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Walking with Grief during Joy

Loss, the feelings of loss, are not linear. They do not start big and overwhelming and then taper off into nothingness over time.

Loss is a heartbeat or the waves of the oceans. It comes and goes. Sometimes there is stillness and then sometimes something blows in like the wind and the waves grow large and shore-changing. That and everything in between.

It is something that nobody wants to hear the first time that they experience that deep down in-the-bones grief, that grief becomes a part of your life. When it first enters your life, it soaks into every part of you and your world. Even the little pieces of day-to-day life seem touched by loss, like cooking or brushing your teeth.

It sits inside and aches for ages, sometimes leaving you breathless with pain, until one day it's a little less inside and a little more just to the side. Maybe you don't even notice at first. Maybe it's only looking back months or years later, but grief begins to be less of something that saturates you and your life and becomes more of a presence that walks beside you. It is still a part of your world, but not as it was. You learn to live alongside it.

Still, there are times where those thoughts and feelings of loss and longing for our loved ones who have died fill us with notes of how our grief was back then. It can be stinging and unexpected, especially when it is brought about in the face of joy.

I have felt this at times since the loss of my father. I will have accomplished something he would be proud of me for, or I will be working on a project he would be interested in, and my heart will ache with missing him. Recently, it has been the joy of finding the love of my life and planning my wedding. I know how happy he would be for me and how much he would adore my partner...and I grieve. I grieve for the things that he will never get to do. I grieve for never getting to walk me down the aisle or dancing with me at my reception. I grieve for the day I could have put his first grandbaby into his arms and for the silly nicknames that he would have created for them. I grieve so many things that have only just become real in the face of happiness.

The same can be true as you prepare for the birth of your first child after a pregnancy loss. Your rainbow baby. During a time that you feel that sense of joy and expectation, there it is:

The grief. The longing. The remembrance. The heaviness. The feeling in your chest that feels like it is reaching towards a shadow in the shape of your lost child and your parenthood.

It can feel unfair to have this mix of happiness and sorrow all at once. The birth of a child should just be a time of celebration, love, and joy. Yet, there it is mixed in with the baby showers, midwife and OB visits, the planning with your doula, and the decisions over infant feeding and disposable vs. cloth diapers.

The heartache. The memories. The tears you hoped would be done. You grieve again, maybe even just for a birth experience without the touch of loss.

Here you are at one of life's many doors. This door is the one that will lead you to your rainbow baby. You look to that shadowy companion beside you, the one you have learned to walk with, and you see that it isn't only made of sadness and hurt, but also with all of the strength and knowledge that came with navigating death and loss. You see the path you walked while it was everywhere and then when it became the companion at your side. You see that there is as much of you in its structure as the loss that created it. Your sadness, yes, but your courage as well.

It is bittersweet, but you see that it has walked with you to this moment, a witness to your pain and a witness to your strength. However your baby is born, whatever happens, you stand at the door to the next chapter, take a deep breath, and walk over the threshold with your grief into joy.

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