Learning to Grieve

I am feeling lost and a little broken, entering a new stage of grief. The noise is hitting me from all sides: “you should feel this way” “you shouldn’t feel this way.” “You should be angry.” “You don’t understand how I am feeling.” “The sun will rise tomorrow.”

Grieving is an intensely personal journey, shaped by our interactions with the human experience.

It has been one year, two months, and fourteen days since Nelle was born. It has been nine months and five days since Iris was born. Unprepared does not begin to scratch the surface of the undertow that grieving dragged me into. Strong and unrelenting, I was flung between trying to claw my way out and giving up. When I thought “It cannot get worse than a stillborn baby” after losing Nelle at 21 weeks of pregnancy, I lost Iris at 16 weeks. Still navigating the first loss, the path shifted indescribably and I had to begin again. There were times that I thought: only a completely unjust universe would force me to go through this pain twice. It was a loss of everything I knew, everything that I had dreamed for the future and a permanent alteration.

I had to wrangle my own grieving, while simultaneously constantly responding to the outside world. There were insensitive comments, confused reactions, and deafening silence. The world seemed to have some an over-arching timetable by which grieving must abide. Perhaps the most stinging was “Your grieving has nothing to do with our work results.”

It took a lot of determination, reflection, and therapy to learn to reject any platitudes and prescriptions for grieving that the world had to offer. I had to fight every inch to allow myself the space I needed, but there are still times when I think “Why? Why do I have to fight? Why is the burden put on the person who is suffering?” It had to become a conscious choice to not only fight for myself, but also to educate others: there is no right way or wrong way to grieve. I took up that fight so that maybe someone else wouldn’t have to.

In the wake of November 8th, 2016, I am grieving again. Again, it was a loss of everything I knew, everything that I had dreamed for the future, and a permanent alteration. Again, I am hearing people tell me, and others, how to grieve. Stop crying. Stand up and fight. Unify! I have insensitive comments, like “How exactly does this affect your family? Your husband came here legally, right?” The messages are flung from every corner and leave very little space for individual processing.

I have spent the last fourteen months grieving a loss of what “should have been” and how that picture has changed for our family, in a cataclysmic way. My husband was sad about losing our babies, but his grieving was very different than mine, and I had to learn to accept that. Now, we are both grieving. As an immigrant from southeast Asia, he is going through all stages of grieving: anger, denial, depression… we both have not yet reached any form of acceptance. We are heavy, together. Because I have been learning how to grieve for over a year, now I have to teach him. Teach him that what he is feeling is a valid, appropriate, and rational response to what we have both lost. We are leaning on each other, harder than ever. Our family is, again, forever changed and we do not know what the future holds.

I am grieving what my therapist calls “a loss of humanity.” We have to allow ourselves a space to grieve in a way that makes sense for us. For some, it is action. For others, it is anger. For others, it is quiet reflection. None are more right than another. There is isolation in feeling like no one can understand our experience. There is strength in realizing that our experience, is rooted in the same. There is no victory in reacting a “right” way to grief. There is accomplishment and tenderness in acknowledging the uniqueness of individual reactions. We have to recognize the commonality in our loss and our struggle with oppression. We belong to each other.