A few weeks ago, I spoke for the third time to the second year med students at Lincoln Memorial University / DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine on perinatal bereavement. After my presentation, my sister and I were approached by some students with an idea. They wanted to use their Solidarity Week ( a week dedicated to compassion and patient care) to fund and create memory boxes for nearby hospitals. Within days, the idea was in the works - and the students named it The Kenley Project, which filled my heart with so much emotion. My part of the project was to write a letter to the newly grieving mother. It took me longer than I would have liked, as I had a hard time getting myself back into that headspace, especially given what month it is right now. But, I want to share that letter with you now, as well as the link to donate to the project. I am so very proud of my NInja and all she has accomplished.
Dear Heartbroken Mother,
I am so sorry you have this letter in your hands. I’m so, so sorry you’ve had to say hello and goodbye to your precious child and that these last days that should have been spent celebrating have been plunged into darkness. I want you to know my heart has broken into the same million jagged pieces yours has. In February 2013, my daughter Kenley was born without breath or beat of heart, and my world changed forever. As a fellow grieving mama, I wanted to write this letter so you would know you aren’t alone – that there is someone out there who understands the indescribable heartbreak you’re feeling now.
The hardest thing you will ever do is survive the loss of your baby. You will feel broken beyond repair, but you’re not. Slowly, you will gain enough strength to start to crawl your way out of this pitch-black hole you have been thrown in. Eventually, light will start to seep through the cracks in the walls and you will begin to be able to see again. Your heart will learn to hold itself up around the empty spots where your baby should be – and you’ll be able to feel more than simply emptiness and pain. I know right now, you can’t possibly imagine this, but I promise you – you’ll get there. Not today. Not tomorrow. Maybe not even this year. But, it will happen.
In the meantime, be gentle with yourself. Allow yourself to grieve – to feel whatever you need to feel. Don’t put pressure on yourself to feel anything on any specific timeframe. Everyone’s grief journey is different. Well-meaning people will tell you well-meaning things. You may hear things like “Everything happens for a reason” or “Time heals all wounds” Some phrases will be helpful to you and some will not. You may feel like people are trying to “fix” you - trying to make it all better. But, the reality is, you don’t need to be fixed – you need to grieve. It’s okay to have terrible days – days where you feel so shattered you can’t manage to drag your broken pieces out of bed. And it’s also okay to have good days – days where you feel ok, where you maybe even realize you’ve smiled or laughed. We have all wondered if we are grieving “correctly.” Truthfully, there is no right or wrong way to grieve – and no one can tell you how you should do it.
You’re going to have to fight. There is no way around that. You’re going to have to claw and scratch your way through muck and mud. You’re going to have to heave yourself over hurdles that may seem impossible. You’re going to ache and bleed. You’re not going to feel strong at all – but you are. You are a champion. You are a Heartbroken Mother – a fierce warrior broken in grief but strengthened by love. There is a quote that says “Grief is just love with no place to go”. You will grieve as much as you love, which is an unfathomable amount. And while it may feel sometimes like grief is going to break you – it is your love that will sustain you. Hold on to that love. Remember that love – nurture it. Find as many places to put it as you can. It will never be enough, but it will be something. Some mamas find healing in performing Random Acts of Kindness in their baby’s name. Some mamas like to volunteer for organizations or attend memorial walks. Maybe you paint, or write, or knit, or run – whatever you do, find somewhere for your love to go. This will probably be the strongest bandage for your heart.
Your life is now segmented into two parts – the Before and the After. As we learn to live in the After, it becomes our New Normal. Your greatest challenge beyond initial survival will be finding your footing in this new world and learning to walk with purpose again. Life will never be the same. You are forever changed, and the way you see the world around you has changed as well. It’s okay if you find yourself unable to relate to things you used to – and if your relationships with others seem different. You’ll learn how to navigate this New Normal. You’ll learn how it’s okay to not be the same – and how your scars are nothing to be ashamed of.
You may feel guilty for your baby’s death. Don’t. If you had known there was something you could have done, you would have done it in a heartbeat. Repeat this mantra daily, “It was not my fault”. It may take you a long time to believe it, but that doesn’t make it any less true. It was not your fault. It was not your fault. It was not your fault. Your grief will lie to you and tell you that is was. But it wasn’t. It isn’t. It will never be.
If you ever feel lost in this dark and tangled forest of grief, don’t be afraid to reach out. There is a huge community of Heartbroken Mothers just like you. We’ve been where you are and we’ve fought our way to where we are now. We hurt with you and for you. Our arms will be open to you whenever you need us. Even though I don’t know you yet, my heart knows your heart, and I am more than willing to be your crying shoulder or whatever support system you need. Feel free to email me at KenleyNinja@gmail.com or visit my blog OnePinkBalloon.blogspot.com if you aren’t ready to contact me, but want to feel less alone. I will be happy to help you find support groups or other resources you may not have the energy to do on your own.
Even though today seems so dark, I promise the light will come. Don’t give up, Mama.
Kenley’s Mom, Rebecca Wood