In the crush of a year that began with “Megxit” (which now feels a million years ago) and has since devastated us in myriad ways, there has barely been a moment to catch our breaths between fresh onslaughts of grief (ironic, since so many of us have found ourselves with unprecedented time to reflect). But as Meghan, Duchess of Sussex revealed in “The Losses We Share,” a pre-holiday op-ed published early Wednesday morning in the New York Times, a very personal loss compelled her to consider the collective grief we’re still reckoning with in this very uncommon year.
Nevertheless, she writes, “It was a July morning that began as ordinarily as any other day,” when she experienced the miscarriage of a pregnancy she and Prince Harry had yet to disclose this July while waking then 14-month-old son Archie.
After changing his diaper, I felt a sharp cramp. I dropped to the floor with him in my arms, humming a lullaby to keep us both calm, the cheerful tune a stark contrast to my sense that something was not right.
I knew, as I clutched my firstborn child, that I was losing my second.
Hours later, I lay in a hospital bed, holding my husband’s hand. I felt the clamminess of his palm and kissed his knuckles, wet from both our tears. Staring at the cold white walls, my eyes glazed over. I tried to imagine how we’d heal.
Coincidentally, Markle’s revelation came just a day after another famous couple, Chrissy Teigen and John Legend, gave their first televised interview following the devastating late-term miscarriage of their third child in October. Speaking with Michael Strahan on Good Morning America, Teigen also acknowledged the mutual pain of the loss of the son she and Legend named Jack, saying, “[O]bviously, it’s something so painful to go through as a woman, something that was inside your body that you were nurturing and taking care of. But, obviously, there’s a father involved, and the support for the both of us has just been so beautiful, so incredible.”
As Markle made her first public disclosure of her pregnancy and subsequent miscarriage on Wednesday, she noted that despite “the staggering commonality” of the “almost unbearable grief” of losing a child, “the conversation remains taboo, riddled with (unwarranted) shame, and perpetuating a cycle of solitary mourning.”
Reflecting on a now-famous interview given last October while she and Harry finished their highly publicized tour of South Africa amid an escalating war with the British press and her own family, Markle considered what support should look like in this moment of collective grief.
“Are you OK?” a journalist asked me. I answered him honestly, not knowing that what I said would resonate with so many — new moms and older ones, and anyone who had, in their own way, been silently suffering. My off-the-cuff reply seemed to give people permission to speak their truth. But it wasn’t responding honestly that helped me most, it was the question itself.
“Thank you for asking,” I said. “Not many people have asked if I’m OK.”
Sitting in a hospital bed, watching my husband’s heart break as he tried to hold the shattered pieces of mine, I realized that the only way to begin to heal is to first ask, “Are you OK?”
It is here the duchess pans out to our universal mourning, as she posits it is a question we should all be asking each other during a year that “has brought so many of us to our breaking points.” As she notes, while the grief and persistent fear of COVID-19 have upended our lives and norms, the “siloed living” already dividing the country has only been compounded by the coronavirus, the inexplicable losses of more lives to police violence, and a political discourse largely dependent on exactly that said division.
A young woman named Breonna Taylor goes to sleep, just as she’s done every night before, but she doesn’t live to see the morning because a police raid turns horribly wrong. George Floyd leaves a convenience store, not realizing he will take his last breath under the weight of someone’s knee, and in his final moments, calls out for his mom. Peaceful protests become violent. Health rapidly shifts to sickness. In places where there was once community, there is now division.
On top of all of this, it seems we no longer agree on what is true. We aren’t just fighting over our opinions of facts; we are polarized over whether the fact is, in fact, a fact. We are at odds over whether science is real. We are at odds over whether an election has been won or lost. We are at odds over the value of compromise.
This, I realize, is the danger of siloed living — where moments sad, scary or sacrosanct are all lived out alone. There is no one stopping to ask, “Are you OK?”
As for the timing of Markle’s disclosure and message, she writes that it is intentional, “as we plan for a holiday unlike any before—many of us separated from our loved ones, alone, sick, scared, divided and perhaps struggling to find something, anything, to be grateful for.” She argues that despite the immense difficulties of this year—difficulties which are ongoing—the shared experience of living through this moment in history is an opportunity to once again recognize each other’s humanity. “Are we OK?” she asks, adding, “We will be.”