Friday, January 6, 2017

All I Wanted Was a Card: Mixed Messages in Support and Grieving

 After my second miscarriage, I told my mom that I really wanted her to send a card. My mom sends cards to everyone for every occasion, it is kind of her thing. Every insignificant holiday. Birthday cards. Anniversary cards. Get well cards. And if someone had a loved one die, even if it was someone she wasn't close to, you better believe she sent a card. If your beloved pet died, you'd be getting a card from my mom. But two of my babies had died and she hadn't sent me - her own daughter! - a card. And that hurt. It felt like she didn't acknowledge my losses as real losses.

I'm sure that was not what she was thinking at all and that I was being more irrational than anything else, but the pain caused by it was very real. So I told her. And still a card never came. I waited for weeks, months. I mentioned several times on the phone with her over the months after that loss that I still wanted her to send me a card. She never did. I don't know why. I guess she just thought it was too late and that I was telling her I wanted a card so that she knew what to do if (when) I had another miscarriage, but I thought that I was very clearly stating to her that I needed her to send me a card now.

At some point several months down the road, I blew up with her on the phone and told her how extremely hurt I was. She told me that instead of sending a card, she had done other things, like visiting with my dad at Easter and taking David, Lucia, and I on a vacation to the beach. And about a week later, a card came.

And after my fourth miscarriage (we didn't tell people about our third because it was so early), I received a card from my parents too. That time, it was very prompt.

I feel like this story is a perfect example of how messages somehow get mixed during periods of grief and how the support someone offers often doesn't reach their loved one, at least not in the form of support they actually want or need.

I never felt like I had the support I needed after my losses. Yet, I have several very kind, loving friends and family members and I know that they were attempting to offer me support. I imagine the mixed signals often happen because our society is so closed when it comes to issues of death and grieving. How can we help our loved ones during such a difficult time if we are expected to spend our entire lives acting as if such topics don't even exist?

I know that the majority of hurt and disappointment I felt at the lack of support was due to miscommunication, not due to actual lack of support. It wasn't the support I needed, but it was there. I truly believe even those who remained completely silent did it with the best intentions, thinking that bringing it up might be painful to me.

I've come to really appreciate the efforts of those I love even if they missed the mark. But that perspective has taken time. Years. Right after my miscarriages, when I needed that support and wasn't getting what I needed, it just hurt. It felt like they didn't care. Or that I was abandoned completely. I know that was an unfair assessment, but I've come to realize that grief is a very selfish time. It's a time when what I want and what I need and what I feel trumps all. And that's not to say that it's a bad thing, or that those experiencing grief are selfish. But to expect someone in the midst of grief to step outside of themselves and see the broader picture is just not realistic. And to beat yourself up (as I sometimes do) for thinking selfishly during that time is nothing less than expecting yourself to be superhuman.

If you do have someone in your life grieving a loss, I encourage you to ask her what she needs you to do to help. She may not know, but she just might. And keep asking! Unlike the common belief that grief is short and thee grieving will return to normal after a set time of a week or a month, it's a LONG process. Often when the shock of the loss wears off and they grieving need the most support, those around them wrongly assume they've already "moved on". Over two years after my last loss there are still times that are tough and when I'd love the support of a friend!

photo by Freddy Castro via Unsplash


  1. You're so right. I always try to remember anniversaries of the passing of loved ones. I send my sister in law flowers every year on the anniversary of her Mom's death. She sends me flowers on the anniversary of my miscarriage. Grief is so tricky. And there's so many layers. Thank you for sharing honestly.

  2. I think it's such good advice to ask and keep asking. I, too, felt the absence of simple shows of support from those closest.

    When I look back at the struggles and support we've received, I've always been grateful for attempts. It's never been too small or silly a gesture--it's always appreciated. It's never been too late-- it's always appreciated.

    As a giver I worry about how things will be received and perceived. I don't want my humble attempts to be judged. But as a recipient, I'm grateful for it all. So my biggest advice is that doing anything is better than nothing.