I am on the tail-end of the most taxing year of my life. Last winter, my wife and I lost twins to a miscarriage. Though I have been working in helping professions and mental health for a number of years, this was the first major tragic moment of loss and grief in my life. I can honestly say that I am equally thankful that it is over and to have walked through it. In the midst of a dark season, I was also exposed to some sacred moments. I am by no means a conqueror of grief, but I do think I learned a few things I hope to always carry with me and to share with others.
Let it in. All of it.
Every year my wife and I do a weekend retreat with close friends. The intention is to bring something to share and leave with something that’s given. A friend contributed prose for the group called “Beautiful moments of the human experience.” It was essentially a time for us to share significant experiences in our lives that were noteworthy to us. Some were really special, happy memories, some were mountain-top experiences, and others were challenging but worthwhile reflections. From that day forward I tried to reframe tough situations and reminders of our loss.
On the first Father’s Day after the miscarriage, we saw a documentary about twins. We went to be with friends for a local movie premiere and didn’t think about the subject matter until we sat down. Initially, I felt uncomfortable, but throughout the movie, I was thankful to have some connection to the twins we lost on what would have been a truly special day in other circumstances.
The night a new record came out from my favorite band, there was one song that triggered a lot of emotions and instead of skipping it I left it on repeat for over an hour.
On my weekly beach runs, I decided to stop avoiding the spot where our twins’ memorial was, and instead would add rocks and beach debris to it. I came back every couple of days and found that strangers, with no knowledge or understanding of what it was, contributed elaborate and beautiful additions to our little spot.
Grief, pain, and loss will affect you in significant ways. Unfortunately, we can’t control how or when grief comes, but we can control how we choose to respond. The days were brutal as they came but the weeks and months which followed felt much lighter after giving the pain and grief the room to exist. Letting it all in took me from true despair to acceptance.
Give space for others to participate in your grief. Even if it isn’t perfect.
One thing I committed to throughout this season was answering the question of “How are you?” honestly. I am accustomed to being a loving and supportive presence for others, but it is not easy for me to be the recipient of that same care. I stuck to the commitment and found it to be very difficult. Some days it was awesome and I felt lighter from the conversations, some days it was purely exhausting, and other days what was given back to me in a vulnerable exchange caused me to feel misunderstood, disappointed, or sad. In some cases, an expression of vulnerability was too much or too overwhelming. At the time, I really didn’t know how to feel but now, I am grateful for the uplifting conversations and even the messy ones. It opened up space for empathy in a manner that wasn’t there before. People who are experiencing loss don’t require perfect expressions of sympathy. Sometimes saying nothing can be more powerful than an eloquent “ah-ha” moment.
Pursue the things that make you safe and healthy, especially in crisis when they may feel the hardest.
After the miscarriage, I made a shortlist of the things I know for certain make me feel better. Among them were surfing, working out, solitude, quality time with friends, slow mornings with great coffee, and lots of Star Wars. It became much more difficult to find peace in these activities that historically helped my mindset almost immediately. Seeking solitude and contemplation went from a soothing getaway to a very dark place. What was once a mental headspace of peace and a time for recharging, was suddenly an abyss of vulnerability. I would work out hard, only to feel immediately the same afterward. In those first few weeks, nothing gave me even small doses of joy like they typically did. I pressed through though and doubled down, discovering that it was less of a daily exchange and more of a long-term investment. Those heavy months instilled some significant habits in me that are now providing a calm consistency in my life that wasn’t there before.
Be honest in your strengths, in your weaknesses, in your victories, and in the places where you need work.
Being someone who works in the realm of mental health and has always possessed an inclination to help others, I think I had unrealistic expectations about what my own grief would look like. I struggled to cope with what was happening three to four months in and in turn, was not being my best self towards my spouse or those around me. So I decided to go back to counseling. I shared everything I was going through: guilt, disappointment, and a bit of shame. The lasting sentiment my counselor provided me with was that I was seeing my experience through the lens of my work in mental health and my cognitive understanding of what to do—but it was time to let that go and just be a human in the midst of a really shitty situation. There’s no right way to unexpectedly lose children and with that in mind, I was able to be kinder to myself and release the expectations I had.
I am glad to say that my grief is in the rearview. Not that it is over or that I have conquered it but rather, time has given me a gift. The gift of gathering isolated instances of darkness stitched together with the help of others, culminating in a journey that only belongs to me. For that, I am grateful. I cannot imagine life without these beautiful moments of human experience.