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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

(66 comments )

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

Marmight Thu 26-Nov-15 11:08:03

What a very moving piece. I am in tears. My Mum had a full term, stillborn son a year before I arrived. Whenever she spoke of him she became very emotional - something I did not understand as young girl, because she had me, didn't she? After she died I found a pile of letters and cards she received at the time which she kept bound together in a blue ribbon - her memories of my brother, who she named Martin.

gillybob Thu 26-Nov-15 11:39:12

What a lovely blog. It made me feel all shivery and quite sad.

My grandma gave birth to a stillborn daughter whom she named Elizabeth, when she was in her late 40's. The baby was full term and my grandma blamed herself for the babies death all of her life. She said that she was so ashamed to be pregnant at that age and despite her strong catholic faith she admitted to having times, particularly at the beginning of the pregnancy, when she wished it would all just go away. My grandma experienced a great deal of trauma during her pregnancy. One of her close friends took her own life and my grandad had a major heart attack. Both events no doubt played a part in the loss of her baby.

My grandma talked about this right up until she died this year. sad

Luckygirl Thu 26-Nov-15 11:49:57

It is never too late to grieve for anyone, baby, child or adult. As long as that loved one is in our hearts, then we will grieve.

gillybob Thu 26-Nov-15 12:00:31

You are absolutely right Luckygirl. I will never get over the death of my much loved grandma. Last Friday afternoon I was busy in the kitchen and suddenly felt really tearful. I know it sounds crazy but I could faintly hear the theme tune from The Chase playing in the distance and the memories of my grandma and our Friday afternoon teas came flooding back.

Anya Thu 26-Nov-15 12:34:25

When you lose a child or grandchild you find out who your real friends are. It's surprising those who think it's contagious.

I agree with Alice 100% - ditch them and stick with those who stick by you. A friend in need is a friend indeed.

JamJar1 Thu 26-Nov-15 12:37:09

My Mum talked incessantly, to us her children, not our Father, about the stillborn baby (whisked away, she never saw the baby) in the last few weeks of her life. I managed to find where the baby had been buried and we visited there. She had never mentioned the baby until I think she knew she was dying and sadly my parents could never talk to each other about their loss.

downtoearth Thu 26-Nov-15 12:49:08

each year I remember my first born her birthday and anniversary 7 weeks later, she would now be 37 ...I was told go away have another child ...I did she stayed with me for 23 years..she would be 35...I have only just been able to scream and sob,,triggered by my OH illness,it would have been easier if I could have cried,now the healing is starting..my son thee youngest grieves for the sister he grew up with and the one they never met.

Anniebach Thu 26-Nov-15 13:09:34

Mine would now be in their early forties, I think of them, wonder at times if life would have been kind to them, would they have been healthy. I have no one to speak of them to now, their father died three years after they did. But I remember them

Luckygirl Thu 26-Nov-15 13:35:32

flowers to all those of you who have lost children. It never does go away I know.

Anya Thu 26-Nov-15 13:36:49

Losing one child is bad enoigh, but losing a second... I cannot bear to think of those who have had to suffer all that yet again sad

rosesarered Thu 26-Nov-15 13:37:53

You are right, Luckygirl it will never go away. However I would hate to join the group mentioned, my grieving is done in my own private way.

Anniebach Thu 26-Nov-15 13:48:55

My younger daughter who has suffered several miscarriages plants flowers , after losing twins last year she planted two rose bushes , when living in Wiltshire she scattered poppy seeds on the plain

ninathenana Thu 26-Nov-15 13:53:29

It's surprising how many people have suffered in silence with this very sad loss.
MiL had a daughter who died at 10days. I know she was called Jane but MiL never spoke of her I only know what DH has told me.

