Riding the waves of loss
My grandmother passed away this weekend, and while this was expected and we had been preparing for this occasion for months now, the wave of grief that hit me was still somehow a surprise.
You see, my mother is from Vietnam and, despite some earnest efforts, I never learned to speak Vietnamese. So my relationship with my maternal grandmother was limited by our lack of a common language. As a result I didn’t feel a very close connection with her. It was more a relationship built on respect for her as the matriarch of the family and shared holidays over the last 30 years.
When we all gathered on Sunday, the morning after my grandmother had passed peacefully at her home, I had come to pay respects and support my relatives who were closer to her. In Vietnamese tradition, time is allowed for relatives to visit with the deceased, but there wasn’t a lot of time so I had to resist getting a speeding ticket on the long drive to her house.
I didn’t expect the waves of emotion that hit me after I stepped into the family's house. Surrounded by tears, the harmonic chant-like prayers in Vietnamese, feeling my own tears. And then there was the doorbell ring at noon, when the kind folks from the mortuary arrived. The panicked rush for everyone to soak in the last few precious moments with our loved one. Then the silence of disbelief as we all stood in the driveway and watched the mortuary car drive away. What was there to do any more? We walked back into the house and ate lunch. Many of us took turns going into Grandma’s bedroom to just sit with her absence, her empty bed. A palpable vacancy hung in the air.
In some ways I feel that grief has no words. It’s just this visceral thing courses through your body. And to try to resist it is like battling waves in the ocean. Really you are at the mercy of the waves. I can’t even say exactly what my grief was about –the loss of my Grandmother, my sadness over her suffering this past year, the pain of watching her children grieving, the rawness of coming face to face with our mortality?
The following day when I was dragging myself around under a cloud of depressive funk, I recalled my grief after my miscarriages. That was a peculiar kind of grief too. I had lost someone that was literally a part of me, but whom I had no tangible relationship—this being that never actually came in to being. A star that I had wished upon. A vision I had for my future, my family’s future.
I’ve often thought about the complexity of grieving pregnancy losses and the pregnancies one hoped for but that never happened. It’s a loss of a relationship that barely had a chance to bud. It’s the loss of a future that we had hoped for. And that can be hard to explain, impossible to put into words. That doesn’t make it any less significant a loss.
I’ve concluded that, at its core, grief has no words. Grief needs no words. It’s just this visceral innate response to something lost—and that can be something we once held or something we longed to hold.
This creates some challenge in explaining to others and even ourselves what it is was are feeling. So it can be hard to know how to seek support and comfort.
Unique grief of fertility challenges
With pregnancy loss or ongoing fertility challenges, there are some additional challenges that some into play. Often there are questions of, “why did this happen?” or “what did I do wrong?” There may be practical issues around the actual process of miscarriage: “Do I wait for it to happen naturally? Do I get a D&C? Do I take meds?” And then there are thoughts about the future, “What do I do now?” “Will this happen again?” “Will I ever be a mother?” “Will I ever have another baby?” “Will my child ever have a sibling?” To these questions there are no pat answers.
The myriad of questions left to answer, combined with whatever visceral experience of grief one feels, can create a tangled web of heaviness and confusion. Top that all off with the fact that you can’t just go talk with anyone about a pregnancy loss or infertility. It’s not like if your pet dies, you can post on facebook and know you will receive a flood of support. Fertility challenges can be a very private delicate matter, and many people do not know how to respond in a supportive way.
After my first miscarriage I shared openly with those I considered my friends, and I was met by a whole range of reactions, many of which were sadly quite painful to hear, despite their kind intentions. After my second miscarriage I was very careful to share only with those I had complete confidence would be able to offer the kind of support I needed. Where to turn for support around fertility challenges will be the subject of a future blog post.
Tending your grief
Today I would like to begin this conversation about grief by acknowledging that it is real, no matter if the loss was that of a living person or that of a dream you have held in your heart. And the experience of grief needs no words. You can feel it in your body. And you can take care of it through listening to your body.
I have created a meditation practice I call “Somatic Listening” that I have used for years on myself and with my psychotherapy clients, to help with the process of nurturing emotions by tuning in to sensations in the body. Every emotion can be felt in the body, and sometimes the greatest healing gift we can give ourselves is to simply listen and experience what is happening in our bodies.
I have created a series of recordings to guide you through this process. If you have grief that you sense can use attention, I encourage you to try out this series. I am linking to a playlist on YouTube where you can experience the whole series for free.
See if you can let go of any expectations of agendas for how you should feel during or after the meditation, and trust that there is a wisdom inside you that will lead you in a healing direction over time.
That cloud of depressive funk I felt after my grandmother’s passing has gradually lifted as the week has gone on. I believe that allowing myself to fully feel my sorrow and pain helps these things move along. This weekend will I will be attending the funeral service and I imagine that I might again be surprised by whatever comes up for me. Our emotions are kind of like weather patterns—you don’t always know what is coming when, and you can’t change what’s coming, but you can do your best to dress for the weather and then clean up afterwards.
I do look forward to coming together with all my relatives to celebrate the remarkable life my grandmother led. I will share with you this blast from the past photo that resurfaced this week. I think I was 20 years old in this photo where I was going on a double date with my cousin to her high school prom. (Love the 80s hair!!) I'm in the blue dress, my cousin in white. Also in the photo are her brother on the left, our uncle between us and of course, that’s my grandmother in the chair. She was about 65 at the time and had recently immigrated to the US with the rest of her children after nearly 20 years on an immigration waiting list, sponsored by my mother. She was a very strong and proud woman--mother of 8 children, grandmother of 8 more, great grandmother of 9 little ones; loved deeply by her family and many more.
Whatever losses you may experience in your life, I wish you the sensitivity to honor your own humanness and embrace all that is part of loving, losing, grieving, and being.
Feel free to share in the comments below about your own experiences of grief and what has helped you navigate through these times.
Receive tips, inspiration, and resources related to fertility and life in general right to your email inbox. Seriously, who needs more mail cluttering their inbox? I don't want to receive junk mail and I certainly don't want to send junk mail! I promise to only send out material that I believe adds value to your experience. How is this different from what you will find on my website? I have high standards for what I put on my website and sometimes it takes me a while to put my current thoughts and discoveries into a solid blog post or meditation recording. In my newsletter I share a more informal, behind the scenes version of what's on my mind. I share sometimes about my own life experiences that are inspiring my work and projects that are in development. You'll also get notified of special opportunities to test out products before they are released more widely, and you can participate in the creation process by giving feedback on what products you would like to see produced next. Of course, you may unsubscribe at any time. I typically send out newsletters every week or two. Sign up for the newsletter if you would like to stay connected and inspired!