woman whose baby died".  I don't want to be scary.  Sheesh, if I have friends and family that are scared of me because Max died, just imagine what it is going to be like for me when I start meeting new people.  I don't want Max or me to be defined by his death (though I know and want it to be part of our definition).  I would rather be (mostly) defined by his life, which was amazing and beautiful and the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me.  I want HIM to be defined by his life - which should still be happening now...because he was only a baby.

I cried and told her how mad I am, how sad I am, how deep this hole is.  She is deep.  "I promise it gets easier", she said.  I've heard it before.  I know it is true.  It feels so shitty to know it gets easier.  Of COURSE I want it to get easier...but, on the other hand, do I really want the death of my child to get easier?  Ugh.  Again - Ugh. Double UGH!  

I got off the phone with her with Mo woke up from his nap and I then sent her an email thanking for the chat..  I checked my email a little while later and received the most beautiful return email from her:

It does help to talk to someone in our same club. There is no substitute for that--that's for sure. And I didn't feel one bit that you had vague questions or what have you. I hope I helped in some way. 

I wanted to send an email anyway to recap some of what we talked about and give you some assignments. :)


1. Listen to Eckhart Tolle (A New Earth and The Power of Now). His voice takes a bit to get used to but his teachings REALLY resonate with me and have helped me greatly. 

2. Give people the benefit of the doubt. They are learning about grief and honesty and pain and communication and human interaction and love like we are. Our words are woefully inadequate to express the deepest feelings of our souls. Luckily, we'll communicate spirit to spirit in the next life. 

3. Breathe. Be easy on yourself, like you said. Treasure your little Mo and honor your little Max through enjoying the moment. 

4. Let yourself be angry. Let yourself feel whatever you are feeling. There is no "should". All things will pass and cycle through. 

5. Pray. Just talk outloud to God and tell him whatever you are feeling. Ask him for strength or whatever it is you need. Clarity, patience, your mind and heart to be opened to learned and personal revelation for you and your life. 

I don't know. After Lucy died I needed people to tell me what to do. My frontal cortex, where we make our decisions, was shot to hell with the trauma. So now I'm telling you a few things to do...because I love you and want you to find peace. 

I asked her if it was ok to share her email with you all because 1) I think it is helpful for other bereaved parents and because 2) I want you to know how wonderful Molly is.

Before Lucy died, Molly was starring in the lead role of a local theater production of Peter Pan.  Lucy went to see it many times and loved seeing her momma flying around the room.  She carried around a Peter Pan doll.  When I picture Lucy, I picture her hugging that little doll as I have seen her do in so many pictures.  Her mommy was her hero.  Her mommy is mine too.


Chantel said...

I have followed Molly's blog for quite some time now. She really is amazing. How wonderful that you got to speak with her.

robyn said...

i am so glad that you have people like molly in your life. just as she is lucky to have you in hers.

Susan Ireland said...

This made me laugh because I also have a girly crush on another bereaved mum. I haven't thought of it like that, but you're right - that is sort of what it feels like. I suppose losing a child and surviving that transition has all the hallmarks of a sea change as big as puberty, so perhaps it is unsurprising that we anchor onto someone we like the look of and sit at their feet. Mine drinks wine slushies and swears like a trooper though... perhaps we should meet back her in 5 years and see how we both turn out ;-)

Rebecca Howard said...

I'm one of those women you are referring to that volunteers that my youngest son is dead. If someone asks me how many children I have, I reply, "I have two living children and one that passed away two years ago." If they ask what happened, I tell them. I don't worry about it being my identity because I wear many hats. To my old friends (the ones that are still around) I'm the same person they have known forever. To the people in my community, I am "that writer girl" or "Sam and Iris' mom." To my family, I'm the youngest grandchild. In child loss communities, I am "Toby's mom." In my professional life, only one person knows I lost a child. He's a client who has been with me for 4 years. He gave me a bonus when Toby died, to help me with expenses. (I realize that my job is a little different than most, since I freelance and therefore don't have an office environment.) The fact is, having a child die from SIDS (or die period) IS part of my identity. But it's not all of it. What I have reconciled myself with is that for most people, Toby is going to be defined by his death. Even in the child loss community, nobody knew Toby alive. (I wouldn't be a part of the community if he hadn't died.) In the beginning, it worried me that people wouldn't remember Toby, wouldn't know about him. I felt like it was my responsibility to keep his memory alive. I reached a point, though, where that need was starting to overtake other things in my life and it wasn't healthy for me. Now, I see that it's not quantity. The handful of people that met him in his short two months here on earth remember his life. it meant something to them. It affected them. They tell me this. Maybe, in some way, his death has affected others that I don't know about.

The conversations that I have had with random people about having a dead child has not scared anyone away. In fact, it's opened some doors and some lines of communication. It's allowed me to meet other beareaved mothers (I have met, on several occasions, women who also lost babies to SIDS and have been relieved to have someone to talk to.) I have also met people who had good, intelligent questions about SIDS. Others have offered a hug or condolence and we've moved right on along. Funnily enough, it's the people close to me that have been the ones who were scared away or acted foolish-the random strangers I meet have been the most supportive.

maxiesmommy said...

The WEIRDEST thing in this world is how I end up talking to complete strangers about Max but almost never REALLY talking about him with people who I am close to. Strangers ask questions (sometimes too many) instead of trying to change the subject. So strange. I always tell people about Max. I just wish sometimes that I had a way to say it that didn't make me want to die while the words are coming out of my mouth.