Healing Your Heart After the Loss of A Child
By Jenn Minnite
The First 30-Days
The News You Never Expected to Hear
Day 1: No one is ready for this news. The baby that you carried inside of you, that you had hopes and dreams for, that was supposed to be a part of your family has died. You had just said hello to your baby and now you have to say goodbye.
Butterfly Kiss: There was nothing you could do or could have done more to change this. My heart and support are with you. This is a journey you will never forget and one you didn’t ever plan on taking – but you are here and one day, I promise, you will find peace. You will survive.
Day 2: You may feel frozen and in shock. Try to get out of bed and move around – even just a little bit. Try to connect with others. Hold someone’s hand. Let yourself be comforted in whatever small or large way you can.
Butterfly Kiss: That first night after our son’s death, I couldn’t sleep. My husband put in the video of our baby’s 12 days of life. It was so sad to watch, but that’s what I needed at that moment- I needed to see him one more time. Even if it hurts, do what you need to do to feel close to your baby.
Day 3: This was the day my husband and I made the funeral arrangements. I couldn’t believe the calls I was making, the questions I was being asked, and the words that were coming out of my mouth. I felt like someone else was making all these plans. I had to ask everyone to repeat everything twice.
Butterfly Kiss: People who work at funeral homes and churches are used to helping families deal with death immediately after it has happened. They will help you organize and manage everything. Let them do their job.
Day 4: Again, so many things to do. And I felt like I was on some strange planet. I visited the funeral home, met with the church, and even asked family to be pallbearers.
Butterfly Kiss: I called each man that we chose to be pallbearers personally. It was emotional, but it gave me a chance to talk about Lucca- something I was desperate to do at the time. If you can’t organize this, have a family member ask the men that you choose to be pallbearers.
Day 5: Offers of help start pouring in. Our house was overflowing with flowers, food, and cards. I was grateful but I didn’t know how to mange it at first. Someone told me to be honest with everyone about what I really needed. I had family members help me to manage the phone calls and visitors.
Butterfly Kiss: What you need will change day-by-day – even minute-by-minute. One minute you will feel like you need company, you’ll welcome the phone calls, cards, and food. The next minute, it might be too much and you’ll want to be alone. Your changing feelings are all ok. Reach out when you feel the need for companionship- people will be so happy to hear from you.
Day 6: Sleep as much as you can. My body was in such shock. Sleep helped my brain rest so I could stop thinking about what happened. This was the only time I didn’t think about losing my baby.
Day 7: When sleep eluded me, I tried to find some way for my body to relax. I would concentrate on each body part and tighten my muscles as much as I could, starting with my feet and working my way up, then I would slowly release them. That kept my mind off the pain and helped me drift off to sleep.
Butterfly Kiss: If you can, let someone rub your feet or your back. It will help you relax and release some tension and stress. I found comfort in just holding my husband. We were the ones who created this child and we were the only ones who were Lucca’s parents. We helped comfort each other.
Day 8: This was the day of my son’s funeral. I set out intending to try to celebrate the life that he did live. I chose the song “Silent Night” to be played because he passed away just after Christmas. The lyrics “Sleep in Heavenly Peace” soothed me. Those words connect us together, even 6 years later.
Butterfly Kiss: This day will go by in a blur. Try to take some “piece” away with you that gives you comfort. For me, reading the guest book reminds me of how many people cared about us and loved our baby and us. Also, I keep the prayer card from his funeral in my wallet. Every once in a while, I pull it out and read from it. It might not be right away, but later on in your grief journey, you will be thankful that you kept a memento from that day.
Day 9: From so much to do… to nothing to do except think about everything. This was the day I just concentrated on breathing. One breath and then another, and then another… Sometimes I would just count them.
Day 10: I remember waking up and asking myself, “How could I start living again?” So I made a list of just a few things to “accomplish” for the day.
Day 11: This was the day my husband and I wrote my son’s obituary.
Butterfly Kiss: Try not to think of it as an obituary. Find another word that feels more peaceful- perhaps a “remembrance”. Find a peaceful place where you and your husband or partner can write it. You can support each other through the writing of it. If you have children you can ask them what they would like to say about their sibling as well.
Day 12: The next day I read his obituary in the paper. I knew it was coming, but my heart broke again when I saw that our baby was on the same page with people who had lived such long lives. Lucca’s obituary was so short because he hadn’t gotten that chance.
Day 13: Today, I woke up feeling totally numb, totally in shock. I felt as though I had taken a huge step backwards. I just missed my baby so much.
