I feel weird even writing this. Who am I to give advice on something as personal as the biggest loss any of us will experience? Especially when we all grieve so differently, and there isn’t really a right or wrong way to do it. Should there even be a “top five” list for something like loss? I’ve only lived the life of a bereaved parent for 8 months. That’s basically a tiny blip on the radar when we think of living with our losses for the rest of our lives. Before I psych myself out of writing this, I’ll just share that I’m writing this in the hope that I can help someone who has had a more recent loss or is just struggling, as these are the things that I’ve done that have been most helpful for me.
- Don’t wait until you’re ready. A controversial start to this piece, I know. A lot of people have probably told you that you don’t have to do anything until you’re ready, and that’s true. No one can make you do anything. I’ll share my experience with going back to work as an example. I continued the leave I’d received for my emergency c-section for 6 weeks after our son passed away. After that, the short-term disability ran out, but I definitely wasn’t ready to return to work. My work extended an offer for extended leave, and I opted not to go that route. Going back to work was tough, and work still feels different, but it serves as something that occupies my days and gives me something to wake up and do. If I had waited until I was ready, I would still be at home, sitting on my couch, probably watching copious amounts of TV. While that has its merits, I don’t think it would have helped my mental health as much as returning to work did. (P.S. I definitely have days where I sit on the couch and watch copious amounts of TV.)
- Give yourself a way out. This goes for anything, but especially social situations. Social interactions were really hard for me after we lost our son. I’d always been outgoing and had no issues socially, and then, all of a sudden, I was socially awkward. What was key for me was making sure I had an escape plan in place. I had a way out, if I needed it. Sometimes I wouldn’t need it, but starting out, most of the time I would. This goes for having people over too. Make sure you have a plan that allows you to kick your guests out when they inevitably overstay their welcome.
- Get out of the house. Even while I was on leave after our son passed away, I still got out of the house daily. This can take on many shapes and forms. It could be a walk. It could be going to Target to get groceries. It could be visiting your son at the cemetery. You can go alone, and you don’t have to talk to anyone. I think this is actually one of the main reasons why I’ve been able to adjust back to functioning like a “normal”* person. I exposed myself to the rest of the world (and yes, some triggers) early on. *I’m not saying I am normal. I’m not, and never will be again. I am, however, able to function in life in a way that resembles how people who have not lost a child are able. Kind of.
- Get therapy. Okay, I lied. This is really the main reason why I’ve been able to adjust back to functioning like a “normal” person. Find a therapist that gels with you. I was lucky that I found mine right away, but it’s okay if it takes a couple of tries to find someone you really connect with. I still go to see my therapist weekly, and I look forward to our sessions each week. It’s an hour of time where I can talk about what’s going on, not feel judged or weird, work through issues and triggers, and continue to find space for our little man as the days and months tick onward.
- Find your crew. I joined a support group a month or so after our son died. It helps to be able to connect with others who experienced the loss of a child. People who actually, really get it. Our support group ended, but many of us continue to stay in touch. I know that not everyone is in an area that has infant loss support groups available, so it’s great that we’re in the age of technology where we can connect with other bereaved parents virtually. There are tons of groups on Facebook, and a huge community of bereaved parents on Instagram. Find groups and individuals you connect with, and roll from there. (This also seems like a good time to plug our own Instagram page, @courageousmothers. Check us out!)
I probably should have put this disclaimer at the beginning, but I am not a mental health professional (yet, but that’s a whole other story!), and what works for me might not work for you. My hope is that some of this advice (even just a tiny bit) will resonate with you and give you hope that you can and will get back out there, and that it’s okay to need a little boost to get there. Remember, you are facing the worst thing that any parent can face, and you are so. dang. tough.
Please feel free to share any other advice you have in the comments below. What is the best piece of advice you would give to other bereaved parents?