‘I was so alone in my grief. No one understood me.’: Loss mom shares grief journey one year after son’s passing

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Disclaimer: This story contains details about child loss and grief which may be upsetting for some.

One year. That is how much time has passed since I had to say goodbye to my son. Three hundred sixty-five days have passed since I lived the most traumatic day of my life. No one prepared me for this. No one CAN prepare you for such an unnatural event, and the heartache that follows.

October 10th, 2021, changed who I was from the inside out. The moment Drew died was the moment I embarked on a journey named grief.

Not The Fairy Tale We Planned For

On our tenth wedding anniversary, my husband and I learned we were expecting our fourth child together. This pregnancy was anything but common. I experienced complications the entire time making it high risk, but our baby was thriving.

The pregnancy itself had taken a toll on me mentally and physically. Hope was hard to come by for many days. Even though the numbers were in my favor, I knew this wasn’t going to be the fairy tale every couple plans for.

I woke up in the early hours of the morning in labor with our son Drew. My nightmare had been realized. It was too soon. He wasn’t ready. My body said otherwise.

Upon arriving at the hospital, instead of being examined promptly I was met with sighs, eyerolls, and belittling statements. Drew was born in the triage room at 5:45 a.m. on October 10th, 2021, without any medical professionals present. A short time later, he died.

Flowers placed on the grave of boy who died after birth
Courtesy of Erin Conley

I had to say goodbye to my beautiful boy and go home to tell his siblings they wouldn’t be meeting their baby brother. I had to tell them he was in the arms of Jesus.

I recalled all the things Drew would never get to do. He would never learn to walk or talk. He wouldn’t learn his ABCs. He wouldn’t lead me by the hand and call me mommy. He wouldn’t do the little things or the big things that you and I take for granted.

While his earthly life had ended, mine still continued. With that came responsibilities. Perhaps the hardest task was being present for my living children.

mom sitting with two of her children at her son's grave
Courtesy of Erin Conley

Living With A Broken Heart

Although my heart was broken, I still had to serve three meals a day. With a shattered soul, I had to change diapers and read bedtime stories. Society tells us to ‘be strong for the children,’ but child loss takes the strongest person and makes them a puddle of goo.

My children were and have been one of the best sources of support I’ve had. Nothing felt better than a hug from one of my children. No child should have to provide emotional support to their parents. 

loss mom taking a selfie with her son
Courtesy of Erin Conley

The reality of life is that parents hurt too. We can’t always suck it up. Frankly, it’s a good thing if we don’t.

Little eyes watch and learn what grief looks like. They learn what is healthy (or unhealthy) and acceptable by watching their parents. I want to raise my children to be empathetic, loving individuals who not only are able to respond to those who are grieving, but also know it’s okay to grieve.

As the days turned into weeks, the world kept turning whether I wanted it to or not. I was expected to get back to normal. Only now, normal was gone.

Honestly, I don’t remember much of the first three months after Drew died. It was a blur. It was spent mostly confused and broken. I did not have a solid support system outside of a few close family members.

The holidays came and went with everyone expecting the same old routine from me. Newsflash… I wasn’t ready for that.

mother sitting her her child at her son's grave
Courtesy of Erin Conley

Compounded Loss

On Christmas Day, as I was feeling relieved things were finally mellowing, I had perhaps the most important conversation I ever had with my grandma.

We had not spent much time together in the last two years because of the Covid-19 pandemic. She had a compromised immune system due to cancer and the treatment she was receiving. She had not been able to support me the way we would’ve liked after Drew’s death.

I was growing frustrated with not being able to spend time with her, as at one point we were very close. I knew she may not have much time left and I missed her. After some back and forth with my grandpa, she took my call.

I really just wanted to wish her a Merry Christmas so she knew I hadn’t forgotten her. The conversation led into me bawling my eyes out, telling her how much I loved her and needed her in my life. That was the last ‘don’t cry’ I got from her.

In a little over a month, she died. The one rock solid person I had in my life (sorry, Mom) was gone. My forever friend was no longer a phone call away. Who would guide me? I was lost. I felt like a child.

I was still in the early months of my grief from losing Drew. It felt like too much. I would cry for them both in the same grief wave. I still do.

I was so alone in my grief. No one understood me. Not even those who wanted to. I would sit in the dark sobbing in the middle of the night, longing for my child, with no one to talk to.

I felt like no one cared. It was one of the worst feelings I’ve ever had. I knew that I could not be the only person who felt this way.

family gathered together with arms around eachother
Courtesy of Erin Conley

Finding A Supportive Community

With spring came a new idea. After sharing a little about my grief on my personal social media, I decided to start a blog. My hope was that just one griever like myself might run across it and feel a little less isolated.

Shortly after this, I volunteered to tell my story on an Instagram Live hosted by Twenty-Two Matters. Twenty-Two Matters is an organization that advocates for the care of micro preemies. This was the first time I openly spoke about the trauma I experienced the day my son died.

After that, as if a light switch had flipped, I was ready to talk. I created an Instagram account and started posting. I opened up on that page unlike I would ever dream of on my personal social media.

I found myself suddenly realizing that even before my son and grandmother died, I had lost who I really was. I was so busy trying to please other people or fit into an image of what I SHOULD be. After Drew died, I simply didn’t care anymore what anyone thought of me.

