Saturday, January 19, 2008

Grief with a side of Guilt

If you've been to a support session, you've probably picked up a rather inane handout (or seven) about grief. You know, the ones with butterfly clip art in the margins that tell you to drink water and abstain from alcohol and exercise and get enough sleep and JEEBUS, I'M NOT PREGNANT ANYMORE PEOPLE!! Those ones? Yeah. Sometimes, not often but sometimes, something on those silly things would stick. Usually not right there, but later I'd think, "huh, silly inane handout was right."

There's a rote saying in the griefverse to the effect that there are no apologies in grief. It's on all of the butterfly handouts, usually written in big BOLD letters. Which I think means that you shouldn't apologize for what your grief makes you do or think. If you need to take a break from babies and pregnant people (for a few years), don't apologize. If you cry a lot and can't go through the story for the millionith time and so instead decide to not make eye contact (re: ignore) your co-worker/friend/neighbor, don't apologize. Don't apologize for crying. For being short, or feeling angry. On the flip side, don't apologize for telling people exactly what happened, or for crying during the story where you explain that your baby actually has a name. Don't apologize for making others uncomfortable after you've gone through what is likely the most uncomfortable experience ever.

It's rather a social get-out-of-jail-free card, which would be awesome if not for the deadbaby thing, eh? But certainly there are some limits on this card are there not? At least, I sort of feel that way. Not that I've taken advantage of my grief, or exploited it, or played the grief card where I shouldn't have, but there are parts of grief that make me, well, feel badly. And even though people have told me "No Worries! Deal with it later! No one expects you to do that!" I feel a bit as though it's selling me short. I think I could do a few of these things, just that it will hurt like hell when I do them. Am I avoiding things because of pain? Could I have managed the grief better? And is that within the legal boundaries of my "no apologies!" card?

Case 1: During the holidays prior to Maddy's birth, my friend's father died. I was INSANELY busy. I was exhausted, and felt like crap. I was laid up a lot, and moreover, had killer sciatica so I could barely walk. I had a million people over for Christmas, both cars broke down, as did my washer/dryer. I had a lovely story about my friend's father, and wanted a few peaceful moments somewhere so I could handwrite these lovely memories for her and tell her how truly sorry I was for this crushing loss. And of course I had no peaceful moments, so I thought, fuck it, I'll just email it, it will mean the same thing. And I started the email, wanting to word it just so, and never finished it before Maddy died. And people, a year later, it's still there, unwritten, unsent. She sent a brief message when Maddy died, but I feel as though I've completely ruined this relationship and have no way to get it back. I know the right thing to do now, even though it's all shades of awkward, is to just write her now and tell her everything I wanted to say, and explain why I never said it. She's not a horribly emotive person, so I'll probably never know if she forgives me for this procrastination/grief hiatus, or whether she thinks I'm a supreme asshole who happened to lose her baby. I had a lot of friends who, after saying their piece, tuned me out. With few exceptions, I don't even get the one liner when my team wins/loses, or my favorite show goes off the air. This, though, is one friendship I'd like to mend. I wonder how many people wanted to find just the right time to say just the right thing to me and never found it -- I need to cut them a lot of slack too.

Case 2: I never finished my thank you notes for everything that everyone did for Maddy. A kind friend ordered me cards so I wouldn't have to, and I began sending them off to thank people for their thoughts and flowers and food and trees and money. In the beginning I was on top of everything, and it was rather therapeutic to sit down and have something to do, not to mention the instant gratification of having a neat little stack of envelopes at the end of the evening. But then it just hurt. It just hurt to thank people for being nice because my child was dead. I didn't know how to thank them for a tree when I really didn't want a fucking tree at all -- I wanted my baby. I didn't want to think about the NICU ever again, let alone write a thank you to someone for giving money there so someone else's baby might live. And slowly I quit. And the list piled up, and sits there on my desk, next to the empty cards, almost a year later, incomplete. And I feel guilty every time I see it. I've been told point blank by people who didn't receive cards that no one expects a thank you, but I'm not sure I really believe that.

