On Grief by Deborah

It can come out of nowhere. You’re doing fine and boom, grief hits you like a ton of bricks. And it can hit you during happy times as well as sad times. I find holidays particularly difficult, as I grieve not only for the loss of loved ones but for past times and what could have been. While I looked with love and joy at my two grandkids Winry and Rory this Easter, I still grieved for my stillborn grandson Liam.

People talk about “waves of grief,” but I think it is more like an ocean, always present. Sometimes the waves are choppy, and we feel grief intensely. Other times the water is calm, but the grief is still there.

We grieve not only death, but intangible things such as loss of family traditions as our elders pass, loss of health, and so on. We need to acknowledge and work through our grief when it hits — not doing so can affect us physically and emotionally.

One grief poem which speaks to me is “For Grief,” written by John O’Donohue. For me, it addresses the choppy seas and calm seas of grief.

For Grief
by John O’Donohue

When you lose someone you love,
Your life becomes strange,
The ground beneath you becomes fragile,
Your thoughts make your eyes unsure;
And some dead echo drags your voice down
Where words have no confidence
Your heart has grown heavy with loss;
And though this loss has wounded others too,
No one knows what has been taken from you
When the silence of absence deepens.

Flickers of guilt kindle regret
For all that was left unsaid or undone.

There are days when you wake up happy;
Again inside the fullness of life,
Until the moment breaks
And you are thrown back
Onto the black tide of loss.
Days when you have your heart back,
You are able to function well
Until in the middle of work or encounter,
Suddenly with no warning,
You are ambushed by grief.

It becomes hard to trust yourself.
All you can depend on now is that
Sorrow will remain faithful to itself.
More than you, it knows its way
And will find the right time
To pull and pull the rope of grief
Until that coiled hill of tears
Has reduced to its last drop.

Gradually, you will learn acquaintance
With the invisible form of your departed;
And when the work of grief is done,
The wound of loss will heal
And you will have learned
To wean your eyes
From that gap in the air
And be able to enter the hearth
In your soul where your loved one
Has awaited your return
All the time.

Deborah experienced the loss of her grandson, Liam, in January of 2019. She has two grown children, both adopted, and two grandchildren. Deborah lives with her husband, Keith, and dog, Kovu. Now that she is retired Deborah volunteers with several heart-health focused organizations. She is the author of the book “A Journey of the Heart: Learning to Thrive, Not Just Survive, With Congenital Heart Disease.

New Year by Kate

Another January has come and gone. This particular one marked 4 years since my first miscarriage.

I went nine weeks feeling pregnant. I had morning sickness. I gained a pound. My breasts were sore. I had so many typical first trimester symptoms. I went to the doctor for my ultrasound and there was nothing inside me. I had a blighted ovum.

I will never forget lying in the hospital bed awaiting the D&C. The inauguration of President Trump was being televised.

This year as I watched another inauguration in the midst of a global pandemic I couldn’t help but think about where I was 4 years ago. I felt so lost and confused and I think a lot of the country did too.

This year I was with my two babies, my mom, and two of my nieces. I thought about how far I had come physically and emotionally. I thought about how much I have learned. As I watched my babies play with my nieces, I felt a feeling of hope that I recall not having four years ago.

Four years. It’s crazy to me to think that I’ve been pregnant four times in the last four years.

Recently I have had three friends reach out to me to tell me they had miscarriages. Talking them through their feelings took me right back to where I was four years ago. I’m grateful I can be here for them and I am also grateful I can direct them to Through the Heart. I sent them Comfort Kits and each one of them so appreciated it.

I have told them I hate that they have to join this club, but to know that they are not alone and they have the support when they’re ready for it.

Getting Through January by Deborah

I am glad to see January come and go. January has become a difficult month for me. I used to greet the new year with anticipation and hope and looked forward to what the coming year would bring. Plans were made, resolutions were set, and off I went.

That changed for me two years ago in January when our grandson Liam was stillborn. It was a phone call every parent dreads—my son calling in tears to let tell us this horrible news. I was frozen. We somehow muddled through the next few weeks and felt the pain and grief of loss.

