I’ve seen it again and again – loss parents struggling with guilt. Parenting after loss is riddled with guilt, this ever-present undercurrent of our days. Those moments when we find ourselves giggling at something online, laughing wholeheartedly at our living toddler’s antics, feeling comfort in the arms of our partner – the guilt shows up more forcefully.
How could we possibly be happy?
How could we truly laugh again after our child has died?
I remember in those early days, feeling like the heavy, thick cloud of constant pain and sadness would never lift. My face didn’t remember how to smile and I felt like a crazy person trying to navigate small talk. I recoiled reading accounts of time helping with grief, or the loss softening, or any other euphemism for, “it won’t always be this bad.” My son would still be dead, how could things ever get better?
The truth is – my days have gotten better. Easier. I have two vivacious children to care for, a partner I love, and a home we all share. Our home has pictures of Oberon, my son who died, in every room. He even has a special corner for extra pictures and memorial knickknacks. To pretend like my days now are the same as those first few months would belittle the extreme intensity of that grief. It is not the same, things have changed.
Somehow, nearly four years later, I am able to sometimes smile and not go to pieces. Sometimes directly related to Oberon – a pregnancy memory, looking at a photograph, remembering a moment. Sometimes an unrelated thing – a TV show, a friend’s good fortune, an inside joke with my spouse.
But here’s the thing it took me a long time to come to terms with: Feeling joy does not mean I forgot him. Having a happy day does not mean I don’t miss him. Not bringing him up in a social interaction does not mean I failed him.
I’ve said it from the beginning, and it continues to be true: there is enough terrible in pregnancy and infant loss. There will be bad days, and worse days, whether we sign up for them or not. We do not need to force ourselves through more by assigning guilt. It helps no one – not us, not our children (any of them).
Friends and family – I’m talking to you now – do not assume because you see a loss parent smile or laugh that things are fine now. It will never be “fine.” It will never have “closure.” The baby who died existed, and nothing can change that or wipe it away to be replaced. Your assumption that we are “over it” is very painful. It may help you, but it doesn’t help us. And in this case, we deserve more help.