Grief is ugly. It’s truly unattractive in every way. There’s nothing pretty or soft about it. Grief is primal, raw, and relentless; and it’ll kick you in the balls when you least expect it, creating disconnection, feelings of abandonment and isolation in a very crude way; coz grief is kind of an asshole like that.
We are all grieving something whether it’s a relationship, lost time, a regret, trauma, a loved one, my pre-baby body (true story) or even a business that didn’t quite go to plan.
Grief is uncomfortable; not like “I’m wearing the wrong underwear today”, but truly uncomfortable like “I’m totally wearing a sand-filled g-banger backwards and chaffing like a mofo!” Sorry for the visual!
Individuals are grieving, communities and countries are grieving.
America will be grieving the loss of Barack next month with that grieving set to continue if Beaker the Muppet ends up running their country – side note for Netflix fans, this would be one occasion where orange is most definitely NOT the new black! I digress.
Everyone has surely felt grief on some level before, it’s something almost everyone can relate to, yet it’s a conversation most would rather not have.
Grief is confronting and about as unpleasant as a yeast infection in the middle of Summer, but it’s time we talk about our ugly truths together so we can move through them together, supporting one another, lending an ear, and offering a shoulder, comfort and maybe even some Canesten cream.
Grief can leave you feeling numb, empty, alone, and exhausted beyond belief. And sometimes, just when you think you’ve got a handle on it, grief will pull the rug out from underneath you and then kick you while your down. Triggers like a smell; a place or a song can rudely punch you in the face, just when you thought you were doing okay. And you are doing okay, it’s completely normal, it’s shit but you are doing okay.
I wanted to share one of my experiences of grief with you.
I love birthdays, everything about them, I love celebrating, I love giving gifts and I love the party food, all of it! Over the years, on my son Jasper’s birthday, just like with any of our kids birthdays, we have eaten too much birthday cake, have gone to the movies, had high tea, been to the aquarium, gone ice skating, to a concert, done lots of really fun things. It’s been an opportunity to spend time together with my beautiful family and celebrate. The older kids live and work in Melbourne so it’s not always easy to co-ordinate times that suits everyone, so when we get together, I just love having my whole gang together.
This year on July 8th it was my gorgeous little man’s 7th birthday.
There was no birthday invitations, cards, presents or party. There was no bouncy castle or boxes of Lego. There was nothing in our home to indicate that there was a little boy turning 7.
Jasper was born sleeping at 40 weeks and 3 days. As a family, we acknowledge his birthday every year, doing something, remembering him. I have found some comfort in this over the years. Having others acknowledge him too is something I really count on every year, and as the years go by, there are less and less people acknowledging him, remembering him and that really sucks, because it hurts every bit as much, as it did 7 years ago.
In the Western world when it comes to death, we’re not so comfortable with it, and most of us find that conversation too confronting. Let me assure you though, there is nothing more uncomfortable or confronting than planning a funeral for your own child.
A child that you had hopes and dreams for, a child that was so wanted and planned for.
When you lose a child, the hopes and dreams you had for them don’t disappear, you carry them around like little torturous reminders, everyday.
People’s words are always well meaning but often their discomfort in dealing with a tragedy is really evident. I was told, “Everything happens for a reason” “It wasn’t the right time” “God needed another angel” “It wasn’t meant to be”, yeah none of those are particularly comforting to someone who has had their heart ripped from their chest. Not knowing how to respond to many of these statements, I think I just gave a fake smile and a head nod, and inside, my brain was saying “Ummm thanks Pal but how exactly is that going to help me right now?”
There were a few though, that really got the heartache I was feeling. One girlfriend, my good friend Jules, said it perfectly, “I don’t know what to say Lizzy. It’s just fucked, it’s so fucking unfair”. YESSSSS! Yes it is, and thank you Jules because those words were far more comforting to me in that moment than “God needed him more”. Yes people are genuinely well meaning but there are things you just don’t want to hear immediately after giving birth to a baby you never got to take home, and “Everything happens for a reason” is one of them.
