Proof that we’re traveling on two-way street
In the wake of the death of your child, when everything is turned upside down and your mind has dragged you into The Big Round Room, it is next to impossible to muster up the energy required to reach out to others.This is a time when you are just so broken and in such physical and emotional pain that self preservation and the more base instincts take over and you turn inward, processing and hurting.
Like a crab who has outgrown and shed his old shell, you retreat into safety while your new shell hardens. You prepare yourself to emerge as the new you, stepping into your new normal. Those first tentative steps are scary, the future is uncertain. It takes an enormous amount of courage and energy to show yourself to others, to be vulnerable and exposed in this way.
When you lose a child in miscarriage, stillbirth, or as a newborn infant, the need to preserve their memory is enormous. The reality that so many people did not have an opportunity to experience your child for themselves relates directly to their inability to fathom the depths of your loss. Certainly, supportive and empathetic people around you want nothing more than to support you in this terrible time, but their willingness doesn’t always soothe.
As time moves on, so too do the people around you. But the mark of your child’s death is as present as ever upon your heart, and the urge to honor their memory grows.
It wasn’t until more recent years that I have grown open in sharing Rowan with others. As I wrote about in Confessions of a Bereaved Mother, I let anger and resentment build a wall around me for years. I figured the best way to protect myself from the hurt feelings and disappointment I felt when sharing fell short, was to stop sharing her unless I knew it was safe. As time wore on, the compulsion to share her turned from a mild hum to a deafening roar in my heart.
Having lived these contrasting experiences; both the period when I was very introverted about my loss as well as the period since I chose to surrender to the roar and share my daughter as openly as I wished, I am well aware of the lesson I have learned about receiving support, honoring my daughter’s memory openly, and allowing others to do the same.
Recently, I hosted a cocktail party at my home for some girlfriends. One of my friends brought her girlfriend “Sylvia*” along, a lovely woman whose acquaintance I had made once before, and then only briefly. Sylvia arrived at my house and presented me with a beautiful watercolor print that she purchased just for me. She said she saw it at the local art festival and knew immediately that it belonged in my home. It is called “Circle of Hands” and the symbolism is just beautiful and powerful for me. In this painting, there is a purple background and then five colored, overlapping hands forming a circle. The hands are surrounding a smaller red heart.
Sylvia was aware of my story, that I lost Rowan and that I also have four living children who came after her. So, this watercolor speaks perfectly to me, and obviously to Sylvia as well. This gift is special in several ways, each as meaningful as the other. Of course, Sylvia’s generosity and thoughtfulness warms my heart. I am now drawn to know her better because she is clearly touched by my circumstances. The symbolism of the four visible hands representing my living children surrounding the heart that is Rowan couldn’t have been more perfect. The fifth hand is less obvious, but it is as present as the others, like Rowan. I, too, feel that this painting belongs in my home, that it was meant to be mine. The colors are meaningful as well; the blue and purple exude strength and vitality, the green and aqua are lively and fresh, and the red and orange speak to me of uplifting, yet serious things.
What makes this gift so wonderful to me, and the reason that I share it with you, is that it came to me Now. This gift would never have found me in the years before I was so open about my need to remember Rowan. When I chose to reach out and became more open to sharing my story outwardly, it was based upon my own need to do so. The compulsion to ‘shout from the rooftops’, to make sure she is not forgotten was one-sided. I simply had to send this energy from me to the world.
The lesson lies in what happened next. In the midst of my standing out there sharing and telling, satisfying my own deep need to honor my daughter’s memory, this openness has turned around and allowed an inward flow. The act of sharing and telling has made it possible for others to reflect that energy back and share their experience of my story back to me. This seems like a simple thing, but for me it is like an electric shock. Sylvia came to me with a gift that she felt spoke to my story, for my daughter Rowan, for my living family, and for me. What a gift!
So much of the healing after deep loss comes from the outside in. While we have to work through grief on our own, we cannot do it in isolation. We need our loss to be validated, we ache to have others remember our child without being reminded, we know all too well how changed we are; being parents to children we will never get to raise, and we crave the comfort of those around us when we are feeling low. My lesson today is a reinforcement that I am on the right path. That the path of sharing and its sister path of receiving are truly intertwined.
*Real names have been changed for privacy.
“Circle of Hands” is an original work by Ann Astrella Redmond, and appears here with permission.