By Danae Jones – People’s Defender
I have been to more funerals over the last few years than I care to admit. Unfortunately, most people have no idea how many lives they’ve touched while they are living, but at a funeral the family and friends left behind have the privilege of seeing the evidence of a life well lived. It has always seemed so cruel to me that many times after you lose someone you love, your title changes from something that you held in high regard to something that you never wanted to be. A wife becomes a widow. A husband becomes a widower. In many cases, a child becomes an orphan.
Losing anyone is extremely upsetting, but the loss that really gets to me the most is when a parent loses a child. It’s not the way it’s supposed to happen. It’s unnatural. Their title doesn’t change, though. A parent will always be a parent, but they become a member of an unspoken ‘club’. (For lack of a better term.) It’s a club that nobody wants to belong to, and where few non-members really understand what happens there. Kicking, screaming, and casting anger at God, I became a member of that club in 1999, when I had a second trimester miscarriage and lost the baby I had been dreaming about since I was 8 years old. His name is Jacob. Later that year, I lost baby Dani. This past year would have been Jacob’s 16th birthday. It’s not a day that I would expect anyone to remember, as it’s not written anywhere besides in my heart. But for me, even after all these years, the birthdate is still harder to take than the loss date. My baby sister understood that, and would send flowers in remembrance, and that meant a great deal. But it’s still sad knowing we should be celebrating all of those rights of passage that other kids get to celebrate. Starting kindergarten. Losing teeth. Getting a driver’s license. My other children and I often make cookies on that day, but I mostly spend the day despising the fact that I’m a member of a club I didn’t sign up for.
For those first few months after the loss of my babies, there were many cards, phone calls, and meals brought to the house. After that, I found that most people didn’t know if saying something about it would upset me, or didn’t know what to say, so they would say nothing, which was even worse. But I understood. Everyone handles situations like that differently, and you never know what the right thing is to do. But for me, having it not acknowledged at all was very hard to take.
My babies were here, a part of my heart and soul, and were taken from me without my permission. That’s when I realized that there was one advantage to being a member of this ridiculous club, other club members. They understand the importance of knowing your child is remembered. They understand that sometimes there are certain triggers that make the sadness be overwhelming, and that sometimes, you’re just sad for no reason at all. They know that there are days when you need to talk about it, and days when you couldn’t talk about it if you tried. They know the importance of being able to share your story, your walk, your child’s memories, your joyful and sorrowful experiences, and have no judgment. They would reach out, just to let me know that they remembered, understood, and show me that life, although different, does indeed go on. But time and again, I kept hearing a common fear. They were afraid that over time, people would forget their child. Eventually, I realized that fear.
I remember the first time a year went by and not one single person had spoken to me about Jacob or Dani. I was at school, preparing the board before the students arrived. For no particular reason, that realization hit me, and I couldn’t catch my breath. A friend found me in a crumpled, crying pile outside the school library doors. I don’t even remember going there. But she sat on the ground, outside in the cold and held me, which was exactly what I didn’t know I needed. I fell asleep that night praying that no other ‘club members’ felt the way I felt that day.
I’ve heard well-meaning people say, “Well at least you have other kids.” Yes, but they do not replace the ones I lost. People have said, ‘It’s been ___ years. Shouldn’t you be feeling better by now?’ No. There is no timeline for grief. There is no magic formula to help you get over it. I don’t dwell on losing my babies. Most days are good days now, but some days I just feel sad. And that’s okay.
All of us are most likely in one type of unwanted ‘club’ or another. Maybe we have lost a spouse, a child, a parent, a friend, or lost someone to cancer, etc. The list could go on and on, but the name of the club doesn’t matter. The grief, the loss, the heartache is the same. If you are not in the club yourself, you probably know someone who is. I encourage you to reach out to those you know are dealing with loss. Even if it’s been a long time. Even if you don’t know what to say. Even if they don’t seem to be particularly sad about it on the outside.
You can bet that holidays, birthdays and anniversaries that now go uncelebrated, and those rights of passage days are still very difficult for them to get through. Don’t be afraid to bring up their loved one’s name. Share memories. Bring flowers to the cemetery. Share photos they may have never seen. Maybe send them a card just to let them know you remember. Yes, bringing it up may cause a moment of sad reflection, but the joy in knowing someone remembers is powerful. Have a blessed week!