What helped me during this time was the closeness and presence of family. We were able to cry together, hold each other, and grieve as a family. I can’t imagine having to go through this during the pandemic. I would find the loss of human interaction unbearable.

I find I have to struggle, particularly as I age, to find the glass half full. Every doctor’s visit seems to bring some other issue to deal with. I worry about my children, even though they are now adults. I worry about my grandchildren, hoping they will grow up in a world that is safe, clean, and full of opportunity.

I’ve come to painfully acknowledge that the older I get, the more loss becomes a part of my life. Sometimes it’s expected, like the loss of an aged parent, but sometimes it’s unexpected, like the loss of a child. I realize that I am part of the oldest generation in my family, my uncle having passed several months ago.

I am working on presence and acceptance. I realize that I spend too much time worrying about tomorrow and thinking “what if.” I need to consciously greet each day like the new beginning it is. I also need to accept what trials and tribulations I face and do my best to deal with them.

Practicing gratitude has helped me realize how truly lucky I am. My son and his wife were blessed with a “rainbow baby” this spring. I now have two beautiful grandchildren and one angel in heaven.

To be sure, it’s hard to be hopeful and thankful in the midst of a pandemic. But by staying the course and realizing that there is always darkness before the dawn, I believe we can get through this. I so can’t wait to hug my son, daughter-in-law, daughter, and grandchildren again. This too shall pass. Welcome February, and then hopefully spring!

Deborah experienced the loss of her grandson, Liam, in January of 2019. She has two grown children, both adopted, and two grandchildren. Deborah lives with her husband, Keith, and dog, Kovu. Now that she is retired Deborah volunteers with several heart-health focused organizations. She is the author of the book “A Journey of the Heart: Learning to Thrive, Not Just Survive, With Congenital Heart Disease.”

Postpartum: Pandemic Style by Kate

After the birth of my first child, I had a pretty smooth journey through the first few months. She had a short NICU stay for a seizure episode, so that was terrifying, but after she recovered, with the support of my husband and extended family, I was able to navigate the exciting and sometimes scary transition into motherhood. I had the normal ups and downs of life with a newborn. If I ever was feeling down, I could easily pull myself out of it after a hot bath or a jog around the neighborhood. I have always been a pretty calm individual. I have my dramatic outbursts and occasional “crying over spilt milk” episodes, but I generally am able to overcome slumps.

I wasn’t too surprised after having my daughter about how I felt. The feelings are strong and real and come out of nowhere. I had hormone shifts after my two miscarriages so I feel as though I was prepared in some sense for the swings of emotion.

When I was pregnant with my son, I told my husband that this time would be much smoother and easier. That’s what everyone told me. The 2nd time is easier.

Well, they were right about the birth. My son came right out. I hardly pushed. He pushed himself out.

What we never could have anticipated, not in a million years, was I would be having the baby a few months into a global pandemic.

I was so on edge when we came home from the hospital. My parents had watched our daughter. When we came home I didn’t let them touch the baby. They said hi to him with masks on and then they left. It hurt my heart so much to treat them that way, but at that point we just didn’t know which way was up, so I needed to conduct myself the same across the board. I had to treat everyone as if they had the virus, even those I trusted the most.

Raging postpartum hormones combined with the fear of coronavirus had me on the edge of my seat for a while. I was and still am mostly worried about my parents and my husband’s parents. With more knowledge came a sense of ease. We knew how to be safe and we had gotten into a predictable routine that pleased the babies. Late in the summer, I began visiting my mom’s house. My dad is a physician in an oncology office, but he had been so meticulous and careful and his office had had no outbreaks, so I trusted he would be okay. I didn’t wear a mask in their house and they didn’t wear them either because we trusted each other. I never went anywhere, not even stores. My husband and I get home delivery. Their house was our safe oasis.

