If you want to drive to somewhere new, you can use a map. If you buy a new washing machine, you can learn all the settings by reading the manual. Baking a new kind of cake is made easier by reading a recipe and learning a new skill can be achieved by attending a class. But there is no manual when it comes to child loss; no “ten steps to correct grieving” list that you can work through. There can be some helpful resources – various organisations may provide you with brochures containing suggestions and others’ experiences may provide some helpful guidance. But there can also be some unhelpful comments made, often by those who have no idea what it is like to journey through life after the death of a child. And so I want to encourage you; chances are, no matter how you are grieving, you are grieving right.
Do you look at photos of your child every day? You are grieving right. Have you not looked at the photos since you received them? You are grieving right.
Do you wear the memorial jewelry every day? Or do you keep it safe, only to be worn on special occasions? You are grieving right.
Is your child’s birthday a day of public celebration? You are grieving right. Is your child’s birthday marked by quiet reflection?You are grieving right.
Even before I became a mother, I noticed that so many mothers were also competitive. Stories about labour turn into a discussion over whose labour was longest and whose was the most intense. Sharing a milestone such as a baby’s first step becomes an opportunity for someone to proudly state that their baby walked months earlier. It’s rarely said in a malicious way, but the desire for our children to be the best is often just under the surface. After all, we are proud of them; we just want others to know about their achievements. But we cannot compare our grief or what we do with it.
Have you joined every possible support group? You are grieving right. Have you chosen to keep to yourself, processing your grief alone? You are grieving right.
Did you bury your child, unable to handle the thought of cremation? Or did you cremate your child, needing to have their ashes at home with you? You are grieving right.
Do you always include your child when asked how many kids you have? You are grieving right. Do you find that conversation too difficult? You are grieving right.
As well as dealing with the desire to compare our grief, too often we have to deal with others’ expectation of our grief. I’ve heard so many examples of bereaved parents being told they need to “move on” or “be happy” as though the death of a child is like a bad haircut, something that can be overcome purely by time. We know that it’s not.
Did you decide to try for another baby immediately after your child’s death? You are grieving right. Did you choose to wait, perhaps unable or unwilling to have another baby so soon? You are grieving right.
Have you started a foundation in memory of your child? You are grieving right. Do tears spring up in your eyes at the thought of doing something so public? You are grieving right.
Do you spring out of bed each morning, determined to live life to the fullest? You are grieving right. Do you stay in bed longer than normal some days, because the idea of getting up is overwhelming? You are grieving right.
There is no handbook for bereaved parents. No map you can read, recipe to follow or class to join. While so many of us are on this journey, we each walk a different path. My story of unexplained stillbirth is different to a friend’s early miscarriage, which is different to another friend’s premature birth. We are all the same but also different; just like our grief.
Whether you mention your child daily or weekly, yearly or not at all, you are grieving right.
If you honour your child publicly or privately, willingly share photos or keep those precious memories to yourself, you are grieving right.
If you journal privately, blog publicly or speak to family and friends, you are grieving right.
If you process your grief by yourself or see a counselor to help work through it, you are grieving right.
Your story is unique, your child is unique, and your grief is unique. However you are grieving, you are grieving right.