Chapter 43. Lessons Learned

Chapter 43. Lessons Learned

People want to help … lessen the pain, ease the burden, give encouragement, make things better. Always well intentioned, their efforts may be inept, even tactless.

I found that for me, some people did just the right thing. Maybe for another mom, their actions wouldn’t have been helpful. Still, I will catalogue here those gestures I found supportive.


My brother sent me a cassette tape, We Are the World, a song that had just been released. His note read:

Dear Bobbi and Rick,

            Perhaps it was just the coincidence of timing, but for me, this has become “Wendy’s song”. She has taught me grief as I had never envisioned it before and whenever I hear this song, Wendy is as vivid and real as today is “now”.

            Grief is a very tough thing to handle, probably best done in small pieces that we can manage. This may help in dissolving that grief.

            With much love to the both of you and to Andrea and to Wendy Lorraine,

                                   Your brother

One day there was a knock at the door. A young woman from church, in her early twenties, stood there holding a brown paper bag. “I don’t know what to say,” she told me, clearly uncomfortable. “But I wanted to give you this. Is that alright?” I took the loaf of warm-from-the-oven bread and we hugged before she left. Yes, this was alright.

Wendy was born in April. May brought with it the first Mother’s Day after her death. That Sunday morning I found two cards on the kitchen counter. One was from Andrea. Rick had helped her colour crayon markings inside, outside, and all over the back to create a riotous jumble of Crayola.

Beside Andrea’s card, was a second envelope. A cartoon drawing of a little girl angel graced the front. Inside, Rick had written: 

Dear Mom,

I just wanted to give you a little something special on this special day, after all the wonderful things you’ve done for me. You carried me, supported me, comforted me, gave birth to me, loved me, and most of all you gave me my body.

So I thought for once in my short but wonderful life I will do something for you. I will give you a card on Mother’s Day. (With the help of my Dad.)

I love you Mom and thank you.

Love Wendy.

No matter how great the tragedy, time insists on passing. People’s busy lives overtake the drama of the moment and gradually the sorrow of the grieving family slips out of sight. We didn’t forget, though. Sorrow holds fast to the heart, even when you appear to be back in the thick of living.

Special occasions are the hardest when dealing with a loss. A friend once told me, “You have to go through all four seasons before you can begin to move on.”

As that first year progressed, I began to understand what she meant. Each special date on the calendar was one more reminder that the one we loved was not there to share it with us. How to cope? We found that being proactive and planning a way to honour Wendy’s memory on each occasion helped prevent a sense of being blindsided, and gave us a modicum of control.

Christmas could not be ignored. The year before, I’d been five months pregnant with Wendy. I liked to sew. I’d made new Christmas stockings for our family, so of course I’d made one for the baby to come.

December 1985 would have been her first Christmas. I knew we had to acknowledge it somehow. As a few relatives gathered at our home, we each wrote a memory about Wendy and put the papers into her stocking, letting it hang with the rest, including a new stocking made just for the baby I was carrying. Andrea drew a scribble, which we tucked inside as well. At the end of the Christmas season, Wendy’s stocking was stored away with the rest of the decorations.

April 25, 1986 was Wendy’s first birthday. The mind can play strange games with memory. I was seven months pregnant with Luke, and driving to choir practice one Tuesday evening. A thought drifted through my head that next week was the anniversary of Wendy’s birth and death.

Suddenly, literally like a board smashing into my brain, I had a physical realization. It wasn’t next week! It was this week—this day, in fact. Today was April 25th, and Wendy had been born exactly one year ago. My conscious mind forgot Wendy’s birthdate but my body had it recorded and now brought it to the surface. We’ve been created to be so much more complex than we tend to realize.

I had to pull to the side of the road to catch my breath. A few tears, and I was okay again.

That same week a special card came in the mail. Soft grey, with a pink rose embossed on the front, inside it read, “In memory of our baby, Wendy. From her Grandma, 1986”. My mother had remembered as well.

December 1986 found our new baby Luke beginning to crawl about, and Andrea, at three, a proud big sister. As I unpacked the decorations I found Wendy’s stocking. It was a special moment, made more special when, on Christmas Eve, Rick and I pulled out the memory messages and read them to each other.

This worked for us.

It’s important to remember, though, that what is meaningful for one, may not be for another. One friend offered our Christmas stocking story to a relative who had lost a loved one some weeks before.

The woman responded, “Was that supposed to be helpful? Because it wasn’t.”

I wondered, as I heard the woman’s response, if those who are grieving might be expected to see beyond themselves a little bit and at least appreciate the efforts of others who try to help. Sorrow isn’t a reason to discredit another’s good intentions. Such responses can result in alienating those who care from the one who mourns. How do friends continue to reach out when they’re afraid of making the person’s suffering worse?

There are no easy answers. Maybe some mourners just can’t move outside themselves to that extent. I do hope I didn’t unwittingly crush someone’s efforts to be supportive.

The next few anniversaries were sad, but unremarkable, until year five, and again year ten. I can’t explain why it is, but somehow our spirits seem to be linked to the five digits on our hands, and the earth’s cycle around the sun.

Gravity functioned from the beginning of time. It existed before it had a name, before it was identified, studied and measured, before it became a known and tangible force. In the same way, I believe we are influenced by other as yet unnamed aspects of our physical world.

First, fifth and tenth anniversaries are to be approached consciously, with planning. In the ensuing years, I’ve watched others who suffered such a loss. For them as well, years one, five and ten were especially difficult.

So much in this life remains a mystery.

“How many children do you have?”

How many children? How could I answer this question?

If I said, “Three”, they might ask for names, ages, and I’d have to tell Wendy’s story. If I said, “Two”, I felt disloyal, as though I was discounting our middle child.

I told a friend my struggle. A practical individual, she gave me a simple way to decide.

“What’s your relationship with the one who’s asking? If it’s someone who deserves to know about Wendy, then say three. If you’re not likely to get to know them, or you just don’t feel like telling them, then say two.”

I liked that, and it worked.

Death of a Baby

Join me next week for Ch. 44. Tenth Birthday
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When the Bough Breaks

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