When we first started on this grief journey it was impossible to think about getting through the first hours, much less days or weeks. When Matthew’s first birthday came it seemed impossible that an entire year had passed. I could not have imagined that one day I would be able to have a ‘normal’ life after this kind of loss. The experience was so excruciating that I was certain I would never laugh, smile, or feel connected to anything again. I expected to walk through the rest of my life with that physically aching hollow feeling in my heart. Thankfully it hasn’t exactly been what I expected, but it took time. How did we make it? How did we get through? I’m not exactly sure, but it’s a different kind of normal than we expected.
Some people seem to think that grief is something you ‘get over’, but that’s not exactly how it works. For me there is always an undercurrent of grief, always with me, running in the background. Sometimes it’s closer to the surface running high and strong, other times low and weak. But it’s always there, underneath every moment, every emotion. On days when I’m feeling ok (even happy!) it’s harder to reach – I can talk about Matthew without crying, I can share and talk about him or answer questions and the feeling of loss is distant, but still there. Other days it can feel like it’s thrust up out of the water and right into my face, catching me off guard every time.
Matthew would have been 16 this year and we have had these years to reflect on the impact he has made on our family and the incredibly significant part that NILMDTS has played. Our experience was amazing from the first contact.
I don’t think they were expecting their first phone call days after the first article about them was published in the Mother’s Day edition of the newspaper.
From the start they put us at such ease – I had no idea it was their first official session as a nonprofit – like they had been doing this work forever. The way Cheryl talked about Maddux made us think it was years and not months since she lost him. The way Sandy and Chantal were so loving and nurturing made it seem like this was a totally normal photo session as we moved through different poses. So much care and consideration were put into our experience, from the session itself to when we received the photos. They had loved our baby and shown us that his place in our family was important and that it was OK to celebrate him. That initial experience has gone such a long way in shaping how we have managed our grief and how we include that as a family.
It’s so easy to feel isolated in this particular kind of grief. It’s uncomfortable for so many people and it can seem like a burden to seek support from outsiders. This club that nobody wants to belong to is full of love and support. It is a wonderful community that holds space for each and every one of us to express our emotions and really feel the love each family has for their babies. The NILMDTS walks have been a wonderful opportunity to connect and honor all our babies, regardless of whether or not they were able to receive photo services. There is acknowledgment and acceptance, which I think is at the heart of what we all need.
I was given the opportunity to be a part of some of the early parts of helping this nonprofit grow, and I couldn’t be more impressed and grateful with how it has developed and flourished over the years. I didn’t get to see my baby grow, but I have been a witness to the loving gifts the volunteers and staff have given to grieving families like mine. Matthew is part of us and always will be. We have pictures of him up in our home, we talk about him, and developed little rituals around certain times of the year including him. Those feelings of sadness have not faded and it’s not that I am less emotional, but it’s certainly less often. When the grief does come again (and always will, I expect) it’s no less intense than if it was happening right now. I’m not sure how this journey continues or what might change in the coming years, but I know we will do it together as a family.