We have all heard about the different stages and cycles of grief, but something I didn’t really get until it happened, was how you can experience those stages all in the space of an hour or if you’re lucky; a day. And that’s pretty normal. But I felt far from normal, I felt so angry and completely broken.
Those that know me; know that patience has never been my strong suit. So after waiting more than 40 weeks, which felt like a lifetime, I was so excited and eager to meet the little being that had taken up residence inside me.
But something didn’t feel quite right; I needed to hear that little heart beating to allay the fears I was having. I threw the contents of my bedroom floor into my hospital bag. Previously everything had been carefully folded and placed in there, but I couldn’t have cared less what I was taking with me. The excitement I had for this trip to the hospital wasn’t there at all, not like it had been the previous Friday, when I had gone to the hospital ready to give birth and ended up getting sent home the next morning.
Charlie and I made the 25 minute trip to the hospital in silence.
The midwife straps the belt to me to monitor the baby’s heartbeat and to see if I am having contractions.
One by one more, more and more nurses are filling the room, perhaps it’s the equipment – maybe it’s faulty? They try other equipment – maybe it’s all faulty? But I know it’s not the equipment; there is something wrong.
Tears well up in my eyes and I am becoming extremely anxious; I just want to hear my baby’s heart beating.
Our doctor, Tim arrives trying to find our baby’s heartbeat. I can tell by his face that he is concerned. “It doesn’t look good”, he says.
“Oh no!” I think, “Am I going to have an emergency caeser? That’s not part of my birth plan.” I wanted a natural birth and I have meditations and everything to listen to, I don’t want a caesarean! What does that even mean – ‘it doesn’t look good’?
The radiologist arrives and the looks him and Tim are exchanging are filling me with terror.
It is then confirmed; our baby has no heartbeat. The room is silent.
I feel my body start to shake – how can this be? Surely there’s been some mistake? I want to throw up. “What the fuck do you mean, there is no heartbeat?”
“What happens now?” somehow rolls out of my mouth.
Tim explains it is entirely our decision, but he suggests they induce me the following morning and I have the baby ‘naturally’. Naturally would mean my baby would be coming out crying – there is nothing remotely ‘natural’ about what is being suggested. There is nothing ‘natural’ about knowing you have a dead baby to deliver. This is so fucked, they want me to endure labour and childbirth and after all of that, I don’t get to take my baby home, not a chance in hell?!
Tim says also that there is an option to deliver our ‘sleeping’ baby by caesarean but explains there is six weeks physical recovery. A caesarean would also mean staying in hospital longer – surrounded by other mum’s with crying babies who get to take their babies home.
I wanted to die.
We are consoled by Tim and the beautiful midwives who are every bit as devastated as Charlie and I. They are all as shocked by the news as we are and each of them try and offer some comfort to us.
Tim tells me to phone him in the morning with what we have decided.
We leave the hospital with a lot of pamphlets and paperwork, trying very hard to process all of the information we have just received.
We call into Mum and Dad’s – its 1am. They meet us just as we walk in the door, and like us, they are shocked and dazed.
We have a group cuddle and share the first of many, many tears together.
Charlie and I drive home in silence, shocked, devastated and broken.
We decide to wait until morning to tell our kids. It is now 2am.
We go to bed, and I watch Michael Jackson’s memorial service in between crying uncontrollably and crawling to the toilet with diarrhoea and vomiting. I try and sleep but know that it’s not an option. I want to sleep so I can then wake up and find this is all just a very, very bad dream. I wish I was dead! Part of me is.
I am inconsolable.
I look at Charlie appalled that he is asleep and part of me wants to smother him with a pillow, fucking asshole.
I am furious with him, how can he sleep in the same bed as me carrying a dead baby? My womb is now a tomb and he is fucking sleeping!
The thought of carrying a dead human inside me makes me vomit continuously.