Butterfly Kiss: Carry something that reminds you of your baby. My husband gave me a beautiful bracelet when Lucca was born. When he passed away, my husband attached an angel charm to it. I rubbed that angel charms so much in the first month, that I think I wore the face off of it. My husband has a frame of Lucca that he carries with him in his briefcase.
Day 14: I experienced an actual physical “ache”. My arms actually ached and I thought I was going crazy. A nurse at the hospital assured me that mothers who have lost a baby go through this and it is quite normal. She said it would go away soon, but I didn’t want it to go away. It made me feel closer to Lucca, like he was still in my arms.
Butterfly Kiss: Grief affects our bodies as much as it does our hearts and spirit. Grief wasn’t a steady progression for me. Some days I felt like I could deal. Then the next, it hit me like bricks. I tried to breath my way through it and put one foot in front of the other.
Day 15: I felt like I was walking around with a hole in my heart. When my son died, he took a piece of my heart with him.
Butterfly Kiss: One book that gave me comfort during this time is called The Heart’s Journey (See list of books in the resource section) It is a book of pictures; there is no text. It is an inspiring tale of the resilience and triumph of the human heart.
Day 16: At this point my brain was coming to terms that my son had passed away but my body still acted like I had a baby. My stomach was still enlarged and I still had milk from breastfeeding. I called a lactation specialist to ask how to stop producing milk. That was one of the saddest calls I ever had to make.
Butterfly Kiss: After I finished talking with the lactation specialist, I called the social worker from the hospital. She helped me talk through my emotions about not being able to breastfeed anymore. If you don’t feel comfortable about calling someone from the hospital, find someone to talk to about how you feel. If you breastfed your baby, no longer being able to do so can feel like you are losing your baby all over again.
Day 17: Today I had the idea to say my child’s name aloud. I hadn’t said it in what felt like a long time. The more I said his name out loud the better I felt. I didn’t know how good it would feel until I tried it.
Butterfly Kiss: You might have said your baby’s name while he or she was in your womb. Say it again out loud -it can become a way to celebrate your baby. It’s proof that he or she existed, was here on earth and isn’t just a memory.
Day 18: Today I felt pretty angry and I didn’t feel like crying. I had just cried so much. I was angry that I didn’t get to raise my child and that I didn’t get to be there for him throughout his life.
Butterfly Kiss: You will experience a whole range of feelings and anger might be one of them. It’s ok to feel angry, but it’s what you do with these feelings that is important. Express anger by talking to a family member about the way you feel.
Day 19: On this day, I couldn’t stop crying.
Day 20: Mourning is the outward expression of sorrow. When you mourn you cry, speak, or write about your loss. You need to work through mourning during this time of loss. To heal, we need to be able to mourn.
Butterfly Kiss: Some days I just wanted to be sad, so I indulged those feelings by getting out the baby blanket that Lucca used and held it close to my face. Other days I felt like I had cried an ocean and needed to do something with my sadness, so I wrote in my journal. On other days, I needed to talk to someone about my sadness and my sister-in-law was always there for me. You will need different ways to mourn on different days, but it is absolutely necessary to work through these moments.
Day 21: Just as there is no right or wrong way to grieve, there also is no time limit on grief. Allow yourself time to go through this process.
Butterfly Kiss: Unfortunately, losing your baby is going to hurt more in the beginning before it starts to hurt less. It’s what you do with this valuable time that is going to make all the difference in your grief journey.
Day 22: This is when I first felt fear of forgetting the details of my baby so I started to write in a journal. I wrote down how much I loved him and everything about him that I had come to know.
Day 23: Fears started to pop up. What about the health and welfare of my other children or my future children? What if something happens to them also?
Butterfly Kiss: At the suggestion of my counselor, I wore a rubber band around my wrist and when I started to worry about my other two children, I would snap it gently. I found that this “snapped” me back into thinking good thoughts about my children and got rid of the worry.
Day 24: Fears of losing touch with your spouse.
Butterfly Kiss: Call in for help and get away – even if it’s just on the other side of town to be together. Even if you don’t talk much, find a place outside all the triggers of sadness to be together. Take a walk through a pretty garden or down the beach. Take time to hold each other and just be together.
Day 25: Fears of being sad all the time- will I ever be truly happy again?
Butterfly Kiss: I found great comfort in nature. Sometimes I would just look at a flower or a butterfly and notice how beautiful they were. I made sure to sit in the sun a little bit each day. I would just close my eyes and feel the sun on my face. It made me start to feel like I was alive again.
Day 26: Visiting the cemetery. If this is where your baby’s remains are, then you might find comfort in visiting from time-to-time. Cemeteries are for the living. It gives us a place to go and pray, talk, cry, and just feel our loved ones presence.
