i am sheppard's daddy
I write this entirely from the rocking chair in the filled yet devastatingly empty room of my daughter, Sheppard Grace. Daddy likes to call her SiGi (pronounced Sih-GEE), SiGi Girl, SiGi Cinderella, SiGi Sunshine, and surely more to come. The same room where I begin most days with 20-90 minutes of reading, prayer and quiet time. The same room where I write letters to my daughter 2 or 3 times each week.
I find beauty and healing in sharing our story as it validates Sheppard's life - no matter the length - and allows our experience to potentially be a resource in some way to others. The day before Thanksgiving 2020, 30 weeks into pregnancy, my wife and I found out Sheppard's little heart had stopped. Our hearts wanted to stop as well; and I hope and pray this is the very worst news we will ever receive. At this stage of a pregnancy less than 0.5% of babies are lost, and all indications to that point were that our little girl was as healthy as could be. Furthermore, as is the case with 30% of stillborns, even after extensive testing there were no signs or indications from mama or baby of why the loss occurred.
Then, do you know what happened shortly after we received this heart crushing news? I had never thought of this in a million years, and I wish I didn't know that this was the reality. The doctor informed us that we would have to schedule and induce my wife to endure the entire labor process to remove Sheppard. Insult (and more injury) to injury. My amazing and beautiful wife, who had already sacrificed her body to form our child for the past 30 weeks would now have to go through all of the painful and anxiety filled motions of labor knowing our little girl would be lifeless when she came. What a woman. Gentlemen - if you have any women in your lives who have been pregnant (whether successful or not) realize that they are the toughest beings on the planet. Don't forget that.
I'll spare you the details of those 36 hours in the hospital, but I can tell you that spending the 6 hours we were able to with our daughter was somehow a peaceful, spiritual experience. In the days to come, our family and close friends (and even the larger community) swooped in such a touching way. It did not take away what had happened, but the support (meals, cards, flowers, calls, etc) truly allowed us to walk through the early stages of our loss a bit easier. That said, I can assure you that there will always be a painful hole in our hearts while we are on this earth. I can also tell you that 6 months out I still get hit at random times with a wave of sorrow and hurt that is unlike anything I have ever experienced. I wholeheartedly believe that I am walking through this loss better than I could ever imagine, due to faith, community, and my strong marriage. That said, even recently I have been overcome with such emotion that I have had to excuse myself from meetings and a wedding. I hear that these may become less frequent, but the intensity will never fade. I must say that I find it truly therapeutic when the emotions take me over; at times when I allow it and even at times when I am trying to hold them off. Life can be demanding and cruel; I challenge you to embrace your emotions, and remind you that REAL MEN CRY!
Thank you for taking the time to read a bit about my unique experience of being Sheppard's Daddy. I'll leave you with some of my earned wisdom of navigating loss, whether it be someone you know or your own.
1. SEND SOMETHING - Send a card, flowers, a meal or a venmo for a meal! These little gestures do go a long way, and it doesn't matter if it's weeks after. The support can help take some thinking ('What's for dinner?') and even potential financial strain out of the equation to allow time and space to grieve.
2. SAY SOMETHING - Use your best judgement knowing your relation to that individual regarding when and how to contact as they will likely be inundated with communications. Send a text or make a call if you deem appropriate. And don't take it personally if you don't receive a response as it can be so overwhelming and difficult to respond. Most importantly; when you do finally see them in person - even if it is 6 months down the line - give your condolences face to face. It may feel a bit uncomfortable to bring up, but it will be better received than non acknowledgement. Individuals who have lost a loved one know that you aren't going to have anything magic to say to make the pain go away or to truly rock their world. 'I am so sorry for your loss; I can't imagine how you must feel and I don't even know what to say.' is a perfectly acceptable thing to say.
3. EMBRACE THE EMOTIONS, TAKE YOUR TIME & BE KIND TO YOURSELF - There is a popular saying around grief not being linear, and I have certainly found that to be true. You will work your way through various stages of grief and emotions over the initial weeks and months. Don't judge yourself for any of them; you experienced a very real trauma. It won't seem like it at the beginning, but eventually life will not be so painfully overtaken by your loss 24/7. After some time you will string together some good hours, then some good days, and eventually some weeks. And then BOOM you will wake up in the morning with that familiar all encompassing ache of your soul that you thought that you had "graduated" from. You can feel embarrassed at your "regression" if you allow and refer to it as such. I am here to tell you to expect that; and don't take it for how "weak" you are, but for how immense your loss was. You had someone irreplaceable taken from your life, and that will cut deep even decades down the line. Losing a close loved one leaves you forever changed; be kind to your new and hopefully more experienced and enlightened you. I say enlightened, as unfortunately only in great loss can we fully understand what it means to love someone.
4. TALK WITH OTHERS, ESPECIALLY YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER - Don't withdraw. That is the "easy" way out. It's actually not, it's just easier in the moment. There will be a reckoning one way or another; this experience will change you one way or another. Utilize resources in your life to give you the best chance at healthily navigating this new reality. The best resources are your close loved ones that you can confide in; especially individuals that have experienced loss. I get it; it sounded a bit cliche (and maybe even corny) to me as well. But my wife and I joined a bereaved parents group a few months after losing Sheppard. My initial thought was that I didn't need it and that I was in a good place. While that may have been true on some levels, talking and sharing our stories has been so therapeutic. I am now grateful to have this space, and encourage you to explore such options. Finally and even more importantly, do not withdraw from your significant other. Immense loss is well documented to wreak havoc on relationships, but it doesn't have to. Communicate, give grace, and treat them as you would want to be treated; it will go a long way and will be reciprocated. If you lean into one another you can and will be so much stronger as individuals and together for it.