December 18th, I stopped by my mom and dad’s house with the babies for a couple hours like I had been doing. The next morning, December 19th, my dad called me. He had tested positive for Covid-19. We were on high alert. He had been holding Zachary in his lap, face to face for at least 15 minutes or so. I began to tear up. I asked him how to move forward. We were to quarantine and I would be tested in about 6 days. Considering the timeline of everything and how safe he had been at work, he is convinced he caught it at the grocery store.

I had panic attacks in the days that followed. I had myself convinced for a couple days that I had it and I was going to give it to my babies. I wore a mask around them. I felt nauseous, weak, feverish. I kept saying to my husband that I had tried so hard to keep us all safe and I was going to be the reason that we all got it. He reassured me that going to my mom and dad’s house was my outlet and I shouldn’t feel guilty for doing so. He assured me we would all be okay. He assured me my dad knew what he was doing and knew how to tackle the virus. Despite his positive reassurance, I had nightmares of my dad going to the hospital and never coming home. I had visions of him on a ventilator, like the pictures they show of people on the news. The fact that my hormones are still jumbled from birth didn’t help. My son has started eating solid foods, so he isn’t nursing as frequently. I can feel in my bones that my hormones are changing. I think that process only fueled my big feelings.

Thankfully, my dad recovered and my husband and my babies and I are all fine. Miraculously, my mom never caught it. As soon as he woke up with symptoms, my dad had my mom wear a mask and quarantine in the house from him. They spent Christmas separated from everyone and they slept in different rooms until he was certain with a verified blood test that he was no longer contagious. It was a horrible holiday for all of us, but we were grateful we live close enough that we could at least drive by and wave from the car.

It was a rough road for my dad. He developed symptoms fast and hard. He had heard through medical colleagues about the monoclonal antibody shot and was able to get it at one of the local hospitals. Most of his symptoms dissipated quickly after getting the shot. He couldn’t believe it. He thought he was on the road to recovery, until harder symptoms hit. Shortness of breath was an alarming symptom. He went to the ER and had a CT scan of his chest. They found double Covid pneumonia in his lungs. He told me they call it Covid pneumonia but it’s blood clots forming on the lungs. He said that is why he was feeling shortness of breath. He knew he was at the stage of the virus when his vital organs were all inflamed.

Thankfully combined with his medical knowledge and the help of my two brothers who are physicians (one of whom works directly with Covid patients) he was able to get on the correct dose of steroids and blood thinners. He was unwell for at least 3 weeks. He is just now getting his regular strength back. I can tell he is still on edge emotionally. He told me he has had bad dreams that he still has it and he infected everyone. I think the mental fatigue the virus put on him and all of us will take some time to clear up.

After this major scare, we are now in a new groove and we are even more educated on how to be safe. I feel less anxious, especially since there is a vaccine that is proven to work and that my dad has recovered and now has some sort of immunity. We were able to safely gather for a late Christmas celebration with my immediate family. My dad was able to hold the babies safely once again.

I feel less anxious, but I am still on guard. It comes in waves.

There have been cases of children presenting with dangerous symptoms 4-6 weeks after a Covid exposure. It is rare, but I am not taking any chances. My kids are 4 weeks from exposure and so far have been fine. I will continue to monitor any little change closely. It is not lost on me how incredibly lucky we are.

As the pandemic and my hormones change, I hold on to the loving, constant support I have in my household.

So much for this time being easier.

-Kate Ells

Honoring Your Loss, Part 1 by Angela

At this point in my life I can say with near certainty that whenever I meet someone new, one of three things will happen. 1. They make a remark about how young I look. 2. They have the audacity to call me Angie, after I introduce myself as Angela. 3. They tell me I look just like their distant relative/neighbor/friend and then show me a picture of another young, often petite, blonde, white girl. The latter leading me to conclude that I am not only ordinary looking, but that I, as a person, am ordinary. That I am common and average and regular. So it did not surprise me when I realized that when I share the stories of my miscarriages I find myself bookending them with phrases like “I was *only* 9 weeks along” or “so at least that’s *all* that happened.” I know that sounds like a leap, but it’s not.

