“…most people are unaware that our losses affect us forever, since they cause us to see the world and ourselves differently. The task of discovering ‘Who am I now?’ and finding our own path to healing represents one of the greatest challenges of the grieving process.” –Susan Berger
I recently received a request to review a new book, The Five Ways we Grieve, by Susan Berger. I was instantly intrigued by the book and felt like while it is not specifically about pregnancy loss, it might still have helpful information to contribute to mothers who are coping with pregnancy loss. And, it does not disappoint! The book describes the five “identities” survivors of loss assume and the ways in which these identities transform or paralyze. While the experience of pregnancy loss is often minimized or marginalized culturally as less significant than other types of loss, the reality is that many women experience profound and genuine grief that is just as “real” as any other sort of grief and loss. When I found out that my tiny son had died after 14 weeks of pregnancy, I experienced a depth of sadness never before experienced in my life. I felt a sorrow so profound and full of anguish that I feel certain it was the same type of grief I would experience at the death of any of my dearly loved children. While some might find this surprising (or even impossible), because the baby wasn’t born yet, I believe that the pit of despair one enters after losing a child is the same regardless of the age of the child and whether born or not—perhaps the duration of grief might be shorter for some, but the initial shock, impact, and sense of intense loss and sadness is the same. And, while my own first loss may be defined by some as, “just a miscarriage,” the reality is that I gave birth to a third tiny son in the privacy of my own home—a real, little baby with fingers and toes and whose little fluttery kicks I had just been beginning to feel.
So, regardless of the size of person who died, I very readily recognized myself in the descriptions of the five identities explored in The Five Ways We Grieve. Most people are familiar with the classic “5 Stages of Grief” model developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance), however, these stages most readily apply to people who are dying, not to the survivors. While survivors still speak of moving through these stages, they are not really adequate to describe the experience of grieving a loved one. The five identities explored in Susan Berger’s book are:
- Nomads: Those who have not yet resolved their grief in a way that allows them to move on with their life and form a satisfying new identity.
- Memorialists: Their main goal is to honor their loved one by creating physical objects or rituals that honor the deceased.
- Normalizers: They work to recreate the kind of life they lost or wished they’d had.
- Activists: They focus on helping other people who are dealing with the same disease or issues that caused their loved one’s death.
- Seekers: They experience loss as a catalyst for philosophical exploration into the meaning of life.
In my own experience, I believe the Activist and Memorialist roles are intimately intwined—nearly immediately post-loss, I wanted to reach out to others and to try to help them as they experienced their own loss journeys. Creating my website/blog/journal, Footprints on My Heart, was a means of helping myself through exploration of my feelings and thoughts, but also a means of helping others. And, it is also a means of being a memorialist. I wanted to assure that Noah’s brief life would be remembered and would have value. On significant dates, I felt/feel an urge to acknowledge the date with some type of memorialization. In keeping with this, I’m posting this on his due date (which is also my birthday). Earlier in the year, following the birth of my sweet new baby girl, I felt like perhaps these date milestones would have lost their significance. In March, I considered that I had hardly given my former due date any thought at all and was really only thinking of it as my birthday and not really as anything else. However, as we got closer, old feelings were stirred and I remember how very painful this time of year was to me last year. And, no matter how distant the lived experience becomes, my birthday will actually never be the same, because I will never forget. And, I don’t want to. His death/birth and my experiences with those things are part of me in a permanent way. However, the experiences now come through the lens of memory and commemoration/memorialization, rather than as a “fresh” or current, in-process experience. I write about it to ensure that he is not forgotten, nor is what he meant to me. And, I am presently in the process of turning my Footprints blog into a book, again with a dual intention of activism and memorialization.
Finally, I also see myself in the Seeker role. While I have spent a lot of years already exploring the meaning and purpose of life, giving birth to Noah was a catalyst for spiritual exploration for me. His birth prompted me to take a deep and long-lasting inner journey and to much more fully explore and elaborate on my spiritual perspective and my experiences with the Sacred Feminine, rather than to just continue to “dabble” with various ideas.
The Five Ways We Grieve: Finding Your Personal Path to Healing After the Loss of a Loved One
By Susan A. Berger, LICSW, EdD
Psychology/Grief | US $17.95 CAN $20.50 | Paperback | ISBN: 978-1-59030-899-8 | Trumpeter, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc.