I am part of a club that I did not ask to join. I did not seek out its membership. I did not research its culture. I whole-heartedly wish that my membership might expire and I could find an escape. But here I am. A member for life.
If you’re new here, you probably know me as a former teacher, accomplice to a restauranteur, wife and momma of three boys. But you are mistaken.
There are four. There will always be four.
Our fourth son Jacob was born just two weeks before Christmas nearly five years ago. He wasn’t due until May but was born early due to incompetent cervix. What does this mean? It means that for no reason that could be explained, my body that had to be forced into labor three times prior suddenly and fully dilated at only 20 weeks. By the time we made it to the hospital, I was in active labor. My body couldn’t keep him. We lost Jacob during delivery and instantly there I was– a member of the club. The Mommas of Loss Club.
In so many ways, I can see the value and impact of Jacob’s brief life on ours. But always there will be loss. The grief changes, but the loss remains. My dear friend Rebecca who I know solely because of our shared story of loss recently said it best– “The original grief that was so deep has turned to guilt– have I said his name enough recently? Do I talk about him to the kids? Are there enough things in our home to show he was here? Have I visited his grave?”
Five years later, I wonder these same things often. Do we think of him, speak of him, remember him in a way that sufficiently honors his little life? I can tell you this. It’s hard. It’s hard because no one wants to talk about the babies who have been lost too soon. I didn’t realize how vast the membership of this club spread until I became a member myself. And what I have learned since I have been here is that there is almost a strange sense of shame that associates itself with this kind of loss. It’s a hidden secret. If we bring it up, it feels awkward. If we bottle it up, we feel guilty. And so we live in this strange limbo of fear and shame and guilt that maybe this child that we lost existed only in our own minds. Maybe it was all just a terrible dream? Any other mommas hear me?
Jacob is buried back home in my hometown cemetery in the tiniest grave I have ever seen. I try to go back there a few times a year to change out his flowers, check on his gravesite, and do my diligent duty as a Momma of Loss. But living away has not always made this easy. A few weeks ago, a girl that I grew up with messaged me. “Jacob has been on my mind this week… and I was wondering if it would be okay with you if I brought him a fall flower arrangement?”
She has no reason to remember Jacob. We aren’t family. We weren’t lifelong besties. But she always remembers. She has left lilies on my doorstep in his honor, she has visited his grave with small remembrances, and she has often simply messaged to let me know she is thinking of him. She remembers. And she simply says his name.
I will not ever be able to articulate the magnitude of this kindness.
When anyone in our lives experiences loss, we are often faced with not knowing quite what to say. So many people say the wrong things in an effort to try to be kind or supportive. Can I let you in on a secret? Just let us know you remember. Simply speak the name. It won’t make us more sad. It won’t throw us headlong into depression. It won’t cause an emotional breakdown. I have found that in times when someone has simply let me know that they remember, my heart has leaped with joy. Maybe I’m not crazy after all. Maybe someone else remembers him too. Maybe it wasn’t all just a dream.
And let’s take it just a step beyond. Maybe loss doesn’t apply. Maybe someone you love is deep down in the trenches. Climb in. Be there. Just let them know they aren’t alone. Oftentimes, kindness is not a grand gesture, but a small whisper. It is not a valiant display of generosity, but a simple hand extended. I’m here. I see you. I acknowledge your pain.
Never underestimate the effect of those simple words.
If you are there– in loss, in pain, in difficulty. I want you to know this. I’m here. I see you. I acknowledge your pain. Can I sit with you for a while? I don’t ever want you to feel alone. You are stronger than you know. Your pain is not without purpose. And though it may not feel like it right now, the sun will shine again.
Look around. Who needs these words in your life? Don’t let the fear of speaking up keep you from being kind. Say something, friend. Simply say something.