Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support, Education & Remembrance

Caring for Yourself

February 18, 2019 | By Nicole Nash | General

I was 29 years old when I learned what love is.  I gave birth to a baby girl whose heart beat, but who never took a breath.  I looked from her to my husband, and I thought, “We made her!”. In an instant, I realized that I was a mother, and he was not just my husband, but the father of my child.  My love for him grew exponentially.  Despite the cold of death upon my child, my heart ignited with love unbounded.  There was such joy in that.

It’s been eight years since that first revelation.  My love for Cecelia is constant, and I acknowledge with gratitude the education she has given me.  Because of her, I know who God is and how He works in the world.  I know that brokenness can expose greatness of character, and that wisdom is derived from compassion.  I learned that grieving is work, an unfortunate and consuming occupation.  Fortunately, the really bad part is brief and the result of this labor is healing.  I’d like to give you some ideas for caring for yourself during your bereavement.

Early in my grieving, I attended a workshop for bereavement ministers at my church.  The speaker named five essentials for healthy grieving: good nutrition, plenty of sleep, regular exercise, prayer or meditation, and arts and crafts.  He suggested assimilating these things into a manageable routine which would infuse order into the disorder of grief.  I became the five essentials poster child.  I cooked yummy, balanced meals, enjoying both the diversion of menu planning and catharsis of good food.  I eliminated my escapist sleep patterns in favor of a regular 8-9 hours, waking to the alarm and starting the day with purpose.  Number three was tricky as I have strong aversions to exertion and perspiration (I wish I was joking!).  I took to the beach with daily walks.  It was perfect: lots of fresh air and at times majestic beauty, not to mention that I could talk to myself without being noticed.  And did I ever talk!  Whatever wasn’t spewing out of my mouth on the windy shoreline seemed to take shape as a constant swirl of words in my head as I tried to make sense of Cecelia’s death.  With discipline and practice, I was able to focus those words into meaningful and simple prayers.  I attended Mass daily and pared down my prayer requests to measurable chunks.  Bit by bit, my prayers were answered, my surrender became more real, and peace came.  My artistic outlet took shape as a scrapbook and memory box to preserve the few and precious items I had of hers.  I also made a small quilt using fabric from my wedding gown, which I have displayed in a shadow box.  I can’t overemphasize the healing derived from these pursuits.  Everybody is artistic in some way, and engaging that part of your brain is therapeutic, even if the project has little or nothing to do with the baby.

For a time, the work of grieving was about all I could manage.  I resented my overall fragility and isolation.  While the structure and stability of my regimen kept me sane, I hated my reliance upon it.  I wanted a life!  My husband needed me back, and my students needed me whole.  The following interventions helped me re-enter life:

  • Kind self-talk: I gave up self-bashing (“you need to get better”) and “spoke” to myself in the voice of the gentle parent, encouraging and never condemning, praising and loving.
  • Reasonable expectations: I allowed myself to be selective on accepting social invitations, especially baby showers and birthday parties. If I wanted to go, then I prepped with a good cry, pep talk or exit strategy.  I gave up things that were upsetting.
  • Friends: I relied on a small number of friends for support and social contact. Empty Cradle friends can walk the walk with you, but even without a loss of their own, many friends are just intuitively great.  Let go temporarily of the friendships you are not able to nurture.  Real friends will be there for you when you are ready and will not hold it against you if you miss their baby shower.  I even had to be selective with family members for a time.  It’s okay.
  • Acceptance of my spouse’s grief process without judgement. Know that you will grieve differently, communicate about it differently, and manifest the grief differently.  I didn’t always understand my husband’s process, but I certainly appreciate his unfaltering support of the ways I choose to grieve and remember our daughter.  This is such a tremendous gift of love and respect.
  • Memorials and memorabilia: I mentioned the beach above. When I walked the beach, I began to notice heart-shaped stones.  To me the message in each stone was so profound.  It began as some other shape, then it got battered, chipped and broken.  The incessant pounding of the waves on rock smoothed and reshaped the stone into its new and beautiful form.  I like to consider myself the stone, honed by my grief into someone new.  I collect heart-shaped stones in memory of my daughter, in honor of whom she made me, and as gifts for others who might benefit from the message.  You may also find memorial events or items meaningful.

 Bereaved parents, take care of yourselves and each other.  Healing will come.

Originally printed in Empty Cradle's Newsletter March/April 2008

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