When Grief Comes Unexpected

As I walked through Kohl’s, searching for the best Christmas gift for my niece, I passed a shelf full of the cutest little dolls. I stopped to pick one up, then held it to my face – the soft, cuddliness of a little girl’s toy.

Suddenly, I realized I never had the joy of buying my daughter a doll.

Fierce and unexpected grief crushed me. Overwhelmed me. Paralyzed me. Right there, in the middle of the toy section of Kohl’s, I found a corner – alone – and wailed out my grief.

No one came to help me, but that was okay. I could not have spoken to anyone or stopped my grieving.

After a while, I sat there in the corner, unable to move. The wailing was over, but I still held that little doll and wondered what it might have felt like to wrap it in a box, put a pretty bow on top and watch my baby girl open it.

I would never know.

My Rachel slipped out of my womb too early for life on this earth. At only twelve weeks, she could not survive. In fact, the doctor performed a D&C (dilation and curettage) to remove any leftover “tissue.” The remnants of my daughter’s body collected into a petri dish for further study, to find out what happened – why she was born and died so early.

No easy answers. No way to prevent its happening. In fact, two years before, I lost my little boy, Ryan – also at twelve weeks.

The most surprising thing about my grieving experience in Kohl’s was that it happened 33 years after my little girl died. You would think after 33 years, all my grieving would have been completed.

Evidently not. Something about that doll triggered the pain and the remembrance of losing my Rachel – something I could not anticipate or prepare my heart for.

Grief is a most amazing and scary thing. Immediately after the loss, as we begin to grieve, we think … well, I’ll cry and just get over this. Then I’ll move on.

Our society teaches us this is the correct way to deal with grief.

But not necessarily. Everyone grieves differently.

No one can tell you how to grieve or how long it will last. I certainly didn’t think I would be grieving 33 years after the event.

Some of us hope to avoid grief by seeing a counselor, joining a support group or praying our guts out. All these methods may help us deal with the grief.

But we can’t avoid it. We can’t just hope to get over it.

Grief is something we have to go THROUGH.

It’s sort of like puberty. We can’t jump from age eleven to age eighteen without experiencing pimples, hormonal changes and myriads of mood swings.

But as we go through puberty, we grow and learn who we really are. Then one day we realize…okay, I’ve finally grown up.

Grief may come in the stages Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross described: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

But even those stages cannot be predicted. No one can tell us how long a particular stage will last – or if it will ever completely go away.

Most of us don’t grieve in nice little bundles of time. The grief process is messy, weird and hard to figure out. We can drive ourselves crazy trying to figure it out.

Grief will always, always change us. Hopefully, for the better – to make us kinder and more sensitive to the griefs of others, to keep us from becoming hard and bitter, to enable us to grow up a bit more.

That’s why I knew I couldn’t just leave Kohl’s and forget about my grief. I had to give it a voice and work through it – even 33 years after my baby died.

When I finally did leave my corner in the store, I drove home and journaled for a while. Then I felt better. I knew I had moved through another piece of my grief.

Even though I never had the chance to buy my Rachel a doll, I know my daughter still lives – somewhere in heaven where I will someday meet her. I’ll wrap her in my arms and tell her how much I missed sharing earth with her.

And then…I’ll move through the final stages of grief and feel the joy of total healing.

©2017 GateWay of Hope – Hope, Healing and Wholeness for Women