3 Things I've Learned About Grief

Joanna ZuidemaComment

Today marks three months since Norah went to play with the angels. 
Three. Months.

These three months have taught us so much about life, family, faith, and love. 

We've also been learning about grief these past three months, and it's time for me to share a little of what we've learned.

I could write about each of these insights for days, but right now I'll keep it to a digestible overview of the three biggest things we've learned so far.


1. The biggest surprise so far has been the concept of secondary losses. Norah's death is our primary loss, but there is an entire web of smaller losses radiating from that broken center. 

For example: we will never experience a naively joyful pregnancy. This is not flippant negativity, this is the reality of life after child loss. If anything goes wrong with future pregnancies, we will immediately be taken back to our experiences with Norah. On the flip side, if nothing goes wrong, it will cause the "why couldn't this happen for Norah" spiral to start and/or we'll find ourselves constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Birthdays, holidays, family gatherings, even mundane tasks like grocery shopping all hold reminders of a future once prayed for that is now gone.

Middle of the night newborn feedings, toddler wall art, waiting up wondering when they'll be home — all experiences we would give anything to have with Norah and each a loss in its own way.

These things will always be painful, I think. Something as simple as little girl making a mess of her pancakes at brunch makes me wonder if Norah would've done the same. (Knowing whom she came from, the answer is a confident yes.)  

I don't think that wonder will ever go away, and honestly, that's ok.
But if I appear a little quieter than normal at times, I may be imagining a future that will never be.

Cemeteries have some of the most beautiful flowers!

Cemeteries have some of the most beautiful flowers!

2. Our 'people' are vital – specifically our 'grief people.' These are the people in our lives who are acquainted with grief. They are the ones who aren't trying to fix our pain but are willing to meet us where we are, the people in front of whom the facade can fall and we can be our true, broken selves. 

These people are like water to a parched soul.

Society is incredibly uncomfortable with grief. Unsurprisingly, we don't like pain. As Megan Devine says, in this riveting talk about grief, love and the power of acknowledgment, "We are trained to look for the happy ending." Acknowledging grief for the true pain that it is doesn't fit into our storybook mold for life.

Devine also notes that people "...need me to be OK because pain like this is really hard to witness." I'd like to add that we've found that dealing with people witnessing our pain is also difficult in its own unique way.

For example: the Friday after Norah died, we stopped into the government center to pick up her birth certificate, and in small talk the sweet woman at the counter asked, "How's the baby doing?" She clearly only read the birth date, and not the 'deceased' marker at the top of the certificate. 

I was so raw.

"Well, she died on Monday."

This little question, simple and innocent enough, had an answer that brought both of us to tears. She felt terrible. I felt terrible. There we were, both both mourning the pain of the situation. 

That was the first time I cried in public.

Situations like this is why we so often find ourselves acting. Acting at work, at parties, even around friends and family protects us from the results of being honest about our life. We're not trying to sugarcoat things, we're simply trying to make it through the day without breaking down.

But with your 'people', acting isn't necessary; they can handle your reality. 

Find the people who let your heart rest in honesty. 
They'll help you survive.


3. Grief changes you. Grief is not a temporary emotion, but rather, a complete rearrangement of your existence. 

Priorities shift, hopes and dreams now look different, your patience for petty things may be entirely gone, and your ability to experience true joy may be surprisingly enhanced. 

Some tough things may get easier, while some seemingly easy tasks may become unusually difficult. You may be able to speak for hours about the pain of loss with a friend who has suffered a miscarriage, but want to evaporate at the sight of a mother pushing a stroller. Responding to texts or calls from loved ones may be the equivalent of scaling Everest, but reading stories of death or child loss are suddenly comforting.

(Let's talk about my grief-fueled book binge another time. Thank you, Amazon Prime. In the mean time, please hold on to this record player in my cart for two weeks because I REALLY NEED IT. Impulse shopping is totally a grief thing, right? Right? Sure. #justificationmaster)

Grief is like suddenly becoming farsighted after spending your entire life squinting at road signs – your entire perspective changes and you may "seem different."

If I walk through fire and survive I certainly hope that I emerge a changed person – full of scars as proof my humanity, telling of where I've been.

So when people comment on any changes they see in myself or in Lane, I smile just a bit.

Of course I'm a different person.

Of course I'm changing. 

I'm walking through fire.

And still I'm alive.