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LucyGransnet (GNHQ) Thu 26-Nov-15 10:45:09

It's never too late to grieve

We hear from author Alice Jolly on stillbirth and the processing of grief - no matter what age you are.

Alice Jolly

It's never too late to grieve

Posted on: Thu 26-Nov-15 10:45:09


Lead photo

Alice Jolly on a parent's right to grieve the loss of a child - at whatever age.

Seven years ago I was raising money for Sands (The Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity) and persuaded our local supermarket to put a collection box near their door. A week later, I walked past that box. An elderly lady was standing near to it, absolutely motionless, tears running down her face.

As a bereaved mum myself, I understood. It doesn't matter how many years pass, you can still be ambushed by overwhelming grief.

Initially that crying woman didn't want to talk to me. But once she knew that I'd lost a baby as well, she agreed to a coffee.

Her name was Clare and she told me about her son, who died at birth forty years ago. He didn't have a name, she never saw him, she doesn't know what happened to his body. Since he had disabilities, she was meant to feel grateful. She went on to have three living children, two daughters and a son.

But still, occasionally, something apparently quite harmless sets it off. As a result of that coffee, Clare came along to our local Sands Support Group. That was hard for her, as she felt she had no right. Her husband and surviving children would think her morbid. She was sure everyone else at the group would be 30 years younger than her.

She was wrong. In fact, there were men and women of all ages. And it wasn't long before someone suggested to Clare that it was time for her baby to have a name and a funeral. After that, Clare disappeared for a bit. But then, with the support of that group, she talked to her local vicar.

As a bereaved mum myself, I understood. It doesn't matter how many years pass, you can still be ambushed by overwhelming grief.

He understood immediately and Clare decided to call her little boy Benjamin.

Within Clare's family, things were stormy. Her husband wasn't happy - but her children were. They had always wanted to talk about their brother but his death had seemed like forbidden territory. Initially Clare's husband refused to come to the funeral, but eventually he changed his mind. Clare said later that the whole family had lived with a wound they didn't even know was there – until it started to heal.

So the point is – it doesn't matter how long ago it was. It doesn't matter if it was a stillbirth, a cot death, a miscarriage, a baby given up for adoption, whatever. You have a right to grieve and you don't have to
suffer alone. The support is out there. And why is that? Because if, like me, you are a more recently bereaved mum, no matter how grim you feel, you know that actually you are lucky.

At least now there are support groups. You may find the wider world shutting you out (sadly that still does happen) but you'll find others who have lived through a similar situation will open their arms. We know how tough it was for our mothers and grandmothers. We want to help.

I hate the saying – laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone. It just isn't true. Often extremely close friendships are built on grief expressed. Right now I happen to be talking about the loss of a baby but there are many others kinds of loss, of course. And many different support groups, counsellors, books, courses.

You might decide to light a candle on an anniversary, create a memorial, make a memory box, put a letter in a bottle and drop it into the sea, tie a message on a helium balloon and let go, make a quilt, hold a service – it doesn't need to be formal or religious. You can make it up yourself.

If you've suffered a loss (who hasn't?) and you want to process the difficult feelings that brings, then you are not being morbid or self indulgent. If people don't understand what you need, ditch them, and find others that do. You may have a few false starts but, if there's one thing I've discovered, it's that the kindness of strangers can be endlessly surprising.

Alice's book Dead Babies and Seaside Towns, about a very personal battle through miscarriage, IVF and failed adoption attempts, is published by Unbound and available from Amazon.

By Alice Jolly

Twitter: @JollyAllice

grandmaz Sat 28-Nov-15 08:36:44

I'm 63 and was always called an only child...however at some point during my adult years, my mother mentioned that she had, during the war, given birth to two little boys - each one had only lived for 6 or 7 hours. That was all she said.

This played on my mind on and off over the years...I became a parent myself, began to conceive of the anguish which my mother and father must have suffered, not once but twice, having to bury their newborn sons.

Finally now that I have retired, I set about trying to find out about my brothers and was lucky enough to find a lovely lady online who helped me to discover where each one is buried. "Brief Lives Remembered" is the name of the organisation and they were so very helpful.

Now as a result of the kindness of strangers, I have a little photoframe with a snapshot of my brothers Roger and Roger Anthony's final resting places - no gravestones - it was during WW2 and I think that notwithstanding everything else that was going on - bereaved parents were encouraged to 'get on with it' and not dwell on their loss - so my eldest brother shares a grave with ten other newborn babies...our other brother does at least have his own little grave, albeit unmarked.