As the months wore on, I distanced myself from old friends. This is quite normal in grief. There is a saying, ‘Strangers become friends and friends become strangers.’ I found this to be absolutely true.

Part of this is simply the evolution of the individual post loss. You cannot lose a child and be the same person after. When you experience something that earth shattering, you have to expect a drastic change.

Some people will move forward with you, loving you no matter what. Some people will fall away as they are no longer attracted to this version of you. 

When your baby dies, the world goes silent. The silence is deafening. Those who continue to speak often say the wrong words. A long-standing relationship can change in an instant based on a person’s reaction to your loss.

People stop checking in. People stop actively listening when you talk about your baby. You are drowning in your grief, and nobody cares.

I have no room for people who will not make space for me. I have no room for people who don’t recognize my son as a human being, but only as a sad story.

loss mom standing with a family member in front of a tree
Courtesy of Erin Conley

Drew’s Birthday

Leading up to Drew’s birthday, which is also the anniversary of his death, I started to get nervous. I imagined that day as something awful.

The past month had been really tough as I could feel my body recalling the events of the year prior. How could I get through this day? What would it even look like? What should we do for his birthday? It seemed odd to celebrate. I couldn’t fail to recognize my baby’s birthday!

So, I planned to start a tradition in the family of eating cupcakes and decorating Drew’s grave for his special day. Although there are a lot of families who go further than this, we felt this was a comfortable way for us to celebrate.

I decided we should also wear blue. Blue is a color that reminds me of him. When we were planning his burial, I wanted blue hydrangeas in his casket spray. I always thought of them as a happy flower, and I wanted more than anything for him to be associated with joy and not only heartache.

I called on my fellow grievers on Instagram to join us in wearing blue. I did not announce this call to action on my personal social media. I knew very few if any people I knew would participate and I wanted to guard my heart. I chose to ask a short list of people I thought might be interested to do so. 

decorations on child's grave to celebrate his first birthday
Courtesy of Erin Conley

The day of his birthday at 5:45 a.m., I lit a candle. Before I had a cup of coffee, I saw pictures being sent to me of people wearing blue for Drew. This continued all day in the form of messages and story shares on Instagram. I was so touched.

I found myself crying off and on throughout the day simply because my son was being honored by SO MANY PEOPLE. For a little boy, whose life was not recognized at birth, he sure seemed to matter to a lot of people.

My heart was so full of joy. In addition, I found support. People reached out to me. It wasn’t the people in my day-to-day life though.

The hard and unpleasant truth about this day is that it was largely ignored by the people I know. Outside of a couple of close family members, I had ONE friend check in on me.

I share this truth for a couple of reasons. One, if you are a loss mom reading this- you are not alone. Two, if you are the friend of someone who has lost a close loved one, I’m begging you to check in on them. They need your support.

Just because they’re able to ‘do life’ doesn’t mean they are magically healed. Grief is forever. Those anniversaries of events are important. Don’t ignore it. 

Loss mom with family at her son's grave celebrating his birthday
Courtesy of Erin Conley

The Importance Of Recognizing Grief

I am blessed with a few people in my life who have supported me the best way they possibly can. At the end of the day, I accept that most people simply do not care about my baby or my grief. That doesn’t mean it’s okay for it to be that way.

Grievers who speak up are viewed as attention seeking. That couldn’t be further from the truth in the vast majority of cases. We can talk about so many formally taboo topics, why can’t we talk about grief? Why can’t we talk about child loss?

If we as a collective start overcoming feelings of discomfort around the topic, perhaps we can be better neighbors. If people had a better understanding of what loss does to a person maybe, we would care a little more.

In my grief, I cannot rely on others I know to lift me up. I rely on God. He has led me to an amazing community on social media that I don’t know what I would do without. He gives us gifts in the least expected places.

If you are grieving, find your community. Maybe it’s a local group, maybe it’s online. Wherever it is and whenever you are ready, connect.

No matter what you do, this is going to be tough. Train for the marathon, not the sprint. Your grief is your own. No one has lived what you lived. There is no sharing in that. Even though you are alone in your grief, that does not mean you have to be alone on your journey. 

So how am I doing a year out from loss? I’m doing the best I can. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of my grandma and my son. I am slowly building a new life as the new version of me.

I have many days where I still feel broken, but I am growing around my grief. I am hopeful. I have much to look forward to in my life. I do not believe that my best days are behind me. 

Mom after completing a 5k in her son's memory
Courtesy of Erin Conley

Joy can be found in grief. This isn’t to say that it’s not different. It’s never going to be the same. With the help of God, my family, and my community I will move forward, taking Drew right along with me. I will continue to tell his story and include him in our family.

My lost loved ones aren’t really gone. They are merely in the next room. They are waiting for me when my time comes. Until then, I will do my best to live well for them and make them proud.

‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ –Matthew 11:28-30”

loss mom smiling while sitting in chair outside
Courtesy of Erin Conley

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Erin Conley of Springfield, MO. You can follow her on Instagram and her blog. Join the Love What Matters family and subscribe to our newsletter.

Read more of Erin’s story here: 

‘At 3:30 a.m., I awoke to a sharp pain in my upper left abdomen. This was NOT a drill.’: Mom opens up on traumatic micro-preemie loss

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