This week, I became a witness to what I had before only been a participant. While the odds must be infinitesimal, this week I watched close friends of mine experience the same intersection of cataclysmic life change, as they lost a parent and became parents themselves within a day.
I grieve their loss personally, simply because I’ve been lucky to know and love the woman who is no longer with us, but I also grieve their loss with profound empathy because the reality of their present moment is something that I’ll never completely accept or forget.
It’s strange to find yourself thinking that your own suffering might at least be a tiny bit useful if only you can alleviate the pain of someone else stuck in the thick of it. I found myself flashing back to what I wished people, well-intentioned but hapless as ever, actually understood.
Tip #1: Your baby is not a consolation prize. Feel free to pay no mind to anyone who implies as much. Sure, it feels nice for them to be able to say something hopeful after the ever-insufficient “I’m so sorry for your loss”, but the reality is that every minute parents are blessed with babies without having to give up something as essential as their own mother or father. The pure joy of a newborn will be overwhelming at times, but you are under no obligation to pretend that its a balm for completely unrelated wounds.
Tip #2: Make time to grieve. It will be so incredibly easy to avoid this. Babies constantly need something. For me, this looked like being okay with bawling while my baby slept on my breast in the early morning hours, my tears mixing with her warm, sweaty head. This looked like making therapy a priority. This looked like taking the time to write about the difficult things when I felt ready. Grief is a journey without shortcuts, so if you think you’ve somehow circumvented it by being so consumed with the transition to parenthood, it’s probably more accurate that you’ve stalled at the very start of the path.
Tip #3: Let yourself be angry. This catastrophic timing robbed you of beautiful moments. You will feel this often. When your hospital stay feels incomplete because there is one face that can’t walk through the door. When you are utterly overwhelmed and sleep deprived in the the early weeks, and you can’t help but wonder why you didn’t just savor the calm moments leading up to your little one’s arrival a little more. When people try to relate to the influx of new parenthood, sharing their perspective of not realizing how hard it was, and you can’t help but think that it all would be a helluva lot easier if you weren’t simultaneously missing someone integral to your very being, worrying about the one they left behind, and wondering what pieces of how different life in the now is are a result of becoming a parent and which pieces are the result of feeling partially orphaned.
Tip #4: Believe that eventually, this new normal that feels anything but normal, will give way to a different set of daily feelings that are much more tenable. It will never be the same. It may never be completely okay that this was an experience you had to muddle through, and it will never be anyone’s place to force you to see the bright side of anything. That said, trust that your now is not your forever. Trust that with time, the bright moments keep their luster and the painful ones will lose a little of their sting. You’ll begin to remember the person you lost by how they were before the illness and figure out ways to make them live in the now without being crippled by grief.
Tip #5: If you feel happy, embrace it, fully. The person you lost was one of your biggest cheerleaders and they would want you to thrive. Don’t waste time wondering if it’s okay to be laughing when your baby pulls a ridiculous face. Let the laughter flow when it comes and believe in your heart you are honoring your parent in the best possible way. As a new parent yourself, you probably get it now. All we ever want is for our kids to know abundant joy and be sheltered from pain.