Reflections on Working with Grief

While we all experience grief and loss in our own ways, there are common experiences many of us share. Here are some of things that I have found to be most important in my personal experience of grief and loss:

Tell Your Stories
It is so important to find your people to talk with. Humans have evolved with the ability to tell stories. It connects us through history and time. As humans, we are wired to connect. Yet with grief and loss, it can be so hard to tell our stories for so many reasons. Our culture generally doesn’t do grief well. There is the expectation to grieve privately and to “move on” quickly. And for any of us grieving, we know this just isn’t true, yet it’s easy to question our sanity when so many people implicitly and explicitly communicate to us that we’re doing it “wrong” or making them uncomfortable. Rather than questioning the insanity of these messages, we think we’re the ones losing it. Instead it is essential to find the person(s) that are best able to support you. This might be a family member, friend, on-line support, therapist, clergy, or Grief Support Network gathering (if you live in the area). You may have to search a bit to find your connection, but these connections are your life-lines.

Find Your Community
Life is totally rearranged by loss. You are not the same person as you were before your loss. There is life before loss, and life after. It can be a re-defining moment in one’s lifetime. But again, cultural expectations can be challenging as those around you want their “old” person back – their old spouse, parent, friend, co-worker, etc., and you may be wishing for this too. Instead of getting back to your old self, I view grief and loss as integration process. We are always growing and changing as human beings, and our losses are a part of that process. It is important that you find your community that can support you through this identity change and grief process. Many people express how they’ve lost friends through their grief, found new ones, and have been pleasantly surprised by the people that really show up.

Feel Your Feelings
As with telling your story, feeling your feelings can be challenging. Not only are most of us not getting enough support, we may be scared of our own feelings. Grief is intense. It’s messy. It’s difficult. It can feel crazy. Human nature is to avoid pain. Yet as you probably know or have heard, the only way to really work with grief is to experience it. You may be able to find ways to numb it or avoid it for the time being, but it’s still there. If we keep in mind that loss is an integration process, we can remember that bit by bit we’re able to let thoughts and feelings in, and let them pass through us. We don’t have to hold on to them. We can trust that they will come and go. There can be the fear that if you let yourself “go there” you might never come back. I know that feeling. I remember after the death of my daughter, I found myself lying on the bedroom floor of what was supposed to be her room. And she wasn’t there, never came home from the hospital and I wondered if any of this was really real. Did it happen? Was I crazy? I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. My body, heart and soul needed that. Grief can knock us down hard some days. If and when you’re able, trust that you will be okay. I know you will be okay. You will never be the “same” again, and you don’t need to be. You can do this; you are doing this.

Acceptance
Acceptance can be a big one! So many things in life don’t go our way, and the death of a dear one may be part of that. We all know life is not fair. But what I learned from the death of my first born daughter – life is not about being fair. It’s about accepting what is. From my own experience, I can tell you my first born daughter was not supposed to have a rare chromosomal abnormality and only live for a few days. That was not part of my plan, or something I even knew as a possibility until it happened to me. But when I could let go of my plan, my supposed-to’s or should-haves, when I could sit with what was and be in the moment, wow – I experienced the most amazing love with my daughter. It broke my heart wide open. In my moments of acceptance, everything was truly okay and well with the world. I’ll be honest, I did not and do not stay in these moments of acceptance. I have railed against my daughter’s death, and my life after loss, and yet, when I can come back to the now, to moments of trust and acceptance, I feel that peace and love again. I know it’s always there. So as you are able, I encourage you to step into acceptance, to sit there, and let things be.

Attachment and Legacy
To wrap things up, I have also found it important to acknowledge my attachment to my daughter in life and death. Of course I’m always her mom. And for you, for the person you are remembering, you are attached to them. You are always their friend, partner, family member. We get to nurture these connections in life and death. One way to work with this is to consciously decide how your loved one’s legacy will live on through you. This could mean ANYTHING – from lighting a candle, to donating money to their favorite organization, or singing, dancing or painting with your loved one in mind. The relationship is yours to nurture and treasure.

My thoughts are with us as we move forward into the holiday season. It can be a tough time for so many of us. I send you thoughts of light and love for the season ahead. And I welcome your darkness and fear.

Namaste,
Shelly

ball of holiday light

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day

To everyone out there remembering their baby who died, my heart is with you.  Today we remember our babies by lighting a candle at 7:00 p.m.  It’s a simple yet profound way to share the love of your baby with a larger group of people.

