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How a stranger's words helped a grieving mother with her pain

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Time now for "My Unsung Hero," our series from the team at Hidden Brain. "My Unsung Hero" tells the stories of people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else. Today's story comes from Heather Harper. And a note - this story is about the loss of a pregnancy. In 2016, Heather and her husband were expecting their fifth child. It was a surprise, but they were thrilled. Everything was going fine until one day she realized she did not feel the baby move.

HEATHER HARPER: 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. I had to be induced and deliver his body. He was nine inches long, and he weighed nine ounces. We named him Desmond, and two days later, we had a small graveside service and a burial for him. The weeks that followed this were the hardest time in our lives. Eventually, I had to force myself to go out of the house, and one of the first places I would go was church. Many people were afraid to speak to me or look at me because I know they didn't know what to say. One Sunday, I was so overwhelmed that I stepped out of the chapel and I sat down on a sofa in the foyer just to be alone for a few minutes.

Not long after this, a woman came out and sat on the opposite end of the sofa. We didn't speak to each other or even look at each other in the silence between us in the foyer. And without looking at me, 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. I was too shocked and overcome to speak. All I could do was nod. Her words were what I needed to hear in that moment of my life. 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KELLY: Heather Harper lives in Newburgh, Ind. She says her unsung hero taught her the importance of acknowledging someone else's pain even when you don't know what to say. You can find more stories like this on the "My Unsung Hero" podcast. And to share the story of your unsung hero, visit myunsunghero.org for instructions on how to send a voice memo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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