I gently placed a tiny pink cap on our baby girl’s head and carefully buckled her into her car seat. As tears streamed down my cheeks, I kissed her sweet cheeks for the last time.
I didn’t want to forget her — the way her tiny hand grasped my finger, what it felt like to hold her, or the joy in watching her grow over the past few months since we brought her home from the hospital. I didn’t want to let go of my dreams for her future.
I wanted to untell our five-year-old son that his baby sister, whom he adored, would grow up with a different family. I wanted to hold myself together for my husband, and he wanted to be strong for me, but it was a struggle to connect in the midst of the indescribable hurt — as if we were reaching for one another across a great chasm.
The adoption had fallen through. Under pressure from her abusive ex-boyfriend, who was also the baby’s biological father, the birth mother changed her mind. She wished to move forward with the adoption but could not bear the thought of her ex-boyfriend following through on his threat to seek custody if she did proceed with the adoption. Though we loved her dearly and understood her decision, we were shattered.
Like an emotional kick in the stomach, the knock at the door had signaled our caseworker’s arrival. The love, support, and countless hours our caseworker had devoted to us through our home study process seemed far away. Sadness replaced her usual smiles and warm spirit, and despite her training, she struggled to find soothing words.
It was time to let our baby go. It was time to let go of the loving intentions we had for her. It was time for our hearts to break.
I reminded myself to breathe.
I watched as the caseworker walked out the door with the car seat in hand and noticed each of her footsteps on her way to her vehicle. Mother Nature even cried for us — rain fell. The caseworker placed the car seat and its precious cargo into the vehicle, shut the car door, and drove away.
We lost a child. We ached for comfort beyond comprehension as the seconds turned into minutes and hours without her.
. . .
People often feel uneasy approaching others who are emotionally suffering.
According to an article written by Bruce Lambert, Ph.D., and published in The Emotion Machine, “…to really comfort someone requires coming face-to-face with extremely uncomfortable emotions. We may have to reflect on our own grief, our own losses, and disappointments to remember how it felt and what we were thinking. Many of us would rather not revisit those painful moments.”
After our adoption fell through, we experienced relative silence from our social network. Few of our family, friends, or faith community reached out. The phone didn’t ring. No visitors knocked at the door. I vaguely remember a few expressions of, “So sorry for your loss.”
My mother later shared with me that she and my father had not visited because they assumed we wanted privacy. Because anguish paralyzed my ability to function, I hadn’t asked them to visit.
It’s not that our loved ones didn’t want to help; it’s just that they felt uncomfortable approaching us. Some people pitied us from a distance. They didn’t want to say something wrong, and yet, they were uncertain of the right words to say.
We didn’t need the right words: We needed authentic love.
Real love takes many forms. We would have felt less alone if someone had simply offered their presence or a listening ear without judgment. Despite the discomfort, talking about our emotions with others would have provided us loving acknowledgment. Someone checking in regularly would have comforted us.
As time passed, no one discussed the baby girl we lost. She was like a ghost— present with us in spirit but invisible to others. Others’ lack of acknowledgment caused us to doubt our perceptions of loss and refrain from seeking the loving-kindness we so desperately needed.
Sometimes the heart sees what is invisible to the eye.
~H. Jackson Brown Jr.
As I recall this difficult time in our life, one special gesture stands out: a heartfelt letter that my grandmother penned. Her love permeated every word on her favorite pink stationery.
She abandoned any attempt to formulate the perfect words to address our emotional suffering when she wrote, “Right now, I wish I were a talented writer so I could write some beautiful, comforting words for you, but since I’m far from it, I’ll do the best I can.”
Given that Grandma had lost three children of her own — two infants and her youngest child when he was 18 years old, our experience of grief and loss resonated with her.
Grandma shared that when her youngest son died, she thought she couldn’t go on, but that “little by little, it got a little better.” In these words, we felt her heart’s intent. She faced her uncomfortable emotions and, using her words, passed on her courage to us.
Through her simple, authentic act of love, Grandma eased our emotional load. Her heart saw our suffering that was “invisible to the eye.”
While Grandma experienced a loss similar to our loss in her life, a parallel experience to someone suffering is not a requisite for offering authentic love. Rather, it is the effort to truly see someone’s pain and take the time to thoughtfully and directly communicate the impression back to them that provides comfort.
Grandma has since passed away, but I kept her letter, and I will treasure it always because it remains a comfort source.
. . .
People who are emotionally suffering don’t need superficial gestures. Cliches and pity are unhelpful, and sympathy and empathy are not enough.
The best way to help someone who is emotionally suffering is to offer authentic love. Pain is easier to bear in the presence of real love. As the song goes, love’s the only house big enough for all the pain in the world.
If someone you know is emotionally suffering, don’t get hung up on finding the right words to say. Offer your authentic love by pressing through your own discomfort with suffering. Your love, wrapped in truth and openness, can meaningfully ease their despair.
Love, simple and real, makes all the difference.
I love you, Grandma. You were a talented writer. This story is for you.
This post was previously published on Hello, Love.
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