In the very early days, I avoided the mailbox. This was because I rarely got out of bed. Hell, I was barely functioning. Brushing my teeth, showering, eating, and maybe taking a walk was all I could hope to accomplish. Besides, I already knew what was in the mailbox… So I let others bring in the cards.
Mark or my mother in law stacked piles of sympathy cards on our kitchen island. I’d enter the kitchen in my usual zombie-like state, sit down, read each card, and methodically pass them to Mark as I finished reading. “So sweet”, I’d mutter at some of them – the more unexpected ones.
Mark prefers to read each word on every card, even the words written by Hallmark. He’s sentimental like that – one who stands in the card aisle agonizing over which card to choose. “Why aren’t you reading these?” he’d ask (I was passing them too quickly for his liking).
“I am,” I’d respond, annoyed.
The truth is, I wasn’t reading them. There’s only so many ways Hallmark can say “I’m sorry for the loss of your child.” And there’s only so many cards even manufactured by Hallmark to say just that. Cards began to look familiar.
Look, there’s the bright white card with the whimsical green grass and the yellow butterflies… Again.
We’d suffered a tragedy so horrible, we were receiving the same cards over and over again – all the child loss sympathy cards the card aisles had to offer in July. The written words were similar too… “I’m so sorry. There are no words. I cannot imagine your pain. Praying for you. Call anytime.”
So yes, I stopped reading them. I was annoyed, angry even, that this was my life – opening sympathy cards, condolences for the death of my child.
But I also felt so loved. Because the alternative is even worse – no sympathy cards. I was so thankful for every act of kindness. And one thing I never stopped reading was the signatures. Those signatures will be etched in my heart forever. Because they thought of us. They thought of Matthew.
The inevitable reality post-tragedy is that the expressions of sympathy eventually dwindle, until the day comes when the mailbox is filled only with the usual shit. The world moves on. It’s been about 12 weeks, and I check the mail again. If I see a card, I’m okay, excited even, to open it. I want to know who is still thinking of Matthew.
Last Thursday morning I checked the mailbox (Wednesday’s mail) as I headed out for a morning run. There were two cards, but one wasn’t a sympathy card. I could see through the thin envelope and then noted the return address. My heart skipped a beat, or two. This was the piece of mail I had hoped my friend would have the good sense not to send me. But here it was – the birth announcement for her baby boy. Her first too. I’d been due a month after her, but I guessed she’d actually had her baby about a month after Matthew died. I didn’t open it.
NOTE: This is when the story becomes a bit (gasp) rude and begins to take on the tone of a T-Swift song, written about an ex-lover, post break up. There are some expletives, because I was pissed, and I won’t apologize for it. I won’t make a habit of turning my blog into a place where I speak negatively about friends, but here, I feel like a higher level of compassion was warranted.
The bereavement nurse at the hospital was correct when she spoke of the dreaded “new normal” and how I’d find it. I’ve noticed I’m functioning a little better despite my loss, rather than not functioning because of it. It’s all slowly becoming woven into the fabric of who I am. I’m not always thinking about Matthew, yet somehow I am always thinking precisely about him. Tears aren’t always flowing, but they are never too far from the surface. Mark calls this compartmentalizing, and he says I’m getting better at it. I suppose I am, but compartmentalization be damned, I had just received the biggest reminder of my parallel universe – the one where Matthew lives, and I’m sending his birth announcements.
Through the envelope, I could see a big “13” in the middle of the card. Her baby had arrived on a “13” – on the one month anniversary of Matthew’s death. I had correctly assumed her baby arrived safely (I mean, I’d probably be the first person anyone would call if their baby didn’t arrive safely given the tragedy I’d just experienced – that’s how it works, amiright?), and I was happy for her, or let’s just be honest… I knew I should be happy, and I wouldn’t wish the tragedy I’d experienced on my worst enemy.
However, I was hoping to not know this specific information. At least, not yet. And now it was too late, and I could never unknow this. I could never unknow that on day 13 of every month, I’m mourning my loss – crying, walking cemeteries, while she’s celebrating – taking cute onesie photos.