Case 3: I feel that Bella hasn't really had the greatest mom this year. No, scratch that, I know that Bella hasn't had the greatest mom this year, and although I know I did the best I could given the circumstances, I'm not sure who or what else I could blame for this. I purposefully decided years ago that I would stay home with her, for the both of us. So I could spend some time with her before the endless march of seven-hour school days, and could give her the undivided attention I thought she deserved. Because of the move, I couldn't find a daycare/pre-K opening for her the Fall of '06, so during the pregnancy from hell she was home with me, and I spent most of my days pleading with her to please, please lie down for just 20 minutes. (She has never napped. Ever). And then last year happened. I went on antidepressants the day I could no longer function as a mom -- the day I couldn't get out of my bed to check on her, the day I realized I shouldn't be operating a car because I couldn't stop crying. The grief deprived her of what was rightfully hers: she had rather scaled down birthday due to my mood not to mention that week my aunt almost killed herself falling off a horse and both my cars broke down (there's a car theme here, isn't there), and I'll never get that back to do-over. She's healthy, well fed, and dare I say rather smart. She's clean, well-clothed, and I have somehow avoided planting her in front of the television. I hope despite her rather out-of-it mom that this year will come with some positives for her: empathy, and the wonderful ability to entertain herself with her imagination, a stuffed animal, and some throw-pillows. I have not used her a whipping post (literally or figuratively) for my grief, nor have I used her as a crutch. But I often look at her and wonder "what if" -- would she be happier? healthier? smarter? if her mother had been completely in touch? She lost her sister last year, and I can't help but think sometimes she lost a bit of her mom, too. And that's not fair. And I feel guilty about it.

I'm not writing this so you can fill my comments section with props and kudos and "it's ok"s (although if you also failed to send out all your thank you's that WOULD make me feel better). I guess I just feel sometimes the silly handout jargon is a lot easier to preach to others than it is to apply to yourself.


Megan said...

I didn't send a single thank you note.
I tried. But somehow it seemed wrong to write "thank you for the hideous but clearly expensive orchid-and-rose arrangement but my baby is still dead and you've never mentioned it to my face once."
Write candidly to your friend. She'll understand and she'll want to hear your story about her dad.
And cut yourself just a wee bit of slack, OK?

niobe said...

This shows me the huge upside of few people doing anything nice for me or even seeming to notice that my twins died. I didn't have to send out any thank you notes. (well, some of my co-workers did send flowers, but I managed to send emails to them). And, though it probably sounds like it, I'm not saying this to be snarky.

This post really touched a nerve.

I do feel enormous guilt that I've cut myself off from all my old friends. Even now, a year later, I never want to talk to any of them again. I'm sure they would have been supportive if I had let them. But I didn't want their support or sympathy. I just wanted and still want nothing to do with them.

I also feel very guilty that I've cut myself off from my family members, especially the brother who has a baby the same age the twins would have been. It's "understandable," but, frankly, I feel that if I were a better person, I would force myself to do something about it. I've sent them a few little gifts for the baby, but, when they sent me a thank you note for the first one, I made clear that I did not want to hear anything from them, not even "thank you." Yeah, I suck.

I feel guilty -- in my view, entirely appropriately, about the way I've behaved and continue to behave. But apparently not guilty enough to do anything about it.

charmedgirl said...

the thank you cards i bought are sitting on top of the dishwasher, unopened. i've already decided i will never send out a single one. i am grateful for everything, but i just feel strange sending thank you notes for it. and i don't want to. and i don't have to.

the only thing i've even considered using them for is with the, um, jewelry i' really really soon. because you guys i'd like to thank. (even if you didn't want jewelry, thank you anyway.)

what you DO have to do is just write your friend. no matter how it turns out, it will be one less thing to fuck you up. and you KNOW she would probably like hearing something nice about her dad.

and, my kids are watching a movie while i type, this very moment. they've never seen anything but sesame street before september (which they first saw at 2y/o). i was so careful to keep them from tv...and the movie thing is killing me. but so is the need to sort all this shit out. they are better off with movies and a mentally well mom than the alterative. (not to say i'm mentally well...but my god, me and three 3y/o's without breaks for the entire day...that could scar a kid for life. not good.)

