Feb 12, 2010

A Tender Essay on Helpfulness

I'm attempting to tread lightly here.

I've wanted to enter a little something about what's been helpful, and er, what hasn't been. It's a touchy subject, and I proceed humbly. The reason I'm doing this is for other people, for the future, so that we can all be more effective next time some unspeakably horrible thing happens to someone we know.

Some people just know what to do. Some don't. I promise I would have fallen into category number 2 had I not been fully initiated on the subject. Indeed, I probably did fall into that category many times before when people have needed my support.

And the other thing here is that what's helpful to me is not necessarily helpful to others in a similar situation. I know of some bereaved parents who wanted to talk to everyone who would listen. I've read more than one story where friends and family members were invited to the hospital to see the baby. That was the last thing I wanted. I felt the need to protect myself and my baby from well-meaning people and their good intentions. I process better alone. I wanted the freedom to be irreverent at times without feeling judged.

I didn't necessarily want hugs from every nurse that came to take my vitals. I scared the social worker, who was already shaking when she entered our room. She was tearful at a moment that we were not. "We're not being sad right now!" I scolded when she said how sorry she was for our loss. Even now it is hard for me to be around people that are sad for me, sighing, gazing pitifully at me. I can't stand it. I was afraid of strained friendships over a well-intentioned gesture that I would receive as hurtful or annoying, and I am as irritable as ever.

I like emails. I can read them when I want to, and respond when I want to. I still seldom answer the phone unless it's someone I've already talked to because I don't enjoy feeling everyone's fresh sadness for me. It makes me feel responsible for their pain, and sends me into comforting mode, or else I act more chipper than I feel so the other person will stop sighing or feeling sorry for me. It's exhausting. I need people to deal with their own grief over Brynn on their own time unless I initiate it. It's helpful when someone asks how I am. Then I can decide what to talk about. I have heard the phrase "sorry for your loss" exactly one zillion times. It's fine, but it's not my favorite. I like "I love you, we're thinking and praying for you. How are you?" Preferably in written form.

It's also not particularly helpful to me to know that you are crying. Several people (please don't take offense if you did this. please.) left me messages I couldn't understand through their sobbing. I couldn't even recognize who some of them were. I ended up just having Jimmy screen my messages.

It's not helpful to tell me that Brynn is in a better place, or that everything happens for a reason, or anything to the conclusion that this may have been a good thing. This just plain is a very bad thing.

Anyway. Most every gesture of love that anyone has made has helped. I thought it was very thoughtful when friends researched the topic of stillbirth and how to support the parents. I liked it when people shared our story with their prayer groups. One mom at Shane's playgroup told me she had done that, and it made me glad.

So many people did for us so many different things. I was put in touch with support professionals from counselors to high-risk OB's to, to a top pathologist who agreed to go over Brynn's placenta without charge as a favor to her colleague, who happens to be my good friend.

One friend is doing a portrait of Brynn from one of the few photographs we have. Some cooked meals, made jewelry, bought groceries, sent books, sent really cute cards, restaurant cards, Macy's cards, sent money. I'm embarrassed to say that all that tangible stuff really helped lift our spirits. Again, that's just what worked for us.

Again I want to say, this is just to help anyone in the future. We are so grateful for you just being here with us right now, caring about what I have to say. Honestly, that's the most helpful thing.

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