Since I lost Matthew, I've heard my share of platitudes which were all well intended. Very few upset me too much because I knew the heart from which they were spoken.
"He's in a better place."
"God knows what He's doing."
"I guess God needed him more than you did."
"At least you already have children."
FYI, none of these things are helpful cliches to anyone who has gone through a loss, but I know they weren't said maliciously.
One person told me they were so glad I was having another boy when I was pregnant with Zane so he could "replace the son I'd lost." No. Zane's no replacement. Still, I know she didn't mean it to be hurtful.
Only one thing anyone ever told to me truly hurt. It had been approximately two months since I'd lost my son and I confessed to a friend that I was having a rough day. Confused, she asked me why.
I told her, "...because of Matthew."
The words she said next sent me into a downward spiral that lasted for over six years.
"Carol, at some point you're going to have to move on."
Move on? What? It had only been two months. Was I supposed to have already moved on? Was that a thing? Was I not supposed to be sad anymore? Was I wallowing? Did people think I was ridiculous? If people wanted me to move on then dammit, I'd move on.
I took my feelings about Matthew and pushed them down. I set them aside. Obviously nobody wanted to hear about my sadness or about my sweet baby boy or my feelings. I was a burden to the people around me and I couldn't do that anymore. Time to "move on."
I quit crying that day. Sure, I'd talk about him sometimes, but it wasn't in a sad way. It was in more of a factual way. On August 29 every year, I'd allow myself to have a pity party. On that day I would take the little box of Matthew's things off of the shelf in my closet, where I'd neatly pushed him aside, and allow myself to feel sad. I didn't cry, but I'd look at his tiny hat and his pictures and remember him, alone. I didn't invite anyone in to share in the moment with me. I knew from my friend that nobody wanted to be burdened by me. I would make a post on Facebook about him to remember him but not an overly sad or sappy one. I didn't want anyone to think I was looking for sympathy. I thought he deserved the courtesy of being remembered, however. Acknowledging his existence was the least the world could do.
This went on for over six years. I'd talk to a few of my friends, fellow members of the sucky sisterhood, about him from time to time but not through tears. I started to crave the release of my pent up emotions but nothing would make me cry anymore. I'd pushed them too far down, built my wall too high and too strong.
When talking to a friend this year about losing a child to miscarriage, she shared with me that someone had told her to move on just weeks after her loss. Those words triggered something in me that I hadn't felt in a long time. I felt angry for her.
"No! You don't have to move on!" I told her. "You've lost your child. You have every right to be a mess. Don't let anyone tell you that you are supposed to move on. You feel what you need to feel for as long as you need to feel it."
I realized that those words spoken to me had stunted my healing, setting me back years. Of course we can't stay in the pit forever, dwelling on our pain and not living life but that's far from what we were doing. Our grief was new and our pain was fresh. Expecting us to move on was only for them to feel more comfortable; it wasn't for our benefit. If they'd truly been looking out for our well being, they would have said, "I'm so sorry you're having a hard time. It's totally understandable and nobody expects you to be yourself again so soon."
Realizing this set me back on the track to healthy grief. It started my blogging. It started my passion for talking to women who are going through loss and making sure that they know that "moving on" is only a ploy for those around them who can't handle the tough emotions we are feeling.
Yes, we will be able to take steps forward, but we won't be the same. I'll never move on from losing Matthew because to me, that means leaving him behind, and I won't do that again. I will carry him with me everywhere I go and I am upset with myself for pushing him aside in order to make one person feel better.
Maybe it's only semantics but I prefer to say we carry on. We carry them with us, we don't forget them. We remember the love and joy they brought to us. We remember the sadness we felt without them. We use that pain to help others who are hurting learn to grieve and how to figure out life without their beloved. We don't move on and leave behind our memories, our pain and our loved ones. Not for a minute.