CLC said...

I have stopped sending thank you notes. Like you, I was on top of it for a while because it gave me something to do. Now, I just don't feel like it. And if someone is pissed off that I didn't send them then they are the ones that are seriously f*cked up. People should be nice just for being nice, not for the sake of being acknowledged as being nice. And I agree with the others that it's not too late to write that email to your friend. She probably would love to hear some nice things about her Dad even if it is a year later.

Catherine said...

Am I avoiding things because of pain?

Yes. And there is nothing wrong with protecting yourself from pain. Whether you're grieving or not. Why should you willingly cause yourself pain? I think we have too much belief in the happy martyr in this world. blech. If you're not hurting anyone else, there is NOTHING wrong with protecting yourself.

Coggy said...

No one got a thank you card from me either. I am not thankful that some people rallied round and then disappeared from my life. My true friends know how grateful I am without receiving a card.

I have cut out a lot of people from my life. Pregnant friends, friends with kids etc. Maybe I will regret this one day. I don't think so though. I cut them out because they revealed a lot to me about themselves through this nightmare. As sad as it is I am happy in the small company I have. In fact I'm happiest when it's just me DH and the cat.

I think handouts are written by people who don't have to live what they handout.

c. said...

(Hi Tash. I came to you via charmedgirl’s blog. I’ve been lurking for a bit. This post motivated me to pipe in…)

Those handouts are filled with just shit. The suggestions are just regurgitated over and over again in handouts, brochures, online information, etc. rendering them pretty meaningless in my mind. I think the “no apologies” rhetoric goes hand in the hand with the “be good to yourself” message. I know I’m much better applying that one to other deadbabymoms than to myself. I feel guilty for not sending cards; I feel terrible for being such a downer all the time; I feel disgusted that I have withdrawn from almost all my friends and family; I am so angry at myself for letting my kids fend for themselves a few too many times since November because I just don’t have the energy or motivation to do anything else. And the belief is that I should forgive myself for all of this. But how? I think about the life I used to lead and the person I used to be and I can’t help but feel disappointed in the person I’ve become. This is not me. I should be stronger than this. I should be able to pull myself out of this funk. But I can’t. And I can’t forgive myself for this at the same time. No handout offering me a deadbabypass can convince me otherwise.

Julia said...

I almost never do thank you cards. We never did them in the Old Country. We just said thank you to the person, you know? In fact, the cards seemed so odd to me when I first got here. Now I am used to it more, but we still don't do them a lot, and certainly not among the Old Country folk. That said, I didn't send any to the "locals" either after A died. There were a couple of emails I received that I eventually, like months later, replied to. They were unique in the way they phrased things, and they were from people I haven't talked to in years who heard through the grapewine, and suddenly there was no time or distance. But it still took me months to get to them.

I second what others have said-- write to your friend now. If she is the kind of friend the friendship with whom you want to repair (i.e. more important to you and probably a deeper person than others to whom you do not seek connections now), she will understand. And either way, this is the thing to do, at the very least because it is eating you up inside.

Bella will be fine. Ability to entertain self is very important. As is the understanding that sometimes things happen that are so huge that they make grownups very sad, and make them cry, and make them need a break. It was a big thing for Monkey last year-- we had to explain several times that yes, it's ok to cry when truly bad horrible things happen and we feel so very sad, and it's ok even for grownups. She had never seen her father cry before then, and I think the one time she saw me was long enough before that that she had forgotten.


meg said...

Guilt, yikes...I am a guilt machine.

I have had a lot of people (friends and family) run for the hills, but I have also cut people off. People who didn't understand, people who said the wrong thing. There was always a reason, it wasn't some kind of random thing...I feel guilty about it. But as Niobe said, not guilty enough to do something about it.

I wrote no cards to anyone. Not even the lovely chaplain in the hospital, who spent days with us. I just can't and I'm using my multipledeadbaby pass to do whatever the f*ck I want. Right now, my only goal is to simply survive...and whatever I have to do, to what I'm doing.

