on grieving

There are probably a billion posts on other blogs out there about how to handle people in mourning and grief and stuff like that, but here’s one more. My take.

Before we begin, an aside: for someone like me, who prides herself on her independence and ability to keep this house up and running, it was so hard to be out of commission and watch other people clean my house and rearrange things and vacuum and do dishes. I inherited this guilt from my mother, who does everything always and never stops and can’t sit still for more than a few minutes before she’s taking care of another task (usually the kind of task that lesser mortals would procrastinate).

For those of you who read my blog and also helped me during that week of recovery: thank you. Thank you so much. I really, honestly could not have done without you. Joshua came home an hour early from work every night that week to put dinner on the table and setup for the couple of social events we had scheduled weeks beforehand. He was a great help.

So anyway, this post is really more about grieving and things I’ve learned about how to deal with people in mourning. You might be surprised how many people put their feet squarely into their mouths when they try to comfort. For the record, the safest thing to say (and sometimes the only thing to say) is, “I’m so sorry,” and “I don’t know what to say.” Here are my thoughts on some things people tend to say without thinking (and if you said this to me, no hard feelings – I understand that you weren’t thinking clearly at that point, and I am using capital letters and exclamation points merely to make a point, not because I am deeply offended) and also things that are good or fine:

  • “You will have more children.” Um. ARE YOU MISSING THE POINT????? Would you ever even THINK about saying that to someone who DOES have children and lost a pregnancy?! Who cares [right now] about having more? I wanted THIS ONE. THIS was the one I wanted. Another one will be DIFFERENT. I wanted THIS ONE.
  • “This happened to me – I know exactly how you feel.” Well, I’m kind of ok with this one, *only* in this particular case (other women may differ on this point, so it might be best to avoid it altogether). If I had lost a parent or sibling or close friend, please don’t say this. But an unborn child, especially if you lost one in the first trimester, ok. It does feel similar for all women. It would be most true if you also struggled to conceive and also had no children when you had your miscarriage, but I’m ok with you empathizing.
  • “Oh, there was probably something wrong with the baby to begin with, so it’s best that it didn’t make it.” Interesting. So are children with genetic defects lesser humans? Would it be best if all the people with faulty genes just “didn’t make it”? I don’t think I agree with that. And, if you’re talking to people who have been wanting children for a while, DON’T SAY IT. Note: obviously, once again, I should make it clear that I KNOW people don’t mean this when they speak these words. But just be advised that this is what might be going through my mind. And we don’t think clearly when we’re grieving. This phrase just isn’t comforting, that’s all.
  • Any type of personal story is fine. If you’re trying to “steal the limelight”, so to speak, and drag all the attention onto yourself because YOU lost YOURS at six months, and this was “only” 10.5 weeks…not cool. This is not about you – this is about me. But if you’re telling me your story to communicate to me that you understand, in some way, what I’m going through, that’s fine. I’m fine with that.
  • “Have you tried [insert fad / legendary remedy / drug] [to get pregnant]?” Advice on getting pregnant? Really? Right now? Maybe you should reconsider your timing.
  • “Do you think maybe you overdid it? Do you think maybe you didn’t take enough vitamin B? Do you think maybe you shouldn’t have had that glass of wine last Shabbat? Do you think maybe you didn’t give G-d the glory?” Stop. Just stop. This miscarriage was NOT my fault. And you trying to blame it on me is definitely not helping.
  • “Drink as much [alcohol] as you want this week!” YES. Thank you! As Proverbs 31 indicates, strong drink is for those who are perishing, and wine for those whose life is bitter. And trust me: life is very bitter when you deal with the loss of your pregnancy.
  • “Delight yourself in the L-rd, and He will give you the desires of your heart!” There is a time and place for this verse. It’s when you are greeting the proud parents of a healthy newborn. When someone has just lost their child, this verse is a double-whammy. First, don’t TALK to me about DELIGHT. I am GRIEVING. As Ecclesiastes tells us, there is a time for weeping and a time for rejoicing. It’s not wrong to grieve. It’s not wrong to cry when life is sad. I can still believe that G-d knows best when I’m crying. I can still trust G-d when my heart is breaking. LET ME GRIEVE. Secondly, you’re indicating that my lack of children is my fault. Must be because I haven’t delighted myself in the L-rd enough (WHATEVER THAT MEANS). I didn’t realize that was the ONE KEY TO LIFE! Delighting myself in the L-rd! THAT’S what I missed. If only I could do that, I could have as many children as I wanted, because G-d would give me the desires of my heart! Woohoo! Yeah…I don’t think that’s how it works. Save this one for another time, please.
  • Nothing. Saying nothing is ok in two circumstances: first, if you’re not very close to me anyway, and you heard about this third-party, and you don’t see me until a week or two or three after the fact…that’s ok (might be a nice touch to ask me how I’m doing when you next see me, though). Second, if you come to my home and sit beside me and hold my hand and just say nothing – you’re there with me – you care for me, but you don’t have the words. Fine. Saying nothing is NOT ok if you’re family or a close friend. If either of those is the case, you BETTER communicate to me in some way that you care about my life. Do not make the mistake of waiting for the perfect moment or waiting until the timing is convenient for you. I am HURTING and I NEED YOU to tell me you love me and you care about me and my baby.

