Perinatal mourning beyond silence

by Claudia Ravaldi

The death of an unborn or newborn child is often accompanied by a dramatic silence: the child does not cry, the operators fall silent, time suddenly expands and stops. Reality as it is becomes unsustainable, and can only be faced at a safe distance.

As if it didn’t really belong to us, but it was a film. As if at a certain point we could re-tie the broken threads, of the before and after, and start all over again a moment before the Silence.

The silence of birth – death is an indelible, tragic and founding sign, which sanctions forever and at the same time the presence and absence of that beloved child in their lives as parents and family members.

This silence is the setting for a surreal nightmare: parents are confronted with an unwanted, irrationalizable, unnatural experience, that of feeling like parents, of being ready to be parents in daily practice but of being “suspended” parents: stopped at the tape of departure, stop in an eternal frame.

Parenthood, conceived, dreamed, experienced in the mind and through one’s own body and the child’s body, is destined to remain unfinished: this non-finished takes away the words. After all, there are no words to define the parent who loses a child, as if this one thought were in itself, unthinkable and therefore unspeakable.

The existential wound for couples is far-reaching: parents often take years to return to a life full of authentic beauty, meaning and planning.

Many parents after perinatal bereavement fall into silence, internal but also external. They live as if immersed in an infinite and isolating silence, from which no one seems willing to protect them.

Nobody speaks, nobody shares that death and even before that life; none or very few are interested in hearing the story of that child before his death and the parents’ emotions in the face of that death.

Silence therefore becomes escape, avoidance and distance: this silence is a risk for the bereaved family which is instead greedy, at least in the heart, for support, dialogue, listening.

For this reason it is very important to make good use of silence.

In fact, silence is not only absence, denial, indifference.

There is a type of silence that should be privileged when we are next to people who are going through a moment of great pain or difficulty.

It should also be privileged when WE ARE facing a moment of great pain and difficulty. We could be the first to use this same beneficial silence for ourselves.

I am speaking of a warm and lively silence: a silence present to itself, precious because it is fruitful and honest. A silence immersed in reality, yet solid. A bridge silence and not a dissociative silence.

This silence, understood as welcome, participation and non-judgmental presence in the here and now , is a precious resource that all of us should be able to dispose of.

It would be important to be accustomed from an early age to this type of silence: a silence that is a promise, a presence, a resource.

A silence that we have lost, and we think we can no longer find. That we shy away, at times, because we have lost the habit of being in contact with ourselves, our emotions and our thoughts, as they come to us.

Instead: silence can welcome and comfort us if we open a space within ourselves for mourning and for the narration of that mourning, first of all to ourselves; when we live in suspended time, it takes a lot of strength to be able to identify an interior space to reflect on mourning, starting its integration into our life.

Granting ourselves that space for listening and respect for the pain we feel is not a so obvious operation, I would rather say that it is a forgotten and repudiated operation, in a thanatophobic culture like ours.

Working that silence, of the mind, first, of the heart, then, postponing the dryness that invades our life, which distorts our identity prior to the loss, and listening, therefore becomes an instrument to resume life and “cure” the mourning.

The narration of one’s own path fits into this context as an example of privileged and fruitful listening to oneself and to others. Transformative, in many cases.

Talking about oneself, reading one’s own and other people’s stories, listening to oneself and other parents represents the first step of the path, and relieves him of many sufferings related to loneliness and isolation.

Good conscious silence.

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