Sometimes we have to write about the hard things in order to help others later down the road. My friend Jenny counsels women at Seasons Counseling in Nashville and she asked me to write about this experience as a way to support and encourage her clients. After ten years, I’m finally writing publicly about my experience with great hope that it will help other women in their own grief and suffering.
It was a frigid, early January day in 2006 and the ER waiting room was packed — every chair, floor space, and wall space was covered in sick, sniffling, coughing, miserable people. When I walked through the revolving doors I knew I had a long wait ahead of me. Fantastic.
I slowly trudged to the registration desk, every step triggering sharp pain through my abdomen. I’d just been to the local walk-in clinic, certain I was experiencing a miscarriage. The kind nurses at the clinic let me know they didn’t have the capabilities to help me there and told me to get myself to the ER right away. I drove away in tears, scared and sobbing. I managed to call my (then) husband who left work to meet me at the hospital. Someone valeted my car for me.
I approached the registration desk and handed the receptionist my papers from the clinic. She took one look at them and yelled to a nearby nurse, “Hurry up! Get her in a room right now!” The nurse grabbed me and rushed me into a curtained room while all the sick, sniffling, coughing, miserable people watched on from the waiting room.
In the room the nurse closed the curtain, threw a robe at me, and ordered me to get changed as she madly scribbled on her clipboard. I waited modestly for her to finish and leave so I could change my clothes, but instead she turned and yelled at me, “Hurry up and change! YOU ARE BLEEDING!”
I was? I didn’t see any blood.
The rest of the day was a series of events I still can’t believe, even ten years later. My husband arrived and called my family. All three of my sisters came and sat with me. My parents were en route for vacation several hours away and when they heard what was happening they turned right around. By then I’d spent the day in a hospital bed, trying to understand what was happening inside my body. Several hours, IVs, internal ultrasounds (bless my heart), and one uncooperative catheter later, I was wheeled away to the OR for surgery.
I’d had an ectopic pregnancy. Unbeknownst to me, my fallopian tube had ruptured and filled my insides with blood. I’d lost my baby. I’d felt the excruciating pain for about a week, but as the girl who generally pushes through pain, I didn’t think it was anything other than digestive discomfort left over from the recent holiday season indulgence and I’d made myself go to the gym every day, doing sit-up after sit-up to atone for my seasonal sins.
I hadn’t done myself any favors by ignoring the pain, and when the surgeon updated my family while I was in recovery, she cupped her hands to demonstrate the amount of blood that had accumulated inside of me and let them know how lucky I was; another day and I would have been gone, she said.
And now my reproductive organs were an open topic of conversation. Lovely.
Another two days in the hospital before I headed home for a month of doctor-ordered bed rest. This was not the January I had planned. It wasn’t even the weekend I had planned, but life teaches us to write our plans in pencil, right?
It was a month filled with pain, sleeplessness, and flaring hormones as my body learned to become un-pregnant. It was also a month filled with love: visits and care from friends and family; letters, cards, and emails from well-meaners and well-wishers; gifts of food, conversations, and rides to doctors’ appointments. Grief and love create a grand paradox.
There is nothing easy about caring for someone in pain and grief. It’s all parts awkward, and as much as we try to find the right words, the right deeds, the right solutions to the circumstances, none of these exist. But love! Love helps out a whole lot when it shows up. Here are a few ways to love someone experiencing pain and grief.
Cheetos and People magazine. Let’s be real from the get-go. When I was bedridden, doped up on pain meds, and unable to even walk to the bathroom by myself, I was a bit limited in my abilities to life. My world included the immediate space around me, just as far as my hands could reach without effort. I couldn’t lift anything, so I pretty much maxed out with the two great comforts ever known: Cheetos and rag mags. And HGTV and the Food Network; never have I been more grateful for the invention of the remote control. Of course, this all happened in the Dark Ages of 2006 before smart phones, iPads, and Netflix existed. I don’t think we even had DVR at that point. These were things that required light thinking and low energy, which was exactly where I was as I lie in my bed, a bodyscape of staples scattered across my abdomen like a tattoo of Frankenstein’s head.
Time. I find that often the greatest resource to sacrifice is time. I am personally terrible with this one. But love is time. Love shows up and serves. And we usually find even the simplest things matter so much. Here’s how my people loved me with their time:
- My aunt and uncle drove miles and miles on the winter roads to be at the hospital during my surgery.
- My cousin Brad called my hospital room from Colorado.
- Our neighbors sensed something was wrong when our trash cans remained on the street for days, and they moved them up to our house for us.
- My neighbor Lindsay brought me the most delicious, homemade chicken soup I’d ever eaten.
- My friend Heather, a nurse in Michigan, wrote me the most empathetic, care-filled letter in which I could feel her grieve with me because of what she knew of my condition from her nursing classes.
- My husband’s cousin Andrew drove far out of his way on a trip to central Illinois to bring me flowers and a hand-written card.
- My oldest sister cleaned my house.
- My mom drove over an hour each way to my house every single day so I wouldn’t be alone; she drove me to my weekly doctors’ appointments; and she even drove in nasty, northern Illinois January weather to the university several miles away where I’d enrolled in spring semester grad classes to cancel my enrollment and collect my refund.
In sickness and in health. Here’s the reality: although my then-husband couldn’t manage to keep up with his marriage vows a few years after this experience, I have no problem at all awarding him the uncontested Husband-of-the-Month trophy for the good care he gave me while I was on bed rest. He moved my dresser out of our bedroom and in its space put the love seat from our living room so my visitors would have a comfortable place to sit. He set his alarm for every three hours throughout the night to give me my pain meds, even though he knew I was awake all night, every night anyway and could probably manage on my own; he cooked, he cleaned, he entertained guests when I was too tired to talk to anyone, and he showed up at work every day and fulfilled his responsibilities there even though he was grieving too.
Dump the *right* words. Like I said earlier, there are none. Just show up. Put on a funny movie and eat those Cheetos. Smiles and hugs. Back rubs and foot rubs. I remember those best of all. My nephew Miles was about seven months old at the time. My complexion had exploded as a result of my body’s hormonal rebellion and I looked like a monster. I didn’t want anyone to see me. My sister knew baby Miles would cheer me up and she was right. She carried him into my room and set him down on my bed next to me and he just looked up at me and smiled. He didn’t see a monster; he just saw someone who needed a smile. I couldn’t want anything more.
Grace. Grief is not a systematic process; nor is it cyclical. There’s no timeline and it resurfaces whenever it feels like it, triggered or not. We just never know. That’s why showing grace is so important. In my case, I grieved this loss even more years later after my husband bailed. I think it was the realization that the possibility of its redemption was no longer, and it was like a death all over again. Some things we just never get over, we can’t move on from, we can’t let go, even if we really want to. Some things we just can’t drink away. Be ok with that when someone else grieves. It’s what you need, too, in your own troubles. Keep that in mind.
Again, there’s no perfect way to meet someone in grief. These are ways in which I found comfort from the people around me. They showed up. They served. They loved.
Please, kind friends, stay away from the platitudes. No one wants them or needs them. Notice I didn’t say,
“They told me all about how good God is and about His perfect plan for my life.”
“They told me everything happens for a reason.”
“They gave me books to read about grief and mourning and bootstrapping and God’s sovereignty. They were really super helpful.”
Show up. Serve. Love.
Behold the grand paradox of grief…and love.