Here’s the thing: I loathe positivity culture. Silver linings, making the best of things, gifts in grief, everything happens for a reason – all these platitudes make me itchy and extremely angry. So to start, let me be absolutely clear: Being thankful or experiencing gratitude does not diminish our losses or our grief. I don’t think I can write it much better than I did in my Capture Your Grief post on the topic this year:
Gratitude. I hate this prompt every year. There is this constant push in our culture to “find the silver lining.” To that, I say no. Oberon’s death is not something to put a positive spin on, to find gifts in, or a reason to be more grateful. Grief and gratitude are entirely separate things to me. To borrow and amend a quote from The Doctor – every life is a pile of grief and gratitude. The gratitude doesn’t soften the grief, but vice versa the grief doesn’t spoil the gratitude or make it unimportant. Yes, of course I am grateful for many things. My living children, my husband, my comfortable first-world life. But this gratitude is independent from my grief for Oberon. I do wish people would stop trying to conflate them.
Now that that’s out of the way, I do want to express some gratitude for things in my parenting-after-loss life.
1. My living children.
Parenting after loss is something I am so grateful to be able to do. It helps me enjoy the day-to-day and gives me a future I’m happy to dream about. Of course, I know how delicate life is, but my mantras of “most children live to see adulthood” and “most children outlive their parents” help most days. In addition to these big, sweeping life impacts, I get bedtime stories and snuggles and mispronunciations and curious questions. I get Halloween costumes and visits to the office and swim lessons. I love being a mom. I love it more and more as my kids grow older – I see the increasing depth and breadth of the experience as an opportunity I am lucky to have.
2. My partner.
I am so grateful for my spouse, parent to all my children. I can only speak from my experience, but having a teammate who has been through almost exactly what I have been through is powerful. Not only does he understand and support me in my grief, but I can also see and appreciate how he grieves. He’s a kick-ass parent to all our children, and my love for him and for us grows as well.
3. Rising awareness.
The increased awareness around pregnancy and infant loss in the past decade is incredible. In addition to spawning resources and communities, the rise of awareness in the general public helps me. I don’t have to educate everyone I interact with that yes, babies die and yes, we grieve them. Very few people have told me to “get over it” (to my face), and I believe that is because so many of us have spoken loudly and honestly about what it is like to lose our children. If you’ve ever told your story – in person or online, to an audience of one or many – thank you. You are part of it.
4. Lasting friendships.
In the early days after my son died, I reached out to so many people. Many were other bereaved parents who were also grasping for someone to engage with. Most of these relationships were intense and short-lived. We were incredibly involved for a year or so, but then as children were born and lived, our contact lessened until it was nearly nonexistent. But a few have stayed. A few have crossed over into friendships I expect to last many more years. While our losses may have brought us together, we have bonded over more than that. Our conversations may be light and silly most days, but I know that these women can show up in my darkest moments of grief and depression. They can handle it for me, and I can be there for them.
I look so often at them. They are a tangible reminder that I didn’t make it up. It happened, he was here. I can use these photographs to help my living children understand our family’s story. When I read stories about historical figures and the high numbers of infant mortality in the past, my chest tightens. I think about how different it was for families back then, and my mind always returns to how grateful I am to live in a time where I have photographs.
6. Hearing his name.
There are still a few people in my life who say my son’s name – Oberon. They are unafraid to mention him, even if we are simply making small talk about our lives. Even though it sometimes makes me catch my breath, I am thankful for it every time.
Whether it’s in my own home or at an event, any holiday craft where I get to be creative will be focused on my kids: all of them. Typically at this time of year there are at least a few occasions to get crafty, and I appreciate the push. It can be hard to just invent a DIY project and then find the time to follow-through. Show up where there are a ton of art supplies? Yes, please.
8. Days off work.
The holidays for us are complicated. Oberon’s birthday and anniversary both fall during the holiday season, so there are lots of emotional ups and downs. One thing I rely on is that, at least a few days, I know I’ll be able to unplug from work obligations and tune in 100% to my family. That gives me a little added energy to spend on grieving in addition to parenting my living littles.
9. Family traditions.
My maternal grandmother died when my rainbow was almost 6 months old. We live in another state, and she died less than a month before we were bringing him home to meet the family. It really saddens me that she met none of my children. One of our family traditions gives me an excuse to talk about her – the money tree. It was a holiday game she invented that I played every Christmas Eve growing up. And now, my children play it. I see how people live on in their traditions, and it’s why I am so committed to the traditions we have started in Oberon’s honor.
10. Waking up.
For many months after Oberon died, waking up was neutral at best. I wasn’t actively suicidal (if you are – please reach out for help), but dying seemed like an OK thing. I was not looking forward to anything. I am grateful now that I pushed through all those extremely dark and difficult days. That I kept putting one foot in front of the other. Now, five years down that road, I can say most days I am happy to wake up. I am proud of the family we have become, including how we grieve and carry Oberon in our hearts.