As I continue in my grief journey as an Almost Father, I’m learning there are a million things they don’t tell you when it happens. Little ones, like when your heart skips a beat after finding out someone is pregnant or doing your best not to say something that would bring up your pain instead of encourage their excitement. They can’t describe how strange it is that everything has changed even though very few things look like it. And there will never be a way that anyone can coach you through how you need to grieve – they can only share things that helped them (or didn’t). In the spirit of speaking up about the difficulties we face after loss, here are a few things I wish I had been told.
Self care means something different now. Where before you would go for a spa day or golfing to get away and relax, it’s more likely to happen now because you need something else to focus on. Time helps you to learn how to get used to keeping your guard up – which makes things easier – but it doesn’t ‘heal all wounds’ as they say. After losing a child, more time means keeping your guard up every. single. day. But if you don’t do things to find some form of outlet – to let as much out as you can or need to – you’ll find yourself in a place you didn’t mean to go and don’t know how to return from.
Empty arms hurt more than an empty crib. We’re coming into Jonah’s second birthday in a few months and three years since we found out that we lost Luke, and having all of the nursery things still hurts, but it isn’t what breaks us. Seeing the memories we have made now with them in mind, knowing we can never hold them again… Empty arms will always be more painful than all that other stuff for me. Our Jonah bear and the others help with that, but the ache will always be there.
The conflict is real. Life doesn’t stop because we came home by ourselves. You will have a hard time with pregnancies and births around you and the guilt doesn’t help. Sometimes you’ll want to say something but not know what, and you’ll take a step back instead – that’s okay. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve needed to ‘keep scrolling’, text instead of call, or leave early because of that very conflict. There is nothing wrong with wanting all of the wonderful things for those around us while still needing to protect our hearts.
You are strong because you have to be. So many people will say things like ‘I don’t know how you do it’ or ‘You seem to be doing well”, and you may be. But the kind of strength we find after loss came about because the only choice we have is to get out of bed and participate in life. The greatest honor we could give those who didn’t come home is change in their name and sometimes that means taking that first step, every day. Some days you’ll have less to give than others, but give it all to do well by them. We’re still parents – we just teach life lessons in different ways now.
I don’t know that there will ever be a day that I don’t carry them with me, both in my frustration and in my celebration. But the more things I do in their spirit the further their impact goes, and that’s the only victory I need. Protect your heart and do good things.