Monday, April 13, 2009

10 Months - Long Term Care

Periodically, I think it is good to give a real dose of what it is like in the grieving process from where I stand. I also think it is especially important to give tips to all of you on how to treat people who have suffered a loss like mine. I like to call these Long Term Care tips. 

Just as with any major surgery, there are different stages of recovery with their own challenges. Depending on how major the surgery, the recovery period varies. It will also vary by the individual, based on a variety of factors ranging from how healthy they were before the injury to the dumb luck of which patient gets an unrelated infection or has complications arise. 

The same is true for any great loss. The loss of a child, especially a young child, has particular challenges that span far deeper into the psychological realm than other types of more common loss. It feels like the physical equivalent of losing a limb. Okay so I haven't lost a limb, but losing a child has so many commonalities that I feel as if I have. 

Like losing a limb, after the loss of a child, you are never the same. A child is flesh of your flesh. A young child depends on your for life. As children grow they become more separate physically, psychologically, and emotionally. But that is a gradual process. Young children still feel very much like a part of you in every sense. To have one die feels like a part of you dies. There just is no such thing as being the same after such a loss.

Like an amputee, your wound does heal to a certain extent. It becomes non life threatening. You learn over time to live with your handicap. But the physical healing does not happen as quickly to the psyche. Like an amputee, there are phantom pains that last (as far as I can tell) your whole life through. Perhaps they lessen in frequency, but from what I gather from those I know personally who have lived decades without their child and seem to all the world to have "moved on," those feelings of pain and loss can come back with freshness at a moments notice.

And from my own experience so far I can say that sometimes you NEED them to. Sometimes you need to mourn and feel and know that your child was real. Their reality comes to you in the pain you feel in separation. There is nothing wrong with feeling this pain as the years go by. It is a healthy part of mourning, grieving, and living without someone you love.

Now to the psychological aspect of these wounds. For me personally, this is the hardest part of this loss. I consider myself a strong minded person. But this loss is so much bigger than me. It is like a strong swimmer facing the power of the ocean. In calm waters I am fine to float on my back, but when the winds blow ... I often find myself at the mercy of the sea and its overpowering waves.

Let me highlight a few of the my own waves. First is the wave of anxiety. I am an optimist by nature. But this loss has robbed me of the "things like that happen to other people" mentality. I used to be calm in the face of possible harm. I no longer have that luxury. Now that I live with this pain, I have greater anxiety when reinjury seems even remotely possible. I fight against this. I hate that I feel this. But I do. 

When we were in Cancun we lost track of Sabrina on the beach for a few minutes. I thought she had headed up to the bathroom and after Jon came back not having found her, I panicked. I would not have done this before. But now... well it was as if I was back in that day all over again. All the while Sabrina was just 20 or 30 feet away playing in the sand. That scare kept me up all night. I couldn't calm my nerves. The panic ... a feeling not natural to me ... just wouldn't leave me.

I fight against the heightened anxiety I feel about my children's safety everyday. This is especially true anytime we are around water. I feel my heart race when I see a pool without a gate now. If my spa gate is left unlocked on accident it sets my heart in a panic. If my kids leave a bathtub full after they get out my stress level skyrockets. 

Logically, I know that there is no absolute prevention of accidents. I know this in my head. But this anxiety is beyond my control. I fight it and try not to let it show, but I feel it and I do all I can to avoid being in situations that give life to it.

A second wave is the intrinsic feeling of failure. No matter how well my children are doing, no matter how many times logic tells me I am doing fine as a mother, there is an innate feeling of failure as a mother when you have failed to keep your child alive. This is true in accident cases, even accidents that everyone would agree were unavoidable. It is also true in many cases of natural death as well. A mother's instinct to protect her child can not be underestimated. 

A third wave is the misconception that spiritual truths take away the pain of this loss. Spiritual teachings and faith do give us hope. But, they do not lessen the pain. In the blessing Elder Clayton gave me just after Camille died, he blessed me that I would be able to experience my grief normally and fully. He blessed me with grief sufficient to allow me to heal normally over time, but not above my ability to endure. 

The gospel does not take grief away from us. Rather, it gives us hope through the grief and it teaches us to look to the Savior to help us walk on the water when the tempest is raging. My husband was counseled to be patient with me in my grief. It is different for him than it is for me. Everyone finds their own path through grief. We all enter from different places and have different obstacles along our way. 

Because of this, we simply cannot judge another's grief process. We can only love them, pray for them, listen to them with as much understanding as we can, and know that they are ultimately in the Saviors hands.

So now let me turn to the DOs and DO NOTs of how to treat people at 10 months out.

