Despite the fact that I blab about my life here on this blog, I’m not really a “let’s share our feelings” sort of person. So I was just as surprised as you are when, after we lost Sam and Emilie, my greatest source of comfort was our infant loss support group.
We attended regularly for a couple years, and attended a “subsequent pregnancy” group when we were pregnant with Henry and Eleanor. These groups were invaluable to us. It was the one place where people got it, where you could crack a morbid joke or admit your bitterness over others’ pregnancies and people would nod in understanding.
We attend only the rare meeting now, but one we don’t miss is every December, when they hold a candlelight ceremony to remember the children and pregnancies we’ve lost. I look forward to it; it allows us a moment during a busy time of year to reflect on our family and how it came to be. It also gives us a chance to reconnect with others who attended the group the same years we did, the people who knew us as “Sam and Emilie’s parents” when the rest of the world wouldn’t (and still don’t) acknowledge it.
This is the first year that Henry and Eleanor took part in the ceremony, the first year they weren’t too young to understand what was going on. We had explained things as best we could, that they had to stay quiet and be respectful, that they’d see some people (including Mom and Dad) be sad, and that was okay. And they could feel sad or not sad, and that was okay, too. And to my great relief, they did wonderfully.
I was actually a little surprised at how seriously they took the ceremony, and how important it seemed to them. Eleanor was quick to dart up to fetch Kleenexes at the first sight of a tear; I had a fistful by the end. She even teared up a little herself during one or two of the songs, although she’d never admit it (“I’m not crying, Mom, my eyes are just randomly watering.”). Henry looked solemn and listened intently to everyone’s stories. At one point, Eleanor whisper-asked me what day was Sam and Emilie’s birthday and how old they’d be in heaven, then mentioned we should get the candles back out for their birthday next year to celebrate.
When it came time to light the candles, the girls lit one for Emilie and the boys did one for Sam. Eleanor took her job very seriously. She scoped out the candle she wanted, and insisted on saying Emilie’s name as we lit the candle. Henry picked out his candle, too, and both kids held them all the way home, where they insisted on lighting them again. Granted, Henry then wanted to carry his around the house like he was exploring, but overall, I think they understood the specialness of tonight.
I struggle with how much to incorporate Sam and Emilie into our daily lives. I think about them every day, but don’t want Henry and Eleanor to grow up with the spectre of a dead brother and sister always hanging over their heads. But the fact of the matter is that there will always be visits to the cemetery, and candlelight ceremonies, and mentions of people who are in our family but aren’t here with us. It’s a tricky balance to acknowledge the reality of our family but do so in an age-appropriate way. So Andy and I just do our best, answering questions honestly when they’re asked, and talking about Sam and Emilie when we feel it’s relevant. We’re basically making up the rules as we go along, I mean, who can ever expect and fully prepare for their family to be a blend of living and non-living children? Hopefully tonight proved that we’re on the right track.