In My Grief, I Speak to the Silence


By Tabitha Terlunen | Instagram: @tabithaterlunen

[Trigger warning. This post shares about a stillbirth.]

There is no silence like the absence of a heartbeat.

There is no quiet like an empty crib.

She was, then was not. I felt her move and hiccup and kick, and then I felt her be still. I sat in a shower days later with hot water burning my skin, milk leaking from my breasts. My cries were silent. I knew if I cried out, someone would come and comfort me, so I stayed quiet. I wasn’t ready to be touched. Some pain must be borne alone.

When you are grieving, there is so much silence. People don’t know what to say. If I’m sad, they don’t want to make it worse. If I’m happy, they don’t want to remind me. “It’s impossible to remind someone of what they can’t stop thinking of!” I want to shout. I start to say her name, to slip her into conversation. “Oh, I used to get carsick, too, when I was pregnant with Sunday!” Some admire me for saying her name, like it’s an act of bravery. It’s not brave, though. It’s just that I can’t stand the silence, the void, the black hole where so many dreams used to be. I bring her up cheerfully and matter-of-factly, as if the 38 weeks she lived in my womb were just an ordinary 8 1/2 months.

On my son’s fourth birthday, we invited my friend Sarah and her two children to come stay the weekend. Over dinner, the kids were squabbling about who got to sit in the pink chair. After intervening a few times, listening to their chatter, I looked over at my husband and laughed, “Ha! Imagine the noise level if we had TWO kids …”

I stopped, breath caught in my throat and heat flushing my face. The room was still filled with the children’s chatter and soft music, but everything froze in horror for me. I opened my mouth to take it back, but what could I say? Oh, sorry. I forgot about my stillborn daughter for a second.

Sarah took my hand. I could barely meet her eyes. “It’s okay,” she said. “She was real. She was here. Her life mattered. I know she was real and I think of her all the time. She was real.”

For we who grieve, there are silences that only the kindness and warmth of friendship can fill. It has not been grand gestures that have brought me home to myself, but the small kindnesses. It’s the daffodils planted in remembrance, and the candle lit on her birthday. It’s the friends who pressed pause on their busy lives to be with me months later. It’s the nurse who climbed into my hospital bed and wrapped her arms around me the morning after I delivered. These gracious acts tell me there is indeed still balm in Gilead.

I find comfort in the silences now. In the stillness of the forest’s heart, I pray. I sit on a fallen tree, a dead thing, but breathe in the scent of resurrection. I remember that all things are being made new; even this tree now covered in thriving ferns and moss and mushrooms.

It is true that grief has broken my heart, but it has also expanded it. There is more empathy, more understanding, and more willingness to be still in the face of pain rather than rushing to fill the silences in other’s lives. There is no tidy bow to wrap up sorrow, so I have stopped trying to wrangle her into submission.

The silence is no longer only a reminder of all I have lost. Instead it is the medium for my hopeful expectation of a new coming Kingdom where all tears will be wiped away and death will be no more.

I speak to the silence now.

“She was real. She mattered.”

All creation echoes, “Amen.”