Residual Grief

Early in my grief journey, I discovered that most people assumed we had packed up and moved on, so to speak, not long after our son, Jonathan, was stillborn. They thought our sorrow was behind us, not to be thought of much again just because months had passed, and we had managed to pick up some of the pieces of our brokenness and had begun to live a little again. And honestly, I may have naively assumed that to some degree as well. I thought once I got through most of the “firsts,” I’d be much better emotionally. Getting past my due date, enduring the holidays, and limping through his 1st birthday did patch a lot of the sorrow, but I did not expect triggers to continue to crop up years later. We tend to think of a mourning period as a tidy length of time. Start to finish. Beginning to end. But, understand there is no specific end. There are messy, unexpected, spilled emotions that have yet to be dealt with – and can’t be dealt with until the proper time.

For example, 14 months after Jonathan’s death, our living son started preschool three days a week. While most stay-at-home moms are ready for this reprieve – with hours to themselves – I was devastated. Not only was I sad that my firstborn was growing up, I was sad because I should not have been alone those days. I should have had a 1-year old at home with me. Those ugly, raw emotions hit again a few years later when it would have been time for Jonathan to walk through those same pre-school doors, then the next year when he should have been in his little Kindergarten uniform, attending the same school as his big brother. And yet again when I knew he would have likely started playing organized sports. Then there was middle school, high school, his 16th birthday, prom, and horrifically, graduation! One of the most unexpected leftover grief episodes that hit me was when our living son got married, and his brother couldn’t be his best man. And again, when there have been a handful of deaths in my family and I’m reunited with that gut-wrenching, too familiar and hated, sorrow. 

I’m now 22 years into my grief journey. Just as well meaning people thought we were over our loss many years ago, I’m sure some would be shocked to know there are days, or seasons, when I become sorrowful again. My husband and I have a great, content life with a beautifully large extended family we’re extremely close to, but deep down, a sorrow remains. Our living son and daughter-in-law live in another state, which gives us a great place to visit, but sometimes on holidays, their absence, when it’s just Byron and me attending family events without kids, makes Jonathan’s and our miscarried baby’s losses magnified.

Again, we’re reminded of who is missing and wonder what our life would be like if those two had lived and been a part of our family. Thankfully, through the Lord, the vast majority of my days after so many years are full of happiness, love, and joy, and I feel very fulfilled and satisfied. But I’d be less than honest if I said I am 100% past the sadness of losing my baby 22 years ago. I often wonder what my grief journey would look like had I not founded M.E.N.D. one year after Jonathan’s stillbirth. Because of M.E.N.D., I have numerous friends just like me – they too understand the grief of losing a baby and know the sorrow never ends. Like me, they mourned when their babies should have started school or turned sweet 16, and many of them have gone through an academic year when their “baby” should have graduated and gone on to college. And some of us are now in that period when we wonder if we would be in the middle of planning a wedding. They get it, and we’re all in it together for a lifetime.

So, what do I do when I hit these remaining low points that will continue to come? I allow myself to be sad for a period of time. I feel it, I express it, I soak in it for a bit, and then I go on. I focus on the blessings God has given me. I thank Him for M.E.N.D., and how He turned my sorrow into unspeakable joy and goodness, and I remember that one day all my tears will be wiped away and eternal joy, with no more sadness, is just around the corner.

♥ Rebekah Mitchell, Mommy to Jonathan Daniel and Baby Mitchell M.E.N.D.—President/Founder