Monday, January 12, 2015

Not Pictured - New Year, New Grief

If you are not the type of person that wants to be "around" sadness/anger or death topics which may cause social discomfort, I suggest you wander somewhere else on the inter web.  This will be my only warning. 


We are entering a new year.  A new year that no longer shares the same dates as Louie's brief life.  W & I have been waiting to turn the page on something that may feel like hope.  But as I enter this year, there's a sadness that the distance grows from our time together as a family of 3. 

Through the last 10 months, many people have said they couldn't imagine what I am going through.  I'm usually glad to hear that because I would never wish this fate on anyone.  On the other hand, I thought I would try to articulate my feelings as it's not "how was your weekend" casual conversation. 

2015 has global travels and new jobs, but the most apt way to vaguely understand how I feel is that there is an asterisk on my life.  You have to search for it in the fine print. It says "*Not Pictured: Louie Chiang" since March 16, 2014.  

The sadness doesn't stop as a point in time that freezes, which is how deaths of peers (tragically young) or elders previously impacted me.  The pain ages with time when I track babies that get fatter and start smiling, babbling, sitting.  And the pain projects and flashes through future milestones too: walking, talking, fighting, graduating, getting married, having children.  Oh how I wish that "grief time" would fast forward, but it doesn't.  Grieving for a child ages at the same 24 hours that happens for the living.  Ever so slowly...ever waiting on heaven.  

There's also something I call "grief aftershocks".  This one was expected given what I read in blogs and books, but still hard.  It's that the typical, normal world can no longer relate to you. 

Let me walk you through the types of innocuous questions of every day life, particularly in a new job.  

Scenario 1: 
Person A:  Do you live in the city?  What kind of work do you do? (Small talk, small talk)  Do you have children? 
Me: (How should I answer this?  I'm the one in pain, but I need to worry about how they will feel.  In this stage of grief, I cannot give any other answer.)  Yes. I have a son.  He passed away shortly after birth.   
Person A:  (OMG. Panic strikes. I wish I never asked that question. I didn't mean to upset her.  What do I say?  How do I leave this conversation?)  I'm really sorry. 
Me: Thank you.  We are surviving the best we can. (P.S. I don't feel awkward because I already know my son is dead and live with the nightmare every moment.  I get don't want to feel awkward and you're afraid you hurt my feelings.  You haven't, but feel free to run away.  I wish I could too). 
Scenario 2: 
Person B:  How are you doing?  Are you feeling better? 
Me: Not really, but surviving.   
Person B: Ok, well don't let this get you down forever.  It's not good to dwell.  Have hope, think happy thoughts and focus on the next baby.  
Me: Doing the best I can.  (It's been less than a year since my son, Louie, died. He counts as a person!!! I think I deserve a break on the pressure to feel better.  No one wants me to feel better THAN ME.).
 And you get the picture for the weird ways relationships change after this kind of loss.  

On the other hand, grief forces a posture of gratitude more than anything I've ever experienced.  There is so much unexpected kindness in the world.  I never take for granted the reality of life.  Yes...just living.  It's not something that I assume.  Sure, I plan for my retirement and go to work, but there's a clarity that comes with death.  Quite simply, you know what matters in life.  Louie has taught me to love more, be thankful for what I have, and be mindful of the present.  It will never justify this tragedy, but I will honor and remember him.     

I am so grateful for those who have pushed yourself to engage with the grief: the emails, visits to Skylawn, the songs, the presents for Louie, handmade gifts of love. They bring out the tears that heal.  I am not trying to dwell forever, but I will not ignore or pretend that I am ok. I will not speed through this defining chapter of my life.  

Every conversation I have, every blog post I write, every country I visit, just picture the asterisk that will always say "Not Pictured: my little love, Louie".  My grief is an overflow of the love that I cannot give you in this life. 

Louie, you deserve my whole heart, even if you left a hole in my heart.  

Pro tip for those who don't know how to engage in grief:  It truly is different for every person.  For me, I am always relieved to talk about how much I miss Louie.  After all, parents of live children talk about their kids all the time. Throw a bone to the bereaved.  If I'm too emotionally drained in the moment, I may just say that I'm tired, but I always appreciate when people ask. 


  1. You are entitled to grieve as you feel is right, for as long as you feel is right.

    1. That's a great article, my Chapter 3 friend.