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Right after Eliana died I was understandably desperate for a baby in my arms. I thought, and cried, and agonized over trying again right away. Some to whom I looked for advice said it would be a huge mistake, that I needed time to heal first. Others, mainly moms who did have another child soon after losing one, said it could be incredibly healing to have another baby as a comfort for the loss. I put it off, and procrastinated, and deliberated so long that I made a decision by default.

I also realized that I would not be able to handle the knowledge that a new baby would only be there because Eliana was not. My hat is off to all the women who handle it beautifully. I just knew that I wouldn’t. In the end, I decided to wait until at least the same amount of time had passed as there was between the other kids. That meant that according to my timeline, I was free to try around August.

Now, five months later, I am still paralyzed in fear over the very idea of it. I want a baby, of course. What I don’t want is the nine months of terror over the possibility of losing it. Knowing that one minute, day, or month of time could mean the difference between a healthy child and one that will die and destroy me with grief leaves me frozen, unable to move forward, and trapped by indecision. What if we pick the wrong moment? So again, I keep putting it off, and sit here wondering how long I can keep this up.

I’m not ancient, but I’m not getting any younger either. I know the chances of birth defects go up the longer I wait, and the chances of conceiving go down. It’s going on two years now since she came and went. Is it possible that another two years could come and go just as quickly and just as babyless because I’m too scared to take the chance?

I don’t know how to do this. I didn’t know how to make it through my grief. I don’t know how to make it through my fear. I don’t know how to make it through a pregnancy without going crazy. And I hate, hate, hate that the only way is to just do it. Here’s me having a conversation with Nike: Them-“Just do it.”  Me-“I can’t. I haven’t planned it out yet, and I can’t predict the outcome. I’d rather not do it, thanks.”

I of all people realize that grief and healing are a lifelong journey, not a destination or a goal. I’m not going to wake up one morning and be “okay” or “ready.” But it sure would be nice to feel a little bit more ready than I do right now. How long would I have to wait though? I’ve already been waiting a long time. Would that feeling of readiness ever actually materialize?

I am scared. I’m just so very scared because I know what it’s like to lose my child. Part of me says to just trust God.

But that’s what I did the last time.

I should be asleep right now. We are supposed to be getting pictures taken in the morning. But as I was putting Elisabeth to bed, she started sobbing, choking out that she misses Eliana. This happens, not frequently, but enough that (sadly) I am used to it. Used to it or not, it breaks my heart all over again each time it happens.

She talked more tonight than usual. She kept asking why Eliana had to die, and said how sad she was that the doctors couldn’t fix her. She cried about not getting to hold her more, and that she didn’t get to come see her more often at the hospital. She was so upset that Eliana was taken so soon after I had her. Her face was lined with pain when she told me she didn’t get to kiss Eliana goodbye at the funeral. To experience my child dying is the worst thing I have ever gone through. Watching my other child try to deal with her death is the second worst thing.

Toward the end of our talk, Elisabeth brought up having our pictures taken tomorrow. I asked her if she would like to take Eliana’s teddy bear with us to be in the picture, since Eliana can’t be here with us. She said she wanted to. It was something I had been thinking about doing all along, but it’s nice that it can be something to comfort Elisabeth too, not just make me feel better.

To be honest, I was having serious issues with the idea of having family pictures taken again. I know, I know, you don’t have to say it.  It’s something we need to do.  We have to do it for the girls.  I’ve heard all the admonitions. Perhaps unless you have lost a child you cannot really understand my strong resistance to having our photos done again.

My baby is not here. Eliana will not be in these pictures. Eliana will never be in any of our family photos again.  It seems so wrong sometimes to go on doing the normal everyday things that she cannot be a part of any longer. These thoughts race through my head, round and round without resolution. Motherly guilt and feelings of obligation compete with the gut-level conviction that I don’t want them done again……ever.