I shoved it back into the mailbox and headed out for my run. My mind raced.
She was living my parallel universe and mailed an announcement to tell me so – what in the hell was she thinking?!?! A birth announcement, with a “13” on it, mailed to me just 10 weeks after my son’s death, on a 13 – the saddest day of my pathetic life. How could someone be so cruel?
I ran, faster than usual (I’m super slow, so we’re talking 15 minute mile pace upped to 12 minute mile pace).
I would never talk to her again. Ever. She’d be left to guess what I thought of this gesture. No. The anger would eat me alive. I’d tell her just what I thought of this. I crafted a text in my mind:
“Dear _____, I got your birth announcement. Congratu-fucking-lations. Did you know Matthew died on July 13? Did you actually think it’d be a good idea to send me a picture of your baby to remind me that he lived, and oh yeah, mine died? Because it wasn’t. So I threw your shitty announcement in the trash can. I don’t think we’ll be friends anymore, because you’re self-centered beyond belief…”
I rewrote and revised the angry text in my mind for the remainder of my run. I had to say something. But I’d open the card before texting. I’d give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe there’d be a note included explaining that we’ve been friends for so long, so she just felt really compelled to share her good news. The note would explain how she’d agonized over whether to send this to me, and that she was so sorry if she made the wrong decision in doing so.
I arrived home, grabbed the mail, entered the house, and opened the announcement. No such note. And now I had seen the entire announcement in all its glory. It was all the information I didn’t want to know, including a picture of her baby in his Halloween costume.
Didn’t she realize I’d pictured Matthew in his own adorable Halloween costume?
I burst into tears and started my text. But it had to be nice. This was my friend, for whom I should be happy. So I wrote:
Hi there, I got your birth announcement. Congratulations. I am truly happy for you guys. I had assumed everything had gone well, and I am so happy for you that it did. It’s truly a miracle when it does.
I also wanted to thank you for your card and support for the walk.
Also, because I’m into feeling and communicating my feelings these days (therapists say it’s healthy), I must say, finding the birth announcement in my mailbox with a large number 13 in the center of it 10 weeks after the loss of my first son on the July 13 was a dagger to the heart. I don’t know if you thought of how hard it would be for me to receive it… Well, it was pretty excruciating to say the least.
Also, I am happy for you that your son did not have red hair. I know that was a major concern. Matthew had auburn hair. Good thing I happen to think it was beautiful.
I hope our friendship can survive this honesty. Some will, and some won’t. Some of those things are yet to be revealed. I know for friendships to survive I’ll have to eventually better equip myself to deal with triggers and celebrate with others. But 10 weeks is still very raw… And on the flip side, I’m now one of those difficult people, at least temporarily, who requires a heightened level of sensitivity. Thankfully, I already know there’s at least one or two friends who haven’t run from that. But again, the rest is unwritten, and everything now is different. I’ve accepted that.
Proud of my ability to tone down the snark, I went ahead and hit “send”.
Much to my surprise, her reply was nice. Apologetic even. I still don’t know how I feel about all of the details of it, but I feel better knowing I spoke my piece.
I honestly don’t know if our friendship will survive. I don’t know how two people whose paths match up nearly identically and then suddenly diverge so severely can remain friends, especially if the resulting feelings are compounded by acts perceived to be insensitive. It’s possible, I suppose. But it will change. And there will be complicated feelings, mostly on my part. And it will take time. And can our friendship survive the time it may take? She says she’ll be there when I’m ready. But it could be years.
And I know what you’re thinking. After she reads this, she sure as hell won’t be my friend. She’s unlikely to find it. She doesn’t live in my world, and I don’t live in hers.
Do you have someone in your life living your exact parallel universe? Has it been difficult to remain friends? Has this person acted in ways you perceive to be insensitive? If so, do you think your relationship will survive? Leave a comment.
12 thoughts on “Oh no she didn’t…”
Oh girl, I feel you.
