My son Julian departed this dimension at 17 years old when restoration was not possible for his “irreparable injuries.” This was after four days of praying for supernatural intervention. Now, in the absence of what I wanted, I have a standing appointment with acceptance or acknowledging what remains. And even this acceptance can shift from resignation to resolution at times. Yet, as I journey into my fourth year as a child loss survivor, I marvel at the magnitude of what is still possible.
I know binaries are rarely satisfying, but if I cannot avoid the bad, I must also accept the good. While it may seem unlikely at times, good can still exist during grief. And goodness may show up on unexpected days and in unexpected ways: ranging from the kindness of strangers online supporting my work to the simple pleasure of ease-y breathing, air freely flowing through my lungs. I learned early in my deep grief to yield to the unexpected, which seemed completely unreasonable. How could I possibly feel anything other than deep despair and uncertainty?
I still wish I had more concrete answers beyond the familiarity of my own living example, so I offer the following promises as representative of what I believe and what I wish we had access to:
I promise to see you in all of your emotional complexity.
I promise to never rush you from grief to gratitude.
I promise to not fill the awkward silence with heroism.
I promise that you don’t need anyone’s permission to feel joy.
I promise to hold you in my heart and hold my words when I don’t know what to say.
I promise not to pretend that the pain can always be explained.
I promise to ask rather than assume about your relationship to grief.
I promise not to offer expertise in the absence of empathy.
I promise to respect your decision for a quiet life or a loud life or anything in between or on the margins.
I promise not to try and fit your experience into any framework, cycle, or step.
I promise not to pretend I understand if I don’t.
I promise not to make you feel bad for asking for and accepting help.
I promise not to offer help that exceeds my capacity.
I promise not to think any less of your grief when it looks different from my own.
The word promise at its root, means to send forth. May these promises make plain that I believe there is a way forward.
Illustration by Cassandra Orion
Promises for You is a column that gives voice and space to those who have experienced infertility, miscarriage, and child loss at any age. We need open conversations on a continuous basis to dispel shame, give room to grief, and nurture understanding.
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