Willow Tree figurines make one called 'Angel of Mine' which is a mother holding a very tiny baby close to her heart and my little photos have this figurine beside them...I was able to go to an All Souls Service at our local church at the end of October and lit a candle in memory of the boys... I like to think that my parents would approve - I think that they were denied the time or space to really acknowledge or grieve their baby sons - and I can only imagine, from being a parent myself, how many tears they may have shed in private.

My brothers would have been nearly 76 and 73 respectively now - so it has taken a long time to restore them to their rightful place in the story of my life and I too have shed tears, for them, for my poor parents...and for anyone who loses a child and did not have the opportunity to grieve and mark their loss.

Love and hugs to all of the brave gransnetters who have posted their stories on this thread flowers xx

PRINTMISS Sat 28-Nov-15 09:20:37

Those of us who have healthy babies who live to adulthood are inclined to forget that there are some really sad memories for folk who have lost their child either at birth, or an early age. We have a friend who lost her little boy some 50+ years ago, and whenever we meet up she loves to talk about him,because I think we were around at that time, and we wonder what he would be doing now. I hope it makes her feel better to share those thoughts, but I am not sure, she always broaches the subject, so I let her talk. Thinking of you all for whom this thread has brought back some sad memories.

Emmsabella Sat 28-Nov-15 09:24:25

My lovely DIL has lost 4 babies to miscarriage - very early but still babies to us. She's pregnant again now and coming to the same stage as she lost the others. The mixture of fear and hope is almost overwhelming - my DS and DIL so long for their own family and would make lovely parents. Thank you to all who have shared their stories. It does help to know others understand the grief.

Anniebach Sat 28-Nov-15 10:08:36

Emmsabella, I so understand , been in the same place many times and will be again this spring , every day is a mixture of hope and fear

I pray your DIL's pregnancy goes full term and results in a healthy baby , I do ache for you

Falconbird Sat 28-Nov-15 13:41:08

Oh this is such a heartbreaking thread but healing too. flowers

My mother lost her first child a baby girl, at the age of 13 months. I was born 10 months later. My parents couldn't understand why I didn't grieve for her but of course I never knew her. There were no more children.

Now I'm older I sincerely wish I had her. A big sister would have been a huge reassurance in the last few years when my Dh died and my son's life was threatened by cancer.

I lost a baby at 14 weeks and no-one would let me grieve and treated it as a miscarriage and I had to just get on with it. I had two sons and that was supposed to make it all OK. which in some ways, of course, did make it easier.

I had another baby about 2 years later a fine healthy boy but I still think of the baby I lost.

My mother was quite cruel about the miscarriage and said it was the daughter I never had. sad

I wrote a poem about the lost baby called My Shadow Child, but sadly I lost it somewhere across the years. flowers

mcem Sat 28-Nov-15 14:31:11

Emms just a word of hope. A family friend, after 3 miscarriages (one fairly late) recently gave birth to a healthy full-term baby. By then she was 43.

Emmsabella Sat 28-Nov-15 15:06:49

Thank you so much Anniebach and mcem. We would really value your prayers and thoughts and so pleased to hear about the lovely baby born after miscarriages - I will also pray for the same outcome for you Anniebach. I must be doing this wrong as your names haven't come out in bold but I'm a first time poster although I've been reading from the site for months but this is something so close to my heart. I can't tell you both how much I appreciate your taking the time to respond and for all the other lovely people who have told their stories. I am blessed with 2 DGDs who are my joy but they would so love cousins. Bless you and yours.

downtoearth Sat 28-Nov-15 17:39:54

just a word of hope my friends daughter has undergone many rounds of IVF I think she said it was 16 but am not sure just know it was a lot,after many recurrent ( I believe) 8 miscarriages she carried a little boy to term,he is now 2 and she discovered she was pregnant when he was 15months old naturally,it was a huge surprise,the little girl was carried also sucessfully to term she is now a healthy beautiful 6 months old....I understand the watching and waiting after my own pregnancies were fraught with fear after miscarrying twins also xxxx

Emmsabella Sat 28-Nov-15 21:19:51

That is so lovely downtoearth, Isn't it inspiring how strong some women can be? I can't even imagine what it must have been like for your friend's daughter and have every respect for her carrying on trying and facing the thought of heartbreak every time and it must have been so hard for your friend too. My story almost seems insignificant in comparison with what others have experienced but thank you for sharing this story - along with the empathy from my other new found friends I feel supported and understood. So glad I took the plunge and posted - it's not something I have been able to talk about much to even close friends.

kentgran Sun 29-Nov-15 11:04:47

At 76I remember the loss of my second baby at only seven hours old. I did see him and named him Mark. My husband and parents arranged everything whilst I was still in hospital..even chose the flowers. I went home ,crib still in nursery, but no baby. It was never mentioned and that was that was that. I still think of that perfect little boy. Worse was to come when we lost our eldest boy at 32. The loss overwhelms me and the tears flow as I write this.

