Sunday, December 03, 2017

Tough Audience

I attended a talk by a woman who wrote about meeting the man who murdered her father when she was a child. She is incredibly brave and it was a very moving event, but after a while I found it so uncomfortable that I had to leave before the end. I think it has something to do with, when listening to someone talk about their grief, especially if it's a traumatic loss, I think I expect to connect more with the person and the story than I do, and then that disappointment gets added to the daily disappointment. I wonder if it's because stillbirth is just so weird, so unrelatable to anything else, that I end up feeling more isolated and alone. No other type of loss requires you to deliver your loved one's body out of your body. That doesn't make it "worse" or "better" than any other kind of loss, just different, with its own set of challenges. It's the most terrifying thing I've ever experienced and haunts me to this day, yet I still get asked why I think I have PTSD.

I had this weird horrible jealousy about the author's grief being validated. No one could possibly blame her for what happened to her family, or pressure her to forget her father and somehow replace him. I struggled through her talking about how it helped her to meet the killer, to find out about his difficult past, and to tell him about the man he killed and how beloved and missed he is. It sounded like it helped him be more remorseful, which in turn seemed to help the family (not in a vengeful kind of way). It was through an amazing sounding restorative justice program at the prison.

As so often happens since his birth, my thoughts slither to: what would be the stillbirth equivalent of this experience. Restorative justice. Any kind of relief and justice for a life never lived seems impossible. Would it help to meet with our doctors and talk about how the healthcare system is not set up to prevent babies dying at birth? About how pregnant women are so infantilized that their legitimate concerns are dismissed with eye rolls and jokes about hysterical motherhood and getting fat? About how the pervasive belief in "the power of positive thinking" means no one thinks a baby can die at 38 weeks which also contributes to maternity nurses not being trained to support families in sudden, traumatic grief?

I've heard enough comments about not participating in the "grief Olympics" to want to delete this post. But of course there are shared experiences and things we can all learn from each other when it comes to grief. I wanted to ask about her perspective now on trauma and grief as a child, and whether she felt supported during what must have been a chaotic time for her family. As a bereaved mother raising a bereaved child, I'm always interested in the opinions of those who are willing to share their lived experience. I feel like people rely too much on the concept of children's "resilience" rather than providing loving support, as well as accepting how individual grief and love are. And because the world thinks that children are not fully human because they are not fully developed, they don't always get treated with respect and humanity. Grief is so disorienting and confusing when you're an adult. As a child it must be downright frightening. I also wanted to ask about anger. Of course. A perennial favourite.

The first audience question was about the prisoner and I quietly packed up my things and left as she gave a very measured and respectful response about how the focus of her writing is on her own experience, not his. I couldn't stay and listen to her valiantly fend off sleazy questions about her family's pain, not when I had so often been asked to talk about my son as if he were a morbid source of gossip and fascination and not our child who died. I wanted connection and relatability but when it showed up, I had to check out. I'm a difficult audience. Impossible mostly.

A final note - her baby was in the room being looked after by someone and crying intermittently. I thought about how having a baby must be adding unexpected dimensions to the grief. Her father should be here to meet his grandchild. As the author was being introduced as "an important new voice", the baby happened to cry and the speaker stopped and smiled and said, "And another important new voice!" So true. It was a lovely moment. Everyone laughed. Except me.

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