The truth is, we all need a mentor. Especially in this wholly disorienting grief, inside a culture that cannot and does not understand. We each need a guiding star, and example to live into.
For me, being thrust into this world of grieving has decidedly lacked a mentor. There are only a handful of people in my life who even understand the pain of baby loss in the way that I experienced it. Many times, people who reach out will simply acknowledge “I don’t know what to say.” And that is fine, but it contributes to the lack of guidance in this grief journey. My therapist helps to direct some of my feelings, but it is not the same as having a mentor. I did some reading, but reading isn’t talking. I often feel like I am making it up as I go along in how I should handle sadness, triggers, support, and isolation.
However, I do want to reflect on someone that has come back into my life just since losing Iris on February 13th. She was a teacher that I had in middle school, and I happened to find her on Facebook. Prior to that, I hadn’t spoken to her in probably over 15 years.
I am not sure that this teacher even knows the profound influence that she had on my life. As my 8th grade teacher, she wanted to challenge me further in writing. She went to the local high school and obtained some additional writing assignments for me, which I was all too eager to complete. When I entered high school, my 9th grade English teacher recognized my name as that same student for whom she had prepared the extra assignments. Within the first week, my 9th grade teacher arranged for me to bypass freshman lit and enter sophomore lit instead, as a result of those extra assignments I had completed. Being a year ahead in my English classes meant that I had finished everything my junior year, and spent my senior year taking classes and earning credits at the local college. As a result of those earned credits, I graduated college in 3.5 years instead of 4. All as a cascading, direct result of my 8th grade teacher recognizing my love of writing and requesting the extra work for me.
How is this related to my losses? That same 8th grade teacher lost her husband to cancer, and was raising two grade-school children, one of whom was the same age as me. At the end of my 8th grade year, she married again and moved out of state, and I lost touch with her. I later learned that she lost her second husband to cancer as well. Two losses, like I had experienced losing two of my children, but a type of pain I will not pretend to understand or compare, in losing a spouse. I was reminded of this and struck by the parallel to my own life with my two losses, particularly for someone that I had looked up to all of those years ago.
Upon reconnecting recently, she sent me a message saying “There was awhile there that I just cannot understand why. Why go through that pain twice?… It seems impossibly unfair and impossible to bear the pain and impossible to make anyone understand how much you are hurting.” I felt a little less alone, that there are other people in the world who have suffered tragedy twice and have somehow managed to keep going.
In contemplating this with my therapist, I noted that this teacher is now married again. My therapist tried to make a connection for me: that even after two losses, she could still take a chance, take a risk, and open her heart again. So perhaps I need to see that as my “example to live into.”