CHD Awareness Week: Assisting the Bereaved

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Because I’ve buried a child, I have become a reference source to those who have loved ones with broken hearts. I never wanted to be the go-to person for advice on how to help a family member or friend through the death of their child, however, I am honored to assist in any way that I possibly can because I know the journey through this loss is cruel and lonely. I know because I lost my Annika when she took her last breath only 48 days after her first.

CHD Awareness Week: Assisting the Bereaved

I don’t think most people realize just how much is lost when a baby dies. You don’t just lose the baby, you also lose the one-, two-, 10-  and 16-year-old that she was going to become. You lose Christmas mornings and loose teeth and first days of school. You lose it all. And it doesn’t end.

The stages of grief are revisited time and time again. Four years later, the day-to-day sadness has subsided, but anniversary dates continue to be ridiculously hard. When Annika died, I didn’t know if I would ever be truly happy again. How could I be? I lost my baby, my daughter, a part of my being.

So, when people ask me how to help a bereaved friend, here’s what I say:

Remember.

When a mother loses her baby, she doesn’t want to hear anything. She doesn’t want to be counselled or even comforted. She wants to be able to talk about her baby, cry it out and, sometimes, be left alone. She wants to know she isn’t alone in her grief and that others are sad, too. Mothers fear their babies will be forgotten. As time goes on, the mother will slowly begin to heal, and so will others. This is when the mother needs a loved one more than ever. She needs to be reminded that others haven’t forgotten about her baby or her pain.

Watch your words.

There are things a mother does not want to hear after losing her baby. For example, she doesn’t want to hear things like “she’s in Heaven now,” “you have your own guardian angel,” “you’ll get to see her again someday” or “you can always have another baby” (Yeah, I was told this—at her funeral!). Sure, these promise hope and seem like a nice thing to say, especially when people have no clue what to say. However, this mother is devastated right now and even angry. She’s experiencing so much grief that likely these statements will bring on feelings of, “WHY ME? WHY MY BABY?” None of the other stuff matters to her right now.

Listen.

In my experience, bereaved mothers begin to talk about their babies less because their story is always the same, they often end in tears. Tears make other people uncomfortable and so these scenarios are avoided. When all the commotion is over and people begin to fade away, the mother will begin feeling lost and alone. Her baby’s life, her funeral, the flowers and the mass amounts of cards will fade into the past, but this is when she needs someone to listen. At the first big family gathering after losing Annika, people avoided me because it was akward for them. The first question one asks someone they haven’t seen in some time is, “How are you?” But, this question is avoided by others in fear they will make the bereaved sad. It feels awful to be avoided because others don’t know what to say, so they say nothing at all. All the mom wants is someone to listen and remember with her.

Honor the anniversary.

Even years down the road a card on the baby’s birth date or the date of her death is greatly appreciated. Random phone calls (if you’re close to the mother) or messages to ask if she needs anything are appreciated. Often, the mother will reply that she doesn’t need anything and that she’s okay, but what she wants is someone to talk to, to reminisce with. She wants to talk about her baby and her grief.

On Annika’s anniversary dates—the day she came to Earth and the day she left—I allow myself to weep with sadness, to physically ache and to cry my heart out. Sometimes it feels good to be incredibly sad because, as times passes, her 48 days seem like a glimpse in time. Almost like a dream. I can’t recall the moments of her life as clearly, or remember her smell. Every memory becomes more distant. As my life passes by, it makes me sad to think it has been that long since I held her in my arms or kissed her sweet cheeks. When I am able to sit and cry and reminisce, I feel close to her. When the sadness and hurt is real, it reminds me that she was real, too.

Though I wondered if I’d ever be happy again, one thing I have learned is that happiness is a choice that requires effort. As much as I miss Annika and as much as the grief still hurts, I choose to appreciate moments more, loved ones more and life more. I choose to be compassionate towards others and remember that everyone I encounter is fighting their own battle. I choose happiness.

Kristina_HornerKristina Horner and her husband have four children. Their second child, Annika, died of multiple heart disorders when she was just 48 days old. Kristina always wanted to be a mother and loves being one, but what she didn’t anticipate was the roller coaster ride that her journey has included. She shares her story on her blog Heartfelt Journey, hoping that her story will help or inspire someone else that is going through something similar.

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Motherhood Doesn't Come with Sick Days

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{Photo credit: ©Steve Lovegrove – Fotolia.com.}

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