You are still standing, and that what I am aiming for myself. I think we all should get awards, just for not laying down and never getting up again!

samill said...

No thank you notes from me. I kept up with god children's birthdays and that was about it.f

After my dad died these friends of ours really looked after us. We spent 2 christmases with them and one year I bought loads of stuff for them and baked lots and put it all in homemade boxes and just made this huge effort. It was in the boot (trunk?) of my car and the car got broken into on christmas eve and the whole lot got stolen so the next day I had no presents for anybody. It was the most horrific I've ever felt - the guilt was crippling. I couldn't do anything about it though and it wasn't my fault. Just like none of this is your fault and whatever you want to do or not do is fine.

Well done about the yoga btw.

Waiting Amy said...

I would not expect a thank you card in that situation. It would seem to be that is the least important thing in someone's life who has experienced such a loss.

Contact your friend. She will be grateful, and even if she does not open the door to renew your friendship -- you will know you have done this good thing.

Bella will be fine. I have come to accept that I am not very good at the play on the floor, let's build a fort, let's pretend part of motherhood. I know it's not exactly the same as what you are going through. But he is amazingly resilent at playing on his own, and I've come to learn that it is a good thing.

And I agree with megan, cut yourself some slack.

kalakly said...

I did write some of my thank you's but haven't mailed them. Youare right it is hard to know what to write, Thank you for the lovely and delicious chicken and rice, I felt much better about my baby dying after eating it. Doesn't really ring true does it???? I still want to finish and mail them otherwise I know I'll waste so much energy worrying and obsessing over it otherwise.

I agree with everyone, reach out to your friend. She knows grief, not your grief but she knows what it does to a person. She will love to hear stories about her Dad and if you explain it to her as you did here, I can't imaging her not welcoming you and your friendship back into her life.

I'll bet Bella does think you are the greatest mom. Children are amazing in what they want and need from us. Although you may feel you haven't given her what you wanted to give her in this past year, if you've loved her you have given her what she wants from you. I read this great book with my kids after we lost our Caleb, "Tear Soup", it is about grief and how everyone handles it diffeerently. It talks about feelings and the passage of time etc..It really helped me talk to them about the things that were happening to me and to our family, when I just could not find the words, mostly because I was crying so much.

I also agree with everyone, give yourself a break. You can only do what you can do. There is just no way to "handle" a dead baby and the life you have after.

Take care.

Beruriah said...

Tash - Case 2: I wrote out all the thank you notes and never sent them. I don't know why stamp purchasing and sticking proved beyond the pale for me, but it did. They are still sitting in my computer bag. Whoops. Oh well.

Case 1: My friend's mom died in an accident a few week's before Natan died. I too started letters to her and her father. Never sent them.

So I get it. Really.

Rosalind said...

I too was just lurking and came upon your post..I had a bunch of Thank you cards given to me in our funeral package.. I thought about sending them but really didn't know what to say .. I mean what do i really say? After a while I just forgot about them and decided I get a deadbabypass so they're sitting in Micah's box.

I do feel really bad about not being a good mom to my kids these past few months.. When I was pregnant I made it a point to plan a lot of activities with them because i knew once the baby came I wouldn't be able to do as much .. and then 'It' happened and not only did they lose their sister but they lost their mom too..I feel really bad about it and hope as time goes on I can somehow make it up to them..

Anonymous said...

I agree with everyone who said screw the thank you notes, no one expects them anyway. and also think it's not too late to try to mend/salvage your friendship. you could send a simple note or email and just be honest, let her know you care and you're thinking of her.

most importantly, be gentle with yourself. nothing is the same after this and you can't expect yourself to necessarily want/be able to do things you might have done before. if you can try to let go of the guilt, you might just feel a little lighter. easier said than done, I know.

take care. ~luna

Lisa b said...

I not only failed to send thank you cards, I filed grievances against some medical professionals, I'm really a jerk that way but I guess that is not what you mean.
I really think you should write to your friend.