I Want to Talk About Anna

_about to laughI realize that no one knows what to say the first time they see me – whether back at work or since the funeral. It’s OK. There really is nothing to say. It’s OK to say, “How are you?” Even though we both know I’m not good. So, when you see me, you can say, “How are you?” And I’ll probably say, “As good as can be expected.” Or, “I’m alright.” Or, “I’m OK.” So there, we just had the conversation. That wasn’t so bad.

It’s also fine to get right to work. I understand that life has to go on, and that a lot of life went on while I was in deep grief that I have to catch up on. So, if we work together, it’s OK to say, “Did you finish your budget yet?” without saying anything else to reference Anna and our loss. I really do care about my job, about the work of fighting cancer, and I still think it is important work.

I am still me. Which is to say, I am still someone who cares about you. (That is, if I did care about you before. I’m also not a saint, so, if I did not care about you and your problems before, I probably still do not care about you and your problems.) But if I did care about you before, I still care about you and it is OK to talk about yourself, your life, your problems. You do not have to preface it with the disclaimer that you know your problems are not as bad as mine. Each of us puts our own life on the same spectrum. Your worst experience feels as bad to you as my worst experience feels to me. (Within reason, of course. If your worst experience has been, say, ruining your manicure, I think we can agree that I feel worse.) Until I lost Anna, the worst thing that happened to me – and it felt really, really painful at the time – was having a sick baby. If nothing worse ever happened to me, I would think that was really, really terrible … because it was. Just like your bad experience, bad day, bad relationship is really, really terrible for you. And I like you, so I want to help you, even just by listening.

Here’s the other thing, if you see me, please know that I want to talk about Anna. I think about her all the time. I remember when my friend Greg lost his mom that I really wanted to talk to him about her. I didn’t want to ignore his grief and pain, but I could not for the life of me think of how to bring her up, since I didn’t know her very well. I think others feel that way about me now. So here are some conversation starters, so we can talk about Anna:

  • “I thought of Anna the other day, and even though I never got to meet her, I felt so sorry that she’s gone.”
  • “One of my happiest Anna memories was when …”
  • “How was it … going back to work?” or “… putting her things away?” or “… having the holidays without her?” [Really, you’re not going to remind me of a sad time by bringing it up. Believe me, I remember it anyway. And I’d rather share my sadness – or my joy – rather than keep it to myself.]
  • “I wish Anna was here right now because …”
  • “Do you remember the day I met Anna?”
  • “What would you have dressed Anna up as for Halloween?”
  • “I wonder how Christmas (or camp, or vacation, or this party) would have been different with Anna here?”
  • “Nora is so cute. Do you think Anna would have grown up to look more like her or Henry?”
  • “I like seeing babies because they remind me of Anna.”
  • “Every time I see you I think about Anna. How are you doing?”
  • “I hope you got my card. I want you to know I really felt sorry for your loss.” [This is especially helpful – the “I hope you got my …” or “I hope you liked the …” statements. Because although I try to remember exactly who sent what, I do forget. And I really would like to thank you in person.]
  • “Anna would have been X months/years old today. I wonder what she would have been like. I think she would have been …”
  • “It has been X months/years since we lost Anna. It must still be so hard.”
  • “What are you thinking about?” [Clever! Because you know I’m thinking about Anna.]

Let me just say that all of this advice is directly pertinent to me. I have no idea if other people who are grieving feel the same way. My guess is that they probably want to talk about their loved one, too, but maybe these aren’t good questions for them. For me, it is almost impossible to say the wrong thing, as long as it is coming from the heart. If your goal is to comfort me, I appreciate the effort.

In the first week after we lost Anna, someone (maybe the funeral home?) gave us a photocopied sheet of inappropriate things people might say and suggested responses. I titled it the “How to Say Eff-Off Without Swearing” brochure. I threw away the document, but I remember one of the exchanges was something like this:

Inappropriate comment:  “I’m sorry you lost your baby but at least she’s in a better place now.”

Suggested response: “The best place for my baby is in my arms.”