Butterfly Kiss: We visit the cemetery together as a family, my husband and I go together and by ourselves, and other family members go to feel close to Lucca. We chose a very beautiful cemetery and Lucca is with all of the other babies. I always leave with a feeling of peacefulness and thankfulness.
Day 27: Let go of any negative feelings you may be harboring about the funeral.
Butterfly Kiss: Funeral and burial decisions had to happen very quickly for us and as a result, I felt guilty that I wasn’t able to make it as meaningful as I could have. If you feel the same way, understand that you did the best you could at the time. Talk to someone about the funeral and your feelings. Maybe that person can share some insight about something meaningful to them that you had forgotten about.
Day 28: It’s ok to distract yourself from your baby’s death. Grieving is exhausting work and you need to be able to get away from the sadness even if it’s just for a little while.
Day 29: Reach out to those family members that are experiencing the loss of their grandchild, niece and/or nephew.
Butterfly Kiss: These people are often forgotten in the sadness of losing a child. They also have focused on giving you a lot of their love and support. When you feel ready, tell them how much they mean to you and thank them for the time they spent with the baby, even if it was only getting to hold them one time. It has broken your parents’ hearts to watch you- THEIR child- go through losing a child. Let them know this.
Day 30: If you feel ready, make a list of short-term goals for the next month.
Getting Back Into the World
Day 31: The first month I avoided being in public. My body still looked like I had recently had a child and so many people – like those at the grocery store – remember me as being pregnant. I just wasn’t ready to explain to everyone what had happened. But today was the day I tried my best to get back into the world and even get back into my routine.
Day 32: First day back at work or first day alone once your husband goes back to work.
Butterfly Kiss: If it is your first day back at work, this can feel like you are reliving the loss of your baby all over again. Well- meaning people will no doubt be standing in line to offer their condolences again. Accept them the best you can and try to accomplish one task at a time. On the other hand, it can be very hard to be alone again if your husband is going back to work for the first time. Try to look at this time alone as some special time to do something for yourself. Read a book, work in your garden,take a walk to a park- just slow down.
Day 33: How to deal with the” minutia” of life. I had such a hard time understanding how the little details of life could have meant so much to me. Before my baby died, I had “to do” lists for everything. I would get so worked up over ridiculous things. Now I just didn’t have any room or energy for these same things.
Butterfly Kiss: Losing Lucca put a lot of things into perspective for me. I try not to get worked up over little details that, in the grand scheme of things, don’t really matter. You will find that your priorities will change and this can be a very good thing. I cherish life so much more now and I don’t take people or special moments for granted.
Day 34: It’s ok to say “No”.
Butterfly Kiss: Saying “No” to help volunteer or attend a party is ok. You are not going to feel like doing much soon after the loss of your child. Make sure that you are polite and thank them for their offer.
Day 35: Feelings of Powerlessness.
Butterfly Kiss: Fear is associated with feelings of being powerless. Investigate what you might be fearful of. In the beginning, I was afraid that I had caused my baby’s heart defect. Later, when we got the genetic tests back and everything was negative, I felt so much better.
Day 36: I woke up feeling like I wanted to get my body back into shape.
Day 37: Take care of yourself.
Day 38: Don’t forget to do the things that used to make you happy.
Butterfly Kiss: You have changed since the death of your baby, but you are still you. Try to remember that today and do something that you like to do- play the piano, paint, sing, take a jog or go on a brisk walk.
Day 39: Breathe in and out when you think you can’t take it anymore.
Day 40: Join a grief group such as Compassionate Friends. It can be comforting to know that you are not the only family that has lost a child.
Butterfly Kiss: We found comfort in our church grief group, but if you are not religious, there are many other organizations world wide that can help you. (See the list of these groups in the Resource section.)
Day 41: Welcome to the club that you never wanted to be a part of- The Bereaved Parent Club. I used to be a “parent”, now I am a “bereaved parent”.
Butterfly Kiss: The word “bereaved” means “to be torn apart”. Share your story with others in a grief support group. Your story could benefit others who are going through the same tragedy. There is comfort in knowing that you are not alone in this journey. Others have been through this and are healing.
Day 42: Read some books on grief and losing a child. There are many books that can help you through this journey. (See a list of books in the Resource Section.)
Butterfly Kiss: Not all the books you read need to be about grief. Read a book for enjoyment as well. Read the comics. Find something funny that doesn’t trigger you but also makes you laugh. I found myself going through an old email file of funny and heartwarming stories that I had saved. It felt good to smile while I read through them.
