Ever since I have read this paragraph these words have been repeating in my head every time I receive a hug. Last week was my first week back at work. Returning to work has been much harder than I anticipated. I could not really pin point what they were until I talked with the MEND (mommies enduring neonatal death) group last week. One it was a place where I have lots of memories of being pregnant. The last time I spent time there I was so excited and happy, now I am anxious, weepy and sad there. Thoughts of things I should be talking about with my coworkers came flooding into my mind. I have been gone for two months, I should be telling them all about how my sweet baby Marcus is doing. Instead I am thinking about what I have been doing the past two months...no one wants to hear the dark places I have been. Another thing that makes returning to work hard is the fact that I can no longer have 100% control over who I let in. When I was staying home I could choose to only leave the house on days I felt strong. I could choose who I let come over and talk. I had the option of laying on the couch all day if I was having a weak day. I never know what feelings the next day will bring so I never know if I will feel strong enough to tell a customer that my baby died when they unknowingly ask how he is doing. Will I be able to make it through the work day without a complete break down?
I feel so fragile at work. It is so strange because at times I know I look normal on the outside but I know how quickly I can be broken by a particular song, words, a pregnant woman, a crying baby, something totally unexpected! Last week someone said "wow this year is flying by," simple statement but I had to hold back tears. I was thinking the time is dragging so slowly! I cannot wait until the end of the year! This has been the worst year of my entire life and I am ready for it to be OVER!
Then I feel like crying again. I think wait...how can I say this has been the worst year of my life. I was the happiest I had ever been in my life while I was carrying my sweet Marcus. Seven months of this year were the best months in my entire life! This is just one example of a downward emotional spiral spurred by an everyday conversation.
One of my concerns the week before I came back was how I would be treated at work. I was afraid that people would expect me to be back to normal. I was afraid I would make people uncomfortable if I cried. I was afraid they would be annoyed with me if I need a few extra breaks during a busy time or if I just could not handle it and needed to leave early.
Well I did break down several times last week. I did need extra time in the back. I did have to leave early four out of the five days I worked. I was making drinks Saturday morning on drive through bar and I was silently crying, tears were streaming down my face as I made lattes and I know the lady in the car at the window had to have noticed. I cry on the way home most days because I feel so much emotion throughout the work day and I just need to get it out.
But I did realize that my fears about my coworkers were unfounded. I am so grateful that I am surrounded by such a wonderful group of people at work. They have truly made me feel loved. They made me feel comfortable and did not shy away from my tears. When I cried they hugged me and I thought about them taking a shovel for me and it helped. I shared this metaphor with a few people and my boss Jenny said something that was really special to me, she said "forget a shovel....I'll take a wheelbarrow."
I anticipate that break downs at work will come fewer and father between as time progresses but I know there are more to come. I won't be able to predict them and that is a source of anxiety but I am comforted in knowing that I work with great people who will be there to help me up.
A lot of the BLM's (baby loss mammas) in the MEND group have shared that the support they initially received tapered off quickly and they were left with just a few special people who were there to stick it out with them.
"At some of the darkest moments in my life, some people I thought of as friends deserted me. Some because they cared about me and it hurt them to see me in pain; others because I reminded them of their own vulnerability, and that was more than they could handle. BUT real friends overcame their discomfort and came to sit with me. If they had not words to make me feel better, they sat in silence and I loved them for it." - Harold Kushner
This great book tear soup also puts it very well. It is about an old woman who has suffered a big loss in her life and she is cooking a batch of "tear soup." Tear Soup gives a glimpse into her life as she blends the different ingredients into her own grief process.
"There were also days when Grandy hungered for a thoughtful ear. Sometimes she would ask total strangers, "Care to join me in a bowl of tear soup?" "No thanks," most would reply, "I don't have tome for tear soup today." Even some of Grandy's friends hurried past her house and pretended not to notice the aroma of tear soup coming through her open door. Most people can tolerate only a cup of someone else's tear soup. The giant bowl, where Grandy could repeatedly share her sadness in great detail, was left for a few willing friends."
The simplest things that some of you have CONTINUED doing for me really do help. Your quick emails and texts that let me know your thinking of me have helped to brighten many of my dark days. I really have discovered who those true friends are. It is easy for me to sit around and think about how unlucky I am but I am reminded by you that I am blessed. I read that most people can tolerate another's loss for about a month before wanting the bereaved person to get back to normal. I have so many REAL friends who are continuing to offer support even when others have ceased to do so. I am not afraid to ask for your help. I still need you and I will continue to need you for a long time.
So please, take what you can. A spoon, a cup, or a bowl of my tear soup or a shovel...maybe even a wheelbarrow from my mountain. When it is your turn in the kitchen I will help you.
If your friend is the one making Tear Soup:
- Be there for your friend, even when you don't understand.
- Be a source of comfort by listening, laughing, and crying
- Stick close to your friend and defend their right to grieve.
- Allow your friend to make mistakes... or at least to grieve differently from the way you would grieve.
- Send flowers.
- Send cards. The message doesn't need to be long. Just let them know you haven't forgotten them. Send one every few weeks for a while.
- Call your friend. Don't worry about being a bother. Let your friend tell you if they don't want to talk about their loss right now.
- Answering machines and e-mail are great ways to keep in touch, allowing the bereaved person to respond only when they feel up to it.
- Try to anticipate what your friend may need. Bereaved persons sometimes don't know what to ask for.
- Avoid offering easy answers and platitudes. This only invalidates the grief.
- Be patient. Don't try to rush your friend through their grief.
- Give your friend permission to grieve in front of you. Don't change the subject or tell them not to cry or act uncomfortable when they do cry.
- Ask them questions. But don't tell them how they should feel.
- Invite your friend to attend events together, as you normally would. Let them decide if they don't want to attend.
- Don't assume because your friend is having a good day that it means they are over their loss.
- Be mindful of holidays, birthdays and anniversaries.