After you have experienced the loss of a loved one, you can feel alone, numb, dazed.
I know I did after we lost our son Bennett who was stillborn last year. Even after I had healed physically, which took some time, the emotional damage continued to linger inside of me. I’ve had almost a year now to process Bennett’s death and the pain is still there. Some days are not as difficult, but others are still hard. Really, really hard. I can be triggered by the littlest thing and it is not always the same thing. The other day I was simply driving to Target and I looked in my rearview mirror. I thought, "My 7 month old son should be in a carseat in my backseat right now" and I just cried. From my own experiences, I believe the grieving process is a lifelong journey. Even when I take steps forward, I don't feel like I'm moving on. I don't think I will ever "move on" from Bennett's death because I love him so I will always think about the "what ifs." And that's ok.
I have realized there are certain things that have helped me heal emotionally after our losses. Some of these are specific to pregnancy loss or early child-loss, but I think they can be applied to any loss. I hope at least one of these ideas or resources can help you or a friend during a painful time that God never intended, since I truly believe that God weeps with us and hates the pain that occurs in this broken world more than even we do.
Here are 11 practical ways to help yourself heal and cope after a loss:
1. Read a book about your specific loss.
If you've lost a baby through miscarriage or stillbirth, the book Loved Baby: 31 Devotions Helping You Grieve and Cherish Your Child after Pregnancy Loss by Sarah Philpott really helped me. I also found comfort and community in the book I Will Carry You by Angie Smith. There are a lot of books and devotionals out there for other types of loss too. A more general book that I found encouraging for being in any type of hard season in life is When God Doesn't Fix It by Laura Story.
2. Find a community of people who have experienced a similar loss, even if it is only online.
Realizing I am not alone in my loss, pain and worry has really helped me. I am a part of a community I do not want to be in--nobody does, however, it is a much needed community. I have met other women by sharing about my losses on social media, talking about my losses in real life, searching specific hashtags on Instagram (like #ihadamiscarriage #stillbornbutstillloved #ihaveaheavenbabyand), and by starting the Seasons of Hope photo shoots. There are also a lot of support groups in the KC area, like the ones at Alexandra's House or Lullaby of Hope.
3. Do something positive in their honor around the holidays.
Last year for Christmas we sponsored a new mom and her baby in a developing country in honor of Bennett. It helps me to know that Bennett's life is making a positive impact on the world one small step at a time. You can donate to a charity, send someone a gift, buy someone a meal, anything you can think of in honor of your loved one.
4. Have a physical memento to remind you of them.
Frame the program from their funeral, have a custom illustration of them made on Etsy, display their photograph, make their favorite shirt into a pillow, buy a special ornament to represent them during the holidays, or wear a piece of jewelry in their honor. I have Bennett's program I designed for his service framed and in our dining area. We have several ornaments for Bennett and a little stocking for him. I have a Bennett ring, bracelets and my flower necklaces that I made. I also have a special ornament for each of my miscarriages, and they are represented on my Bennett ring with 2 little hearts. All of these items make me feel closer to the 3 babies we have lost, and it comforts me to know they are being represented here on Earth.
5. Talk about them.
Do not feel the need to censor your thoughts around others to make them feel comfortable. When somebody asks me if I have children (which happens more than I'd like to think about), sometimes I simply say no but other times I explain that I actually have 3 babies in Heaven and we lost Bennett last year. I talk about Bennett quite a bit. I honestly don't know if it makes people uncomfortable or not, but he is my son and I have the right to talk about him if I want to do so.
6. Use your creativity to process your feelings.
You can paint, make jewelry, take photographs, take self portraits, draw self portraits or write. After we lost Bennett we had so many beautiful flowers that were given to us and I couldn't bear throwing them all away. So I dried them. I pressed some of the flowers and made them into necklaces. (See here).
More dried flowers are still hanging in our extra bedroom's closet and I have used them in my own personal Seasons of Hope self portrait photographs. My own self portraits inspired me to create Seasons of Hope photo shoot opportunities for other women.
I also found it very beneficial to write out what happened and how I feel. Sometimes I share what I write and sometimes I don't. There are so many different creative things you can do. Pinterest has a lot of ideas that might inspire you to create something yourself. I find it therapeutic when I can create something beautiful out of pain.
7. Include a memento in family photographs to represent them.
I have seen people include their child's stuffed animal in family photos, or you could do something more subtle like including a flower in the photo to represent your loved one. Last year in my family's big annual photo we take around the holidays, my niece held a little pumpkin that said Bennett.
8. See a therapist.
It is ok to seek help and see a therapist. I personally have never been to a therapist but I am definitely not against it and know a lot of people who go and it has helped them a lot. If you need help finding a therapist, I suggest asking your church for recommendations. If you are not part of a church, Google is a great tool.
9. Honor their birthday or anniversary
Bennett's birthday is quickly approaching and so far I have the day blocked off so Michael and I can just be with one another. I am not putting pressure on ourselves to do anything specific because I really don't know how I will feel. I want to honor Bennett but I don't want to stress about having to do anything. It's hard to feel celebratory when his birthday is also the anniversary of his death. One idea I have is to simply do something nice for someone else in honor of Bennett on his birthday.
For Bennett's due date, we left town and went to Mexico. I've seen people visit their loved ones grave on their birthday or have a special cake. Do what feels right and don't put any pressure on yourself to feel a certain way or do a certain thing.
Honestly, talking to God about my pain, frustration, and grief helps me the most of all. I have cried out to Him for help to get through the day. I have been so angry and asked WHY over and over again. I have asked for patience and understanding and relief from anxiety about the future. I imagine our children playing safely and happily in Heaven. I have thanked God for our children and everything they have taught me. Being able to openly talk to the God of the universe is humbling and comforting.
11. Realize it is ok to feel happy
One thing I've struggled with is feeling guilty for feeling happy. Sometimes this guilt lessens but then it tends to creep back into my mind. I have to remind myself that it is ok to be happy.
And it is ok to still feel sad
It is ok to not be over it.
It is ok to feel how you feel.
Please share any other ideas you have in the comments so others can see even more ways they can heal after experiencing loss. I feel like this is safe space and community where we can share and be there for one another. I hope you feel that way too. ❤️