I was honored to be asked to speak at a Pregnancy and Infant Loss Ceremony this year. Throughout the month of October, we remember all babies gone too soon. I didn’t have a hard time deciding what to speak about – I knew I wanted to give the message of finding Joy. I wanted to share with any mama who has recently experienced loss that she WILL find her smile again, and for those whose loss had been several years, I wanted them to know that is okay to allow happiness back into her life.
I remember the early days when it felt like I could never be truly happy again; that no matter what happened in my life, I would always have a Kathryn-sized hole that would keep me from being happy.
But I can tell you that with time – processing each minute, each hour, each day… focusing on just surviving those moments – eventually, you find that when you didn’t even realize it was happening, your heart has started to heal.
If you allow it to heal. You are not alone, mama.
Finding Joy After Loss
So many mamas worry if they allow happiness back into their heart, it means they are moving on and they will forget the baby. I promise you – you CAN allow joy back into your heart, you can find happiness again, AND you can remember and love that baby.
We all need the time to grieve appropriately. I often remind mamas to give themselves grace. The average heavy grieving period for a significant loss is 18-24 months. So don’t beat yourself up if it’s only been a few months and you’re still struggling. At this point, you should be. But when you start to reach the 18-month point, if life isn’t getting better, and if you cross the two-year point without feeling like you’re able to move on, it’s time to seek professional help.
We don’t choose these terrible things to happen to us. But we do get to choose how we respond to them. We can choose to be bitter and sad, or we can choose to find joy. We can choose to make their short lives matter.
It’s okay to be sad and find joy. It’s okay to grieve. It’s okay to ask for help.
I knew that I needed extra help to survive the death of my daughter Kathryn. I asked for medication and was put on a low dose of Sertraline, which is the generic version of Zoloft. My doctor did increase my dose after a few months, and I stayed on the medication for almost five years. It’s only been within the last six months that I felt like I was ready to wean myself off of the anti-depressants and try to do this on my own. I needed that time and I needed the help. I wasn’t a zombie or unfeeling on the medication. It simply helped take the edge off a little bit. It was just the level of help that I needed.
I also sought help from a therapist. Most insurance programs will cover 12-24 visits a year for someone who is grieving, so if you’re worried about the cost of therapy, look into your insurance plan. I cannot tell you how helpful it was to visit a stranger and share all of my feelings that I didn’t feel I could share with anyone else.
Here are the ways I shared yesterday that I was able to find the joy again, or the Sunshine After the Storm:
- I sought help (see above on medication and therapy)
- I tried to find the funny – laughter is truly one of life’s greatest natural remedies
- I found community – other mamas who had experienced this. We are able to bond and help each other in a way that no one else can – but beware of places that are only full of bitterness and darkness. Avoid those places.
- I created a legacy around my daughter – and seek to remember her and honor her life every day by helping other mamas who are grieving
- I wrote – a lot. I started this blog, I wrote (collaboratively) the book Sunshine After the Storm: A Survival Guide for the Grieving Mother. Writing allowed me to express my feelings and my pain and helped me work through some really dark times. Be it through a journal, a blog, or writing a book, there are many ways to write down your feelings that help you heal
- I found the sparkle, the MUCHNESS – another woman who lost both of her twins to TTTS created a campaign called “Finding the Muchness” – a way to find yourself and the things inside of you that make you YOU – I was able to find small ways and things to do in my life to make me feel the MUCH – and this contributed greatly to my healing. Sometimes something as simple as wearing a sparkly hair band or pretty nail polish was enough to make me feel human again.
- I surrounded myself with pretty things that reminded me of Kathryn – but in a happy way. Butterflies, purple, shiny things
- I forgave myself – all the guilt, all the what if’s? All the pain that I carried wondering if somehow it was my fault. And I forgave God too, although that’s a whole different blog post.
- We talk about her and keep her part of our family, part of our lives
- We planted trees, we sponsored a butterfly garden in a beautiful children’s garden, we found ways to give to our community in her memory. It helped. A lot.
- I allowed joy to find me. I decided I COULD remember her, hold on to her, AND find joy. Be open to the messages that will find you when your heart is ready.
Losing a child is awful. It sucks. It takes time to heal. Let people help you. And when you’re ready, let joy back in. Your child would want that for you.
Our book Sunshine After the Storm: A Survival Guide for the Grieving Mother, is an excellent resource for those who support grieving parents, those who want to understand Grieving parents, and those who are grieving.
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