So. Let me reiterate that I was not offended at all by anything anyone said (and not all of the above was said to us this time). I understand that people don’t know what to say, and they’re desperately trying to find the words to communicate their feelings about this event in your life. I get it. But for next time, let’s just keep it safe. Practice it: “I don’t know what to say. I’m so sorry.” That’s really good. :-)

Two last things: I cannot believe how many cards we received. I didn’t count them or anything, but they filled our kitchen table. And some of these notes were covered in handwriting, expressing sorrow, telling personal stories, truly grieving for us. I was so touched. I didn’t know people would care that much. Even the text messages and emails – I just read through some of them again as I typed this, and they make me cry. People truly grieved with us, and again – I didn’t know they would care so much. Wow.

Also, one woman took the time to write us a note AND write a note to my parents. She understood that they, too, experienced loss in this situation. That it’s hard, especially as a mother, to watch your child go through a lot of pain and sadness. I thought that was such a sweet touch. It was kind of like the extra mile. Something to ponder.

So let’s be good grievers, shall we? May we not have much opportunity to practice this, but when the time comes, let’s be good at it.

a bump in the road

I don’t know about you, but sometimes it’s hard for me to write a post about something when I have something ELSE kind of BIG that I want to tell you and can’t yet. Kind of like when I know I have a coffee date with someone later in the week, I tend to avoid them, because I’m afraid we’ll run out of things to talk about before we get together (silly – I know it’s silly).

Anyway, so my blog has been a little silent for the past month, and I’ll tell you the reason. I’m finally ready to tell you the reason.

The reason is that I found out I was pregnant in early August. Finally, finally pregnant. We’ve waited longer than some, and conception does not seem to come easily – we want children so badly. We love children. We love our nieces and the babies that surround our lives. We want our own. And I cannot tell you how overjoyed we were to finally see those double lines on that little pink stink and know that our dreams were being realized.

And so I know you’re “supposed” to wait 12 weeks, to get out of the “danger zone”, to tell people. But we rushed right out and told our immediate family…immediately. At, like, 5 weeks.

Last Monday, I hit the 10 week mark. I know, I know. You’re doing the math. Julianna, you’re still telling us early! It’s not quite 12 yet!

Well. That’s because last Friday evening, just about two days ago exactly, I lost it. It’s gone. I say it, because of course we don’t know if it was a boy or a girl. I think boy, but my sister thinks girl. And we’ll never know. Suddenly, quickly, within just a couple of hours, it was over. And all that hope and joy and anticipation went down in a (pardon the graphics) red sea of disappointment.

It’s so painful. It’s so hard. It’s so hard to understand. I don’t think we’ll ever understand, and I know we probably don’t need to. But we made so many plans and hoped for so many things, and it’s all gone. As my two-year-old niece put it yesterday, “Baby – all gone.” Kind of love how kids have no filter.

As painful as it is right now, though, I would not trade the last 8 weeks for anything. They were some of the happiest days of my life – I got to be pregnant, and people actually knew about it! I got to take a bump picture (with not really any bump, but the symbolism remains), and people gave me baby clothes and baby shoes and we arranged our baby room and we had so much JOY and so much HOPE! And I wouldn’t give that up. Even if it meant not having to go through this miscarriage, I wouldn’t give it up.

