Last month, one of my neighbors phoned me up to tell me that a woman on our block, E., just around the corner, had suffered a stillbirth. She, her husband and daughter moved here in June, and most of us hadn't yet met her. My friend was phoning to see if I could help in any way, as E. and her husband are not from the States and have no extended family here.
We've met a few times, this mother and I. And talked, and talked, and talked. Like me, E. was surprised by how little information there is about surviving bottomless sorrow. Where are the books, the first-person accounts, where is it written down somewhere that you will, you can survive? I bought her two books, the one by Elizabeth McCracken, An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, and Empty Cradle, Broken Heart, by Deborah Davis. She's read the first one and is working on the second. E. has asked me to give her the answer to the same question I had after we lost Ben, a question unanswered in most of the babyloss books: how does she survive?
And what can I tell her? Words are inadequate. There is no map or blueprint, though I remember being at the same stage she is in now, wanting directions, something to follow, something to do with my time now that there was no baby occupying me. Steps to take to make it through.
There are none.
And I wonder when I knew I would survive. I can't pinpoint it, really. It wasn't after I got pregnant again, not after James was born, not after my marriage nearly fell apart two years later. It's gradual, and agonizingly slow. I've been able to tell her she will survive, but it will take a long time, it will always hurt. I've told her that she needs to get through the first year, observe the holidays and anniversaries, before she can come to terms with what her son's death means for the rest of her life. I've told her she can only get up each day and do the best she can.
What I've told her is not enough, but it is the best I can do: "You will survive. I promise you. But it's going to hurt like hell."
When did you know you would survive? Was it a moment, a particular day, or is it still a work in progress? What would you say to someone in these all too familiar shoes?