“Hello. My name is 1)_____.
Today I’m grieving the loss of 2)_____,
who passed away on 3)_____.
He/She/They was/were my 4)_____.
His/Her/Their loss makes me feel 5)_____.
In closing, I’d also like to say 6)__________________.”
Three years into grief, it’s not difficult to conjure images and memories of those first days and weeks. “Overwhelming” doesn’t quite say it, it’s a hurricane of cheek-cracking, Shakespearian proportions. You’re asked to dig down into your own guts and scoop out reserves that you’ve never suspected were there. When you’re at your lowest moment, you’re making decisions that, at the time, you imagine will haunt you the rest of your life if you choose poorly.
“Cremation or burial? Urn or Casket?” “Memorial or no memorial and if so, when/where/how and who’s coming?” “Should I begin some sort of tradition?” “Should I join a support group?” “If we still want other children, shouldn’t we take immediate steps in that direction?” “Should I take depression medication?” “How much time should I take off from work?” “How much time do I have to cancel this or return that?” “Should I travel?” “Should I sell the house and move?” “Should I kill myself?”
“What if I do this wrong?”
And you ask for help and guidance and, with luck, you have people in your life who are as helpful as anyone could reasonably be. But their help essentially comes down to one, single, frustrating piece of advice:
DO WHATEVER YOU WANT.
It’s not meant to add to the frustration, but, of course, it does. And to be fair, what else would you expect them to say? It’s your loss, your grief.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve received a handful of emails and blog comments and even one or two in-person questions from people who have become reluctant members of the club Carey and I have belonged to for the past 3 years, namely the Brother/Sisterhood of Grieving Parents. “What should I do?” they want to know. “What did you do?”
What we did and what we continue to do isn’t a guidebook or a roadmap for others by any stretch, but today, on my boys’ third birthday, I thought it might be helpful to get specific.
A few things we’ve done:
We decided on cremation and chose urns for our boys. A friend of ours (and client of Carey’s) runs a mortuary and was very helpful in presenting options to us. He suggested mixing their ashes and keeping them in one urn. Since we’d gone to such lengths to preserve their individuality, we preferred to give them separate urns. Rudyard’s is the reddish-bronze, Desmond’s is the silver and Oscar’s is gold. We keep them on our living room mantle.
At the memorial, we presented the urns in the center of three sunflowers which were in three square glasses. Since then, each week, Carey brings home three fresh sunflowers from the store. We’ve kept a steady rotation in the glasses ever since. Sometimes they’re in the kitchen, sometimes in the dining room, sometimes near the urns. It lifts our spirits to see them.
On the day, we took over 100 photographs of the handful of moments we had with our boys. While, it’s true, we’re choosy and protective of who sees them, we had prints made of all of them and keep them in a couple of small photo albums.
We decided on tattoos to remember them. Carey has their names in script on the side of her foot and I designed their first initials with the date of their birth into artwork for my left wrist. It’s the only tattoos either of us have.
Recently, Carey and I collaborated on a piece of artwork for our studio/office. The birds are three finches done in black ink and white acrylic. The background is collaged from pages from vintage books by Rudyard Kipling and Oscar Wilde and also some sheet music of the Beatles’ Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da, which mentions Desmond.
Last year, for reasons beyond my understanding, the news media became intrigued by our story. Specifically, our memorial video, which shows footage of our boys’ remains shortly after their passing. We were interviewed by The Daily Beast, BBC World Update and Good Morning America about our story. It was a great opportunity to talk about the pain that parents of stillborn children experience.
Our interview with Dan Damon of BBC World Update:
From time to time, I’ll take part in open mic events at a coffee house in Long Beach. In the past, I’ve read a story inspired by the boys and, last week, I mentioned them in a presentation I gave about my personal passion-issue, which is gun violence in the United States. Amid true-life anecdotes, statistics and a brief history of firearms, I spoke about the Sandy Hook tragedy, recalling the blessing it was to have the opportunity to comfort my children as they passed, a privilege taken from many parents whose children are victims of shootings.
In general, whether it’s home decor or small life decisions, we gravitate toward ‘three’. It’s subtle, but visitors will see triads and triptychs of flowers, artwork and other odds and ends around our house. It’s subtle, but it’s our way of remembering.
We did join a support group. In fact, we participated in two of them. Easily the most helpful was New Hope, which offers grief support programs and services. In fact, it introduced us to some of our closest friends.
And finally, each year, on June 4, Carey and I take the day off. I’m a guy who, though I’m loathe to admit it, isn’t always above working on Christmas. But, for us, June 4 is sacred. No clients, no freelance, no popping into the office to make sure my art director is meeting his deadlines. We design the day specifically to make sure absolutely nothing is going on. On the minute of each of their births, we light a candle to remember. And we then proceed to do whatever we want, which is often very little.
If your’e a grieving parent reading these words, understand that none of the above are obligations. Three years in, Carey and I are winging it, just like you are. If you’re worried you’re going to make the wrong choice, don’t. Your grief is yours and you get to decide how to live in it and through it.
That said, one piece of “don’t” advice for those who have experienced recent loss: don’t put it off. You’ll be tempted to delay decisions about burials and memorials and other things that require fast attention until your head is clearer, but trust me when I say it won’t be easier later. Allow yourself the freedom to choose something less than perfect. Less Than Perfect is going to be the status quo for awhile and you’ll need to find a way to work within that.
Also, one last thing to the newly-grieving parent. It’s been said so many times to Carey and me that we’re in full-blown cliché territory, but it bears repeating, so, begging your forgiveness:
It will always be hard. But it won’t always be this hard.
Today, if you’ve lost a child, you’re in my prayers and my heart is full for you. I’m sorry for your loss. But I’m overjoyed you’re with me, with us, in the world.
2) Rudyard, Desmond and Oscar
3) Saturday, June 4, 2011
5) destroyed, angry, burdened, confused, broken
6) I miss my sons very much