I celebrate and mourn the loss of my daughter, Acacia.

It is a tender day.  Be gentle with yourself.  Be gentle with those around you.

Namaste,

Shelly

carly marie we carry them forver candles on beach

And a big thank you to CarlyMarie for making these beautiful pictures available through Facebook.

October Community Events

For anyone who lives in the area, please join me at these events next weekend if you’re able:

Saturday October 10th, 10:30 am. – noon for Grief Support Network’s monthly community gathering at Shine Restaurant in Boulder.   You can click the link to register before hand, or just show up the day of.  I’ll be sharing a little bit about my story and speaking to the greater experience of grief and loss.

Sunday October 11th 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. Walk to Remember at Longmont United Hospital.  This is for anyone affected by babyloss (miscarriage, stillbirth, new born loss).  The event includes speakers and a walk to remember the children who have died.  I will be speaking at this event.  This is a free event.

Would love to see you at either or both events!

Namaste,

Shelly

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Six Years.

This is in memory of my daughter, Acacia.  Tomorrow marks the sixth anniversary of her birth.  Her short life was lived from 9/25-9/28/2009.

“If I know what love is, it is because of you” – Hermann Hesse.

My first daughter, Acacia, has taught me so much about love.  And loss, and hope, and grief and beauty.  She has taught me about feeling – really feeling.  From the depths and darkness of sadness to the soaring high of love.  To touch into what you may think is untouchable, unknowable, inaccessible in our human form.  Presence.  Joy.  Witness.  Love.  That was Her.  That is You, and Me and All of Us.  I don’t know about you, but I lose touch with that most days, sometimes for months and years on end.  The path of love after loss, and after the loss of my child…well, it has been unbearable at times.  It has been lonely.  And let’s just be honest – it has been fucking hard.  Ya know, one of those things you would never wish on your worst enemy (if you believe you really have enemies in the first place, which I don’t, but that’s how the saying goes…).  It has been dark soul of the night hard.  Facing demons and shadows, and the underbelly of this beautiful world that most people don’t talk about, and flat-out ignore.  But without this – without the darkness, there is no light.  And without Acacia, I would not be who I am today.  And while I’m pretty sure I would change my world in a heartbeat to have my firstborn daughter here with me now, healthy and whole, I can say Acacia has led me on a different path in life that I never knew existed before.  And what I will make of that, well, continues to be seen and unfold in new and different ways every single day.  So today, when I remember her approaching birth SIX YEARS ago.. I touch into the depths of my sadness.  Because my daughter died, and there is nothing easy about that.  I won’t lie and sugar coat things and claim to have my shit figured out.  Far from it.  But I like what I continue to read on Jeff Foster’s Facebook page – about how our feelings aren’t looking to be healed, but held.  I have nothing I need to accomplish with Acacia, instead I can welcome my thoughts and feelings as they come – the easy ones, the hard ones and every one in between.  So, my love.  My Acacia.  On the eve of your birth, I remember you.  I celebrate you, and I mourn my loss of you.  Much love sweet girl.

How do you mark your baby’s anniversary date?  How do you experience the depths of sadness?  And are you able to touch into the soaring height of Love?

Namaste,

Shelly

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Family of four?

How do you know when you’re done having kids?  For many babyloss families, this is a difficult question to answer.  And it makes sense that it is.  If you’ve lost a child, a member, or members, of your family is always missing.  The child(ren) you lost will never be here Earth-side.  I have a hard time wrapping my head around this one sometimes.

Of course I’m writing about this because it’s up for me personally at the moment.  The personal is so much more inspiring than something we don’t really care about, or can’t really understand.  My family is friends with other families in our area.  Many of those families have two living children in them, or know they want another child.  And well, that stirs up some things for me.  As it should.  Their decision triggers my stuff, as often happens in life.  We see a friend make a career change and it causes us to question what we’re doing.  Someone decides to be a stay at home parent, and we wonder if we want to do the same.  But what I am reminded of in this situation, is that my family is already a family of four.  It’s just that one of our children, the first daughter we had, died.  Kinda complicates things.  Are we a family of four?  Yes.  For sure.  Without a doubt in my heart and mind…or at least with only a little doubt.  Because sometimes when things aren’t seen or validated by others, it can cause us to question what’s really true for us.  If no one else can see my family of four, does it really exist?