Falconbird Sun 29-Nov-15 11:15:12

kentgran - I can't find the words flowers

Anniebach Sun 29-Nov-15 11:23:58

Esmmabella, my prayers are with you and your family

Downtoearth, my daughter is to undergo her fifteenth attempt, thank you for sharing the fact there is hope

Persistentdonor Sun 29-Nov-15 12:51:02

I want to send love and hugs to everyone who is suffering grief and or fear. flowers
And add to the hope for those who have suffered miscarriage before; I have a neice in that situation who now has a bouncing beautiful 3 year old.

Bennan Mon 30-Nov-15 12:13:12

I was complaining to my aunt about being the eldest and always having to be responsible for my brother and sister, and was shocked when she snapped at me. 'You weren't the oldest, you had a sister'. Nothing had ever been said by my parents, and she made me promise never to talk to them about her. She was born in 1940, at the beginning of the war, and lived for a few days as she breathing difficulties too. They named her Patricia which means 'peace' and recently while doing genealogy research I found her death certificate. I wish now that I had talked to my mother about her as I would have liked to comfort her but in those days family secrets were kept from children. I still feel sad about her death. sad

Nansypansy Tue 01-Dec-15 08:03:13

I so empathise in this thread. Especially with kentgran. I was pregnant with a baby boy in 1973 and gave birth to him at 5 1/2 months. In those days there wasn't the facility to try and save babies born that early and I felt so alone giving birth in a hospital bed in the middle of the night with the nurses just being business like and not coming into the room unless I rang. His little body filled a kidney shaped dish and I just saw his back view. I so wish I had the courage to ask to see his face - and I wonder what happened to him - too young to be buried .... and it felt so empty going home afterwards with no bump and no baby. Then 30 years later I lost my eldest son at 34. I can hardly see my screen through the tears as its a long time since I've had a weep about him. Thankfully I still have my eldest child, my beloved daughter, and another beloved son born the year after the baby I lost.

Thebeeb Tue 01-Dec-15 17:31:02

I lost my baby Claire nearly 40 years ago aged 3 and a half weeks. When she was born (she had multiple issues) I was put in a ward for 10 days with happy new mums. Everyone pretended it hadn't happened and it was never talked about by my family. Each year I have flowers in my house for that little time. I now have two other lovely children but would love to talk about her. I am not sad now but would just like her to feel real. I have a few memories but no photos. Just writing this feels very strange.

Bennan Wed 02-Dec-15 08:54:51

Thebeeb, I think you could tell your children about your loss. Share it with them (if they're old enough) and it may help you to come to terms with what happened. The way it was dealt with in those days seem cruel in our world today but it was a different time and perceptions were what they were! Grief stays for longer if not talked about - you need to talk. [hugs]

Nelliemaggs Wed 02-Dec-15 12:34:37

This is so sad and I am weeping into my cup of tea. My baby brother died at two days when I was ten and I thought it was my fault because I was often told that I was a bad child. My father gave us older ones a list of words we were never to utter, songs we may not sing. Then no-one ever mentioned him again and the guilt stayed with me.
Ten years later I lost my own baby to adoption, the circumstances of which meant I could not tell anyone about it, had to get straight back to work and never grieved, though the guilt and pain were there every day for the following 50 plus years.
I have been lucky to be blessed with three more children and 6 wonderful grandchildren but the pain remains and I have often thought I should seek out bereavement counselling but the guilt gets in the way.

RafisGrandma1957 Wed 02-Dec-15 22:07:07

We lost our son Adam at 13.5 weeks just over 35 years ago. I was alone when I found him and have never got over the trauma. We have 3 lovely children and one gorgeous grandson but you can still scratch the surface and it is as painful as if it was yesterday. You never get over these things, just learn to live with them.

