“How many?” a hostess greeted me at the door of a crowded pub.
“Oh I’m meeting some friends here,” I explained, “I think some of them are here already.”
“Okay well feel free to have a look around!”
“Will do! But I might have some trouble… You see, I’ve never actually met these particular friends in real life.”
Kidding. I didn’t really say this last part. Not to the hostess. Though I’d told some people… Family members, friends, Sher… When she told me that she was going to Chicago one weekend, I tried to relate, “Oh I’m going to be in Chicago in early September!”
“Oh really? For what?” Sher asked.
“A girls trip…” (I felt just the slightest bit cool for the first time in three years as the words rolled off my tongue.)
“Oh how do you know them?”
“Well, we met online. Each one of us has a child who died.”
“Oh.” (It’s always a conversation stopper.)
So instead I just stood near the entrance, feet frozen in place as I peered timidly around corners thinking, “I don’t think I see them.”
I’ve always been bad at this. Finding people in person who I’ve only ever seen in pictures. The stakes always seem high too, because could there be anything more embarrassing than to get it wrong? (Yes there could be, but STILL.)
So I texted the group, “I’m here!”
“Are you really going to make me come find you guys?!”
“Hahaha,” responded R, who was still en route.
Finally another reply from S, “Well, I managed to find A!”
Though we’d been texting for nearly two years, I must admit some part of me was a tad nervous, “Would we get along as swimmingly in person? Would it be awkward? So awkward that it obliterated our texting relationships?”
“If it isn’t going well,” Mark had suggested the night before, “You can all just sit at the table and text each other.”
But from the first hugs with S and A, and then R, and then N, I could tell that Mark’s suggestion (thankfully) wouldn’t need to be employed. And as we sat in hotel rooms and walked the streets and rode in cabs and Lyfts (sometimes rocking out to 90s hip hop music) and did generally touristy things (like the architectural boat tour) and took selfies and drank wine and feasted on nachos and burrata and candied bacon and cupcakes and popcorn and deep dish pizza (we practically starved ourselves) it mostly felt like a reunion among old friends or even sisters. And I guess in many ways we are, because when you’re sisters in loss and grief (as we are, and as each of us are with so many others), there’s so much that we just get about each other.
We talked about Clara and Meredith and Kenley and Cora and Matthew, and it felt normal. And we cried and this felt normal too. And we talked grief, and it was safe, and there was never an ounce of judgment. And we talked about our living babies and parenting woes, and everyone could understand it in the context of the difficult task of parenting after loss. And we just talked about life and about stupid things too. And we laughed. Oh, did we laugh. And for once, at least to me, it didn’t feel so much like betrayal. I knew no one would see me and deem me “over it.” I thought, perhaps, our babies would be happy we found each other, helped each other to survive… (On more than one occasion, these friends have been the ones I’ve texted in tears at 4:00am.)
Though I wish we could have met each other ANY other way, I consider my connections to these strong, brave warrior women (and others like them) among Matthew’s greatest gifts to me. Although Matthew’s death has changed me for the worse in many ways, knowing these moms and their babies has changed me for the better.
A couple of times during the weekend, I found myself feeling mesmerized. How could this awful tragedy have happened to these women? To all five of us? To our amazing families? To some of the most inspiring, smart, witty and hilarious people I’ve ever met. It’s one of the biggest reminders there is that tragedy certainly doesn’t play fair.
Ironically, the day before I left for Chicago a newly bereaved mother emailed me asking how I found my tribe (these friends and others with whom I’ve connected) after loss. For me personally, the answer is multifaceted. I first read blogs, and, occasionally, I’d reach out to people with whom I felt a connection. Eventually I started my own blog. People commented on my blog. I’d comment on their blogs. Or we’d chat through email. I tried to share my most raw thoughts on my blog. I think had I tried to be inspiring to the nonbereaved or my church congregation I wouldn’t have found such genuine connections.
I posted on glowinthewoods.com, a website for bereaved parents, and I started an Instagram account, where I’m mostly friends with other baby loss moms. We don’t post only about baby loss and grief, but sometimes it’s nice to post a picture of your child’s grave to what you know is a supportive community, especially on days when your “real life” feels particularly isolating. From here, there were connections that stuck – you eventually exchange phone numbers with some. Then maybe you meet others in real life someday. There’s no benefit to being shy, really. Boldness in this situation has been lifesaving, which is convenient because much of my shyness, inhibition, filter, etc. died the day Matthew did.
There’s all sorts of avenues to help one connect with their “tribe,” or, as Megan Devine calls it, their “Tribe of After” – these were just the ways I did it.
In her fabulous book, It’s OK That You’re Not OK, Devine I think puts it better than I do, “It takes work to find these places, I know. They’re easier to find, but not yet easy. Read everything your heart and mind can tolerate. Read the comments (ignore the ignorant or cruel); follow the links you find there. Leave comments. Track your people through the wilderness of grief until you find their campsite, or make one of your own. I can talk in poetry about this forever, but it’s the only thing I know: we find each other by becoming findable… …Write, comment, connect. The more ways you find to speak your truth, the more ways your people can find you, the more ways your words can find them. Light your lantern. Raise it up. Keep looking. Keep finding… …Be fierce about it. You may be rare, but you are not the only one living a nightmare. We are here, and we’re listening.”
I’m eternally grateful for this space. This campsite. Others’ campsites. This group of people I’ve met – on this blog, other blogs, in blog comments, email, Instagram – this group tracking each other through the wilderness… I’m sorry we’re in this cruel wilderness, but since we are, and this fact cannot be changed, I’m glad we’ve found each other.