Each person’s experience with grief is as unique as each falling snowflake – no two are the same. While this can provide a sense of freedom in expression, it can also create confusion, overwhelm, and perhaps too much “open endedness”.
According to Alan Wolfelt, grief is defined as “the simple word we use as shorthand for the very complex mixture of thoughts and feelings we experience after someone or something we are attached to is gone… grief is the human response to loss.”
The very nature of grief is built around a notion of a collective experience. However, in reality, grief is very complex and individuals have diverse responses.
Mourning is the act of grief in an outward way. Historically, and across many cultures, rituals and ceremonies have defined the mourning process. These provided what most considered a necessary sense of closure. The promise of putting an end, or closing off the pain and sadness, anger and heartache to grief seemed like a welcome offer for the bereaved.
However, for those who have experienced the depth of perinatal loss, they are acutely aware that there is no defined moment of closure; there isn’t always a collective human response felt, or a universal experience of receiving support from friends, family, and the community.
Perinatal loss can be an incredibly isolating and alienating experience, given ongoing “taboos” of acknowledging and marking losses. Sometimes, these losses are not tangible in “traditional ways”.
Mourning requires an acknowledgment of the loss. Wrapped up in this recognition is identifying there is something that actually once was and is no longer present (be that a wish/hope/dream for the future, a physical feeling, the sound of a heartbeat, the holding of an infant).
- To grieve well, mourning must take place. This can be done in a variety of ways; the important piece is that it is done. There is no “getting over” grief, but there is the act of moving through it. To move through the despair, heartache, disappointment, and the vast complex emotions that come with perinatal loss, mourning can include:
- Allowing the emotions to be felt – cry, yell, sit, talk, write. Provide yourself patience and space to physically feel the emotions within.
- Accept the new reality of loss – death is a process and so is acceptance.
- Remember the loss – spend time in the memories of your wishes/hopes/dreams, recall the experience of connecting to your pregnancy and/or baby. Go slowly and patiently and see if you can actively express these memories (through creative art, identify keepsakes, identify places of significance, poetry).
- Learn about yourself in a new way – be curious about how you view yourself, what parts have changed/stayed the same. Get to know yourself again.
- Seek meaning – your inner core/soul are searching for understanding and for balance between the outer world and the inner you; there may be a sense of spirituality that you can consider and grapple with. So much of the despair of grief comes from unanswered questions of “why?” Spending time exploring these questions allows for this journey of discovery to take place, even if there are no concrete answers.
- Lean in and lean out – Find parts of you that bring you contentment, joy, and trust. Look for people, groups, and relationships that bring you comfort, where you can be authentic, and you can receive genuine support.
Moments will turn to days and to years, and while some of the acts of mourning will stay the same and become traditions, others will change and hold new insights and meanings. There will be a sense of easing off the intensity of the initial grief and then you will notice changes in yourself that perhaps were once unimaginable. Healing and reconciliation will move you through grief.