Day 43: I treated myself to a relaxing day. The only goal I had was to relax.
Butterfly Kiss: When you are ready, allow yourself to get a relaxing beauty treatment, or get your hair or nails done at a salon. Something that makes you feel relaxed can do wonders for your self-esteem. It’s okay to get back into the world and treat yourself.
Day 44: Make a donation or set up a fund in honor of your child.
Butterfly Kiss: We set up a fund in Lucca’s name at UCSF where he passed away. Instead of flowers at the funeral, we asked that people donate to UCSF and each year our family and other members continue to donate to his fund. The money goes toward helping other children with heart defects and to help families pay hospital bills.
Day 45: We decided to plant a rose bush in our backyard in our son’s honor. When it blooms, the roses are the colors of a sunset. I always keep one in a vase in my kitchen.
Day 46: Now that my body was getting back into its normal shape, it was time to put away the maternity clothes.
Butterfly Kiss: I did this slowly. One day I went through my drawers and then a couple of days later, I went through my closet. I kept a couple of special outfits in a specific place in my closet. They helped me remember when my baby was living inside of me.
Day 47: The nursery- deciding what to do with an empty room.
Butterfly Kiss: I couldn’t bear to put everything away at first. Then slowly, we put some things away. It became the “play room” for our other children and I liked the fact that the kids were having fun in Lucca’s room. I think he would have liked it too.
Day 48: Creating a keepsake box. This helps give you a specific place to put all of those treasured memories.
Butterfly Kiss: I have a special box with my baby’s hand and footprints, a lock of his hair, cards that people had sent us, and little gifts I wanted to save. When I want to feel close to him, I take these things out and they help me remember him.
Day 49: I caught myself actually laughing at a joke.
Day 50: Make a slideshow of the pictures you have of your baby.
Day 51: Create a scrapbook of your child’s life.
Day 52: Write your child’s story down. The saddest part of doing this is that there is an end to your story. It can be very therapeutic and healing to write.
Butterfly Kiss: I read Lucca’s story to him at the cemetery one time that I visited. I have also read it to family members. They have added things about him that they remembered and this helped to keep his story going. Even though there is an end, as long as it’s being told and retold, his memory lives on.
Day 53: Write letters to your baby.
Day 54: I have a relationship with my child. It is a different relationship than I expected- it is a relationship of memories.
Butterfly Kiss: You will always be your child’s parent. Nobody can take that fact away from you. Trust in the fact that you were chosen to be your baby’s parent and no amount of time can take that away from you.
Day 55: Keep the faith.
Butterfly Kiss: If you attend church, now would be a great time to continue going on a regular basis. You can talk to a priest or clergyman about your grief and often they can help you connect with others in the church community that have gone through the same tragedy. Also, if you believe in God, it is important to maintain that relationship and to discover where God is in your grief journey.
Day 56: You are loved. And these people that love you want you to be happy again.
Day 57: Sing a song that you used to sing to your baby.
Butterfly Kiss: Repeat this song over and over if it gives you peace. I used to sing “Hush, Little Baby” to Lucca. It was also the last song I sang to him before we had to leave him. I sang it to all of my children and it gives me comfort in a way that no other song can.
Day 58: Read a book to your baby that you read to him when he was inside your womb.
Day 59: Connecting with your baby.
Butterfly Kiss: When I feel like I want to be close to Lucca, I sit in the rocking chair that I rocked him in the night before we had to take him back to the hospital, and I close my eyes. The back and forth motion of the rocker helps me to focus on the important parts of my life and the times I had with my son.
Day 60: The story of Butterflies From Heaven:
One spring day, my children were playing across the street from our house in a beautiful grassy area. They were running and laughing- being kids. All of the sudden I looked up and a beautiful butterfly floated down in between the trees. The kids noticed it too and started to chase it. It flew really close to them and just as one of the kids tried to reach out, it would dart back up into the trees. I was mesmerized by this simple game. This took place for probably 5 minutes until I realized that this butterfly seemed playful, like a child itself. I believe that this was Lucca’s spirit coming down from Heaven to play with his brother and sister. To this day, whenever I see a butterfly, I think of Lucca.
May there be many “butterflies” in your world to remind you that your baby’s spirit is always close by.
This is a lifelong journey. It is not a journey I asked to take, but it is my journey nonetheless. I can’t imagine my life without Lucca. If God stood before me and asked me to choose between not ever knowing Lucca or getting to hold him and love him for 12 days, I would still pick the 12 days even though I know the end of the story. My baby gives me strength and hope to go on. My hope is that your heart will begin to heal just a little after these first 60-days.
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