My granddaughter was unexpectedly born still in 2003. My daughter-in-law had a healthy, uneventful, full-term pregnancy. There were no indications of any problems during her labor. The medical staff was as stunned as we were when Madeline was delivered without a heartbeat. My background is in behavioral medicine, and I have worked professionally with bereavement issues for several decades, but none of my education or experience prepared me to cope with the death of my granddaughter. I also felt powerless when it came to providing solace to my son and daughter-in-law.
As I felt my way like a blind person through my grief, I rejected many of the “traditional” concepts I had been taught. The words resolution and closure are meaningless to me. I struggled internally to the point of sheer exhaustion and collapse to make sense of the events. I read everything I could find on stillbirth, grandparents, and bereavement. I attended several months of bereavement counseling. I wrote in my journal constantly. I withdrew from most social interactions and proceeded on my grief journey in search of the new normal I read so much about. I embraced grief yet held life off at a distance.
Recently, I searched my memory and re-read many of my journal entries in an attempt to identify a specific moment or event when I felt as though I had turned the corner. It was more of a gradual realization for me. My earliest thoughts and journal entries saw my grief journey as a path distinctly separate from the rest of my life. Viewing it as a separate path was too limiting and furthered the sense of isolation I felt.
Approximately one year after my granddaughter’s stillbirth, I stopped fighting myself; I realized that my grief journey and my life journey are integrated. Grief is part of life, the journey is intertwined. Once I acknowledged this concept, I began to actively re-engage in living. I believe that embracing the joy of family and friends is to honor my granddaughter, in that I am saying that her brief life was beautiful and worthy.
I used to race through life with a to-do list and a lengthy, detailed itinerary. I’ve slowed down now, which allows time to pay mindful attention to my surroundings. I notice and appreciate the wonders of the natural world to a deeper degree, because I am seeing the beauty not only for me, but for Maddy as well. Bereaved grandmother is part of my identity in my new normal; an important part, perhaps an integral part, but no longer the totality of who I am.
Nina Bennett 2011