One of my very best friends was pregnant four months behind me with Josie. When Josie died she was supportive and very sympathetic, but immediately began acting in an incredibly dense way. For example, five days after our daughter suddenly and unexpectedly died, there was a group text with our close friends about two of them coming into town and possibly meeting for brunch. I think everyone knew we wouldn’t be attending, but included us anyway. Just in case I guess.
She made a comment about how one of the guys in the group needed to go to church the next morning, because as everyone knows he is going to be the Godfather so he better act accordingly. lol.
She knew I was reading it. She knew I would see it. And she still typed those words, five days after my daughter’s heart stopped. It was like she was screaming at me “I’m still pregnant and you’re not!” Although I know this wasn’t what she meant to convey, I found it extremely insensitive.
And it didn’t stop there. I feel like I made a valiant effort to sustain the friendship, she was in our wedding after all. I loved her like a sister. It wasn’t her fault this happened to me. When her daughter was born perfectly beautiful and healthy four months after mine died, I went to the hospital and I held her. It took everything in me, but I did it. Then I cried for five days straight.
There were other instances too. We went shopping together that summer and she proceeded to enter three baby clothing stores to pick out an outfit for her first photo shoot…literally holding up adorable pink dresses while I attempted to keep my lunch down from across the store. “Do you like this one?”
I was sickened, honestly but somehow I wasn’t shocked. Sadly and disappointingly, I had grown accustomed to this type of behavior from her. …couldn’t she see that I didn’t want to see? Didn’t she know this was killing me? And the truth is, she couldn’t. And she didn’t. I kept begging for her to see, and she wouldn’t. And so I had to accept that, and I had to take a BIIIIIG step back.
It is one of the most difficult secondary losses I have endured since losing Josie. Sometimes I look back and think I shouldn’t hold it against her. Does anyone really know how to act when their best friend’s daughter dies, one month shy of her due date and theirs is born alive four months later? After all after all after all…it wasn’t her fault.
But most days I can sigh and take it in stride, because I truly feel that if she couldn’t see…wouldn’t see…then maybe I am better off knowing that. She is a friend, to be sure, but I am a little more confident in who my “best” ones are. In this light, some days I can even see it as a gain.
I’m sorry your friend was so cruel. And it’s exactly the word that fits. I’m sorry your Matthew isn’t here, and I’m sorry you live in this world now too. But I hope you always know that you’re not alone here. I live here too. 🙂
So much love to you, girl. Keep writing (it’s beautiful) and keep going (you are too!)
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Nora, Thank you so much for reading, and for commenting!! I really appreciate your encouragement too. I’ve been reading your blog since the moment I left the hospital, and I love it. You are such a gifted writer, and I was inspired to share my story because of you, so it means the world to me.
I am so very sorry about how your friend treated you after you lost Josie. Yep, those secondary losses… They sting bad. As if it isn’t hard enough to lose your precious child, but the awful just continues to pile on.
I cannot believe she did that in the group text (and you can’t even get out of a group text!). Those situations sometimes sting me the most… The friends who are still pregnant and seem to have no awareness, not even after knowing me, that this *could* happen to them – like somehow their child is a sure thing, even though what happened to me is still in the realm of possibilities. Of course, I would never wish this on anyone, and it is unfortunate I have become a source of fear to these women. But for some of them to have absolutely no fear that this *could* happen seems to imply to me they think this happened to me because I am some sort of freak.
I have no words for what she did with the clothes. Sometimes I am shocked at how dense people can be. How could she possibly have thought that was a good idea?!?!?! I know it can’t always be fun to be around us, but if someone is a true friend, that person, I feel, should at least have a sliver of awareness of how much we are hurting – how broken we are.