Do expect that we are still grieving. Maybe not as often as before, but don't be surprised if we break down in tears once in a while. Know that this is normal and natural and don't be so worried that this needs to stop. We ought not to rush past our grief. Certainly the Savior did not.

Do be patient, open, loving and supportive when we feel like opening up. If you haven't been through this, you cannot understand. We know that. It is easier to talk openly to someone who freely admits they are not going to understand but will be supportive no matter what than someone who wants so much to understand that they try to put themselves in your shoes and judge the way you are grieving.

Do be gentle with us. I have particularly appreciated how gentle my bishop has been with me. He has not felt this himself but is mindful that this is a long journey through healing. He lets me know that I am welcome to come to him when the grief gets hard. He knows it comes in waves over a long period of time. He is mindful and watchful of me at times he thinks things might be difficult for me. I very much appreciate this.

My family is gentle with me as well. This is a great blessing to me. We all process this loss differently. For some it is easier not to revisit the past or to think much about Camille. This is simply not an option for me. I allow those in my family who would rather avoid that right and am not offended by it. We all get through it any way we can. They in turn do not judge me in my grieving process. They don't put a timeline on when I should be "better."

There are times that I get feeling really heavy with the grief and feeling very alone in my suffering. Last month I had been feeling this way for weeks. I felt unable to express it and did not want to have to explain it. One night I stayed up till 4 something in the morning spilling out my feelings to a sister in law who is acquainted with grief. She lost her mother very suddenly when she was in her early twenties and still single. It isn't the same as losing a child and she knows that, but this sister in law understands what it is to grieve. 

I hadn't planned on this impromptu therapy session but her open, non judgemental, accepting attitude made me feel safe revealing dark emotions I had a hard time admitting even to myself. The best part was I felt so much better after having talked to her. Sure I couldn't function very well the next day due to the lack of sleep, but many of the dark emotions that had been weighing on me so heavily felt lifted just in my expressing of them. 

Perhaps these dark emotions will return again. I am learning that often issues you think you are done with do find a way of returning through one trigger or another. I am glad to know that I have safe places to turn to express these dark emotions without fear of judgement or worry that I am not getting "better." 

Another DO -- Do anything you can to help ease the psychological stumbling blocks that trouble us. Family especially should affirm over and over that we are doing okay as moms. I do this with my own kids affirming over and over that they were good sisters to Camille and that she appreciates them and loves them. We need to hear this. 

Do try to help them avoid situations where anxiety is bound to be high. We had only had our spa for 5 days when Camille drowned. I wouldn't let anyone near it and asked my father to handle the matter of getting a gate put around it. I know a gate is not a cure all answer. But that gate provides me with a great source of peace of mind. 

Be patient with our paranoia. I hate paranoia. I hate it in others and I hate it especially in myself. But here I am stuck with it and it isn't going away so I am having to learn to be patient with it and accept that it is just a part of me for now. We may forgo certain activities or events because of our paranoia. Don't take it personally. Just realize some events are not worth the anxiety or return of grief they will cause us.

Do not worry about us. I know this is hard for those who love us most. Mom's want to "fix" their kids hurts. But some hurts are unfixable. Limbs lost will not be restored until the resurrection. We will miss and mourn the loss of our limb till then. But we mourn with hope and we are learning to function fairly well despite the loss. Your worry is an added burden, your confidence in us lightens our load. 

The Savior has confidence in us. He walks beside us with perfect understanding. Even through the darkest hours He is with us. Even for those of us who are angry at Him, He stands patiently beside us waiting to help us. Oh that we all could be like Him, the grievers and those who love us and are trying to support us. 


Brittany said...

What a great post. Thank you.

Andrea said...

Beautiful! Thank you for expressing things so well.

Jolene said...

I am so grateful for your blog. You are truly an inspired sister in Zion and a wonderful mom. Don't doubt yourself -- you are a shining example of faith and courage to so many -- in probably the most trying time of your life. What better example could you be to your girls (and all of us)? I understand pieces of what you are dealing with, as I lost a son at birth. It's comforting in so many ways to share in your grief. Each time, I feel a little more "normal." The gospel does give us hope, but the pain is sometimes more than we ever thought imaginable. We'll just keep on the "straight and narrow" that leads us to eternal joy. I appreciate you sharing your life and your "angel" Camille with all of us.

Anonymous said...

Well done Stephanie.

A friend of mine is helping her friend through the loss of her young husband. I sent her links to a few of your earlier posts on helping someone who is grieving. I am going to send this one through to her too.

Love and hugs to you


The Stevens Family said...

I love reading your posts. You have so much spiritual insight and it has helped me to understand and look at trials in my life with a different perspective.

Rach said...

