"Firsts" of the Grief Journey
Updated: Mar 2, 2020
At some point, we have to experience all of the "firsts" during the grieving process. The first time going back to work, the gym, the store, being outdoors, seeing a pregnant woman or family, seeing the social media posts with announcements or bump updates, seeing people you know, going to the store you bought nursery décor from, going to the location you took your first photo together pregnant... What exactly do I mean by the "firsts"? Going to places, doing activities, conversations you hear, what you see, the people you encounter - all the things you did before when you were pregnant, when things were normal.
The firsts are painful and overwhelming, and sometimes not possible for you to do yet. I learned that if I can't handle it - leave and don't be sorry, I obviously just wasn't ready for it.
Parents of those who have lost - do not be mad at others for what they say, how they act or react. I learned very quickly and am reminded on a daily basis that people do not know, and guess what- I wouldn't either if I was them. There have been many things said to me that absolutely kill me inside, but I'm not mad at them. I know what they said was not out of ill intent.
Knowing someone who has lost a child is not a "normal" social conversation. It is awkward for many. What do you say? How do you act? There's no right or wrong, but there have been things said to me that I would say could have been said differently or maybe just not said at all. "Glad to see your back at (insert activity or place), you must be doing better." How could you say something like that? I was at furious at first of some comments. However, I put myself in their shoes and realized that I can't be mad, or shouldn't be mad. It doesn't mean it doesn't badly hurt, trust me, it hurts. I figure out how to best respond (or not respond), try to keep my poker face on and if possible, to exit the conversation.
Let me be clear, just because we are trying to get back into things we did prior to the unimaginable loss, does NOT mean we are better or okay. I would go as far to say this is probably true for many if not all grieving parents. We are trying to get back to our lives to figure out our new normal, which will eventually become our normal and our new selves. We will never be the same. Just because there's a moment of a smile, doesn't mean we are better. Just because we went and did an activity, doesn't mean we are better. Just because we are going out to dinner, doesn't mean we are better. We are just trying to figure our life out.
I tried to go to my first intimate social gathering, only two of our close friends were there and we didn't know the rest of the group. I wasn't sure if I was ready, but tried because it was an okay day. The first interaction was the typical social questions, I prayed for her not to ask me the question that I dread. But she did, "So do you have any kids?" A stab in the heart and punch to the stomach. I read so many things about how others have handled this question - some say no, others say yes - but then you have to be prepared for a follow up question. "No" frantically came out of my mouth, I stopped, teared up and said, "actually, yes I do. He's just no longer with us anymore, I have an angel baby." It was awkward for both of us, but I do have a son and if I'm asked, I am proud to be Carter's mom - just because he isn't here, doesn't mean we shouldn't talk about him.
Another first, going back to work. Seeing my work family I haven't seen since I've been out - I admit, it's difficult and exhausting because it's been a multiple, daily occurrence since my first day back. I try to control the number of first time interactions in a day, if possible. It has nothing to do with not wanting to see anyone, they're my work family who have always supported me, especially throughout this difficult journey. There are also those who don't know why I was out… (Without mentioning a name) He is one of the nicest people I've ever met, I usually see him every day. When I saw him, he got a huge smile on his face and said "Justina! You're back! How's your baby?" I cried, he cried. Of course, he had no idea and I was not and could not be mad at him at all. But it doesn't mean it wasn't another stab in the heart and punch in the stomach.
There are many first experiences, but I share details of just a couple of these so you understand it isn't just about going out in public or going back to work or just going to the store or just going to a social gathering. All of these firsts, and many more I haven't done yet, are a challenge. A challenge to bring yourself to do it, a challenge to continue to do it, and a challenge to know when to give yourself grace.
I can't explain how difficult it is to slowly start doing things we would normally do. Are we ready? Is this okay? What if we aren't strong enough? As I've said before, there's no timeline, no deadline, no right or wrong in the grieving process - you just have to be and do things on your terms. Honestly, I would never be "ready" for any of the firsts, so it takes bringing yourself to do it and if it's too much, it's okay - leave or don't do it and try again later. Learning to give ourselves grace has been a difficult, but important lesson as we continue the journey through the "firsts".