Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Comfort in Acknowledgement

As we were driving home from preschool yesterday, Caleb told me about a girl in his class.  With joy in his voice he said, "Mommy, do you know what?!  Faith knows my baby brother died!  Can you believe that?"  Then he proceeded to list numerous other classmates who know about Samuel.  I asked him how he found out that Faith knows, and he said, "She told me!"  He was very upbeat about communicating this information to me, and I wondered if he could articulate his emotion.  So, I asked, "How did you feel when Faith told you that she knows about Samuel?"  With absolute glee, he said, "I felt HAPPY!"  Caleb's joy touched me because that this is how I feel, too, when people talk to me about Samuel.

I have been thinking about this for a long while, but Caleb's story helped me to see that my feelings are probably not isolated just to me.  Perhaps these particular feelings in grief are more universal than I thought.  Truthfully, when I think of people I know who have faced the death of a loved one, they always seem to appreciate when someone talks about the person who has died.  My mother-in-law, Kathy, loves when we talk about Bryan's dad, Charlie.  My mom and aunts enjoy talking about their parents.  All of us who have lost someone close to us carry that person's memory constantly.  The memories can begin to feel weighty if we think we're the only ones shouldering them.  But when we have someone to share them with, to relive them with, to acknowledge them with, it lightens the load and helps the memories be beautiful again instead of burdensome. 

I realize that people have no idea what to say to us and how to approach us in this season.  I can imagine that the thought of running into me or Bryan is scary -- "What will I say? What should I do? How should I act? Do I mention Samuel or not? What if I say the wrong thing? What if they weren't thinking about Samuel, and then I bring him up, and they feel sad all over again? What if I make them cry?"  The questions are legitimate.  And there is no right thing to say to us.  No one can say anything to make it all better.  But it does bless me every time someone does say something.

Having been back in some social settings now, I can tell you that I appreciate every interaction where people acknowledge Samuel and our loss.  It is validating somehow, and it makes it much easier for me to then engage in conversations about other things.  Almost every mention of Samuel brings tears to my eyes, and I know that can be uncomfortable for whomever is talking to me, but the tears are healing, and they enable me to then sincerely talk about life beyond Samuel instead of trying to force my memories aside, leap over this enormous hurdle of my pain, and then discuss whatever is happening in my friends' lives.  Samuel is never out of my thoughts, so mentioning him will never "take me by surprise" and remind me of my pain.  I am infinitely aware of my pain.  But bringing him up and bringing up our sorrow makes me feel known and cared for.  It makes me feel more real about talking about other things; it makes the interaction more authentic, and honestly, it just takes far less effort to be present in the moment when the true state of our lives has been recognized.

In no way do I write this to criticize those who have not mentioned Samuel.  I assume the best of people we encounter.  I assume each person intends well and is trying to do what would be most helpful.  And sometimes I figure that people don't know our story and haven't said anything simply out of ignorance.  We can hardly blame anyone for their silence on Samuel.  I simply want to process my grief and what has blessed me as I walk through this valley.

And, I want to remember for the future, for those who will face seemingly insurmountable grief, it blesses those who are hurting to know you hurt with them.  It lightens the load of the burdened to acknowledge the weight they are carrying.  It brings joy to the sorrowful to hear a treasured memory of the past.  To speak honestly about the grief and the loss is far more do-able than to pretend an utterly life-altering experience didn't happen.  Though the heartfelt and compassionate mention of the person they love will likely bring tears, each of those tears is a step toward a mended -- though forever changed -- heart.


  1. Hi Katherine and Bryan - I will probably never run into you and have an opportunity to let you know how special I think you and your family are or to mention your sweet Samuel and tell you how far away he has touched lives. This is going to sound ridiculous, but I wanted you to know your reach - I received a link to your blog shortly after Samuel was born from my husband's best friend's wife who got the link from her sister who lives in your town and has a friend that attends your Church :-) Since then, I have read it every day. I hoped for you when you hoped, prayed for you when you prayed, and grieved with you when Samuel went to be with the Lord and now...I have been constantly been amazed at your strength, courage, and faith. You have an amazing way of putting your inner-most and private thoughts into beautiful words that make us feel what you are feeling (as much as we can) and show us the kind of people you are. I am so sorry for your loss and will continue to pray for your family.

