October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. When that month rolls around, I feel myself breathing a sigh of relief. It’s like this month gives me permission to feel and express my grief more publicly. I am grateful for that. Although I know I have permission to share my daughter and my grief journey whenever I please, it’s just not that easy. Of course I think about her every day. She is woven into my thoughts, all my dreams, and into everything I do. She is part of me; she is part of who I am. That’s why when people don’t know about Gianna, I feel that they don’t know ME. But not everyone understands what it’s like to lose a child and that makes the topic difficult to bring up. Death isn’t so easily woven into our everyday conversations and dealings with others, so Gianna is most of the time left unmentioned. My hope is that this month makes it easier for people to talk about their deceased children and make the honoring of their children more public. And in turn, may they receive the support and love they need as they walk this life without their child by their side. This is precisely what it means to move from grief to mourning. And once we allow ourselves to mourn, we allow ourselves to become deeply touched and transformed by our loss.
When we lose a child, our initial, private response is grief. The term grief refers to our thoughts and feelings on the inside. We feel bereaved which means “torn apart.” But in order to process our loss in a constructive way, we need to move from grief to mourning. Mourning is the shared, social response to loss, or “grief gone public,” as Dr. Alan Wolfelt puts it. Mourning takes our internal grief and externalizes it in the form of an action, a symbol, a ceremony, or a ritual that allows us to receive social support. It is essential for creating forward movement in a state of grief. Without external mourning, grief can become stifled, stagnant, or insular. There are a number of very beautiful ways to express our mourning. I think the primary one is a funeral or memorial service. There are also several baby loss remembrance walks throughout the United States, which is a great way to mourn the loss of our children with others, publicly. The month of October also allows us to share our loss story with more people. Support groups, writing, podcasts– all of these examples allow us to externalize our feelings and moves us from solitude to community. This is a necessary part of the journey to healing. It is important that we find an outward channel for our grief, an opportunity to mourn publicly. By coming together with a group of people to express our honest feelings, we find a healthy way to release these feelings. We also find love, support, and encouragement in each other, and we find the strength to begin and continue on our journey through grief.
Gianna Rose would be three and a half years old this month. When I first lost her, I couldn’t even think about the possibility of healing or “being transformed” by her loss. The gaping hole she left in my life was too deep to see anything but complete and utter darkness. After her death, I was confused about who I was and the purpose that I served in the greater scheme of things. I lost a large part of my identity because my world was rocked on so many levels: spiritually, physically, emotionally, and mentally. That’s what tragic child loss can do to you.
But through these years of allowing myself to “feel all the feelings” that come with grief (and there are some very uncomfortable ones), by allowing myself to mourn her death publicly not worrying about what others think, by allowing my grief to be truly felt and processed, I can say that Gianna’s sweet, brief life has deeply transformed my heart.
I have found strength in the beautiful community of child loss parents, near and far. Their support gives me courage as I search for meaning and purpose again. And their presence gives me strength knowing I am not alone.
The grief and mourning that followed Gianna’s death has also transformed my heart into something softer, stronger, more vulnerable, more open.
And more importantly, by allowing myself to truly grieve and mourn, I can now see the light that Gianna is in my life. I can now see her gentle presence lighting my way and taking over the initial darkness that followed her loss. The void that she left in my life will never, ever go away. But I have found purpose in honoring her and shining her light that was taken away from her so unfairly.
So, go ahead. Don’t be afraid to honor your child publicly. Share your story with those around you. Allow yourself to become vulnerable and lifted up by those around you. As we begin this month of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness, my wish is that we may all brave the wilderness of grief and mourning, daunting though it may be. For through this process we allow ourselves not only to be touched, but also changed and transformed by our children’s death. And dare I say, there is no more honorable of a way to continue our dear children’s legacy, which extends far beyond their short time in this life.