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In a time of profound grief, a woman at church acknowledged this mother's pain

Heather Harper says her unsung hero taught her the importance of acknowledging someone else's pain.
Heather Harper
Heather Harper says her unsung hero taught her the importance of acknowledging someone else's pain.

The following story includes references to pregnancy loss.

This story is part of the My Unsung Hero series, from the Hidden Brain team, about people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else.


In 2016, Heather Harper and her husband were expecting their fifth child. It was a surprise pregnancy, but they were thrilled.

Everything was going fine until one day, she realized she didn't feel the baby move.

"My doctor had me come in for an ultrasound and my worst fears were confirmed when we saw on the screen, our little baby with no movement in his heart," Harper recalled. "I had to be induced and deliver his body."

Her son was nine inches long and weighed nine ounces. They named him Desmond. Two days later, they had a small graveside service for him.

The weeks that followed were the hardest weeks of her life. Eventually, Harper forced herself to leave the house, and one of the first places she went was church.

"Many people were afraid to speak to me or look at me because I know they didn't know what to say," she said.

One Sunday, Harper was so overwhelmed with grief that she stepped out of the chapel and sat on a sofa in the foyer, to be alone for a few minutes.

Not long after, an older woman she didn't know very well sat on the opposite end of the sofa. They didn't speak or even look at each other. Then the woman said something that Harper will never forget.

"She said, in a loud and clear voice, 'My baby died 35 years ago and not a day has gone by that I haven't thought of her. Don't ever let anyone tell you that you are grieving for too long.'"

Harper was too overcome with emotion to speak. Her eyes filled with tears. All she could do was nod.

"Her words were what I needed to hear in that moment of my life," Harper said. "I needed to know that I would never be the same again. And that it was normal to be that way. And that I wasn't broken, that there was nothing wrong with grief, no matter how long it lasted. And most of all, she let me know that I wasn't alone."

Looking back, Harper said that her unsung hero taught her the importance of acknowledging someone else's pain, even when you don't know what to say.

"She opened up to me about the most painful and intimate thing in the world. And that was what I needed."

My Unsung Hero is also a podcast — new episodes are released every Tuesday. To share the story of your unsung hero with the Hidden Brain team, record a voice memo on your phone and send it to myunsunghero@hiddenbrain.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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