Guest Post: Coping with Loss During the Season of Joy

December 10, 2013

by Kathleen O’Beirne

Coping with Loss

The twinkling lights in the neighborhood, the ringing bells outside every grocery store, and the plethora of peppermint-flavored foods point to one thing: the most wonderful time of year is fast approaching. I’ve always loved that sense of cheerful bustle during this season, but over the past couple of years, a more subtle but equally palpable feeling accompanies my joy: the pang of loss.

I don’t think I’m alone in experiencing a mix of emotions during the holidays. This is the time of year to cherish loved ones and celebrate; when someone is missing from this otherwise happy scene, you can’t help but feel some sadness. It may be a dear friend, a sweet grandma, a beloved sibling or parent that has passed away. Sometimes it’s the devastating first Christmas without a spouse or child. And sometimes, it’s the loss of a baby that should have been.

Last December, my husband and I were expecting. Although we have three healthy children, we had suffered two consecutive miscarriages prior to this pregnancy — so this time around, my doctor had prescribed some medicine to help, and I felt very sick and pregnant. Every time my stomach reeled with nausea, my excitement grew. After all the pain of our two previous losses, I thought we’d finally turned a corner. We knew our other children would be beside themselves with joy, and we started planning how we would break this awesome news.

I’ll never forget holding my husband’s hand and staring helplessly at that dark, blurry screen as the kind technician whispered softly, “I’m so, so sorry.” I couldn’t believe we’d lost another child. Miscarriage is a different kind of loss; it’s the loss of what could have been. I have family and friends who have babies about the age our child would have been, and it’s hard not to think, “Oh, this is what he’d be doing about now.” And I’ll admit it: Sometimes it’s hard to hold those other little babies.

Ten to twenty percent of all known pregnancies end in miscarriage, which means many women carry this unique kind of grief. Often, miscarriages happen before the couple has told family and friends, and they often occur at home without the support of medical professionals. In addition to the emotional toll, there is the physical element: Miscarriage can feel like a mini labor, and the recovery can be almost as slow-going as a full-term pregnancy — minus the cute baby and the extra help, gifts, and meals. This last miscarriage was medically complicated and left me so drained that I ended up reaching out to friends and family to help with carpools and meals. The extra support really made an emotional difference for me.

Over the past week, I’ve thought more about the three little souls we’ve lost to miscarriage, and I can honestly thank God for the wisdom their losses have taught me. I am far more in awe of the mystery and miracle of life than I ever used to be, and I think (or, at least, I hope) that I’m more sympathetic to those who suffer from infertility, miscarriage, or any type of loss for that matter.

Whether it’s a call to a friend who’s missing her departed brother’s Christmas cheer, or bringing over a batch of cookies to the widow across the street: I want to be more mindful of those experiencing feelings of loss at this time of year. The holidays are about spreading joy and dispelling darkness with light, and I find the more I reach out to others in need, the better I cope with my own feelings of loss.

I’m curious to hear how others cope with loss during this season. Do you share it with others or deal with it on your own? Would you appreciate having others reach out to you, or would you find it intrusive?

Image: Kathleen O’Beirne

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1 Therese December 10, 2013 at 10:17 am

Dear Kathleen: I am so sorry for your loss! Your story brought tears to my eyes and is a good reminder for me to reach out to those in pain with prayer and kindness. Thank you.

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2 Kathleen December 10, 2013 at 4:04 pm

Thank for the kind words!

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3 Molly December 10, 2013 at 1:57 pm

We’ve had two miscarriages in a row this year too, I understand this all too well.

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4 Kathleen December 10, 2013 at 4:05 pm

I am so sorry for your loss, thank your for sharing!

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5 Alissa December 10, 2013 at 2:49 pm

It’s so easy to get wrapped up in my own small “worries” of shopping and planning and subsequently forget about what others are going through. Thanks for such a beautiful reminder, Kathleen.

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6 Kathleen December 10, 2013 at 4:07 pm

Thank you for being one of heros during that difficult recovery!

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7 Elle December 10, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Thanks for your post and reminder to reach out to those who have experienced loss… It makes me also think of my older relatives who have never married and might feel lonely.

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8 Kathleen December 10, 2013 at 4:10 pm

That is so true. Especially in nursing homes. There was a nursing home near my old house that always let visitors know which people never had visitors…

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9 Kathryn December 10, 2013 at 3:21 pm

Thank you for this, Kathleen. I know well some of what you are feeling. Two years ago we lost a baby girl just a couple of days before Christmas. She was 4 months along and I felt her kicking and squirming one day and then there was no heartbeat the next. She had Turner Syndrome and had died of heart failure. Going through an 11-hour induced labor with no living child at the end was one of the hardest things I’ve ever endured.

On Christmas Day I was a total mess; but just a few days later, I found tremendous consolation in Feast of the Holy Innocents–the day I sent out a long letter to tell our family and friends that our Christmas card which was also our pregnancy announcement needed to be updated. The responses we received were very touching. And the greatest gift of all was that we were able to bury our daughter in a nearby graveyard. We now visit on her feast day (St. Theodora, Mother Theodore Guerin), All Souls, and the Holy Innocents.

I truly believe that she is a special intercessor for our family, particularly her baby brother who lives only because she died. I know now more than ever the comfort and strength that only detachment and mercy can give. Thank you for this nice reminder of all of those things this year.

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10 Kathleen December 10, 2013 at 4:21 pm

Oh Kathryn, I am so sorry, that is truly heartbreaking. I was at the hospital with the last and I kept thinking this is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced. But that is beautiful to think that your son wouldn’t be here if your daughter hadn’t died. I’ll be keeping you and your family in my prayers especially!

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11 Elena December 10, 2013 at 4:50 pm

This is the first Christmas for us since our son JP passed away. He would have been 2 this month. We picked a gift tag for a 2 year old boy from our church’s toy drive tree to give to a child in need. We will fill his stocking with lots of intentions that we want him to help with…what else does a saint want for Christmas than to be put to work? We have also lost four other babies that I haven’t had the honor of meeting. While I can’t be as public in my acknowledgement of them since my other kids didn’t know about them, I know JP will share his presents with them as well. Needless to say, it will be rough anyway but we can still smile through the tears.

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12 Kathleen December 10, 2013 at 5:03 pm

As I wrote this piece, I was thinking especially of you guys! Your JP and your entire taught so many of us the beauty of unconditional love and grace!

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