Shortest answer up front: You don’t.
Up until the year I turned 20, I didn’t have much experience with death or grief. And then within the span of 3 months, 3 people in my life passed away: a family friend, a good friend, and my grandfather. And I while I won’t call these deaths inordinately life-changing, they still left an impact on me. They are people in my world who existed, and then didn’t. I still, even today, have moments when I think about my good friend in particular; the person who helped me through so many of my early years.
Years passed, and I experienced further loss: coworkers, former classmates, another good friend. My good friend, Jeff, was an especial loss. He had not only been a workplace mentor, but almost like an older brother; someone I counted on. His absence is noticeable.
And yet—I see your point, a bit. None of the deaths profoundly changed my daily life. None of these losses shifted my perception of the world. Not until I lost my son.
I was nine months pregnant, full of plans. I had the nursery, car seat, reservations for daycare. His diapers were stacked, his clothing folded lovingly and organized by size. I was even writing him letters, documenting our pregnancy. I wanted him to know everything I was thinking and preparing for him while I waited for him to come. We had a lifetime already planned.
And he didn’t get to live it.
I’ve told this story so many times, and I don’t know if I will ever truly express it. It’s one of those things you can only imagine; the pain is so heavy there truly aren’t words. The death of my child is an event that lives with me; his absence is palpable; his presence is missing.
And this is when I truly began to understand this monster called grief.
I used to think grief was a sad but limited time; a brief burst of emotions that dissipated after the funeral. And to be fair, that describes much of how I feel about the previous losses in my life; the ones that still stick with me, but don’t rule my world. But when it comes to my son, this conception is too limited.
I know now that Grief is so much more than merely a sad time. Grief is so much more than sadness; it is also missing; it is also fear. It is waking up in the morning with the most powerful yearning; it is walking past an elementary school and calculating how old he would be. And most of all, it is eternal. Because grief, at its core, is love. And love for one’s child never dissipates.
You ask how one gets past losing a baby, and my answer is still—no. You don’t.
The most you can hope for is to integrate the loss; to make it part of you; to learn to carry it.
Because a parent will never leave their child behind.
(Originally published at Quora.com, in response to the question, “How do you get past losing a baby?”)