Freedom to Grieve

Protecting grief from "closure," consumerism, politics, and other cultural distortions

A Bag of Chips and One of Those “Loss Awareness” Days

Really? One day is what our loss is worth?

I passed by the chips aisle twice already trying to avoid the temptation. But I knew I was seeking that crunchy sound and salty taste. Today found me vulnerable to my “comfort foods.”

I wanted to choose NOT to eat them, but some days it is harder. Diet Coke is another big trigger food with a psychological hold on me. At least I was in a health food store where they did not sell diet coke, so chips was my main competitor. After picking up fruit and veggies, I swung back around and defiantly grabbed the chips. Why today?

Earlier, I had been reminded through someone’s Facebook post about the pregnancy and infant loss awareness day. Huh. For me, every day is pregnancy and infant loss awareness day.

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Now some of you might think it was the “reminder” that was difficult; as if I had forgotten about the death of my son, who was stillborn, until I had seen the “pregnancy and infant loss awareness day” advertised. You would be quite wrong.

What is disturbing is the reduction of loss into a commercial theme. For one day. Really? One day is what we get? Of course there is a lot we need to officially remember so all the heartaches, cancers, discrimination, domestic violence, and so on can only have so much “awareness” time in our culture.

I sat in my car with the bag of chips in my hand having grabbed it when I got in. I had a choice to make at that moment. Well, I mean more than just “Do I eat them now or wait until I get home?” I could choose to NOT eat out of frustration and sadness that day.

Then I started thinking more about what “loss awareness” is really like. For example, just today I was reminded of loss:

When the cashier at Target asked me if I had any sons.

When I watched the pregnant woman fill her drink.

When I listened to two women talk about how soft a baby blanket was that one had just received as a gift.

When I see a boy close in age to what my son would have been had he lived.

When I walk by the maternity clothes.

When I walk by the baby clothes.

These are just a few examples from one morning.

Do we have all these official “awareness” days to give people something “to do?” Does it help us to know that we wore pink, posted a note to Facebook, or lit a candle for a particular problem?

Every day, we can reach out to people around us. Some of them we already know the loss, struggles, or illness that they are carrying. We can listen. We can be present. We can hold a hand. We don’t even need to wear pink to do that. For others, even if you do not know them, you can safely bet that there is a struggle they are carrying. Be kind and aware. You never know when you will have a chance to offer support.

Every day is a time to be aware of loss. I expect many people would find that too overwhelming because we often take on the burden of “fixing” people’s pain. People who are hurting don’t need you to fix them, but they may appreciate you listening to them share their pain. They don’t need you pushing them to “get over it,” but they may appreciate you sitting by their side or walking with them on their long journey.

Today, my day is by no means bad. And soon I will see my funny, sweet daughters when I pick them up from school. I have many blessings and joy in my life. I also have loss. I remember that loss every day because I love my son every day.

Maybe having an official “pregnancy and infant loss awareness day” helps others to be educated on what so many men and women go through each day. If that is the case, good. Maybe a “special day” helps affirm those who are hurting and alone in their grief. I hope so. But even more, I pray those men and women who are hurting will have people step up and be by their side more than that one day.

Now what about those chips? Not only did I rip open the bag and start eating them, I also stopped on the way home for a diet coke. I eat and drink in solidarity with all who know the heartache of losing a child.

Nancy Berns, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Drake University and the author of Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What It Costs Us.

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