Samuel’s birthday is coming up. I have been reflecting a lot lately upon this long, intense year. It has been gut wrenching and devastating and quite honestly the worst year of my entire life. The moment we realized that my perfectly healthy, full term baby boy died inside of me, my life took an abrupt and unexpected detour which frankly, I would give anything to reverse.
Somehow though it has also been a remarkable journey so far. I could have anticipated some of what we have had to overcome. But some obstacles have been a complete surprise. I have had to accept that there is an exceptional amount of misunderstanding and assumption surrounding this world of loss which has been quite alarming.
I found myself having to frequently defend what Grief Is and Is Not to many people. I didn’t expect that. I have in fact, fought for and defended grief so often, that I actually googled law school a few weeks ago. It seemed I was making arguments in defense of grief so much, I began to think, hell, I should make money doing stuff like this!
I had no idea that I would be mourning my son and educating others about grief all at the same time. I suppose I assumed that people close to us would perhaps take it upon themselves to find out how to best support us on this awful road. After all, resources abound. There are books, and support groups and workshops and internet sites and Facebook groups. Sadly, I am pretty sure not much of that information was accessed.
The idea that grief equates insanity was one of the most frequent and dismaying defenses I had to make.
Here was my first experience doing so.
I had been venting to a family member about my experience with a medical office receptionist. I had called a urology office about their referral process. I told the receptionist that I was interested getting some information about a vasectomy reversal and was it possible to come in to speak to the urologist about the procedure? I told her that I had a couple of questions regarding wait times, success rate, potential for complications etc.
She asked “When was your husband’s vasectomy?”
“Only three months ago,” I responded.
She paused. “Ok……….. Well, it is obviously unusual to want a reversal so quickly after just having had the procedure done.”
“I know,” I said. “Our situation is quite tragic. My husband had a vasectomy just prior to our son being still born. I had last minute reservations before he went in for the procedure. As soon as I had the capacity to let what had happened sink in, I regretted that we did it. I want to get some information about getting the vasectomy reversed.
“Well,” she said, a bit too abruptly, “have you spoken to your doctor about this?”
I bristled. “Of course I have, but he believes it is too soon to even inquire about the procedure. I disagree. I feel there is no harm in getting some information. Can you help me?” I defended.
“Frankly dear,” she replied, “I think you should take your doctor’s advice. It is simply too soon to be making decisions like this.”
I was astounded. I was gob-smacked. I was enraged.
“I’m sorry, I said. “What did you just say to me? And who are you exactly? Are you the urologist?”
“No!'” she said, surprised. “I am the receptionist.”
“Right”, I said tersely. “And it is your job to give me information. Not your opinion.”
I hung up. I was totally furious! How could a woman who didn’t even know my name, pretend to know what might possibly be best for me or my family? How unprofessional! Who has that kind of nerve? Or arrogance? Or such lack of basic kindness?
I phoned a member of my family to commiserate. I related the details, with emphasis and appropriate pauses. “Can you believe it?” I said at the end of my story. “Can you imagine the audacity of this stupid woman?” I expected immediate sympathy. That was the reason I called in the first place. I expected shared outrage and disdain.
This person didn’t skip a beat. She jumped to the receptionist’s defense immediately.
“She was just probably concerned you know. Given the circumstances.”
The devil’s advocate? Seriously? I couldn’t believe it.
I played along, just to be polite-ish, for a minute or so. “Sure, maybe,” I conceded, “but she didn’t sound concerned. In fact, come to think of it, she didn’t even say, ‘I’m so sorry for your loss.’ Pretty basic stuff I’d have thought. At the end of the day, it was just simply unprofessional of her to offer any sort of opinion at all. Her job is to give information. That’s it.”
“Well you know though,” Devil’s Advocate continued, “she is in the healthcare field. She must just be concerned about you. You know, she probably was trying to determine whether or not you were of sound mind.”
Of sound mind??
I almost hit the floor. I should have just abandoned the conversation. But I just couldn’t help myself. I had to clarify.
“What did you just say? Did you just say of sound mind?” I gasped. “Are you suggesting that because I lost my baby, that I also lost my mind?”
A bit of weak back pedalling ensued, but quickly I realized that yes, she did not see a huge separation between grief and insanity. I learned quite a bit from that unfortunate exchange, not the least of which was how ill-informed most people are about what grieving really is about. And moreover, what it is NOT.
Here is my version of the Coles Notes on the subject:
Mourning is messy. It is unpredictable. It is confusing, and although it changes, it doesn’t ever completely end. There are many styles of grieving, and all are not wrong. Every person’s experience and process is very different. I understand to the observer of the grieving process, it must look crazy. I can say from experience, it sure feels crazy at times. But it most certainly is not actually crazy.
In fact, grief is not listed as a diagnosis in the DSM V, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Health Conditions. Here is one of the commonly accepted definitions of grief:
‘Grief is a normal response to a loss.’
(The National Cancer Institute. Loss, Grief, and Bereavement (PDQ) 2005. Health Professional Version)
Grief is NORMAL. As in NOT crazy.
So there you have it. Grief does not equate insanity.
The Defense rests.