Beautifully written and stated, Steph. Thank you for saying the words that are in my heart.

I'll never forget the panic I felt the day I thought we had lost Lily somewhere. It lingers and is powerful and terrifying. You are NEVER the same after losing a small child. NEVER.

Shanan said...

I can't imagine the strength it took the write this post. Steph, we love you. We think and pray for you and your family often.

Love - Shanan & Aaron

P.S. After having first hand experience for over 2 years of watching you parent your two little girls (at the time), there is one thing I know for certain - you are a wondeful, patient, and loving mother. There is so much I learned from you. I will be a better mother because I was able to 'shadow' you for the time that I did.

Abby said...

This is perfect. Thank you.

Sue said...

Enlightening thoughts and insightful suggestions. Thank you for sharing them.

As your wonderful life goes forward, may you always feel the "angels round about you to bear you up" during your most difficult moments.

Samantha said...

Well said! I believe that we grieve as long as we are living in human form. It may not be as consuming as it is in the days, weeks, and months following a death of someone you love, but it is always there and a very simple thing can trigger it. TC, Sam

Lena Baron said...

Stephanie, thank you for sharing your heart with us. I lost my twin daughters two years ago. I can very much relate to the struggles that you mentioned in this post. In fact I have blogged about them (and how I have been comforted through them at times)on my blog I just thought I would share my experiences with you. My thoughts and prayers are with you. Especially during these last weeks of pregnancy that are so exausting and exciting physically and emotionally! God Bless!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing Stephenie. Almost 8 years ago my 5 year old (at the time) son was hit by a car. He spent some time in the hopsital with a broken pelvis and bruises but has since recovered. My experience does not compare to the loss that you have experienced, but I can relate to the anxiety you described that was not a daily part of my life before the accident. You said it perfectly when you said that you no longer feel like "those things happen to other people." I am continuously trying to work on being less anxious about my children growing up and not having control over things that are out of my control. I will will keep you in my prayers.

Amanda said...

I am always praying for you!

larsen family said...

Perfect, thank you!

Angela said...

That was well written and very powerful. I thank you for your advice and your concern for me. You are truly an angel to me.

Bill, Angela, Ryan and Sierra said...

wow! As a therapist I think I know alot about people...psychologically, emotionally, etc. But you teach me so much. Thanks for sharing the wisdom and ache with helps me understand and be more compassionate. You are a wonderful mom, wife and friend. We thought about you yesterday.....we drove to Reno and back this past weekend.....passed right by your house. wished we had time to stop and say hello.....but we barely had time to stop and pee! :) Love to you all!

Anonymous said...

I love you. Is that crazy to say to someone I have never met and do not know personally? I love you for your testimony and openess. I love you for the lessons that you teach me. I love how inspiring your strength is and your strength in your weakness is. You are inspiring and uplifting and truthfully you make me want to be a better be and a better mom. Thank you for your openess!

Anonymous said...

This was probably one of my favorites posts of yours. I have always had little bits of anxiety, fear of someone drowning, fear of kidnapping or someone breaking into my home, it's been manageable but annoying. 6months ago someone broke into my home and turned my anxiety from manageable annoyance to a life sentence of fear and despair in my own home. I know it doesn't even touch the surface of the grief you describe, but I know something within me is very different now. I can't control the physical reaction my body has when I hear something, see something off or dream something horrible. My body reacts in a way I hate, but can't control. My husband doesn't share these same feelings which makes me feel like there is something wrong with me. I fear my kids drowning, our safety at home and many other things as well. And just when time passes and I feel like I get better, something triggers me to take a few steps back and have to face the life sentence of being scared in my own home. I appreciate your thoughts and find comfort in knowing I'm not alone in my anxiety stricken life. I will pray for your continued healing and am grateful for your thoughts on what to do and not to do in helping someone who has had to bear the unthinkable. I find comfort in your words often and hug my 3children more in honor of your sweet daughter you can't hold! May you continue to be blessed in all that you do.

Jennie said...

What a great post! You always can explain yourself in ways that is easy for me to understand. Thank you for helping me know what is best to do for a grieving mom. My best friend lost her daughter 11 years ago. I only wish I had known what to do then. I know she says the day to day gets easier, but unexpectedly still, something brings it fresh to the surface. I think you are doing a wonderful job as a mom. If I could emulate your parenting style, I would be so happy. I can understand where you talked about forgoing certain events etc, because of fear, or pain it would involve. I know this does not compare in any way to your loss, but I can empathisize with you in that area. My husband and I went through many years of infertility. It was so hard for me to go to baby showers. I was happy for the event, and for those having babies, but to go sometimes was more than I could handle. I always hoped people would see that I was genuinely happy for them- I just couldn't always participate in the way I would like to. I am glad that you have loving and supportive people around you. I am sure they all understand. You gave a beautiful analogy of someone losing a limb. Thank you for your honesty, and openness. My prayers are with you and your family still. (On a side note...I wore my "Camille" bracelet on Easter Sunday, and got several comments on how beautiful it was.)

