Coping After a Loss

For the next few weeks, I’m going to be writing on some thoughts that came out of reading the transcript of a chat about pregnancy loss on Twitter hosted by the March of Dimes. (The hashtag for the chat is #pregnancychat and the March of Dimes’ Twitter handle is – surprise – @marchofdimes). March of Dimes hosts a #pregnancychat every few weeks on various topics. The next one is scheduled for November 16 on prematurity, and there will be a followup pregnancy loss chat on November 23. Both will take place from 3-4 p.m. EST.

There were several issues that struck a chord with me during the most recent chat, and I plan to hit two of them today. The first is how different people heal and respond to a loss differently, and I’m going to couch it in the terms of the second, what my wife and I call “finding a new normal,” which was referred to by Jennifer Gunter (@DrJenGunter) as “But you eventually re-frame it and move on.”

March of Dimes tweeted “Men & women can grieve differently. Women may want to talk & share their feelings. Men may want to be silent and keep busy.” I don’t know if it’s a generic thing like that but we did sort of fall along a similar pattern, though I don’t know if I would characterize our experience exactly like that.

After we lost Benjamin, my wife more or less “checked out of life” for a couple of years. She went to work, did everything necessary to get through the days, but really didn’t engage with anything or anyone. I, on the other hand, was determined to maintain control over my environment. If we lost Benjamin due to not being able to control what went wrong, then dammit I was going to control everything from then on.

Didn’t work out too well. It took my wife quite a while, but she found a way to get to a “new normal” that accepted what happened and let her move on. In comparison, I just got wrapped up tighter and tighter. I’m still unwinding from that, and I still resort to trying to control things when I can’t handle what’s going on. I’m really not sure if it started with Benjamin’s death, or if it was always a trait of mine and it just got out of hand after we lost him. Either way, it hasn’t really served me well emotionally.

We would always talk of finding a “new normal,” and finding a place to put the grief so that we could live with it even though it had a permanent place in our lives. My wife went through a lot of soul-searching, trying to understand her feelings, trying to come to terms with what happened and make her peace with the world. In my case, I figured that I would just force things to be OK. If I exerted sufficient force of will, the world would bend to it. Yeah. I said that we had different methods of reacting. I didn’t say that they were equally successful.

Recently, I eventually came to the point where I effectively had the question thrust upon me, “How’s that working for you?” Not very well at all, as it turns out. That’s one of the reasons why I’m writing this blog. It’s partly for you. If you’ve found yourself in similar circumstances, I want you to know that there are other people who have been through it, and who are still surviving afterward. I want you to be able to share your stories back in the comments, and to find your way through it yourself. But it’s also a way for me to continue to find my way through my feelings, and to work through the terror that still strikes me, because it’s not really easy for me to understand my feelings directly. Things seem to flow better when I just type aimlessly and discover what pours out of my subconscious. But we’ll take this journey together. Thanks for your company.

I learned to hide my feelings away, even from myself, at a young age. My parents were divorced when I was eleven. They were so busy dealing with what they were going through that they really didn’t consider things that they said to us and how they would affect us. They both said things that were quite hurtful to me, and I just started tuning out my emotions, because if I let them out I would end up getting into trouble with them. Now that I’m an adult, it’s really not easy to turn them back on and let them through. When the feelings get too strong, they will leak through, but by and large it’s difficult for me to even find out what I’m feeling when I’m trying.

Because of that, it was even harder to try to deal with Benjamin’s death. I think that the straw that broke the camel’s back, as it were, happened one weekend morning when my wife and I were relaxing in bed while The Kid was doing something in the other room. He did something that annoyed me (I can’t even remember what it was now), and I tried to control his actions to better be able to deal with them. My wife admonished me for coming down so hard on him for a mistake, and said “What are you going to do the first time he cracks up the car?” That was it. I was a quivering, sobbing, wailing mess for the next half hour, and unsteady for hours to follow.

I remember getting out the words “I can’t lose another one!” Apparently, after losing Benjamin and having both my wife and The Kid with their own major medical issues, I just sealed everything off so that worry wouldn’t infest every waking moment. Instead, it pooled just behind my consciousness, coloring all of my actions and making me try even harder to control everything that I could about my world. I had built a new kind of emotional wall to try to keep from feeling too close to my wife and son so that (in my mind) when I would inevitably lose them too, I wouldn’t hurt so badly again. Yeah, how’s that working for you now, buddy?

Whew. Like I said above, it’s amazing what comes out of my subconscious when I just keep typing.

I’m already well past my self-imposed target of 1,000 words per post, so I’m going to call it quits for today. (Aw!) I’m sure that I’ll circle back around here again, especially to expand on the whole “new normal” thing. In the meantime, if you’ve been through something like this, how did you cope with it? Leave a message in the comments and share with everyone else.

And if you’re so inclined, stop by the #pregnancychat on prematurity on November 16 or on pregnancy loss on November 23. Both run from 3-4 p.m. EST on Twitter. There is good information to be had and a lot of people who understand how you feel.

Also, remember that you do eventually have to deal with your problems. As Uncle Remus says in Song of the South, “You can’t run away from trouble. There ain’t no place that far.”

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