Friday, August 22, 2008

Caution: Grieving Mother - Enter at your own risk

Below is the draft of a letter that I am thinking of sending out by email to my coworkers to help make my transition back to work more manageable. I go back in just over a week and I'm scared about how I will react when people ask me how I am or when people pretend nothing happened. I hope that sending a letter will help others figure out what to say. Dug says (and I agree) that my letter is way too long and so I'm in the process of modifying and shortening it. My problem is that I feel like it is my only opportunity to get my thoughts across and I don't want to miss anything important. Anyhow, here it is.

Dear coworkers and friends,

With the start of the school year approaching I wanted to send out some information to help you and help me after the death of my twins, Cole and Breanna. In all the bereavement materials I have read (oh how I have read) it says to ‘let people know what you want and need. Friends and coworkers are uncomfortable and don’t know how to deal with such a situation and end up saying and doing things that are hurtful when they think they are being kind.’

First off you should know that my husband and I are proud parents of twin baby angels Cole and Breanna, and just like any proud parent we love to talk about our babies. In our eyes, they were perfect. Although they may not have joined our family in the way we expected, they are still a part of our lives. So before you can ask me ‘how my summer was’ I will share with you that it has been an emotional and difficult few months. Grieving their passing has been and still is difficult and always on my mind.

Below are some things you can do to help me:

Say Cole and Breanna’s names when you talk about them; they are real and it makes me feel good when others acknowledge that. Granted I may cry, not because you are opening an old wound or reminding me of something sad, but because you are showing me that you care and that means the world to me. The more you use their names and talk about them in natural conversation the less I will cry. Having said that, there is an appropriate time to talk about them and I prefer not to cry in front of my students.

Please be understanding that I may not be in complete control of my emotions all of the time and your understanding if I cry is greatly appreciated. From what I hear it will take several years to adjust to the loss of a child and learn how to incorporate it into my new life. I write this letter in hopes that you will know what I am thinking and feeling but please note that I am STILL grieving and therefore all advice in this letter I subject to change without notice!!

Realize that nothing is comparable to the loss of your child. I appreciate the sentiment if you say “I know what it’s like, I lost my parent/sibling/spouse/relative/best friend”. It shows me that you are TRYING to understand and that you are at least familiar with grief. But it is only helpful if you acknowledge that it is not the same as losing your child. They are your own flesh and blood and losing your children goes against the natural order of things. So unless you have lost a CHILD you really have no idea what it is like.

Saying that you understand what it’s like because you have had a miscarriage is bittersweet. I appreciate the effort you are making to understand what it is like to be in my shoes as long as you realize that I gave birth to two babies that were alive and subsequently died. NOTHING can compare to that. And FYI, I have also had a miscarriage so I know the difference and hopefully I will not have too many more on the road to creating a little brother or sister for Cole and Breanna.

Here is a list of things you can say if words escape you:
“You are in my thoughts”
“I can’t imagine what you are going through”
“I’m here for you if you want to talk”
“I don’t know what to say”
If all else fails a simple “I’m sorry” will do

Now let’s talk about the Don’ts:

Please don’t ignore me (ie leave the room when I come in or turn the other way when you see me coming down the hall) – I am not medusa. We don’t have to talk about them. If you are uncomfortable please just tell me. All you need to say is “I’m sorry but I am uncomfortable dealing with such a loss” and I will never mention them to you.

Please don’t tell me about miracles that have happened to premature babies that are alive and well. It does not help me to hear how modern medicine has made such advancements to save premature babies. They could not save my babies and I will forever be haunted by the thoughts of ‘what if’.

Please don’t tell me that I am young and will have other children. This is so painful on many levels. One, I’m actually not that young in terms of child bearing years. Two, there is no guarantee that I will have more children. It took us a year and a half of fertility treatments to have Cole and Breanna. And three, and most painful, is that even if I have more children nothing will ever replace Cole and Breanna. I will love them forever and they will always have a place in my life. Having another child will just mean that I will have to teach someone else, that never met Cole and Breanna, how important they were to me.

Please don’t say “At least you didn’t get to know them or get too attached”. I carried these babies for 6 months and wanted them for many years before that. I was attached from the second I peed on a stick. I felt them kick and could distinguish between their personalities in my womb. I knew them very well. In fact it’s worse that I didn’t have them for very long because I have no good memories to look back on, only what I had hoped for. The wonderful day they were born was also the horrible day they died.

Other things NOT to say are:
“You should be over it by now” – anyone who has lost someone significant in their life can attest to the fact that you NEVER get over it you just learn to live with it.
“It was for the best” or “it is gods will” or “meant to be” – Really that’s not helpful. For the best would be them being alive and with me right now.
“You need to find the bright side” – there is none.
“You need to get on with your life” – I have, it’s a different life, the life of a grieving mother

Here is a little poem I found that sums up my letter best.

You think that silence is kind but it hurts me even more.

I want to talk about my child who had gone through deaths door.
Don't say these things to me, although you do mean well.
They do not take my pain away; I must go through this hell.
I will get better, slow but sure -- and it helps to have you near.
But a simple, "I'm sorry you lost your child" is all I need to hear.
Author unknown

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I know how difficult and uncomfortable the thought of losing a child is. I appreciate your effort and all the support I have received so far.

Audrey Hogarth
Proud mommy of twin angels Cole and Breanna

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