JamJar1 Thu 26-Nov-15 15:06:59

So many sad losses here. Over thirty years ago a friend, a fellow Mum at the school gates lost her DD, she was 6 and had a brain tumour. There were Mums who could not deal with this and would cross the road to avoid speaking to her. Reading here some will know exactly how hurtful that must feel, I could not begin to imagine. flowers

Anniebach Thu 26-Nov-15 15:13:15

JamJar, that is so very sad

WilmaKnickersfit Thu 26-Nov-15 16:43:36

No words. flowers

Floradora9 Thu 26-Nov-15 17:49:27

I had a twin sister who was stillborn my mother's second such loss . How different my life would have been if she had lived . I never had any other siblings . I am sure my rhesus negative blood shared with my mother saved me from the same fate .

hildajenniJ Thu 26-Nov-15 18:04:16

My grandmother had two sets of twins. The first were boys. My Dad had a sister who died at twelve days old, her name was Gladys Margaret. I only heard my Granny speak of her once. We were doing the washing up after tea, Granny turned to me and said, "oh Hilda, I wonder if my little girl would have been like you". My Dad never mentioned her once, he kept all his sadnesses and regrets to himself.

mcem Thu 26-Nov-15 18:25:49

In February 1947, in the depths of that appalling winter, my mother went into the local private nursing home to have the baby who was conceived when dad returned from war. The birth was unpleasant but straightforward and her boy was born and named after Dad.
Next day dad was with friends when he was called away.
The baby was transferred to the infirmary but was unable to overcome breathing problems (which nowadays could have been dealt with).
At 24hours old he died.
I was born one year and one month later just as the NHS kicked in.
Mum did speak about him but Dad didn't.
In 1986 my 'miracle' baby was due on the birthday of my late brother but chose to arrive a few days later. (A miracle as he arrived 10/8 years after we'd adopted his sisters!)
In 2010 Dgd3 was born and almost immediately transferred to NNHDU because of a pneumothorax. Excellent treatment means she's now a bright and bonny 5yearold.
Towards the end of her life Mum was ill and, knowing she hated hospitals, we suggested she might be more comfortable in a private hospital. She was furious and maintained that if her son had had the benefit of the NHS she'd still have him.

loopylou Thu 26-Nov-15 18:43:58

Just so much sadness.
My mum lost twins 64 years ago, a boy and a girl born 12 weeks early.

I lost a baby in 1980 at 19 weeks, I was told the baby 'had malformations incompatible with life'; he or she had died at 12 weeks. Strangely I had never felt pregnant, and told my lovely GP that I felt something was wrong right from the start.

I didn't grieve really at all, it suddenly hit me 24 years later when I was sitting with a dear friend who was dying of beast cancer. Why then? I have no idea, but it took me several weeks before I felt okay again.

((Hugs)) and flowers to you all x

morethan2 Thu 26-Nov-15 19:30:01

Such poignant posts. Thank you for sharing your special stories. Condolences to those of you dealing with the grief flowers

Regalo Fri 27-Nov-15 18:15:03

I think we have a long way to go in supporting families facing the loss of a baby. Many people just don't know what to say and often you can become isolated. When we lost our beautiful grandsons...born alive but lived only a few hours...it was the most devastating thing we as a family had to face. When I returned to work, I was met with a wall of silence...so unusual as it was a caring school. Eventually one of the young teachers came to see me and said ' I know we are not supposed to say anything but I just wanted to give you a hug and say how sorry I am' . The headteacher had told everyone not to mention the babies to me. But, they were my grandsons who I love with a passion and I wanted to talk about them. Some people are very misguided.
The charity SANDS are doing some amazing work in this area. They arranged for our beautiful grandsons to have the most perfect knitted outfits and special blankets and to spend time in a bereavement suite with our daughter, son in law and the babies. Some kind soul had given their time to knit these....they will never know how much this meant to me.

grannysyb Fri 27-Nov-15 20:22:46

Many years ago I read an article by someone who had had a stillbirth, she said how hurt she was by some reactions, ignoring what she had gone through and not mentioning her (and her husbands) loss. Shortly after this one of my ex-hubands work colleagues and his wife had stillborn twins. Although I didn't know her very well I went to see her in hospital. I think many people are frightened of upsetting the bereaved which is a shame.

mumofmadboys Sat 28-Nov-15 07:48:52

We lost our first baby _ a daughter_ 30 years ago. It was very very hard at the time but we have gone on to have other healthy children. I buy flowers on the anniversary of our daughters birth each year. She was stillborn.
I am sorry downtoearth that you lost two of your children.