In the Company of Misery

By: Jamala Arland

When my son, Jasper, died, so many women reached out and shared their stories of pregnancy and infant loss. Some were peripherally in our lives, mostly only through social media, and so we had no idea. Some were close to us and realizing the prevalence of silent heartbreak was astounding. 

There was something about us sharing our loss that made them reach out to tell us about theirs. To connect in loss. 

This sparked a curiosity in me about the saying “misery loves company.”

I wondered whether it was truly intended to have the negative connotation it has; that is, taking pleasure in other people’s misery when you are miserable yourself.

In a quick internet search, I found the Latin proverb: “Solamen miseris socios habuisse doloris.”

This proverb literally translates as “to the unhappy, it is a comfort to have had company in misery.”

This truly resonates. 

Yes, we certainly need and want and crave the validation from other people, but there is an unspoken kinship in loss with other mothers who have also lost babies. 

When you meet another mother who has also experienced the identity changing loss of a child, there is an immediate and mutual understanding. There is a feeling of sadness — and relief(?) — that you aren’t the only one. 

One of the most unexpected connections I had was with a woman who was designing a garden for us. She had emailed me to check in and also to ask after our baby. I let her know we were not going to move forward with the installation phase at that time because our baby son had just died. My phone rang within moments of me hitting send on the email, and it was her. 

I didn’t answer. 

A minute later, my phone pinged with a voicemail. In her message, she told me that she had lost a baby many many years ago. Suddenly, I wished I had picked up the phone and talked to this stranger. 

I always find that messages of condolence touch me deeper from other loss mom. It is as though we speak a secret language we didn’t know existed before. Through the language of Grief Understood and Acknowledged, we can connect and reveal ourselves in ways we may not with our family or best friends. 

I also had a very poignant connection with a woman I “met” in a Facebook group for mothers who lost children due to congenital heart defects. When I joined the group, I had noticed many comments from this lady and she was so genuinely compassionate. In one comment she said that her daughter had died 47 years ago! 

47 years ago. 

I was dumbfounded. 

Obviously, Facebook did not exist for many decades after this lady’s daughter died … which meant that several decades after losing her daughter, she still sought out this group. 

My heart sunk. 

That was one of the first moments that it really struck me that this grief is forever and my life is irrevocable changed in a way I did not want it to be. 

I cried for my old life. 

I decided to reach out to this lady and ask if she would share her story with me. She told me about her daughter’s life and death. She told me about her life after losing her daughter, which eventually included more children and now grandchildren. 

She told me why she was in the group. There was a lot of sadness in her story, but the foundation of everything was love. She loved her daughter and she wanted to help other mothers. She also found happiness in hearing about advances in technology and medicine that weren’t around to save her daughter, but were giving other families more time. 

If I live a long life, my time with my son will be a relatively short period of my life, but it will be one of the most impactful and significant; if not the most. I am still very new to this Life After Loss, but what I took away from talking to the lady on Facebook is that I have to learn how to navigate within it. And if I ever feel lost, there is a whole community of mothers waiting and willing to share in my misery. 

Jamala Arland is a wife, mother and dog mom. Her first child, Jasper, died peacefully in her arms with his daddy holding his hand, and his grandmothers and wonderful care team close by.

Follow her story on Instagram at @alegacyforjasper.