    Ashley (Dallas, TX)

  2. Kathryn--I am so blessed by your articulate way of expressing your grief. The clarity of this particular post is amazing to me. It is very helpful to read in relation to helping others. Thank you so much for taking the time to share what you are experiencing/learning. We will continue to pray for you and your family.
    Tracy (& Tim) Alderson (PC, Texas)

  3. I've been reading along, even though I haven't commented much. I have often wondered about what you say to someone going through a really dark time such as y'all have/are. I think those who know your story and interact with you want to talk about Samuel with you and celebrate his life, but they are afraid of hurting you in the process. Your post helps shed some light on that.

    Your family's strength throughout all of this is inspiring, to put it mildly. You've been on my mind, and I've been holding you and your family in the Light.


  4. Oh, that precious Caleb. How his joy in being able to talk about Samuel to his friends helps me to remember to talk about him to those around me. Thank you, Kathryn, for your insightful self. What a gift you are to this mom.

  5. Something that has stuck with me from my heaviest grief days is something that I read on a fetal/infant loss support board online and it comes to mind now after reading this post. "Mentioning my baby will make me cry, but not mentioning them will break my heart." I wish I could have printed this phrase and handed it out to everyone in my life. Your post really sums up that feeling so very well.

  6. I've been following your blog since hearing about your precious son Samuel through a friend's post on facebook. I'm a NICU nurse at Northside and unfortunately have seen and continue to see the loss of tiny lives on a regular basis. This post was really valuable to read. Thanks for sharing your heart!

  7. Kathryn and Bryan,

    I continue to read your blog and check it daily as a way to feel connected to you. And in true Apinis fashion ... I walk away from my computer feeling inspired, touched, and amazed. I can relate in some ways to your mention today Kathryn in talking about Samuel. I have always felt it a true joy, even in my darkest days, to talk about my mom. I had to tell you I even experienced this joy when I was down in Georgia with you. Your Aunt introduced herself to me and said she was sorry for the loss of my mom. She went on to share a memory of her. A memory where she and my mom spoke about a receipe for Bryan's favorite cake. All I could think was ... that's my mom! And my heart was joyed that she was remembered and loved ... no matter how many years pass. No matter the current situation in life.
    So, thank you for taking the fear from others and opening up about your heart's need to talk openly and often about Samuel.
    I love you and I pray for you always. Thank sweet Caleb for touching my heart today and speaking wisdom beyond the years of a 4 year old!

    Much Love,

  8. Bry,Kat

    Your son is growing up. How I miss you guys being next door. Gab'm, hope you are well. We will wake up one day and Caleb will be 12, and Matthew & Lindsay will be 20....AAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!! I hope that Caleb's experience yesterday helps you all. It sounds like it really picked him up to know that his peers acknowledged him and his baby brother.
    How great it is to have kids to remind us of youth instead of some of the trying times of the world today. Love you guys!!!

  9. Dear Bryan and Kathryn,
    "Though the heartfelt and compassionate mention of the person they love will likely bring tears, each of those tears is a step toward a mended -- though forever changed -- heart." How very true. Tomorrow will be eight months since Rich went to God, and it hurts so much when people don't mention him. Yet when they do I inevitably cry. My heart will never be the same - it is forever changed. The little kindnesses are the ones that get to me the most.
    I pray for all of your every day. Your little guys need you so much. Try and take time to give yourselves "time". I pray for strength for you, for hope for you, for comfort and peace for you. I know those needs all too well.
    Sharon Bigge

  10. I know exactly what you speak of. I love love love it when my sweet Brooks gets brought up in day to day conversation. It makes my heart happy! I'm glad you have your older 2 boys to help you through your grief. I'm sure they do your heart good. I'm bringing dinner in the next couple weeks and we can sit and chat about Brooks and Samuel! Sound fun?