By: Kayla Leibner
Wouldn’t it be strange if you approached the baggage claim at an airport only to discover that all of the luggage on the carousel looked exactly like yours? This is very unlikely to happen, as suitcases and other pieces of luggage come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Similarly, our emotional “baggage” varies by situation, by person, and even by moment.
While grieving the loss of a loved one, nobody feels loss or experiences it in the exact same way. The sorrow one feels when they lose someone they love (their emotional baggage) is just as exclusive as they are. Even if two people are experiencing grief over the same person, their grief will look different. Just the same, each bereaved parent, though all have been wrecked by the same heart-wrenching loss of a child, will experience that grief in a way that is unique to them.
Personally, I’ve worked through a whole spectrum of emotions – some of which I never really thought about until I was in the midst of my deepest sorrow. The labyrinth of this journey has never been easy and has required more strength than I ever thought I could possibly have, but I have also gained some knowledge along the way – whether by lessons learned or wisdom offered by others.
“I’m so sorry. Time of death, 1:07pm.”
I’ll never forget when those words changed me instantly and forever. My first thought was that I had to be dreaming, that I had to be having the worst kind of nightmare. I was in complete denial that this was my truth. I didn’t want to believe it. I didn’t want to accept it. It was too much.
Looking back, I find that I don’t remember much about that day, despite how much my heart aches to recall every detail of our time spent with Melody. I believe this clouded recollection is a result of how my mind reacted to the complete shock I was enduring from such an extreme emotional trauma – like a protective response. I have noticed, though, that I am more able to remember the days that followed, each one a little less foggy than the last.
As time went by, the initial shock and denial of our loss began to settle, and I found myself working through other emotions.
I felt angry because I didn’t understand how this could happen, and I wanted someone to blame. Eventually this anger turned inward and grew into immense guilt because I felt that, at least to some degree, I was at fault.
I also felt conflicting emotions surrounding the relationships in my life. I felt lonely, but I also felt drowned by the outreach of others. In the months that followed our first loss, I found that there were some friends – and even family – that were too uncomfortable with my grief to continue our relationships, unfortunately. This abandonment led to feelings of isolation and separation from my old life. These were heavily conflicted by how overwhelmed I felt for prolonged periods of time as calls, texts, and drop-ins flooded my life.
About nine months after we lost Melody, we lost our baby Jamie due to a miscarriage at almost twelve weeks. The devastation of a repeated loss was indescribable. I became broken, hard, and emotionally numb. For quite some time, I felt forsaken by God because He had allowed these terrible things to happen in my life. I turned my back on my faith, refused to pray, and wallowed in the silence I had created by shutting out my Creator. Eventually, as God continued to place just the right people in my life I was softened, and He broke through those walls. It was then that I was finally able to begin to find acceptance over the loss of our babies.
As the days, weeks, and months passed by, the denial and shock – or any of the other feelings, honestly – didn’t disappear.
Instead, rather than being the sharp and jagged stones that continued to pierce me through in a battery of emotions, they slowly became smooth stones that instead are now a burden I’ll carry for the rest of my grief journey – and as we all know, that journey will last a lifetime.
This heavy burden, like any weight carried and lifted regularly, had the potential to help me gain strength, even from my immense grief. With that strength, I have been able to grow and learn positive ways of coping with unexpected and overwhelming emotions.
At times, I bump into people, situations, and other triggers that cause those stones to bruise my heart, and sometimes they even fall out of my metaphorical suitcase and are scattered before me. In these moments, I am forced with facing them again as I pick up the pieces. Sometimes dealing with the contents of my emotional baggage isn’t as difficult as it was in those first days, but other times the pain it causes is just as raw and searing.
I don’t believe there are stages of grief, but rather that it is unpredictable and not linear at all.
From my experience, I have learned that I can be subject to any of a myriad of emotions at any point in time – and that those feelings can be felt in varying degrees. It doesn’t matter how long or how short your journey without your child has been. Any emotion you may feel is justified. Any pain your heart carries is true. I had to learn the hard way that, as I continue to carry my emotional baggage, I shouldn’t feel self-conscious because my luggage doesn’t look like someone else’s – or anyone else’s, for that matter. It’s not meant to be that way. Instead, I’ve learned to embrace my unique journey and to allow myself to work through each emotion in a way that is best for me.
About Kayla Leibner
Kayla is a Christian, a wife, a mom, and an educator. Faith and spiritual health are a top priority for her and also for her family. She strives to cultivate a supportive and spiritually uplifting atmosphere for her children at home. Until the summer of 2020, Kayla was an early childhood educator, but she lost her job due to the Covid-19 pandemic when her school was forced to close. The loss of her job turned out to be an unexpected blessing when she and her husband realized that she would be able to be at home with their oldest children as they completed school virtually.
Kayla and her husband have known one another for sixteen years, have been together for eight years, and have been married for seven years. They have four children together. Jace and Kiley are their older children. Melody and Jamie are their younger children – and also their angel babies.
Kayla and her family have been on their journey of grief since August 2017 when Melody died shortly after birth, due to complications of a CHD. Jamie was lost in May 2018 when Kayla suffered a miscarriage. Their family has worked together and relied heavily on God for guidance and support through their losses.
Kayla enjoys music (writing, singing, and playing instruments), art (sketching, drawing, and coloring for stress relief), and writing in her free time. She began writing for Sharing Magazine in 2019, and she feels so blessed to be able to contribute to such an amazing platform in honor of her babies. She hopes that her articles are able to provide support and comfort to families who read them.