A Letter to my Commander upon the Occasion of the Death of my Child

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Dear Sir or Ma’am; Dear First Sergeant; Dear Supervisor,

I write to you from the hospital; I write to you from my home; I write to you from the waiting room, or the mortuary, or the morgue. I am 6 weeks pregnant; I am 8 months along; my child is 3 days old. I have suffered a miscarriage; I have experienced stillbirth; I woke up this morning and my daughter wasn’t breathing.

Regardless of circumstances, I need you to know this is significant for me. I didn’t just lose a pregnancy; I lost a whole person. My world has been changed. My child is dead.

 

Dear Commander; Dear First Sergeant; Dear Supervisor—I am broken. I spent 8 weeks; 9 months; 10 years of fertility treatments dreaming of this child, and today, that dream is gone. I may be partnered; I may be a single parent; I may be the spouse of the pregnant parent, but I still grieve. I may have family; I may have no one. I may be surrounded by people and still feel alone.

Dear Commander; Dear First Sergeant; Dear Supervisor—I need you right now. I may need you to sit with me at the hospital; I may need you to hold my hand and reassure me that you care. It’s also possible I just want to be with friends or family, or even alone. Please ask me what I would prefer. I’m probably not thinking clearly right now; it may not occur to me. And please know, also, that my feelings may change. This is all new to me, too.

Dear Commander; Dear First Sergeant; Dear Supervisor—telling people is going to be hard. If I was newly pregnant, many people may not know. I may want to keep things quiet, or I may want them to know why I am sad. If so, I may need someone else to tell them for me. Please ask me. Please offer.

If I was roundly pregnant, this adds a layer of difficulty. Pregnant women are noticed, not only by coworkers, but by customers and vendors too. People may know I went to the hospital. They may be calling me, asking about my child. In this case, I will likely want you to tell everyone. I can’t handle these calls, over and over, on my own. I can’t handle the thought of returning to work in my over-sized uniforms and having to tell everyone I meet that my child is gone.

Dear Commander; Dear First Sergeant; Dear Supervisor—I may choose to have a funeral. You should know that in many states in our union, I may not have a choice; in many places, children born after 20 weeks gestation must be either cremated or buried1. If I do have a funeral, I may invite you. I may invite everyone, or I may keep it close. But if I invite you, please come. And please understand that I won’t be myself.

Please also prepare yourself. There may be photos of my child that are difficult to view. There may be an open casket. Please don’t look away. It may be difficult for you, but it’s so much harder for me. But more than anything, I will be touched you came.

Dear Commander; Dear First Sergeant; Dear Supervisor—the early days after my child’s death will feel endless. I may sleep. I may scream. I may lie in bed for weeks. I may become impulsive and want to travel, or jump out of an airplane. I may change my mind constantly. Please know this is all normal. This is all part of grief.

If you come to visit me during this time, I may talk about my child. He or she was a real person; I treasure my memories. Please ask me questions. Ask to see photos. These things may be hard for you, but they are important to me. My child’s life should never have to be a secret.

Dear Commander; Dear First Sergeant; Dear Supervisor—please help me get ready to return to work. There are things I may not have considered, like a new uniform. Like many women, I may have been planning to wear my maternity uniform in the beginning, but now the thought of that will be too painful. Please ask me also if I need a new schedule, or a different routine. Sometimes after trauma, things just need to change.

Something else you should know is I’m not quite the same person. I may not feel excitement yet. Good news may feel empty. Please don’t ask me how I’m doing unless you can handle hearing, “I’m not okay. I’m hurting.” This doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me as a person. This is simply grief. Joy will return eventually. I need love, and space, and time.

Dear Commander; Dear First Sergeant; Dear Supervisor—When I do return to work, please be patient with me. This is likely my first reentry into the “real world.” And as much as I want to be here, I may also be flustered and make mistakes. Grief is draining. Give me time. I promise you, I’m trying.

Please understand most of all that even though my child is gone, I still experience all the physical aspects of being postpartum. Please allow me to ease back into physical activity.

Dear Commander; Dear First Sergeant; Dear Supervisor—I think one of the hardest things I’ve learned is that tragedy isn’t a singular event. The trauma of my child’s loss will become a permanent part of me. And while I will integrate this pain, I will also always miss my child. Please acknowledge this; acknowledge my parenthood. Understand I hold painful and beautiful memories at the same time.

Dear Commander; Dear First Sergeant; Dear Supervisor—I need to thank you. I don’t know how to tell you yet, but your leadership and compassion give me the room I need to fully grieve. I appreciate everything you do to take care of me. I realize now, more than ever, what it means to be part of the Air Force family. I won’t be able to tell you this right away. I won’t have the words yet, but please know this is how I’m feeling. Your support means so very much to me.

Signed,
The Bereaved

Related Posts:

For Supervisors: Supporting Military Members After the Loss of a Child
Resources for Friends and Family Supporting Loved Ones After the Loss of a Child
Miranda’s Blog: Identities

[sta_anchor id=”1″ /]1 – Laws with the US vary by state, but some are highlighted in the following articles: Miscarriage Burial Laws, “Connecticut Office of Legislative Research”State-Mandated Mourning for Aborted Fetuses, “The Atlantic”Should Parents Bury Miscarriage Remains?, “ABC News”Dead Fetuses Are Not Remains, “Slate”

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