Truly Horrible Things

“Suffering is what happens when truly horrible things happen to us,” Cheryl Strayed wrote in her book, Tiny, Beautiful Things.

Buy it.  Today.  It’s incredible.

Actually, if you don’t like raw, honest writing, and if you have a problem with strong, foul language at the most appropriate times, then don’t buy it.  I warned you.  If she uses language you don’t prefer, then I probably do too.  But sometimes it’s the only word that fits, and it’s the best and most perfect word to use.

I talked with two women this week who have lost babies to miscarriage or stillbirth.  And I know many – too many – more who grieve the tearing wounds of a heartbeat lost in utero, a strangling cord, an abortion that seemed like the only choice, and babies who didn’t live long enough to outgrow a preemie’s onesie.

Sweet L called me.  I haven’t talked to her in ten years, at least.  “Tricia, my baby girl died. Her name was Sarah Grace.  I was 36 weeks.  I don’t know what to do… can you tell me what to do?  What do I do?  What have you learned?”

Oh, darling girl.

These were my frail words to her, as I sat in the car at the grocery store parking lot, listening to her quiet weeping.

She happened.  Your daughter happened.  You know that better than anyone.  Don’t ever let anyone tell you she mattered less.  Don’t let anyone tell you she wasn’t a child because she wasn’t born.  

They may be tempted to say, “At least you’re young, so you can have another baby,” or “It’s good that you already have another child to love.”  One child will never, ever replace another.  People do not replace people.

Grieve well, dear one.  Grieve well.”

I also told her about Tiny Beautiful Things, the book I mentioned above.  I decided to post an excerpt from the book, because these profound words are tucked inside a book you might not get to read, and I can’t risk you missing these words.

If you’ve never had “to get over” something that threatened to swallow you whole in its relentless, gnashing jaws, then go ahead and read something else today.  This isn’t for you.

But if this is for you, then sit with me.  Let’s read together.

***

Dear Sugar,

When I was six and a half months pregnant, I miscarried. Since then, I’ve struggled to get out of bed.

Not a day has gone by when I haven’t thought about who that child would have been. It was a girl. She had a name. Every day I wake up and think, “My daughter would be six months old,” or “My daughter would maybe have started crawling today.” Sometimes all I can think is the word “daughter” over and over and over.

Of course, it seems that everyone around me is having a baby and everywhere I go all i see are babies so I have to force myself to be happy for them and to swallow how empty I feel. The truth is, I don’t feel much of anything anymore and yet everything hurts. Most of the people in my life expect me to be over my sorrow by now. As one person pointed out, “It was only a miscarriage.” So I also feel guilty about being so stuck grieving for a child that never was when I should just walk it off or something.

My friends and family think I’m doing fine, but nothing could be further from the truth. Everything feels like it is more than I can handle. The rational part of me understands that if I don’t pull myself out of this, I’ll do serious damage to myself. I know this, and yet I just don’t care.

My daughter, she had a name. She was loved. I feel like the only one who cares. Then I feel horrible for mourning “just a miscarriage” after nearly a year. I’m stuck.

Best,
Stuck

***

Dear Stuck,

I’m so sorry that your baby girl died. So terribly sorry. I can feel your suffering vibrating right through my computer screen. This is to be expected. It is as it should be. Though we live in a time and place and culture that tries to tell us otherwise, suffering is what happens when truly horrible things happen to us.

Don’t listen to those people who suggest you should be “over” your daughter’s death by now. The people who squawk the loudest about such things have almost never had to get over anything. Or at least not anything that was genuinely [*&^%$#@!]-ly life altering. Some of those people believe they’re being helpful by minimizing your pain. Others are scared of the intensity of your loss and so they use their words to push your grief away. Many of those people love you and are worthy of your love, but they are not the people who will be helpful to you when it comes to dealing with the pain of your daughter’s death.

They live on Planet Earth. You live on Planet My Baby Died.

It seems to me that you feel like you’re all alone there. You aren’t. There are women reading this right now who have tears in their eyes. There are women who have spent their days chanting daughter, daughter, daughter or son, son, son silently to themselves. Women who have been privately tormented about the things they did or didn’t do that they fear caused the deaths of their babies. You need to find these women. They’re your tribe.

I know because I’ve lived on a few planets that aren’t Planet Earth myself.

The healing power of even the most microscopic exchange with someone who knows in a flash precisely what you’re talking about because she experienced that thing too cannot be overestimated.

I think you should see a therapist – and I strongly encourage you to call and make an appointment today. A therapist will help you air and examine the complex grief you’re holding so tightly inside of you, and he or she will also help you manage your (probably situational) depression.

This is how you get unstuck, Stuck. You reach. Not so you can walk away from the daughter you loved, but so you can live that life that is yours – the one that includes the sad loss of your daughter, but is not arrested by it. The one that eventually leads you to a place in which you not only grieve her, but you also feel lucky to have had the privilege of loving her. That place of true healing is a fierce place. It’s a giant place. It’s a place of monstrous beauty and endless dark and glimmering light. And you have to work really, really, really hard to get there, but you can do it. You’re a woman who can travel that far.

I know it.

~ Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed

***

If you’re looking for a network of people who understand, there are many communities designed to help you.  Here’s one:  MissFoundation.

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4 thoughts on “Truly Horrible Things

  1. The only part I disagree with is the therapist (not that they don’t serve a purpose and aren’t necessary for some). Not everyone needs a therapist. There are some who truly can’t afford a therapist, and that’s okay too. They will be alright, they will find their way. Burying yourself in the word of God, in the hearts of prayer warriors who believe that holding up those who grieve without needing to know the answer to any questions, and reaching out to friends who will truly “cry with you” in your deepest grief may be enough… And that is okay too. Grief takes different forms for different people and sometimes the person just needs to find their experience and live that for a little while, knowing that not everyone understands. (I’ve been there… more than once.)

  2. This post means more than I can explain to you. All I have is thank you. Thank you Tricia.

  3. Thank you, Tricia for sharing. I have not experienced that kind of loss but am surrounded by dear women who have. I am trying to help love them the best way I can through their pain, and your voice has been such a help to me. :)

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