I didn’t write this, but in the text back, my friend said she did consider my feelings and ultimately decided she’d want to receive the announcement. Really?!?!?!?!?!?!? Like, OMG – WTF?!?!?! She would have?! I just DO NOT understand. Everyone to whom I’ve told this seems to agree with me. I feel the same way about your friend – on what planet does she live? Where it’s okay to hold up pink infant clothes in front of a mom who has just lost her little girl. Today I walked with a friend and we talked a little about this – that compassion is more innate to some compared to others, and we’re not sure how or why…
It sounds like you have given it your best effort. Honestly, you’ve given it more of an effort than I would have had the strength for. For you to have even found the strength to show up at the hospital is remarkable. I don’t think I could have done it, especially after everything that had taken place. You have given it your best. Sure, nothing is her fault, but a friend needs to be there for you – through the good, and yes, through the bad.
I agree that sometimes we’re better off after discovering these things… Sometimes it is a gain to know – we see the best and the worst humanity has to offer. Our perspective is forever changed. Of course, we’d trade all this in to have Matthew and Josie here on this Earth.
As I’ve heard it said a few times now, it’s the shittiest club on Earth, with some of the nicest, smartest, most beautiful members. If we have to live in this world, I’m thankful we’ve found each other. Sending love and light to you, Nora!
Such a heart-touching post. I can feel a lump on my throat.
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Thank you so much.
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Hi Christine. I’m so sorry on the loss of your precious Matthew. I’ve just found you today.
Sadly, I can relate very well, twice over (I have lost two sons in separate instances and circumstances), to the insensitivity of others as it relates to their own joys.
My Zachary was one of three boys in our extended family, born around the same time as a couple of cousins. The other two boys arrived as planned, and then Zachary did too, prematurely but healthy… and then died at two weeks old. My (step) sister-in-law, whose son was born about 6 weeks before Zachary, found it necessary to send us the invitation to her son’s baptism, his big shining, drooling face covering the tiny prints card. What was so strange about it is that she sent me a text “warning” me that it was coming in the mail. An attempt at easing the reality for me, I suppose. Of course, I wondered why she HAD to send it at all. Couldn’t she have just told me that it was happening and that she would understand if we didn’t want to join in the ceremony and celebration? Did I have to be greeted with his adorable face, amongst the sympathy cards we were still receiving every day at that time?
Anyway, I really appreciated your response to your friend and commend you for being as transparent as you could with her. It is not easy to have to respond AND continually educate others as we do it…
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Hi Gretchen, Thanks so much for reading, and for commenting!
I am so very sorry about your loss of your precious Zachary and about the loss of your other son – just so, so sorry. There are no words. Life can just be so brutal.
I am also so sorry to hear you’ve had similar experiences with the insensitivity of others. Unfortunately, I’ve already learned situations like this – me receiving the birth announcement and you receiving the baptism announcement are fairly common… I’m constantly left to wonder what the hell is wrong with people?!?!? I’m 100% certain if the roles had been reversed with me and this friend, I would NOT have mailed her my birth announcement!!
I do not understand why your step sister-in-law felt she HAD to send you the card. And the text “warning” you it was coming – like that would really help! It’s like, if she knew you needed to be warned, maybe that should have clued her in NOT to send it.
When my friend responded to me she explained she’d thought “long and hard” before sending it to me, but ultimately decided if she were in my position, she would have wanted to receive the announcement… REALLY?!?! I guess all that indicates to me is that she is not able to even remotely empathize with what I am going through, which is weird, because since she just had her child, couldn’t she imagine how upset she’d be if it’d not gone well? I don’t get it because other friends are SO sensitive about these things, so I don’t get why some other people lack it?
Yes, it is not easy to educate. I decided I had to, or it’d eat me alive. I’ve quickly accepted there will be some friendship casualties arising from my loss – it’s sad, but inevitable. But since I’m primarily concerned with grieving my loss of Matthew and my mental and physical health, I’ve decided I’ll focus on those friends who are truly there for me and respectfully educate others when needed, regardless of any consequences.
Sending so much love and light to you,
Your precious, perfect Matthew died July 13, my precious, perfect Juliette died Sept. 13 (’15) on her nine month birthday.
The 13th of every month is utterly soul shredding…and so is every other day.
