Loneliness and Loss

Not so long ago, I met a young couple who had unexpectedly lost their newborn baby shortly after birth. Upon my first seeing them, their heads were bowed and their eyes were downcast. Both appeared lost in another world, detached from their surroundings, a millions miles away from the people standing a few feet from them. They were isolated and alone in their grief and their shock.

I have lately come across many couples in similar circumstances, more than usual, anyway: expectant parents expecting a stillborn, mothers who have just learned the baby they carry suffers from a fatal defect, new parents whose joy has shattered into heartbreak. Having lost our own newborn daughter to anencephaly three years ago today, I can relate, and I can sympathize, and I can understand the loneliness that this loss brings, and yet grief creates a chasm that not even the grieving and those who’ve grieved can fully bridge.  I still don’t know what to say.  I still lack the words because there are none.

All around us are acquaintances, strangers and maybe even friends carrying a secret grief, their world turned upside-down. Happy inquiries and compliments sting instead of cheer.  Sympathy is heard as if expressed from an infinite distance. The merry sights and sounds of life serve as unwelcome mementos of an impending death. Loss brings loneliness because in so many ways it stifles communication and therefore communion.  The broken heart breaks open the meaning of every expression, every “How are you?” and every “Hello,” filling it with opaque sadness.

In a way, funerals provide an avenue toward restoring this communion, if only incompletely and only for a time. They occasion the sharing of grief, the broken communication between broken hearts. For an hour, the lonely meet to share a lonely world, but then they must return to the humdrum of life and the solitude of a kept secret.

_____

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14 thoughts on “Loneliness and Loss

  1. Kyle, no parent should ever outlive their child. Heartfelt sympathy might ring from lightyears away but it is still heartfelt and it is still sympathy. Believe in an afterlife so you can be reunited.

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  2. Home Burial by Robert Frost:

    She withdrew, shrinking from beneath his arm
    That rested on the banister, and slid downstairs;
    And turned on him with such a daunting look,
    He said twice over before he knew himself:
    “Can’t a man speak of his own child he’s lost?”

    “Not you!—Oh, where’s my hat? Oh, I don’t need it!
    I must get out of here. I must get air.—
    I don’t know rightly whether any man can.”

    “Amy! Don’t go to someone else this time.
    Listen to me. I won’t come down the stairs.”
    He sat and fixed his chin between his fists.
    “There’s something I should like to ask you, dear.”

    “You don’t know how to ask it.”

    “Help me, then.”

    Her fingers moved the latch for all reply.

    “My words are nearly always an offense.
    I don’t know how to speak of anything
    So as to please you. But I might be taught,
    I should suppose. I can’t say I see how.
    A man must partly give up being a man
    With womenfolk. We could have some arrangement
    By which I’d bind myself to keep hands off
    Anything special you’re a-mind to name.
    Though I don’t like such things ‘twixt those that love.
    Two that don’t love can’t live together without them.
    But two that do can’t live together with them.”
    She moved the latch a little. “Don’t—don’t go.
    Don’t carry it to someone else this time.
    Tell me about it if it’s something human.
    Let me into your grief. I’m not so much
    Unlike other folks as your standing there
    Apart would make me out. Give me my chance.
    I do think, though, you overdo it a little.
    What was it brought you up to think it the thing
    To take your mother-loss of a first child
    So inconsolably—in the face of love.
    You’d think his memory might be satisfied——”

    “There you go sneering now!”

    “I’m not, I’m not!”
    You make me angry. I’ll come down to you.
    God, what a woman! And it’s come to this,
    A man can’t speak of his own child that’s dead.”

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  3. When I was 6 weeks along with my second child, I started bleeding.
    Of course I immediately saw my OBGYN who hadn’t even seen me yet for my first official pregnancy visit. He ran a few tests (this was 22 years ago), but basically he told me that there might be something wrong with the fetus and that I might be miscarrying and that if I did, it was nature taking charge blah blah blah. It all fell on deaf ears because all I knew was that I stood to lose the child inside me that I already loved. But truthfully, I loved that child even before she was conceived.

    22 years later, that very child is a senior in college. Not a single day goes by that I’m not deeply thankful that I didn’t, in fact, lose her to “nature’s way”.

    I have a friend who lost her beloved daughter to a car accident. Her daughter was a freshman in college at the time, while my firstborn was just 18 months. At the wake, we didn’t just hug. We clung to one another in some kind of unspoken understanding of the unique pain that defines that kind of grief. In choking sobs, I told her I didn’t think I could bear the pain of losing my child. She said back to me, “For as hard as it is for you to imagine the pain, imagine how hard it is to part with your baby after 18 years.”

    It doesn’t matter how old they are. If we lose a child, we grieve in a way that we don’t grieve for anyone else. It’s a grief I pray I never know, and a grief for which I hold the very deepest of sympathies.

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  4. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget
    Falls drop by drop upon the heart,
    And in our own despite, against our will,
    Comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.
    – Robert F. Kennedy, interpreting Æschylus

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  5. Kyle, thank you for writing about your loss. You always have my condolences and thoughts. I have never had the experience of losing a newborn. I can try to imagine, and all I know is that that pain is deep.

    Your line about happy inquiries struck a chord: between my first and second child, I had a pregnancy where a heartbeat was detected. Then, at the seventh week, a second ultrasound showed that there was no longer a heartbeat. Later that day of the ultrasound, and before I had a D & C, I went to a store with my oldest son. Someone asked me if he had any brothers or sisters. I don’t even remember what I said.

    Three months later, I was pregnant again, with the kiddo who turned out to have Ridiculously Rare syndrome. Whom I never would have had if the baby in between had lived.

    I miss the sense of pure joy and reassurance that everything about our kids will all turn out fine. I miss the light-hearted way I was a mother before I had sensed loss for my children.

    Now, when people see my kid with disabilities, sometimes they come and tell me something that has happened to them. Someone they know or love who is sick or disabled or who has died. Sometimes I don’t want to hear it. Most of the time, I do.

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  6. My beloved friend across the country was expecting her first child when I received the most awful message from her on my answering machine “something terrible happened”. It was the hardest phone call I ever had to return because I knew our impending joy had turned into the tragedy of a stillbirth. No reason, it just happened. I called her every few days and mostly we would just cry together through the telephone wires. Grief is so nonlinear. That was 15 years ago. I was in a cemetery recently tending family graves and stumbled on a section I did not know named Babyland. I read the little headstones and straightened up the stuffed toys and trinkets. The evidence of devotion and thwarted parental love affected me deeply in the late summer dusk. I sat on a bench and cried for them, and my much wanted 12 week old fetus that couldn’t hang on and for Kiera, my friend’s daughter, never to be born. Thanks for your stories. They help make the experience less lonely. We are so lucky to live in the modern age where these losses are relatively infrequent compared to the past.
    Cover her face.
    Mine eyes dazzle; she died young.
    John Webster

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