Grief in a Box: On Experiencing and Processing Loss

My boys love to pull things off of shelves. Books, games, anything that fits on a shelf, well, nothing is safe. My boys will pull it right out.

A few weeks ago I walked downstairs to find a box of things strewn all over the floor. Nothing unusual in that, except this was the box where I had packed away a few particular things that make me sad.

grief in a boxExperiencing Grief

On February 22, 2012, I went to a midwife appointment. What should have been a routine visit became more unusual when she couldn’t find a heartbeat for our fifth child. She sent me over to the hospital for a better ultrasound. We considered some “completely normal” reasons why everything could be OK.

At the hospital the ultrasound told me that, surprise, the baby was a boy! (After four girls, that was definitely a crazy announcement.) But my first happy feeling of, “Philip and the girls will never believe this!” ebbed away when she continued pushing my stomach harder and then shaking her doppler and pushing even more. I’ve had ultrasounds before, I knew what we were looking for. I wasn’t seeing it and I suspected she wasn’t either.

She left the room to get her boss. I stared at a grey screen, willing my baby’s heart to be beating when the technician came back with her superior. Of course I was praying for a miracle.

The doctor with the ultrasound technician was kind but direct as he quickly performed another ultrasound. There was no heartbeat. He said, “I’m sorry. Your baby has passed away.”

The ultrasound technician gave me the only pictures I will ever have of our baby. I clutched them in my hand while I sobbed alone in a tiny hospital meeting room waiting for my husband to come and get me.

That week was one of the hardest of my life. Miscarriage doesn’t seem like a strong enough word to describe what I experienced in those days.

Sometimes words are not adequate.
baby grief

Putting My Grief in a Box

That was an awful week of uncertainty, waiting, and decision making. The doctor on our case told me that he suspected our baby had a neural tube defect that was “incompatible with life”, but we didn’t get definitive answers about why this had happened. Anger, fear, gratitude for small mercies…I experienced a lot of emotion in a very short span of time.

Eventually I put the ultrasound pictures, cards from thoughtful friends, and other things from the hospital away in a box. We made it through the next months. In the months and years to follow God gave us two more boys and they have filled our life with laughter and business. (And messes, see my above warning about their “removing items from shelves” hobby.)

Experiencing grief is different for everyone.

items from my box of griefBut my little box is a good analogy of how grief works, at least for me.

Sometimes grief is safely stowed away. You nearly forget about it. It’s not foremost in your mind.

Sometimes grief is spilled out everywhere. You can’t ignore it. It’s a mess and you have to deal with it.

Some people may have a vault instead of a cardboard box. Some people have a box with a lid that doesn’t quite fit over all the grief inside.

I live a full, busy, life. I don’t often think about the baby who didn’t join us.

But sometimes my box of grief gets spilled out and there is nothing to do but hold up each memory or each loss (the birthdays we’re not celebrating, the milestones that don’t happen) and process it.

I’m not begging for your sympathy. I guess I’m just asking you, and once again reminding myself, to be patient with people.

After all, their box of grief may have just spilled out.

Sometimes it takes a little bit of time to get it all packed away again.

grief in a box: experiencing loss

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  1. Thank you for sharing this. I wish I could more eloquently express my thoughts right now. I can only say this explains so much how I feel about the loss of our little one last year.

  2. Karen, thanks for sharing this – beautifully said. ‘Grief in a box’ is such a perfect way to describe the irrational way I feel at times and how unprepared I am when the box falls off the shelf & spills out all over the place.