By Nina Bennett —
I was used to fixing the problems Timothy, my youngest son, encountered when he was a child. If his older brother knocked down his castle of blocks, I helped him rebuild it. When he fell down learning to walk, I could pick him up. When he tumbled off his bike, I would bandage his scraped knee and send him on his way again. As he made his way through the teenage years, I was there to listen, offer advice if asked, and advocate for him when it was needed. I was faced with many difficult situations while raising two sons, but there was never one I couldn’t at least make better.
When Tim’s daughter Maddy was stillborn, I was finally confronted with something I couldn’t fix. Not only was I unable to fix it, I couldn’t even make it better. The weight of this fall was so great that I didn’t know how to even begin to stand Tim back on his feet. I had no idea of how to parent a bereaved child. As vast and rich as the English language is, I could find no words to ease his pain.
I agonized over every interaction. Should I call him? What should I say? Fearing for his mental health, how many phone calls do I let go unanswered before I intervene? Should I just go to his house and pound on the door? If I don’t call or go over, will he realize that I am trying to be respectful or will he think I don’t care?
I have never felt more powerless in my life. I cried as often and as hard for my son as I did for myself. Not only was I grieving my granddaughter, I was also mourning my son as I had known him. Images of the wonderful man my son had grown to be played through my mind. The look of sheer joy on his wedding day, the excitement in his voice when he called to tell me of his wife’s pregnancy, the exuberance shown while playing with his niece and nephew. The mother in me wanted – no, needed – to take care of him. And yet there was absolutely nothing I could do.
Just as my son had to learn a different kind of parenting when his first child was stillborn, so did I. Eventually, I realized that I could parent Tim by remembering his daughter. As much as I wished to, I couldn’t bear his grief for him But I could share it.
Rather than exhibit a misguided facade of emotional control, I could be honest in showing my son how much I love and miss his daughter. She has no physical presence in this world, but I do. I can tell her story, I can give witness to her life and I can ensure her place in our family. Through my writing and speaking, I can let my son see the impact on others of his daughter’s stillbirth.
An essential part of parenting is to set an example for your children, to instill your values and beliefs by living them. In an effort to display unconditional love, I embraced and supported the decisions my son made when his daughter was stillborn without attempting to influence them.
One of the most important life lessons I’ve learned from Maddy is to appreciate the beauty of the journey. Too often in life we rush through the journey, intent on reaching the destination. In some instances, the destination becomes the journey. I can parent my bereaved son by showing him that it is possible to reinvest in living, that there is still joy to be found, and that the journeys of his life, while not always what he would wish them to be, are indeed beautiful.
copyright 2006 Nina Bennett. It was originally published by Kota Press in their online publication, Different Kind of Parenting.
Nina Bennett has 4 grandchildren, one of whom was unexpectedly born still following a healthy full-term pregnancy. She has worked in reproductive health since 1976, and was a childbirth educator for nearly 10 years. A healthcare professional and frequently requested guest lecturer, Nina presents talks and workshops locally and nationally. She is the Principal Investigator of an IRB-approved research study looking at how grandparents incorporate perinatal loss into their families.
Nina is a social activist who gives voice to the often silent grief of grandparents through her writing and speaking. Her articles and poetry have appeared in the anthology Mourning Sickness, The Broadkill Review, Slow Trains Literary Journal, Grief Digest, the News Journal, A.G.A.S.T., Different Kind of Parenting, M.I.S.S.ing Angels, and Living Well Journal. Nina is the author of Forgotten Tears A Grandmother?s Journey Through Grief. Proceeds from her book are donated to MISS Foundation/AGAST, and other agencies supporting families bereaved by the death of a baby.