Ask a Dead-Baby-Momma: SPECIAL HOLIDAY COLUMN!
To my friends overseas: you may or may not know that today is Thanksgiving Day over here in les Etats Unis. Ahhh, Thanksgiving: day to gather around a large dead bird on a plate, carve off its flesh, and cram forkfuls of it into our mouths! A day of reconvening lovingly with family and friends, interspersed with hiding in a dark corner room and writing blog posts instead (although what kind of anti-social loser would do that?)! A day, in theory, to be consciously grateful for what we have (like each other) and don't have (like bubonic plague).
Yet for some, it's hard day too. There's something about these supposedly joyful and festive days that can be oddly depressing, particularly if the things you do have only serve as reminders of what you don't have. It sort of reminds me of that statistic that suicide rates in freezing-arse cold countries tend to skyrocket during the warm summer months. I wonder if it's because you think to yourself: The sun is shining and I'm supposed to be happy right now, dammit! But I'm not. So I suck. Has anyone seen my gun lately?
Family holidays: likewise.
This Thanksgiving (yes, even I should be helping my mother-in-law stir the pot of creamed onions right now, but as your Dead Baby Momma advice giver, I felt it my duty to sneak away for a moment), I sense this strange, cosmic presence of the Newly Knocked-Down Mommas out there, hovering nearby. Perhaps it's because lately, I've gotten an inordinate number e-mails and hellos from people with losses as recent as this year, or this month, or even this week. I don't know if KuKd is a seasonal disorder or what, but it sure feels that way as of late.
At any rate, I felt compelled to reach out to those mommas whose Thanksgiving days - or whose other holidays coming up - aren't as joyful as they could have been, or would have been, or should have been. If only that much-anticipated thing had happened, that particular human being were here and alive on earth as originally intended. Holidays would feel different this year, closer to how they look the Hallmark commercials.
Here we go.
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Dear Newly Knocked Down Mommas and Daddas:
Which do you want first: the good news or the bad news?
Let's start with the bad: holidays like this one are going to just plain suck for a while. Somebody will be missing from the table - and that's a fact you can't avoid noticing, no matter how lovely the food and conversation otherwise is. You'll sense that missing person more acutely than others will, and that's not fun. It's sort of like Big Bird imagining his friend Snuffaluffagus - a friend that nobody else can see - except that in your case, you're imagining...a ghost, a lack, an absence.
Furthermore, it's unlikely that anyone will want to explicily mention the baby that isn't there, even if you happen to desperately want to talk about him or her. You may find yourself feeling hurt or frustrated by this fact.
Keep in mind that other people's trauma is beyond the conversational comfort zone of most people, especially on a supposedly joyful holiday occasion. Think about it: you've probably been on the flip side before, sidled up next to a person whose mother or father or grandparent or pet cat just died. How comfortable would you feel saying, "Can you pass the salt, please? Oh, and I'm sorry your grandmother died such a horrible and drawn-out death filled pain. The biscuits are delicious, by the way!" That said, most people - with occasional exceptions - are fully aware of that missing person at the table and saddened in their own way, because your loss is theirs too. Baby-death is a blow to the entire community. There just aren't any clear-cut rules for how to talk about it.
And now, the good news:
1) Escape'em or face'em: this year especially, you have a carte blanch to do whatever in fuck's name you feel like doing when it comes to the holidays. Never mind the traditions, never mind what others think is best for you, never mind what your family wants. They'll deal with whatever you decide to do. You're in survival mode right now, as you should be - so confer with your partner if you have one, and come up with a plan to do the least hurtful, most awesome thing this holiday season. You just got screwed beyond belief, so pamper yourself! You can do what this Dead-Baby-Momma did just four months after KuKdx2: cancel all the family holiday plans and take off to Ecuador with a hunk-o-husband and an overstuffed backpack. Or, if family is what you need, do it. Follow your gut instinct.
2) Things get better. They really do. Have faith in yourself to uncover coping mechanisms you never knew you had, to find your own ways to balance grieving with healing. News flash: they happen at the same time, without you even knowing it! So even as you sit at the holiday dinner table feeling like a big ball of shit, that shit-feeling is part of your healing journey. Aside from your own powerful psyche and soul, the simple passage of time is another one of nature's greatest healers. If you happen to be a Newly Knocked-Downer, you haven't much time under your belt to soothe the rawness and help scar tissue form. But as time goes by, your loss will get folded deeper inside of you, and next year's holidays will be easier than this year's. Just by being here on this blog, reading these words, you are in the presence of lots and lots of ladies - and gentlemen - who get it, and who can attest to the truth if these statements. Things will get better.
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My confession: this Thanksgiving, for me, is filled with hope and...well...thankfulness. Let me admit that outright. I write this post from the hopefully-not-perceived-as-smug position of someone who's had time - two years and three months, to be exact - to get to a better, more psychologically sound place than were I was during the holiday season of 2007. I have my brooding, melancholy moments, of course; but at the same time, I'm thankful for so much. I could list the things I'm thankful for here, but they're just the usual cliche things that everybody else is thankful for. Stillbirth has changed all of us - me, Kevin, our families. Now there's a new ball of baby-hope growing in my torso, casting a sheen of glowing anticipation on everything us all. But even before that ball of baby-hope formed, I was already in an infinitely better place than I was a year ago, two years ago - simply due to the passage of time, and the human mental power to heal.
You can take that as a stomach-punch, which is precisely what I did for a year or so after Zach's death: screw you for being farther along that healing track than I am, for being in that more peaceful place that I can hardly even see through the fog of my own hellish misery!
Or you can take it as reassurance that, like I said, things get better.
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In short, enjoy your holidays this year, or hate them. Both emotions are useful in their own way, and necessary parts of the grieving and living process. Your challenge is to be forgiving of others around you, forgiving of cruel facts you can't control, and faithful in yourself to do what's right for you. And if you can't make up your mind, ask that man of yours (or woman of yours) to take the lead and book you both tickets to a kick-arse spa retreat. Pack lots of Kleenex and baby memorabilia for your sad moments, sexy undies for your sex moments, a notebook for your thoughtful moments, and a cell phone for those moments when you're craving Mom or Dad's voice.
Hey all you KuKd veterans - c'mon, am I right or am I right? And any other Thanksgiving words of wisdom you can offer to our more recent forced-inductees into the warped world of baby death?