Coffee and Conversation: The Gift of Grief


Grab a cuppa and a comfy seat, and let’s chat a while.

It’s Monday again – time for Coffee and Conversation.

When I was six, my family was driving on a highway late at night. Streaks of headlights and taillights painted the dark. For the first time, I realized that each car held people living lives as important to them as mine was to me.

I wanted to know what those lives were, and to share my own..

Are there times of year that you find emotionally charged? Where your feelings are tumultuous and close to the surface? Where small things can lead to huge inner shifts?

As I mentioned in my posts throughout this past week, July is an emotionally complicated month for me – turbulent, surging up in joy, plunging into sorrow, lifting again…

Alive and silly, ten years after birth!


Earlier in the month, my daughter celebrated her birthday. She was born in July of 2004.

July of 2003 was a very different matter.

After a textbook pregnancy, our secondborn, Elijah James, decided it was time to be born, four days before his due date. Things didn’t go as expected. Eventually, forceps were used – and our baby boy, healthy only a few minutes before, was born not breathing.

Things got a little blurry for me, after that. My blood pressure tends to be low; it dropped precipitously. I remember asking the nurses what was wrong with my baby, and the nurse answering, “He’s fine, he’s fine,” as I watched them attempting to resuscitate him.

After what seemed an eternity, they got enough response to whisk him away and intubate him – I’m not sure about the order of those events, only that both happened in the four hours I spent recovering before the maternity staff allowed me to use a wheelchair to go to the NICU.

My husband went to be with the baby, and my emotionally volatile mother stayed with me. She had been with us through Elijah’s birth, and I know she was feeling protective and helpless – but she became embroiled in a power struggle with my nurse, and the conflict had me trying to play diplomat, and feeling not only raw and terrified, but also like I was the non-sentient tug of war rope in their battle of wills. All I wanted was to see my baby, and for him to be okay.

I am lucky. Elijah was awake when I met him; we regarded each other. I wrote about that meeting in my poem, “Soul to Soul”. Here’s an excerpt…

Elijah lived twelve days, and died on Friday, July 25, 2003.

I turned thirty-four 4 days later.

I’ve learned not to try to hold a balance during this month. I live a life that is peaceful, chaotic, often laughter-filled, inspiring, sometimes frustrating. I have a tremendous deal to be thankful for. I have a marriage that survived a loss that 85% of marriages don’t, and that has grown stronger, deeper, and richer. I have two living children, and they are happy, strong, curious, kind, affectionate, bright, funny, confident, independent, and many other wonderful things – the chiefest among them being that magical word – LIVING!

I have a child who lived and died in less than two weeks. He never cried, never nursed. I never held him without tubes and sensors attached to him.

His death is the most shattering thing I have ever known. And it was the catalyst for deep healing. His donated heart valves made a little girl’s life easier. His brief life made me take a long hard look at the way I was raised, and what I wanted for my own children, my marriage, and, maybe most importantly, for myself. It led me to make massive changes, as a mother, and as a human being. He is my most precious and painful gift.

I don’t know how to balance between the extremes of this month. Instead, I go for blendings- allowing the emotions and memories to weave in and around and through the life I live now, the love I share, not only with those who are here, but also for the small life so quickly ended, and whose presence has been a part of me, ever since…

It’s July 14, 2014. I’m home alone, remembering, writing, hometending, and planning a weekend camping trip. Life goes on, and I remember, and make memories, all at once…

I ask you to take a few moments, today, to look at your life, at your loves. What would life be like without them? How can you show them how very cherished they are? How can you do that for yourself? Most importantly, what are you waiting for? I’ve got a fresh cuppa something hot and sweet. Won’t you drop by and chat a bit?

Sitting up front and looking mighty grown at twelve.





  1. I lost a baby who would have been an age right between my two boys. I never even knew if I had a boy or a girl since I lost the little one early. But even though I didn’t get to hold him or her, I still felt the loss. I think of my baby from time to time, but my true joys are my two boys. I’m like you, I lost one, but have been blessed with two precious children. My children are now men!

  2. Whoa. This caught me at a sensitive time…just finished The Goldfinch, and have been focusing on the tiny aspects of love, little fragments of image or other sensory detail. This is a reminder to do that not just with my husband, but with other people I love. And then tell them, not just keep it to myself. Thank you, SJ, for taking your grief and shaping it into wisdom.

    • Sorry (or not) that I caught you in a tender place. I know that feeling – these are poignant days, for me, and I tend to feel every nuance of emotion and memory more keenly. I feel a certain need to protect myself…

      I’m glad that this post served as a reminder to you to take the time to be with your beloveds, Gretchen. The more people do that, the more love abounds. In a way, I suppose, it’s a gift I give to Elijah, that he be not as much a source of grief in my life as a key to deeper love and awareness.

      Thank you for you kind words. I’m not sure I did the shaping. More like I was willing to be shaped, because, if I had stayed as I was, there would have been even more shattering, fraying, and sorrow.

      I write about it because it’s better to share it than to ignore what truly has been one of the defining experiences of my life. And because others have lost babies, and children, and others they loved.

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