At the end of this road, these questions that stir my heart and soul, there is acknowledgement that my daughter died, and she still is not here.  And never will be, not Earth-side.  So these questions, these experiences of seeing other families with two living children are simply a bittersweet reminder of everything I have, and everything I lost.  And that is the beauty and pain of my family of four.

What is the beauty and pain of your family?  How do you know if and when you are done having children?

Namaste,

Shelly

family of four pier on water

Anger.

Let’s do it.  Let’s go there… Be real, be honest, be bold, be brave.  In the world of babyloss, have you ever felt ANGRY that THIS happened to YOU?!  Have you ever railed against your god, your creator, your divine, your spirit, your higher power (if you so identify with a higher power)?  Have you ever hated yourself, your body, your partner, your doctor, your family or your friend?  Has someone said or done the “wrong” thing (which, come one, of course someone has…) and you wanted to punch them in the gut and/or yell at them?  Have you screamed WHY out loud or in your head?  Why did my baby die?  What happened?  Who is at fault?  Who or what can I blame?  What’s real here?  Why did this happen to me, to our family?

There is power in anger.  When we can genuinely embrace anger and let it be, there is often wisdom in anger.  Instead of blowing up in billow of dark grey smoke, it can burn cleanly and bring about wonderful healing.  Anger can feel energizing and it can make things happen.  When one becomes tired of the status quo, tired of the guilt, the shame, the blame, the uncertainty, and the fear that can come with babyloss, anger can rise to the surface and help us work with our grief and loss in new and fresh ways.  It’s okay to be angry.  It’s okay to be angry with ourselves, others, and the unfairness of life.  It’s okay to admit we are angry.  And it’s okay to let the anger go.  Just as we learn to our parent our children that are both living and dead, we learn to “parent” our emotions – to allow them in without judgment or criticism.  To welcome our emotions with open arms and a warm embrace.  To allow them to be, to feel them, to learn from them, and to let them go on their merry way…just as we would do with our children.

What have you felt angry about?  How have you been able to express your anger?  How do you “parent” your anger?

Namaste,

Shelly

lion roar

Our Stories…

Story telling is so important.  Whether the story is written or spoken, sharing our stories shares a piece of ourselves with other.  In the world of psychotherapy, we know that story telling helps to re-wire the brain as it helps a person process and integrate their experience in a way that is not possible if the story stays hidden, unspoken, and unwritten.  I’ve thought about sharing my personal experience with the birth and death of my firstborn daughter here, but there have been my usual doubts and questions.  First and foremost is do I share my story because I am a “professional” – I’m a psychotherapist in private practice and a client could read my story.  Is that okay?  Would I be sharing too much?  Getting too real?  Exposing too much of myself and my family in a way that wouldn’t be therapeutic?  Well… what I love about the world of therapy today is that it keeps changing.  And for many therapists, we know the value of sharing our personal experience with our clients in appropriate ways.  When someone comes to therapy, they are often looking for connection.  They want to know they are okay, that you can help them, and that you understand them.  And that is why I do the specific work that I do.  I work with women and couples because I can personally relate to something a client is going through.  More specifically, I work with babyloss and parenting, because again, I have personal experience and am passionate about being there with and for others on their own journey.

So that’s the long-winded introduction to, here is my story of first-born daughter, Acacia.  She changed my life, as all children do.  I encourage you to also share your story.  The New York Times is running a story about stillbirth and you can share your story there. Here’s a link to the article called “Stillbirth: Share Your Story.”  Feel free to leave a note in the comment section here if you would like.  Or get out your journal, talk to your partner, call a friend, talk to your therapist and/or someone else you know and trust.  Tell your story.  Here’s a part of mine (with a quick disclaimer. When I wrote this, my daughter was still alive.  I had yet to deal with “real life” after the death of my baby.  It got a lot harder than I thought it would.  So read this with a grain of salt.)

Big Love, Big Acceptance, Big Teacher… in a tiny package

Written by Shelly King
Inspired and made possible by Acacia Sierra King
September 28, 2009, 12:30 a.m., Written about 15 hours before my daughter died, and I read this at her memorial service.

What can I say about my daughter… my daughter! Acacia Sierra King. She leaves me speechless, yet I have so many words, experiences, and thoughts to share… all that really happened in only a few days. Who knew a person could squeeze so much life into a few days, and squeeze so much out of life. I think Acacia knew. That’s how I understand and explain her presence in my life. How lucky am I?

