Insights with Terah Belle on navigating grief
In our latest Insights Series, we’re discussing the unimaginable experience of losing a child, with a loving parent who has, Terah Belle. Terah shares her family’s personal journey through cancer, as well as her advice for getting through and growing during difficult moments.
We’d like to start by offering you our deepest sympathies at the loss of your little Indy Llew, as well as the biggest congratulations on the birth of your son, Zealand! How have you and your family managed to stay grounded throughout the diagnosis and loss of Indy, whilst still raising 2 young children?
Thank you! We are living in that blissful newborn state feeling such gratitude and joy, all while missing our Indy Llew so deeply. Joy and heartache interwoven together has become our permanent state of being ever since cancer came into our lives. The journey was difficult, and the aftermath is more difficult. We fought hard for Indy for many years. I can’t say that I have always stayed grounded along the way, I unraveled many times but my children have been the reason I am able to pick myself back up again. My husband Brian has also served as an anchor for our family. He has a calm, optimistic nature and helps the rest of us stay grounded and positive in the face of difficulty. We have hard days. But Birdy and Zealand need us — so we wake up every morning and live, doing our best to nurture and love them in the ways they need. Despite the heartache of losing a child we are able to find happiness in each day.
In what ways did you and your partner experience grief differently and similarly?
This is a loaded question! We experienced and still are experiencing grief very differently. After Indy passed I withdrew and went into a cocoon. I have needed a lot of time alone to cry, journal, and sit in stillness as I process life without my baby Indy. My husband immediately wanted to get out: socializing, training for Spartan races, vacationing, etc. It was difficult to understand how we could feel so differently and have such different needs after losing our daughter. We realized that we both lived the same experience through our cancer journey, but we lived it very differently. That created some challenges that we’ve had to work through.
We also have come to realize that he and I are the only ones who know what it's like to lose Indy as our daughter. We are the only two that lived the experience first hand, so intimately alongside Indy. We lived through some incredible things along the way. We saw absolute miracles. It was such a difficult road but it was also filled with really special, tender moments. B and I lived those together. Those are the memories we hold on to together and that is what shapes our grief together.
Music has been a big part of our grieving process, and we have done that together. We both spend time writing, growing spiritually, and have done some yoga classes together! Grieving together is actually really hard but we are learning how to navigate it.
How did you communicate with Birdy about the loss of her beautiful sister Indy? Do you have any advice for other parents navigating this?
This was one of the most difficult parts of losing Indy — watching Birdy lose her sister. Birdy was just over 2. Because we knew that Indy was going to pass, we were able to gently prepare Birdy in small ways throughout the weeks prior. We didn’t want to tell her too soon, but also wanted to give her time to process it before Indy was just gone one day. We told her that Indy’s body was sick and soon it would stop working. My husband took her outside at night and they would look up at the stars, and he would talk to her about heaven and where Indy was going. We mostly tried to focus on the present when Indy and Birdy were together, and let Birdy enjoy her final moments with her sister. We didn’t want Birdy to feel scared or worried. After Indy died we spent a lot more time explaining and talking about what happened. We read her stories about heaven and death, like “Blue fish died”, and “The invisible string”. We started play therapy with a wonderful therapist and that seemed to help her process things. For months she constantly asked us where Indy was and when she was coming back. It was really hard for her to understand. She cried for her frequently. We saw signs of toddler depression like low energy and tummy aches. It was heartbreaking! We had to remind her constantly where Indy was and why she had to leave us.
Advice in a situation like this is really hard to give, but I can speak from my experience. Talking openly and frequently about death, heaven, and how life continues after this has been healing for our family. It has helped Birdy understand and feel safe asking questions, or crying to us when she misses her sister. We cry with her, letting her know it is ok to express our sadness. Play therapy was also very helpful for her as well as Brian and I. It taught us a lot about how to help Birdy. We talk about Indy constantly, every day, as if she is still present. She is still part of our family and that has helped Birdy know she still has her sister.
How do you keep Indy’s memory alive for Birdy & Zealand?
Indy is very much alive to us! Her pictures surround us in our home, and we often talk to her like she is right here with us. We talk about her constantly and reminisce on all the silly adorable things she would say and do. We remind Birdy about experiences they had together and things Birdy would do to help Indy. Over the past year and 9 months that we’ve been living without our Indy, Birdy has been the one to remind us how close she still is. She still has sweet experiences where she sees Indy and tells us about it. She collects white feathers and recognizes them as gifts from Indy. She draws pictures for Indy and makes her food to send to heaven. We allow her to use her creativity and express her love for Indy in any way she chooses. As Zealand grows, we will continue to do the same. He will know all about his big sister Indy. It makes us sad that he will never know her physically in this life, but it is sweet to know that he knows her spiritually and spent time with her in heaven before coming earth side.
We see that you’re in the process of writing a book? We’d love to hear about it!
Yes! My husband and I both are in the process of writing books. Indy was loved by hundreds of thousands of people across the world. She was such a unique little person and we want her story to be remembered. As mentioned above, we saw absolute miracles on our cancer journey. We want the world to know about them and know that divinity surrounds us, while sharing what we learned from our brave little girl who fought cancer for 4 years.
Brian is further along than I am, as you can imagine it is very emotional to sit and write about our experience. I had to take a break from working on it while I was pregnant because emotionally it was too much. These pregnancy + postpartum hormones, in addition to grief, are a heavy combination. I will get back to writing soon! We made a deal with each other that when we both finish our books, we will take our dream trip to New Zealand. We talked about taking Indy there for years but never got the chance. Now we will take her siblings.
Do you have any insights for other parents who have experienced the loss of a child, or those with terminal illness?
My biggest piece of advice is to try and live every moment in the present, with joy. When we think too far ahead things usually become overwhelming and heavy. The only way I can survive the day is to be present and find peace in my current circumstance. When I look to the past the weight of our burden feels crushing. When I look to the distant future I start to crumble because I can’t imagine living the rest of my life without Indy. We only have the here and now. We lived this way throughout the cancer journey. You can’t think ahead to the “what if’s” or you will crumble. We tried our best to live in the present and find the joy in where we were. For us that looked like dance parties on the cancer unit & becoming best friends with our nurses. We laughed and danced our way through cancer. Indy led the way, as she remained happy, brave and strong until the very end. Live for the present moment. Find the joy and the peace. Live with no regrets, and live life big. Love hard. Tomorrow is never promised but we have today.
Terah Belle is a nurse practitioner, social media influencer, and mother who specializes in holistic healing. You can learn more about Terah through her Instagram handle @terahbelle.
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