On the list of the ‘worst possible experiences in my life’ I thought this was easily going to be number 1. But that changed when the reality of telling the kids hit me. The grief and devastation is relentless, and the list of what I am grieving is now extensive and in every moment the list continues to grow. There is the grief of being told I have to give birth to a baby I will never get to take home, the grief of walking into the maternity ward and seeing a guy from our pre-natal class walk out smiling – because they have a beautiful healthy girl, I want to rip his head off and shove it up his ass, Charlie walks over and shakes his hand, congratulating him as we head into our room, knowing we will have a very different outcome. The grief and trauma of physically and emotionally going through labour and childbirth; I was induced around 8am and Jasper came into the world at 9.22pm. The grief of holding my longed for, beautiful, lifeless baby, and falling head over heals in love with him. The grief that was immediate and soul crushing, when Jasper was placed on my chest and all I wanted to so was to put him on my boob like I’d done with the girls. The grief of explaining something I didn’t understand to my kids. The grief of watching my beautiful husband; aka sleeping asshole, bathe our precious son. Worse still, the grief on our childrens’ faces when they met their little brother. The grief of having our little man sleep next to us on a bed of ice was wrong on every level. The grief of having all of the physical pain of labour, childbirth and after-pains; yet I will be leaving the hospital without a child. The grief of choosing an outfit for my baby’s coffin, instead of choosing an outfit for him to wear home from hospital. The grief of my son leaving the hospital in a hearse not the newly fitted out car seat we had for him. The grief I still feel every time I am asked how many children I have. The grief I felt when my milk came in, resulting in mastitis because I couldn’t feed my son.
The grief of Jasper coming home in a box after being cremated.
Grief, it was and can still be relentless.
These are all the heavy, harrowing parts of my grief, but there is also another side.
Something I found through my grief was kindness. We received kindness, support and love that surrounded not only me, but also our entire family.
The kids’ schools and their friends, our friends and families, the hospital, the footy club, old friends, new friends and complete strangers were so incredibly supportive. Other mums that reached out to me that had lost children were amongst the greatest blessing and support to me. Grief can really bring people together, and the acts of kindness that follow can change everything.
Lasagnes, muffins, plants, flowers, candles, cards, letters, gifts, we were inundated by the kindness of others. One cousin organised a working bee at our place to clean up outside before Jasper’s wake. Another cousin organised a roster of friends and family to sit with me when Charlie went back to work and the kids headed back to school. They did my grocery shopping, cleaned my house, had dinners organised, cried with me, you name it; I received it; kindness.
People are kind.
I had a lady, who I hardly knew at the time, and is someone I now consider a friend, go to the funeral home and do plaster casts of Jasper’s hands and feet, so we had something to keep. Kindness.
If kindness had to battle it out in an arm wrestle against grief; kindness would win, it always wins.
As hard and soul destroying as grief is, it was the kindness of others that helped repair my soul, nurture me, and love me back to life.
The kindness of my friend Kerri, who helped us in honouring our son by creating Jasper’s Garden, which has now been the venue for three beautiful weddings. The kindness of all my friends and family who listened to me, loved me, cuddled me, entertained me, got drunk with me and who allowed me to be completely vulnerable. You all know who you are, and I am so blessed to say there are far too many to mention, but consider this my heart felt, thank you, you guys rock!
To my beautiful family, my darling husband and kids, it certainly hasn’t been all smooth sailing, but as long as we stay on the boat together, we will get through any shit storm that comes our way. I love you all more than I could ever articulate in words. You are all bloody top humans, with kind and generous souls and you make me ridiculously proud.
Grief is wretched, but even the worst of times can bring out the best in people.
I know it did in me. I feel stronger and more resilient than ever. I am as tenacious as fuck, because I didn’t let it win. Yeah it beat the living shit out of me, but it’s not our experiences that define us, it’s who we choose to become as a result of them.
To anyone wanting to support someone with a grieving heart. Be kind, do the things they are unable to do for themselves, and love them back to life! Your kindness, compassion and empathy could truly be the game-changer for them.
To anyone with grief in your heart, my heart is yours, please surround yourself with kindness, be kind to yourself, and when you can’t just know, there’s more kind people in the world you have your back than you can possibly imagine!
And let them love you back to life, because it does get better, I promise.
Love Lizzy x
I am a bit of a hippy, a lot of a foodie and a lover of all things beautiful :-)