It may sound cliché, but it bears repeating that everyone’s pregnancy loss is different and no pregnancy loss is more or less real. No matter how soon after your positive test, no matter how few symptoms or how little physical pain you experienced, and no matter how it compares to other people’s experiences, it is significant. And in case you, like me, think too little of your pain, consider these words from the wizarding world’s favorite headmaster.

In a purgatory-like meeting place, Dumbledore welcomes Harry after he was on the receiving end of a killing curse:
[Harry] “Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?”
[Dumbledore] “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

Your loss is real, and no matter how common it feels some days, it is never ordinary or normal or unworthy of remembering.

I’ve been intrigued by Dia de los Muertos since I saw a single aisle endcap of decorations for it next to three aisles of Halloween decorations at Michaels years ago. As someone who went to their first funeral at 27 years old and has yet to lose someone close to me, I was curious about an entire holiday devoted to death. Maybe, less curious and more uneasy. As far as I could tell, or Google, nothing actually happened that day. No parade, gift giving, begging for candy or egg hunts. Just candles and a shared meal. Then there was the similar but less colorful version, All Souls’ Day, that I had also not heard of until young adulthood.

The culture I grew up in was nearly devoid of ceremony. Regularity and predictability, sure, but meaningful ritual not so much. Looking back I realized all the holidays I celebrated centered around Jesus or candy. Wait, that’s not fair to the 4th of July or New Year’s Eve. Those are all about fireworks.

It had never occurred to me that the human experience was much more than flaws to fix and pain to conquer. Looking back, it’s no wonder I couldn’t comprehend a day reserved for grieving and celebrating – for feeling and acknowledging.

It wasn’t until my miscarriages that I started to understand how much power lies in holding space and time to simply observe. A power I could feel only in opposition to my insistence to avoid and forget.

This past August marked the second anniversary of my first pregnancy loss. As it approached I felt a new longing to do something. I had no idea what, but the closer August 4th came the more I felt compelled to be prepared for it. Sadly, it came and went with a short, but slow, exchange of mutual heartache between my husband and I. Something like, “Oh, hey today is August 4th.”
“Oh? Oh… right. Yeah. It is.”
“Yep.”

For the next few weeks I thought about that often. Was I supposed to grieve better? Should I be more sad? Am I not supposed to talk about it?
I shouted at my own gut instinct, “What did you even want me to do?!”
“Something!” it said.
I felt so, incredibly, weak.

I was on the verge of tears for days after my internal voice reprimanded me so. Then, one Saturday morning, my husband and I were walking through Trader Joe’s (of all places). They had small Dia de los Muertos themed planters. Bright, colorful, decorated skulls holding succulents. We both stopped. Him, for the skulls, and me because there it was again – Dia de los Muertos. Evidently mainstream enough, or unfortunately appropriated enough, to be represented in a grocery store. An immediate pang of sadness hit me, but also a mysterious sense of understanding. We picked out two and I spent days researching All Souls’ Day and Dia de los Muertos.

I wasn’t brave enough to make a plan to observe the holiday, for fear that someone would accuse me of either appropriation or making an unwarranted big deal of my loss, so I let my longing and curiosity fade away. The morning after a late night celebrating Halloween with a bonfire, candy, and Harry Potter, I sat in the still morning darkness clutching my coffee. I savored the slow waking in silence, staring blankly at our new succulents on either side of our TV and realized… it was today. Day of the Dead.

After one last deep dive into the history of the holiday, I decided I was doing it. I didn’t have the right candles or the tablecloths to make a beautiful alter. But I decided some five-year-old, dusty candles in storage and the console table we never use would work. I never got a copy of the ultrasound from my second pregnancy, but I had the picture of the positive pregnancy test I sent to my husband. “Good enough,” I thought. I laid it next to the ultrasound of our first loss, lit a candle for each, and arranged our Trader Joe’s planters on either side.

So there they were. Our babies. The ones without a birthday or name. Whom we loved and I bore, but never met. Who barely made it into this world, yet definitively left it.

I let the candles burn all day. I packed some moving boxes, washed dishes, and embroidered a little. Each time I walked by my last-minute, yellow alter I smiled or cried. But most importantly, I remembered.