Acacia has taught me about BIG LOVE. I told my husband, I never knew there was so much love in the world before I met and spent time with our daughter. For example, I knew I loved my husband before we had our daughter, but I didn’t know I could love him even more. Becoming a parent breaks your heart wide open and the love fills every crack and crevice, in places you didn’t know existed. And when you feel and experience the loss of a child, the love of family and friends pours in and fills you like you never knew possible. Acacia has a great family. While I am deeply saddened at the loss of my daughter and my first-born, I have grown closer to my family and friends in a way that would not have been possible otherwise. What a gift my daughter has given me… so selflessly, so readily. She is amazing.

Acacia has taught me about BIG ACCEPTANCE. After I gave birth, Acacia was whisked away from my body before I could see her. I didn’t hear her cry right away…something was wrong. Then they briefly held her to my face so I could meet my daughter and give her a kiss. I looked at her sweet little face and knew something was different. I became very afraid, very detached. I didn’t know if my daughter would live, and if she did, I didn’t know what kind of life she would have and how it would affect mine. I wondered if I could be a mom to a special needs child. I didn’t think I could and I am so sad to admit, I hoped she would die if that were the case. I didn’t believe I was strong enough or big enough to meet such a challenge. That night I withdrew. Partially because I just gone through a traumatic birth experience and partially because I was afraid of what lie ahead. I was in shock. It was a great buffer.

And then… and then I met her. And I didn’t want to see her again. She looked so tiny, so sick, so frail. She was having trouble breathing and it hurt me to see her. I wasn’t thinking too much about how she was feeling. I was stuck in my own sad situation. Nine months of carrying my baby, going through a pitocin induced labor without pain meds… only to end up here. It was not fair. I felt like the worst mom ever. What kind of mother would let her newborn, special needs child lie under a warmer light all night long without so much as peeking in on her? Only a really bad. Only a mother that had failed her child… only me. I felt awful.

And then… and then I had the courage to go in and see her one more time, with my own mother. And my heart melted, and Acacia taught me about BIG ACCEPTANCE. Acceptance of myself, of my daughter, of my situation. No, it’s not fair to lose your child. It’s not fair that I brought her into this world and that I witnessed her leave. But it’s not about being fair. We all know life isn’t fair. It’s about accepting what is… about understanding and accepting our attachments in life. I had so many attachments to what it meant to be pregnant, and attachments to what life would be like after our baby came. Yet all along Acacia was trying to teach me about acceptance. We had many twists and turns during the pregnancy… the suspicion of trisomy 18 at week 21, which was later ruled out at week 25. The concern I might develop gestational diabetes, which didn’t happen. Then week 34 came and our homebirth midwife was concerned that she felt so small. So on to the doctor… which confirmed a small baby and concern about intrauterine growth restriction. Back to the dr. again… and baby looked healthy, but small, so weekly monitoring was set up. Due to baby’s small size, a hospital birth was in order, and the hopes, dreams, and plans for a home birth were taken away. I had trouble accepting all of these changes, all of these concerns. All of these things that I couldn’t let be, because I had other plans in place.

And then… and then I held her. And my melted heart began to break wide open, to feel the BIG LOVE. I began to accept Acacia for who she was, and her presence in my life. She taught me you can’t judge a book by its cover – which I’ve known for years, but now I know. Because BIG ACCEPTANCE doesn’t care what you look like or who you are… it only cares about you, all of you, every part of you. Acacia loves me unconditionally and purely. I realized I had already put so many conditions on her life and how that was supposed to be a part of mine. Acacia made me a better mom, a better person.

And it seems she fought to teach me about these things… to be my BIG TEACHER. There are many reasons why she shouldn’t have lived to teach me these things. The majority of trisomy 18 babies die in-utero during the second or third trimester. Acacia didn’t. She escaped the diagnosis of trisomy 18 by multiple ultrasounds and by two doctors. If we had known ahead of time that she had trisomy 18, we would have planned a homebirth and allowed her to die at home, at whatever rate she needed to. But we didn’t know, and we had a hospital birth. No one knew. And she was rushed off to be put on machines to sustain her life. My husband and I didn’t want that. We would have chosen not to put her on a ventilator, but we weren’t allowed that choice because the hospital did not have the capability to diagnosis trisomy 18 at 10:30 on a Friday evening. Due to the fact that tests couldn’t be run, the doctors were ethically obligated to save her life. We fought the staff on this, and nothing changed. We were forced to accept their actions to intervene to keep our daughter alive. If this hadn’t happened, she probably would have died that night. Instead, she lived. She lived a few precious days to teach me so much. She is such a fighter. Even when I wasn’t sure I could love her, when I wasn’t sure I could accept her, she stayed in my life. She stayed long enough to teach me about BIG LOVE and BIG ACCEPTANCE. What a girl!

