I don’t know how to begin this letter except by saying that I know your head must be spinning. Nobody expects to have to plan a burial when you should be busy with all the little things a new baby entails. When joy turns to pain, expectation to a black pit in your stomach, it’s shocking, like jumping into an ice-cold lake on a hot day.
A father may not know how to do all the things a baby needs, but he knows how to provide for and protect his family, and when a tragedy like this strikes, it makes you feel like you’ve failed, even though there was nothing you could’ve done. It’s so natural to start questioning, wondering if there is something that you could have or should have done differently. You can’t listen to that, even though it may be somewhat comforting because it would give some sort of answer. Those questions just come from a mind and heart that are looking for sense amidst something that simply makes no sense.
I know it’s hard to see your wife suffering through this and not be able to do anything to take her pain away or fix the situation. It’s like someone or something has snuck into your home and violated your sense of security, stealing what was most precious to you. You spent so much time and energy getting ready for your little guy or girl, and now there is this hole in your life that nothing can fill. Dad’s are on the front lines defending their families, and when something sneaks in behind the lines in a way that you just perhaps never thought would happen, at least to you, how could you be anything but devastated.
The layers of loss are something we don’t think about until we’re in the middle of it. The loss of the baby is enough to kill someone, but then the loss of plans, expectations, all the things you would do and experience with your child as he or she grew up… you’ve lost a part of yourself. You end up finding that you are grieving so much more than you would ever have imagined. And this reality comes back to haunt you over and over again, especially in the first few months.
What can I tell you? That it gets better? Does the pain become less acute? Yes, and you do learn how to go on carrying this new companion with you every step of the way, but it never goes away. How could it? I don’t think we even want it to because it’s all that we have left – that hole that is exactly the shape of your little one. When you lose someone later in life, you at least have memories of that person amidst the pain, whereas the loss of a baby is so hard because there are few memories. It’s so unnatural – no parent should have to bury their child, especially as a baby. It’s not fair, it’s not right, and it’s just not ever going to sit well with you. I’m not going to tell you the platitudes that people often offer – “everything happens for a reason,” or “now your little one is an angel.” We all will eventually find the truths that comfort us, but first comes the shock, the anger, the sense of betrayal, the grief. I’m sorry you’re going through that, but I can tell you that it is something you have to let yourself go through.
Do not let anyone tell you that it’s not okay to feel that stuff, or that you have to just “be strong” and “get through it.” The road ahead is a long one, so don’t be afraid to reach out to others to help you. And please, do not wait for others to validate what you’re feeling to give yourself permission to feel it. We all do that to some degree, and it is not healthy. Many people will not know how to react to you, and if you wait for them to tell you it’s okay to feel what you’re feeling, you never will.
Know that you’re not alone in this. You will survive this, and you will be stronger in many ways, and probably even more genuinely human. Take care of your wife, your family, but make time for yourself too. You can’t be always “on” and you can’t ignore what you’re going through by trying to take care of everyone else. Find the way that helps you to process your grief: therapy, writing, a project, a tribute… Be courageous as you know how to be and face the grief – you need to do that for yourself, and your family needs you to do that as well.
Hang in there,