Feeling Joy Doesn’t Mean We’ve Forgotten

By |2018-11-20T20:06:33+00:00November 20th, 2018|Emotional Health, Parenting After Loss|0 Comments

Oberon in hospice care – December 10, 2014 – always loved, always remembered

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.

Those happy moments you caught us in – let them be. Know that they don’t mean we’ve forgotten our children. We never will.

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About the Author:

Elizabeth Thoma
Elizabeth Thoma lives in the Bay Area, California, with her husband, Chris, and two cats, JJ and Pepper. She found out she was expecting their first child Mother’s Day weekend, 2014. With mild symptoms and no significant early warning signs, they adjusted to pregnancy and eagerly planned for their growing family. At the second trimester anatomy scan, they found out they were having a son and that he had an abdominal wall defect, an omphalocele. Ever the planners, Elizabeth and Chris prepared themselves and their families for what the omphalocele meant in a best-case scenario, and some of the possibilities that couldn’t be diagnosed in utero. Their son, Oberon, was born six weeks early and had his omphalocele surgery within his first twelve hours of life. The surgery went well, but Obie was having trouble breathing. At first, the doctors thought it was related to his large tongue, one of the many indicators that he had Beckwith-Wiedemann Syndrome. When Obie was one week old, the doctors told Chris and Elizabeth that somewhere along the line, Obie’s brain stopped developing. While they could control his seizures somewhat with heavy medication, Obie’s brain would never develop and he would not be able to walk, talk, or even communicate. At this point, they decided to switch Obie to comfort care and try to take him home from the NICU. They successfully broke out of the NICU and Obie rode home in an ambulance. Bringing their son home brought much comfort to their family. Obie passed away at home in his daddy’s arms at 33 days old. Elizabeth found out she was pregnant with their second child a week after Mother’s Day, 2015. Her second son, Everett, was born January 7, 2016. Elizabeth and Chris blog at about their family at Our Little Beastie.

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