So this isn’t how you were supposed to find out. You were supposed to find out next Monday, when I posted the most amazing, most happy, most upbeat post I’ve ever written to tell you that I was 12 weeks pregnant, in the “safe zone”, expecting my baby on April 13 of next year. But this is the way that it is. And I considered not telling you at all, but Morgan pointed out yesterday that unshared, secret grief builds invisible walls, and I don’t want walls. I want transparency and friendship and openness and love. I want honesty. (Does ANYONE know Billy Joel’s “Honesty” song? That’s my life’s MOTTO. Listen to it.)

You don’t have to feel bad for me/us. There are plenty of people who do already. That’s not the purpose of the post. The purpose is to tell you. To let you know what’s going on in my life, because isn’t that, after all, why you read this blog?

my thoughts on silence

If you’ve been listening to our podcast, you’ve heard Mary and me talk about the past Three Weeks – the time between the Fast of the 17th of Tammuz and the Fast of the 9th of Av – in which we have switched off all of the music in our lives. For Mary, that also included not going to the gym regularly, where they blast the power workout music, and for me, that meant not listening to my beloved podcasts or my classical radio station, which fill my home with voices and soothing music, so I don’t feel alone.

For THREE WEEKS.

It’s actually a surprisingly long time. In the long run, it flies by – no sweat. But in the short run, when you’re really “feeling it” every day, it is a while.

Note: we chose to do this not only because it’s traditional, but also so that we would “feel” the mourning we’re supposed to be doing for these three weeks, in keeping with Psalm 137:5, where we put Jerusalem over our greatest joy.

Obviously, we can’t control the fact that stores often play music for their customers, or companies play music for customers on hold. But with the exception of the grocery store, I don’t really shop that much, and I didn’t shop at all these past three weeks. And I avoid the phone like the plague, so I didn’t have hold music, either.

Interestingly, when I cut out the music I normally listen to, and replaced it with nothing, I found that my mind reached way back into my childhood to find songs to hum or sing. I had been listening to a lot of Ingrid Michaelson and Colbie Caillat before the Three Weeks, and I was surprised to find that I really didn’t automatically start humming those songs when no music was on. Instead, I had my standbys – “And He Shall Feed His Flock” (from Handel’s Messiah – don’t ask my WHY this is the song that is ALWAYS in my head! it used to be the Can Can, so this is at least a step up…) and “La Vie en Rose”. Then, one day, I randomly started singing “Can He, Could He, Would He”, which is a song my dad used to sing to us when we were really little. I don’t even know more than the one line. So that got repetitive… Then there was the day of “I’m Inright, Outright, Upright, Downright Happy All the Time” from my children’s church days. ?!

Anyway, it intrigued me to find where the musical sector of my mind would go when I didn’t input anything. It turns out I have a lot of history in there. Perhaps you should try it sometime, too. Maybe next year? :-)

 

P.S. – I looked up “Can He, Could He, Would He” on YouTube while penning this post, and it turns out I had absolutely no idea what that song was about. For some reason, I had connected it to a man who swam the English Channel, or something like that… Totally wrong. Wow.

breaking bread

I recently came across this post, which I found so incredibly inspiring. Obviously, you should read it. I will give you a moment to do so.

 

Ok, so I was so glad this author emphasized how rewarding it is to have people in your home. How easy it can be. You realize that 138 dinners in one year is well over twice a week, right? Isn’t that awesome / incredible / inspiring?!

When Joshua and I got married, we had already talked about how much we love hospitality and having people in our home (our parents homes, then). We were so excited about the opportunity of having our own place and being able to host people for events and meals. Our culture is sliding away from having people in the home – we are much more likely to go out to eat. Personally, I think it’s a combination of laziness (don’t want to cook, don’t want to clean) and control (want to leave whenever we want). It’s so sad, because a restaurant is not the same as a home. You know what I mean.

This man is [apparently?] single, and I think things would need to be different when there’s a marriage and a family to prioritize. However, I come away from a post like this with a warm desire to have more people here for dinner. Maybe brunch. Possibly lunch on a Saturday. Drinks and dessert? Like he implies throughout the post – it really can be so easy. So simple. So doable.

So let’s do it.

a good argument

We recently had some interaction with a company, and I came away thinking, “Not impressed.”

As I muttered this to myself, it occurred to me that the only time I can remember anyone ever saying this in real life was a teenage girl, and she was speaking to me.

You see, I had just addressed the male section of the choir we were both in, and one of the comments I had made rubbed her the wrong way. She went on a long and uncomfortable explanation about men (especially young men) and their egos and the fragility thereof, shifting from one foot to the other as she talked to me.

