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Turning a Negative Into a Positive
By Maribeth Doerr

While at a national gathering of bereaved parents in St. Louis a few years ago, I attended a workshop conducted by Alec and Heidi Pollack entitled, "Turning a Negative Into a Positive." As a Christian believing in the afterlife, I was very enlightened by this workshop. I believed I had resolved much of my grief at that point, and the Pollacks' workshop helped me recognize my healing. It sounds funny to say that but sometimes we really aren't aware of how we've grown and resolved painful issues.

After losing my first four babies and my marriage, I decided it was time to regroup, start over, pretend my past was marvelous, and basically get on with my life. This was rather easy to do since my family, friends, and society in general believed this was the " best possible thing" for me to do. After meeting my second husband who is an optimist in every sense of the word, I realized that while I didn't have options in losing my babies, I certainly had options in how these tragedies would influence the rest of my life. I didn't have to be sad and miserable forever. What I didn't realize was that while it is certainly possible to turn a negative into a positive, it doesn't happen magically--the grief work still needs to be done. Besides, it sounds absurd to say you can make anything positive out of the death of a baby.

I buried my grief for years. After bringing my first healthy child home from the hospital (who spent a week in intensive care before coming home), I was suddenly faced with his miracleness--the special gift I had been given--and also with the tragedy of my first babies' deaths. Grief flooded me at a time when I should have been overjoyed. The grief work had never been done and for some reason, my soul was choosing this time to remember. It didn't seem fair, and my family just could not possibly understand why I would be bothered by these past events when I had everything I ever wanted right in my arms. Eric, in all of his newborn beauty, was a very painful reminder of what I had lost.

Shortly after Eric's birth, I created Pen-Parents, Inc., an organization for grieving parents. Through the Empty Cradle support group in San Diego, Sister Jane Marie Lamb at the National SHARE Office and my new Pen-Parents, I was able to work through much of the grief I thought I had buried. One of my new Pen-Parents, Sue Daugherty, was instrumental in my awakening as her fresh pain paralleled much of my newfound grief. As distressful as it was discovering this agony, as difficult as it was to work through it after years and with a new spouse who did not and could not understand, my healing has occurred. A major setback happened when I learned that one of my identical twin sons had died in utero, but I was able to reach out to a special network just for those who have lost part or all of a multiple pregnancy (CLIMB - Center for Loss in Multiple Birth). Working through the grief when it first happened was much easier. Another setback was learning I could not have more children.

My catharsis occurred after attending the Pollacks' workshop in St. Louis. They suggested we ask ourselves the following questions:

  • Do you believe you will see your child again?
  • When you do, what will you say to him/her?
  • What will he/she say to you?
  • Do you think your child would be proud of what you had done with your life after he/she died?
These are powerful questions, and after answering them, I felt richer, more healed. Yes, at this point in my life, I think my babies would be very proud of their mom. I have mourned for them; I have grieved for them; and I now live life to the fullest because of them. I dedicate my life to these cherished babies; they've made me a better person which in turn makes me a better mother to my living sons. I can see the changes, and yes, most are good ones. I didn't choose for them to die, but I have chosen to make my life better.

If you're newly bereaved or even have some distance from your loss, you may be thinking I'm nuts. In my many years of working with bereaved parents, I've realized that most of us (myself included) need a gentle nudge to take those first steps towards turning this huge negative into a positive. And you probably won't be able to do this for quite some time after your loss. That's okay!

Many bereaved parents are afraid of being disloyal to their babies by moving on or finding good things in the tragedy. I know I would have preferred to remain the person I was before my losses and have my babies here with me rather than go through such pain. BUT I didn't have a choice in losing my children. This doesn't mean I have to lead an unhappy, unproductive life. I can CHOOSE good things for myself and not feel guilty. I am more compassionate and caring because of my losses and I cherish these positive aspects. Despite these noble sounding words, I have indeed spent many days and months, and maybe even years, wallowing in grief. I finally had to WANT to make my life better.

To discover these changes (both negative and positive) requires introspection, courage and patience. You must be in touch with feelings that hurt the most; this is an important and necessary part of healing. And as I said earlier, you also have to WANT to see the positive aspects. It takes baby steps, and you can do it if you look. Discovering the gifts your baby has given you is definitely the rainbow after the storm.

© 1992-2001 Maribeth Wilder Doerr. All Rights Reserved.


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