She’s a tiny little package, yet she affected everyone she met. Our family came to know and love her – flying out a moment’s notice to support us as her parents, and to meet her. If everyone else could have met her, we know you would have loved her too. My husband commented that if we could have passed a sign up sheet around, she would have been held constantly. I know we could have filled the 2 am shift so she wouldn’t have to lie by herself in her warming bed. On Sunday she was held constantly from about 11 a.m. in the morning until 1 a.m. the next morning. And still not every family member got to hold her.

Oh Acacia. My love. My daughter. My first-born. You have taught me so much and I am still learning from you. You will be my teacher for the rest of my life. THANK YOU for being my daughter, for coming into my life and blessing me with your big presence… in such a tiny package. I love you. I love you so much, so so much. I wish I didn’t have to let you go. I wanted to stay in the cocoon of the hospital for days on end. And yet, as I slowly slowly wade through my grief and attachments, I know life goes on. I wonder how your life will continue to affect mine? I wonder what decisions I’ll make differently? Time will tell… and I know you’ll be with me every step of the way. Part of me feels excited about life – my new life. And part of me feels so scared and sad. How do I live without you, my love?

What are the stories of your baby that you’ve shared?  Who have you told?  Who would you like to tell?

Namaste,

Shelly

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Our Dads

I’m sure you are well aware that Sunday is Father’s Day.  And with that comes the bittersweet remembrance of all of the babyloss dads out there.  For a babyloss father, his grief is often overlooked, minimized and/or totally ignored.  Instead of asking how HE is doing, many people will ask how his partner is doing with the loss of their child.  Men in our culture are often expected to suck it up, to not show feelings and to be the provider for the family and for his partner.  Sometimes these are welcomed roles so he has something to DO.  But many times, it can be challenging to near impossible to embrace one’s feelings of grief and loss if you haven’t been taught how to do so and no one else is comfortable with you doing so.  I am happy to see there is more discussion happening around father’s and their grief.  Such as these:

These resources are but a few that are popping up more and more.  I am thrilled to see men finding their voices too when it comes to babyloss.  In the work I do, I am passionate about working with the couple together after their baby dies.  Often times we focus on the mother and how she is doing physically and emotionally, but we know it is a COUPLE issue when a baby dies… this pain and loss doesn’t belong exclusively to either the father or the mother.

On this Father’s Day 2015, I celebrate and honor our babyloss dads, and each of the children they mourn.  I stand with you to recognize your pain and loss.

How do you plan to honor this Father’s Day?  How will you celebrate your fatherhood and remember the child(ren) you lost?

Namaste,

Shelly

pregnant belly i love papa shoe

Parenting With Your Relationship In Mind

If you live in the area and would like some ideas about how to support your relationship with your partner in the midst of parenting – join me for this presentation!

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Is it challenging to maintain your relationship with your partner while parenting your child(ren)? Do you wonder about finding meaningful ways to be together in the busyness of family life? Most parents do! Join me for an engaging discussion about how to parent with your relationship in mind.

Where: Boulder JCC
3800 Kalmia Ave. Boulder, CO 80301
When: Monday June 8th, 6-7:30pm
Please RSVP to Kimberly Baker at Kimberly@boulderjcc.org
Cost: Free

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Mother’s Day

Holding in my heart all babyloss mamas out there today on this Mother’s Day.  It can be the roughest of days.  And for myself this year, I haven’t actually sat with my own heart and mind much to reflect on how I feel this Mother’s Day (which is a good clue that it’d be best to check in with myself soon, unless I’d prefer to surprised by some emotions coming up later that I wasn’t expecting!).  As I haven’t written my own words of wisdom and reflection this year, I share these two articles that are so eloquent and beautiful.

http://stillstandingmag.com/2015/05/still-mother/

http://carlymarieprojectheal.com/2012/05/international-bereaved-mothers-day.html

Much love and peace to all of us.

How are you tending to your heart this Mother’s Day?  In what ways will you grieve and celebrate your motherhood? 

Namaste,

Shelly

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