Last week, I accidentally attended a support group for parents who have lost children of all ages. I had been at my very first “yoga for grief” session, and after we came out of savasana I was surprised to see everyone pull chairs into a circle and begin to chat.

When I realized what was going on, I almost left. I had heard so many times: “at least you can have more kids”, “at least you didn’t get to know him”, “it just wasn’t the right time for you”, “well, he was sick anyhow”, “you’re too young to let this get you down”. Those comments burn deeply. They make me feel like I don’t belong at the parents’ table, or at the bereaved parents’ table (there’s a term for this: disenfranchised grief).

But the night was young and the free refreshments looked yummy, so I decided to stay (it’s what all the hip, young Bay Area singles are doing these days!).

To be honest, even though I felt out of place, it was simply easier to stay put than it would’ve been to invent an excuse and walk out. I listened to the other mothers’ stories of their children, who had died between age 4 and age 26. Then I told them about my Sacha, whose life outside my body is better described in hours than in years. I showed them the stuffed elephant that I carry around with me. I showed them my beautiful February birthstone necklace. I cried and cried, ate some grapes and cried more.

This group recognized me as one of their own and wrapped their arms right around me. Their responses were phenomenally welcoming and comforting. It was wonderful. At the perinatal loss group that I’ve attended in the past, everyone is abjectly horrified, struggling to process immense trauma and confusion. At the general parental bereavement group, the parents were equally grief-stricken, but had a bit more emotional band-width available to share a bit of love and kindness.

From a mother whose four year old rapidly died of a brain tumor similar to Sacha’s:
“My pregnancy and my daughter’s birth was an absolutely overwhelming emotional experience. But then I had four years to process that and understand it, by getting to know my daughter and myself as a parent. Later came the second overwhelming experience of her death. Doing that all at once… Wow.”

From a mother whose healthy three-month-old suffered a devastating illness, leaving him chronically ill but no less beloved until his death many years later:
“When my eleven-year-old son died, I was able to focus completely on him instead of having to go through my own huge medical crisis right at the same time. And I knew my son, so I knew exactly what I was losing. In my case it was almost a double whammy, because first I lost my healthy son and grieved for him when he got sick… and later, I lost my sick son. But I loved him so much and I wouldn’t trade a single day with him. I’m so thankful that I had that time. I only wish he could have lived a little longer.”

From a palliative care social worker who, we learned from comparing stories, had spent an entire day with Sacha, my father and Sacha’s father. I never had the benefit of meeting her, because I’d lost more than half of my body’s blood into my scissored abdominal wall and was hospitalized for transfusion, in unimaginable physical pain, at a different hospital more than 20 miles away (thank you, blood donors).
“Your little boy was and is just as loved as any child, in or out of the hospital. You were, are and always will be a wonderful mother to him.”

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