I’ve heard more than one person say that they have tried to complete a puzzle, only to discover that there is one piece missing. Do you know what they did with the puzzle? Donated it? Kept it and ignored the missing piece? No. They threw the puzzle away. I think there is something about being human that makes us hate an otherwise beautiful image that has one little missing piece. Just like I, motherly guilt and all, am going to, on one level, hate the otherwise beautiful image that is going to have one piece missing. The face that won’t be there is just as loved, and just as important, as the faces that will be there.

Elisabeth was able to go to sleep after letting her sorrow out. I’m not so lucky. Here I sit, typing away instead of getting my beauty sleep. I may look a little tired in those pictures tomorrow. The smile might be on my lips but not reach my eyes. At least I’ll have a good reason. Before I even see the proofs, I’ll know that there will be something wrong with them. I’ll get some anyway, but I’ll know that behind the image is a family grieving the loss of their daughter, their sister, and their granddaughter. It will be a picture of a family that is incomplete.

And always will be.

I thought this was just beautiful. It was written by Linn Keller, who recently read it as a eulogy for someone close to him who died. It paints such a heart-tugging picture, doesn’t it? Sadly, children are often end up being the forgotten grievers.

I am a child.img_3558-21
I stand alone on the playground in the gathering dusk.
I look around and I am sad, for my friend has been called home by a Wise and Loving Parent.
I know this — I know the Parent is both wise and loving, and I know my friend is safe and warm at home — and yes, I know I will see my friend again, in the dawning of the new day.
But I am a child.
A child understands one thing:
NOW!!
A child does not understand later, or perhaps, or tomorrow; a child exists in the moment, and I am a child.
I will see my friend again in the dawning of the new day, but to a child, tomorrow is forever, an eternity.
When one of our own is called in by that Wise and Loving Parent, we look around the playground and cry for them, for there is still light enough to play.  There is still light, there is time, but my friend is gone, and I must wait.

Sadly, about 25,000 babies will die during or prior to birth this year in the U.S. alone. Another 10,000 or so will die during the first few months of life. Thousands more will die during their first year of life in accidents, drownings, and from illnesses. Thousands more toddlers, young children, teens, and young adults will die.

These deaths leave countless families with aching hearts, their lives irreversibly changed, transformed forever. The month of October is a month to pause and remember the precious lives gone too soon, not only in the U.S., but also around the globe where every minute 20 children die from preventable causes such as hunger, pestilence, poverty, and war.

The effects of a child’s death are intergenerational and long-lasting- in particular, the psychosocial tumult can devastate individuals and families. Like a pebble tossed into a still lake, a child’s death ripples outward in waves in despair that are often unrecognizably related to the tiny stone. Across cultures and throughout time, the death of a child is recognized as one of life’s worst tragedies.

In my many years working with bereaved parents and siblings, I have witnessed these effects. Women in their 70s and 80s hear of my work and seek me. They want to tell me their stories of loss and sorrow. No, they need to tell their stories, for they are still whispering, shamed by the secrecy so common decades ago. They seek redemption. I ask, “What is his name?” and they often look surprised at my asking, follow it with tears, gratitude, a hug. “Thank you. I haven’t spoken his name in 37 years.”

One 80 year old woman wrote to me, “My daughter died in 1947…I want to join your group and get her birth certificate and finally remember her so that I can die in peace…” Siblings often recount to me stories of their brother or sister who died 40 or 50 years ago, still anguishing that “my mother was never the same woman after that…”

These deaths change us permanently. It is critically important to understand these experiences, to embrace and support those facing such traumatic losses, and help them find their voices. We need to, as a culture, pause and remember so that families can live their lives out of the closets of shame to which they were once condemned. Meaninglessness leads to purposeless and purposeless to hopelessness. If we can grant the compassion, empathy, and support so desperately needed, the outcomes for the bereaved can provide the underpinnings for a changed world.

It is my great hope this October that every bereaved family who has experienced the death of a baby or child at any age and from any cause has the loving and compassionate support they so duly deserve. Lend your heart, lend your hand to them, so that one day- when they are ready- they can extend their hand to another.

In memory of all our children who died too soon…

Joanne Cacciatore, PhD, FT
All Rights Reserved
(c) 2008, an excerpt from Dr. Cacciatore’s blog

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