Juliette was a late-in-life surprise for my husband and I. We already had our five, living children and we were older 48 and 43 when Jules was born). The pregnancy was hard on my body and honestly, I was fearful we wouldn’t make it, burn on Dec. 13, 2014, I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy, fully developed 7lb., 3oz. baby girl.
Juliette Noelle, who was due Christmas Day.
Our miracle, our joy.
She spent nine months being utterly spoiled. There was never a moment when she didn’t have the attention of someone.
She was the center of our family and our world.
Her nine month birthday came and we played and took pictures and shared them on Facebook and we were so happy…
My then-10 year old went to get her up from her afternoon nap and found her blue and lifeless in her crib. Four months later, the autopsy results confirmed what we all suspected–she had accidentally suffocated in a blanket she had pulled into her crib.
A blanket I had left within her reach.
This Wed. is another 13th. Seven months for me, nine months for you, Christine.
As I fight to survive making it through when truthfully, I don’t want to ever breathe again, I will think of you, Mark, Jay and your precious Matthew, and I will pray for comfort and peace, even if it’s only for a moment.
Know that my heart will be with yours on the next 13th.
I have a friend who gave birth to her daughter, Andersen almost three weeks after I had Juliette. My friend and I were both 43 when we had our girls, and the shared experience of being older, having hard pregnancies and beautiful girls knitted our hearts together and drew us closer. Since Jules’ death, we don’t communicate as much. My friend has been great, but I can’t handle hearing/seeing/thinking about her sweet girl. It just decimates me. In fact, I do everything I can to avoid pregnant women/babies/toddlers and I’ve become quite skilled at it. I’ve unfollowed everyone in this category on Facebook, I rarely go places and all of the people who are sitting in the dust and ashes of our lives with us know not to bring their little ones to our house and they never mention them unless we ask.
My Juliette should be here.
She should be toddling around, saying words, being cute and having play dates with little Andersen while Melissa and I struggle to have conversation, laughing about being out-of-shape, old mommies with young toddlers making mischief.
THAT should be my life.
Not this hell my family and I are forced to live.
Thank you for your transparency, your vulnerability, your raw honesty, Christine.
Thank you for risking sharing your heart.
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Thank you for your comment. I am so very sorry for your devastating loss of your precious Juliette Noelle (I swear this is one of the most beautiful names I’ve ever heard). There are no words for how heart wrenching and difficult this is and continues to be. It is just the most unfair, tragic thing in the world, and I’m so very sorry you know this excruciating pain.
You describe the 13th of every month well – soul shredding. This is exactly how it feels. This month, our support group meeting happens to fall on the 13th, and I feel I’ll need it… I’ll be thinking of you and your sweet Juliette Noelle too as I think of my Matthew Christopher. They’ll both be so much on my heart.
I’m also sorry to hear about your friend situation – it makes further intensifies the already unbearable pain when you see someone living out your perfect parallel universe. I’ve still not spoken to this friend, nor have I spoken to several others since Matthew died – it’s just too much, and I wonder if I’ll ever be able to speak to them again. I’m not sure of the answer to that… It isn’t fair. My Matthew should be here. Your Juliette should be here. These statements will never change. It’s hard to envision how, in some situations, that will ever soften…
I’m thinking of you and sending you hugs and love and light. You aren’t alone, and please reach out again any time. xoxo❤
We’ve responded to each other’s blogs on this topic before. You might recall Fran, my coworker who sent me an announcement three months after my baby died then brought him to the workplace and was looking for me to show him off (while I hid in my office)? Or Holly who called to tell me about her pregnancy 6 weeks after my loss and delivered a healthy baby boy in December? I’m still Facebook friends with both of them but I don’t “follow” them. I have no desire to actually see them in person (I do see Fran from afar but haven’t spoken much to her at all). I don’t think friendships can survive. It’s like how do widows ever go to weddings again?
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I agree that some friendships cannot survive. For me, this friendship is one of them. We’ve yet to speak again since this event (beyond a handful of brief text messages), and I strongly doubt we’ll ever see each other again. I’m so sorry you have similar situations.