I was nodding along understandingly, quietly taking the correction from someone YOUNGER than me, trying to control my embarrassment that she felt the need to do this (which is really the only right way to take correction, isn’t it?).

Anyway, so then she ended with the absolute worst line you can ever use with someone who took debate or whose father taught them apologetics and how to argue. She said, “I was, like, really not impressed.”

When I heard that last line, I very nearly let the whole conversation slide right out of my mind like it had never happened. YOU’RE not impressed? Why would I need to impress you? Who cares? You’re not an authority figure in my life! What, are you grading me?! If your whole point was that you were, like, really not impressed, then, like, I don’t care. The world just doesn’t revolve around you and not everyone needs to impress you.

Fortunately for the both of us and men everywhere, G-d gave my eighteen-year-old self some wisdom and grace and I chose to let the last comment slide and take the first part to heart, for the most part. After all, we can learn from everyone.

 

But just as a note to those who critique and correct: don’t ever base your argument on the fact that you were unimpressed. It’s completely immaterial. Let’s use some black-and-white, indisputable Scripture, ok? It works SO much better. :-)

pickle pickle

I made pickles yesterday!

I also made pickles on Monday, but I’m going to tell you about the time yesterday, because it was momentous.

I’ve been doing canning projects with my mom for a few summers now. She’s the real expert – I’m still learning. Actually, I hadn’t made pickles all by myself before this week. (!)

Something scary about a HUGE pot of boiling water, and dropping things into it.

Anyway. My mom is out of town this week, and my garden is producing a lot of cucumbers. Way more than Joshua and I can eat by ourselves. Because I now have a photo on my iPhone of my mom’s incredible bread & butter pickle recipe, I decided to make pickles all by myself.

So I went over to my mom’s house and stole all of her canning supplies, because I really don’t have any. I went out and bought my own jars, and I used all cucumbers from my own garden. About 5 pounds of them! It was incredible!

Everything worked just the way it was supposed to. I did make a bit of a mess doing it, but sometimes that’s part of the fun. Most importantly, none of the jars broke and ALL of them sealed! So now I have six jars of pickles that were made all by myself with cucumbers from my own garden!

This really feels like a rite-of-passage. I’m all grown up! :-)

 

P.S. – I returned all the canning supplies, washed and dried. If my mom wasn’t an avid reader of my blog, she would probably never have known.

can’t help the way I feel

Joshua made me a lovely mix-CD with songs from Ingrid Michaelson‘s newest album, “Lights Out“, and miscellaneous Colbie Caillat songs of which he approves (Joshua is very discriminating when it comes to music, and will not buy any songs that focus on negative emotions or contain profanity, among other things – I feel very protected).

One of the songs, Colbie Caillat’s “What Means the Most“, contains the line, “I can’t help the way I feel.” Sometimes a song gets a little fuzzy, and we can’t understand some of the lyrics, but this line stands out clearly. I can’t help the way I feel.

I find this very interesting.

I so totally disagree with this concept. One of my pet peeves is emotions and the control we have over them. I used to say (often) that I didn’t have any emotion; that I was stone cold and didn’t feel anything. In exploring my softer side, I have since discovered that I do, indeed, have many emotions. I just have a lot of control over them. Sometimes I have too much control, and don’t allow myself to feel anything when I really should feel something.

However, in our culture, it seems to me that we are raising a generation of emotionally-irresponsible adults. Children are told all their lives that emotions are something that happen to them. We can’t help who we love (because love is an emotion), we can’t help the way we feel about something, we can’t control depression (except with pills).

This is ridiculous.

Emotions are mind games. We can rise above, we can beat them down, we can banish them from our minds and spirits. We CAN help the way we feel. That’s how people who have been married for 50+ years do it: on the days you wake up without a shiver of love in your heart for your spouse, you CHOOSE to love, you CHOOSE to stay and care. Colbie Caillat would have us believe that we can shrug and say, “I can’t help the way I feel.” No wonder over half the world is divorced.

I cannot remember a time when my emotions overran my more rational, logical side, so I cannot help those of you who are being overpowered by the beast. All I can say is, it can be done. We most certainly can help the way we feel. It is difficult at times, but it CAN BE DONE. Emotions are not something that just happen to us. Emotions are things we can harness and control and release when the circumstance demands it. Emotions can be put to good use.

Don’t let your emotions control you. Help the way you feel.