Journaling Through Grief

Losing a child is devastating. Here's the story of one mother who journaled through her sorrow and created a lasting tribute to her baby girl.
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At some point, we are all touched by grief. We lose someone dear to us, someone irreplaceable, someone whose passing leaves a deep void in our lives. The grief can seem overwhelming, almost paralyzing. We try to ignore the pain, hoping that it will go away on its own. But believe me, it will not. The only way to truly relieve the pain is to work through the grief.

When I experienced my devastating loss, I sought help wherever I could: from my husband, family and friends; through support groups and professional counseling; and through my journal, where I detailed my pain, my emptiness and eventually my hopes.

Losing Kaitlin
On a spring day in 1996, I experienced perhaps the greatest loss any of us can imagine: the death of a child.

Her death was totally unexpected. I was in the hospital to deliver her when things began to go wrong. She was in distress. They rushed me to the operating room and performed an emergency Caesarean. But it was too late. I awakened from surgery to learn that our daughter had not survived.

Still in a fog from the anesthesia and from the shock, I held Kaitlin in my arms, tracing her lips, her cheeks, her chin, amazed at this beautiful, perfect child we had created, a blending of both my husband and myself like the melding of two streams. I could not believe that she was gone.

But as my stay in the hospital came to an end, I began to comprehend what had happened.

June 2, 1996
... Gingerly, I sat myself down in the passenger's seat. My husband swung my door shut and got in on his side. We looked at each other through our tears. He kissed me and then slowly pulled the car away. The heaviness came. The pain. The numbness. The disbelief. The further we drove from the hospital, the stronger the feelings became. I turned to watch, trying to keep the hospital in my sight as long as I could, as if simply by seeing its red, brick walls, I could somehow hold on to my daughter. But as it grew smaller and more distant, and then disappeared from view, I felt a devastating sadness. By leaving the hospital, we were leaving our dreams, and we were leaving Kaitlin forever.

Facing the Reality
I felt like I was starting over, thrown backward just at a time when things should have been moving forward. I felt strange and unsure, as if I'd lost my sense of time and place and self. I would be fine one moment and in tears the next. Just getting in the car to drive to the grocery store became a major undertaking. At times, the pain so engulfed me, I felt like I was suffocating.

It seemed that no matter where I was or what I was doing, everything reminded me of Kaitlin. And every time I thought of her, I was once again slapped with the realization that she was not here with us and that things were not as we had dreamed they'd be.

Getting It Down, Getting It Out
In working through my pain, I spent countless hours talking about my daughter and my loss. Most frequently, it was with my husband, and often we cried together. We also sought private counseling and attended a support group, feeling an immediate bond with the other parents who, too, had lost their babies. But somehow, I felt I still had more to say, more to let out. So I turned to my journal.

My journal became a close confidant, a safe place to go to share exactly how I felt, without apology, without candy coating. It became my private release. And as I closed my journal each night, I felt exhausted, yet relieved, somehow lighter and more free. I began to discover who I was and what my life was without Kaitlin. I uncovered a sense of strength and a seed of hope that drove me to go on. And over time, this process of discovery and acceptance helped me feel whole again, and led me to a place of peace.

Coming Out the Other Side
Grieving is a lifelong journey. I will never be done. I will never forget. But I have reached a peace, a resting place where there is still pain, still tears, but where there is also much joy.

I now see that the act of journaling helped lead me through the process so I could heal. It helped me to address my grief head on, to clarify my feelings and emotions, to take the seemingly overwhelming weight of grief and to break it into smaller pieces so I could conquer each obstacle one at a time. And by recording my journey, I can now look back with pride on how far I've come and how much I've learned about myself.

My journey clarified what is truly important in my life—the love I feel for my husband, for my children (Kaitlin, and her younger brothers Ethan and Bryce) and for my family.

A Written Legacy
By recording my love for my daughter, I feel that, in a way, I have made Kaitlin live forever. For I have a written legacy of her to pass on to her brothers and for her brothers to pass on to their children, so that they will all have the chance to know her and to love her, too.

July 15, 2000
It was not long ago
Yet it was an eternity
An arduous journey
Measured not in miles
but in tears.

It seems so long ago
I beheld your sweet face
Calm, like a windless
cloudless sky
Yet with the wisdom
of the stars.

And since that day
now years ago
I have lifted sorrow
stone by stone
from my back

and now stand tall
arms outstretched
face uplifted
bathed in the gentle
warmth of love.

This article appeared in the December 2001 issue of Personal Journaling.

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