Ouch. The person was just trying to make you feel better. They probably don’t deserve a zinger. And really, is there really any right thing to say? Believe me, there is certainly nothing you can say to make me feel better. Just having you in my life and knowing you care and are thinking about Anna too helps. Sometimes the most helpful thing is silence.

I try to do something specific to remember or honor Anna on the 8th and 26th of every month – the day we got her and the day we lost her. I am almost beyond thinking of her more consciously every Friday (hello) and every Sunday (good bye) – but that’s mostly because I can’t keep track of the days of the week. Feel free on those days just to say, “I’m thinking of Anna today, too.” It helps just to know we are not alone in all this.

We are planning Anna’s interment (when her ashes will be placed in the columbarium outside the church) for some time in October. We will have a simple service of prayer and remembering, and then go back to our house to plant spring bulbs (in my grief I bought 300!) so that the garden is alive with color on what would have been Anna’s one-year birthday. We may bless – or plant – her blue spruce that day, too. I’ll post the date when we figure it out. We’re just waiting for the plaque that will be placed on the outside of the columbarium to come in.

We also started a “I’m a Fan ‘a Anna” group on Facebook. Check it out – the only requirement to join is that you are inspired by Anna’s short, sweet life. And that girl was nothing if not inspiring. I sure do miss her.

4 comments.

  1. Jennifer…
    You’ve never met me and maybe never will, who knows. I knew your husband when he was a boy…the pastor’s kid! I was the Deaconess at his church at the time. While none of that is really all that important…just wanted to briefly introduce myself…

    I just want you to know how much your words about your precious Anna inspire and minister to me. I love how you are able to “spill your guts” in such a beautiful way. I’m sure I’m not the only one to ask if you’ve ever considered writing a book…or make this blog into a book? So many of us need to hear what you have to say as we try to care for hurting people.

    Thank you for being so real…so transparent. I hope we can meet sometime…that would be a real blessing. I can tell that God richly blessed Steve with such a faith-filled, loving, sensitive, awesome bride. Not to mention a wonderful mom to Nora, Henry, and Anna.

    God bless your journey. You all are in my prayers out here in California.

    In Christ’s love, Gloria Klawiter

  2. Jenn…once again, you never met me either. I went to HS with Steve. I can honestly say I adore you!! Your words, your thoughts and your blunt honesty is WONDERFUL!!! I know, or I would imagine, as you are writing these posts, humor is very far from your mind, but you make me laugh and smile nonetheless. Although, I will be honest, I think everytime I read your words, I cry, today I laughed…still felt sad, but you made me laugh today. (“if I did not care about you and your problems before, I probably still do not care about you and your problems”)

    I think of you, your family and Anna often!!! A true sincere thank you for your posts and your words. You keep it real, keep me grounded…and remind me to love on my kids more tonight.

    xoxoxo- Stacey

  3. Jenn, for some reason I keep thinking about our first “real” conversation shortly after meeting you. I was in your office and we discovered a few commonalities. I remember thinking, “this is an interesting person.” I later learned that you are also a generous person, a strong person, an extremely intelligent person. Watching how you are dealing with the loss of your beloved daughter Anna, I have also learned that you are a grace-filled person. (I don’t know if that’s a real word but it’s what I mean, so whatever!)

    I wish nothing more than to have the power to take away some of your pain. But I know that this is impossible. I also have a hunch that you wouldn’t want that. I hope this makes sense and that you know what I mean. Your pain is part of your connection to Anna, and confirmation of your love for her.

    I admire you so much.

    Angela

  4. Jen you are a strong woman with a heart of gold. I am very blessed to have met all of your children and both you and Steve. Though our friendship young the effect you both and Anna has taken on my life is great, as if I have known you forever. I look at you and Steve and know Love and I am envious. It is nice to know people who are not afraid to let their feeling show. I know it makes me feel better to talk. It makes us better people to share our true selves rather than hide who we really are from the world; people with real problem, emotions and hurt.
    From the first time I met Anna I feel in love and will never forget her. Thank you for letting me know its okay to talk about Anna, about anything.

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