21st May 2015
I asked Katherine Kannegieter, a friend and member of Community Church, to share some of her journey with us in order to help us as a community deal with loss and grief. Here it is:
"I am writing to share from my own experience of having lost a child and I hope the following will help you navigate how to give support to grieving parents on a journey they never wanted to take.
Our first son Finley James was stillborn when I was 41 weeks pregnant, our hearts were broken when while I was in labour we were told they couldn't find a heartbeat. Before this happened to us, I have to be honest and say that I would not bring up grief with people because I didn't want to make them feel sad. Turns out, though, it’s really comforting to hear people talk about my son - days, months or years after, don’t worry about “reminding” a parent of their child’s death; it’s pretty much all they think about, and they love talking about him or her, too. We are very much proud parents, like anyone else and our hearts ache to celebrate our child's arrival into this world. If you don’t know what to say, just say “I have no idea what to say, but I love you.”
At first I only wanted to speak to close friends and others who had been through the same in detail and I have gradually opened up more to others. Even the question 'how are you?' was so hard to answer in those early days to people I didn't really know but I know they meant well.
I would encourage you to use his/her name often, ask questions about them. Refer to the parents as “parents,” and if you’re family refer to yourself as an uncle or aunt or cousin, or add one more to the number of grand kids you brag about. Though it can be emotional or sad, I find relief in talking about my experience from early pregnancy to those final days. Unlike an adult who has died–who leaves behind years of stories and pictures, parents of babies who have passed have precious few memories to savour. Even those worst moments can be nice to think about and share for that reason. You can also ask the parents if they have pictures they don't mind sharing.
Since being pregnant again and having our second son Reuben I have found small talk with a stranger really hard as I always get asked if he is my first, it is a very hard question to answer to a complete stranger. Sometimes I choose not to share and other times I do as I find mostly people swiftly change the subject but one lady asked me what his name was, it was the most perfect response! I really appreciated hearing from people via texts and letters right after it happened. Even better if you have reached out multiple times especially on anniversaries. Christmas, New year, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day each year or other milestone celebrations are also painful as there is someone missing.
I don't believe it is something I will ever get over, l have learnt to pick up the pieces and move forward, but our lives will never be the same. It is helpful to remember we not only lost our baby we lost all the hopes and dreams for our baby's life and seeing them grow up and being part of our life. There’s a totally understandable tendency to offer hope in the form of “Don’t worry, you’ll get pregnant again,” No other child would be a replacement for the one who was lost. If there were twins and one survived or if there are living older siblings, those parents are still mourning the loss of a child, so “at least you have the one” is not comforting. For us, we didn’t lose “a baby” that we would like to replace with “another baby”; we lost out first-born son, Finley James, who had a lot of hair and loved moving around to music. Even with the arrival of our amazing Reuben who has bought much healing we will always miss him.
Another great way to show your love is to offer practical help. Some ideas are the usual meals cooked (which are such a blessing), but also chores around the house (you really dont feel like doing housework ever again!), picking up groceries (I really didn't want to bump into people and have to explain what had happened) or offer to help with child care for older children if they have them.
I have lots of questions about why it happened to us and it is something I am working through but I am learning to live with the mystery. Rubbish things happen because of the fall, we are in a battle and life is tough for many people. The only hope I have in the situation is that I know I will see him again, he is not sad or in pain, it is our loss that he is not here with us, he is in the perfect place with Jesus in heaven. A friend of mine whose first baby was also stillborn said she loves worship even more now as she knows her daughter is also doing that, it is the one thing they are doing together and I thought that was such a great way of looking at it! As bereaved parents, we are constantly balancing holding grief in one hand and a happy life after loss in the other.
Finally, the truth is that the whole situation is horrible. A child lost a life; the parents are grief-stricken; and honestly it’s just going to suck sometimes to be the friend or family member of someone going through this. It is unfair, and even if you do everything right there are going to be times when the other person still gets upset due to the grief.
Thank you for loving us through our journey with grief."