Luckylegs9 Sat 12-Dec-15 08:38:58

This thread has made me cry. How I wish none of you had to suffer the loss of a child and in some cases children. Sands is a brilliant organisation, at the National Arboretum they have a garden there. I have put two stones for two grandchildren lost that I have never been able to talk about, the parents can't, but understand that it is their pain and they have to cope the best way they can.

domsmum Fri 01-Jan-16 13:38:58

Tentative first time poster coming in from the sidelines where I've watched the site for a while.
I couldn't believe it when I saw this topic, it is so appropriate to my life at the moment. In 1960 when I was 4 and my brother 2 my mother had an (accidental) 3rd pregnancy which ended in placenta praevia at 28 weeks, my mother almost losing her life through haemorrhage and my sister living for just a couple of hours. Mum was never told why this had happened (my midwife and I worked it out) and I would never have been told except it came out during my troubled adolescence when they tried to explain why they felt as they did about my brother. He'd had an emergency bowel condition and surgery at 18 months and was still a toddler when Mum lost the baby. I feel as though from the age of 5 I ceased to exist to my parents. All the attention, all the affection felt as though it was going to him - there was no real interest in me, I was clothed and fed but never felt loved and that extended to my aunt and grandmother. I was at their bedsides in their last illnesses and all they would ask was "where's Derek?" The temptation to say "bloody (sorry) miles away where he usually is" was at times overwhelming. As adults his opinion would always be sought over mine, his information more believable than mine and their actions corresponded to his opinion. After a particularly disloyal incident a couple of months ago I cut contact with my parents and him. If it was him they wanted, it was him they got. I knew (ex-nurse) my father was in his last illness and it was just a matter of time (which I got right to within 5 days) but because it was me and what do I know no-one took notice. Much to the surprise of everyone, my father died on 30th December after causing more problems of the same sort for the same reason. I didn't go to the hospital for the end and I'm now the family pariah forbidden the funeral (didn't intend to go anyway) and a thoroughly bad person.
I wish my parents had talked about it; I feel as though the baby lost her life and I lost my parents and childhood but I also know my parents felt the stiff upper lip should be adopted but I also know the hurt is still there. My father worried so much when SiL and myself were pregnant.
I know my sisters birth date and I'm going to find out her burial place. DHs home county is Staffordshire and I've seen the SANDS memorial and there will be a stone for her soon because this wasn't her fault. Sorry I've gone on so but it was so good to see others in the same situation of the same mind.

Anya Fri 01-Jan-16 13:57:37

Well what can I say? All this angst because you felt (in fact still feel) your brother was favoured over you?

I hope that having made such a grand gesture in the end you are now, finally, able to move on with what's left of your life?

GillT57 Sat 02-Jan-16 12:02:01

welcome domsmum. I hope you feel better for having unburdened yourself, and hope that continuing therapy will help you. I do however, feel for your parents who have somehow been punished by you for events which were out of their control, and I am sorry, but I think your post has probably been hurtful to those others who have had tragedies many years ago and only now feel able to discuss it. Losing a child is the worst thin that any of us can imagine, but then having this used as a stick to beat us for years afterwards is beyond belief.

Imperfect27 Sat 09-Jan-16 08:44:22

Dosmum, I am new to this site too. I am so sorry that as a first time poster, who has taken the risk of sharing, your comments have been let with, what at best can be said to be lack of understanding.

I understand that loss of a child has huge ramifications for the rest of the family. I lost a daughter at age 12, -her siblings were 15, 18 and 20. Nine years on, I can look back and see that this was the end of 'family life' for us as we had known it and this was particularly hard on my 15 year old son. I understand that sense of barely functioning - true for me for a couple of years and very, very hard for him in his adolescent years, so how very hard and bewildering for you as a little child. I also understand - have seen many times - how, for older generations, sometimes the son is treated with more value than the daughter. Families are so complex and can hurt each other profoundly. At times we do have to self-preserve.

I hope you will still find value in contributing to this site - I think there is a great core of support here.

Blinko Mon 18-Jan-16 13:57:09

I've read all of these heartfelt posts with tears in my eyes. There are so many of us, aren't there, with children we've lost and still grieve for. In our case, our first born son went to term but was stillborn due to placental failure in the later stages of pregnancy. In those days, 45years ago, you were told to go away and have another baby. It was kindly meant, but we still feel the loss after all this time. It did help to visit the National Arboretum in Staffordshire where there's a special place, a SANDS garden. Hugs to you all.