Susy said...


Kelsi said...

You are amazing!You are such a inspiration Your children are blessed beyond measure to have such a great Mom! I love the way you write! I love your honesty! Thank you for sharing your tender thoughts!

Chelsa said...

beautiful post- i love it. especially only being 2 1/2 months out in grieving the loss of my precious andon.

The Tehvand Trio said...

You summed it up so perfectly. Thank you. And I'm glad I'm not the only one.

My thoughts have been with you this week as I know your 10 month anniversary is here as was mine, and our sweet baby angels are celebrating their second birthdays on Sunday.

I hope this week is kind to you and your family as you pass this first birthday without Camille.

It's my hope beyond hope that our sweet little girls are going to have the best birthday they could ever imagine up in Heaven.

taguefamily said...

this is amazing and so helpful to know how to be and help those dealing with this kind of a loss. thank you! Amazing just Amazing!

DeANNA said...

Wow, how I wish I could have read these words 9 years ago when my 16 year old sister in law was suddenly killed in a single vehicle car accident. While my husband and I grieved, we had no idea what my mother in law was going through and could not understand the times we thought she was going insane because of this grief.

We even discussed how it is possible to hurt more from losing a child you have lived with longer and grown more with than an infant because we have lost an infant.... I don't know which is true, I just wish I could go back and change how we managed those days, weeks, years..... since... NOW I CAN SEE MORE CLEARLY!

Thank you for the brutally honest and eye opening post!!

{ Bethany } said...


Thanks so much for being willing to "go there" and explain a little more how it is for those of us who've lost children. I know all of us moms on the angel children blog tend to hide from the world so many of our true feelings. Sometimes it may come across that we are doing better than we really are. We must put on a "happy face" for the world, even in our "sad" posts. I feel like I can't really expose my darkest of dark days to *anyone*, or people would think I was crazy. Its a long, lonely journey.

I can't agree more that what we REALLY need is someone to LISTEN and to LOVE us. Period. Thats it. Give me your shoulder, don't try to understand, don't judge me, just listen and love me. I am SO grateful for such wonderful family and friends who do this for me. It makes grieving so much "easier" when I know I have people to lean on who won't feed me gospel "fluff" or "At least..."s, they just listen and love. A little patience goes a long way!


Rey and Meegan said...

Thank you for sharing your grief with us. It helps our own faith and hope become stronger. Grief does come in waves. And your emotions are raw. That IS the process. I am so happy you are healing and honest with yourself during this process. That makes a big difference! I have a friend that lost a wife suddenly-he counseled me when a mutual friend lost her husband. He said, "Don't hide your head, or ignore her when she walks by. Acknowledge her, love her. That IS what she needs." I have thought of that often as I have read your blog. I don't know you, but I pray for you. I love you and your family. I will continue to pray as you walk this road. Bless your heart, Stephanie. For helping the rest of us walk this road.

Anonymous said...

Posts like this give me insight on what my grandmother went through after losing her only son. My mother had a hard time dealing with her mother's grief and paranoia, and still holds it against her. With my grandmother, her grief was such that she couldn't even bring herself to take a bath for many years after my uncle drowned in a river. She couldn't care for her children, barely could care for herself- my mom had to pick up the slack.

I just wanted to say that I really admire what a strong woman you are. You may have lost a "limb" but you still are there for your children, your family, your friends, and for us. *hugs*

Krainich Family said...

Stephanie, Thank you so much for this post. For putting into words what we need so eloquently. I too was never one to suffer from paranoia or anxiety, it's a different story. I hate the uneasy feeling that comes with it, but like you said, "we have it and it's not going away." I also particularly loved how you talked about "worrying". It IS an extra burden when others worry about us. Rather than worry, have faith in our ability. So much love to you during this time of year as Camille's anniversary is approaching. I am going to be in town April 22nd-May 1st. I would love to meet you if you have time.
James' Momma

kathryn said...

Remarkable post Steph! So powerful and real. I admire you so much. You are truly amazing.

cami said...

My brother told me about your blog and when I first opened it and saw her name I shut it down and ran out of the room. I cannot read the blog now but maybe one day I will be able to. My beautiful baby boy drowned on Saturday and my grief is pretty raw but I wanted to reach out. She is beautiful.

Camille Sowards, mother of Jeddai Craig Sowards (August 6, 2007-April 18, 2009)