May 4, 2010
I’ve gotten a lot of emails from people about grief in the last two and a half years. Some I’ve been able to answer personally, some I haven’t. There’s really no formula for how I decide which ones to answer and which ones not to. It’s more of an in-the-moment thing, where I have 15 minutes and can pour my soul into a response to a complete stranger.
Many of the emails come from people who know someone who just lost a baby–someone from church, a family member, a close friend. That’s probably because the people who just lost the baby are not even sure what’s happening and are completely and utterly in shock. The people on the outside have their heads on straight enough, relatively speaking, to put an email together and ask for help, or even just commiseration.
The one thing I’ve found myself writing to these people over and over again is this: Give brokenhearted love. Ask God to give you a broken heart. That will go further with your friend than any meal or house-cleaning ever could. Granted, I think meals and house-cleaning are immensely important to offer, and some people will be particularly gifted in giving those things. But if you want to go deeper into the loss with your friend, you’re going to have to be heartbroken.
For one thing, grief is really isolating. Especially when it’s a baby who is stillborn, people can sometimes think things like, “Oh, well the baby never lived outside the womb. It’s not like they knew that baby or anything.” And when you come home without a baby, there’s very little evidence that that child ever existed. So when you’re going through the hell of grief, it can feel like you were the only one who lost that baby, and that everyone else’s life has just moved on.
And in some sense, that’s true. Most people are not marking the days and weeks the same way as you are. But there will be a few who will.
And I suppose that’s who I’m writing for, the people who remember.
In our culture, people don’t like to talk about death. And dead babies??? Forget it. That’s because it’s horrifying. I’ll never forget how terrified I was to look at Felicity for the first time. And she was my child.
But brokenhearted love will choose to take on the horror and bear it with you.
In the first few weeks after we lost Felicity, a stranger who I didn’t know (but who went to our church) was signed up to bring me a meal. I kind of had my brave face on to answer the door, get through the interaction, get the food, exchange a few pleasantries back and forth, and get back to my existence.
But there was something very different about this person. As she handed me the food, she was sobbing. I’m not exaggerating here–tears flowing down her face. I was completely disarmed. I remember eventually she asked me if she could see Felicity’s room, if we had it set up. And before I knew it, I was climbing the stairs with this complete stranger, taking her into one of the most sacred spaces in my home.
It felt kind of crazy, but it felt safe. Because she was heartbroken. Just like me, heartbroken.
And even just last week, I had someone tell me that she stopped at Felicity’s grave. And she told me, through her tears, what she was thinking and feeling about that. It’s been two and a half years. She’s never told me anything like that before. And so we stood in her back yard and cried real tears together.
This is the bravery of brokenhearted love.
People who are grieving need to know that they’re not alone. They need to know that their loss is somehow your loss too. Tell them that you visited the cemetery–not for brownie points, but because you want to remember with them. Tell them that you cried in the bathtub the other day. Tell them that when you hear a certain song it takes the breath out of your lungs.
I’ll warn you: you might cry when you tell them these things. HALLELUJAH! You have NO idea what that will mean to someone who’s grieving. Let it FLOW! What are we holding it together for anyway? So our mascara doesn’t run? So we won’t feel embarrassed or uncomfortable? There’s a reason that lump forms in your throat. It’s because you’re holding something in that wants to come out!
So if you’re wondering what you can give your grieving friend, I know it sounds totally cliche, but…give them your heart. Lay it bare. Entering into their pain and sharing your experience of the loss will be profoundly comforting.
I’ve made it through the last two years and seven months because of brokenhearted love. It’s been a gift to me, from those who were willing to give it.