I’m sorry for your loss. Loss is something that is never easy, but especially excruciating when it was the life you created, carried, birthed, and held. It is so important to remember your child, but also important to remember you.
Grief is one of the most uncomfortable topics in the world. When you grieve, you often struggle to capture the wide range of emotions felt day-to-day, or you struggle to grasp what kind of support you need when asked. But for others watching you grieve, it’s awkward and sometimes silent. People say the words “take as long as you need” and yet they expect you to come back to work in a week or at least get out of bed. There’s this unspoken expectation that eventually you will stop talking about it or it won’t be at the forefront of your daily life anymore. But the truth is, you have gone through a great loss, one like no other. Although that grief will look different over time, it IS a part of you.
I say this because it is OK to feel it. It’s OK to take as long as you need, because you will need forever. It’s OK to feel the range of emotions, to talk about it, to cry, to not be OK sometimes. The norm SHOULD be that we expect each other to grieve for a lifetime, and that we unconditionally accept that your loss will shape you in a different way forever. While grief may take a lifetime, healing allows your pain to feel like that boulder on your chest each and every day is a little lighter. It is anger and acceptance, pain and comfort.
But healing is possible.
Your journey in this matters. You matter. The child you lost matters. As you and your family adjusts to a new normal, the idea that things are different and you might not always be able to put your finger on what’s best for you at each moment, it is important to surround yourself with others who allow you to grieve in your own time and your own way. Phrases like, “Yeah I know that was tough but . . . ” or, “Well it’s been so long isn’t it time to move on? Or try again?” are damaging and can be toxic.
Generally, people mean well. But because our society still treats grief as an awkward pause in life, it is vital to set boundaries. In your grief, use your voice. It’s OK to tell others in your life that what they said was hurtful or that it wasn’t what you needed. It’s OK to set boundaries with others that you may not want in your life anymore but they might still exist in your space such as work, church, or family. It’s OK to give yourself the power to remember that your grieving process is yours and no one else’s. Don’t compare. The woman who spoke at your support group who lost her child last year might have seemed to “get through it” faster, but that comparison minimizes what you need. Comparison is the thief of joy, and to compare your grief is to prevent future possibilities of joy as you heal.
It’s important to remember that you can reach out to those who have embraced your grief with you. Creating networks of friends and family for you as an individual and you as a family is crucial to healing. Allowing yourself to ask for what you need—maybe a meal, maybe time alone, maybe a friend for comfort and company—gives you the new ability to get in tune with your feelings and needs daily in order to take care of yourself.
Self-care is similar to healing, but not the same. Self care leads to healing. It is an active practice of understanding who you are as you undergo major transitions in life. Losing a child is the worst, major transition that no one would ask for. But in your grief and your process to heal, you only benefit you and your family when you begin to assess what you can and will need from yourself and from others. If you don’t know right now or tomorrow? It’s OK. It takes time. If it feels selfish at first, that’s OK, too. It’s not selfish, but it can be uncomfortable to put your needs first when so many of you are feeling the weight of such a heavy loss. However, when each of you allow yourselves to prioritize what you need that will benefit your life and health and reach out to the people who help you accomplish that, it WILL lead to healing. You transform the process in which you understand the importance of your grieving and the importance of healthy coping. You begin to understand how to set boundaries with those who do not honor your loss as an ongoing process and you unapologetically move on from toxic environments toward true community. Through self-care you recognize that when your mental health improves, others around you benefit and want to improve too. You remember that your journey matters and that you matter. And the child you lost matters.
You are not alone. Many others who have endured the tragedy of losing a child. However, your journey through this difficult loss is different, and as important than any other mother’s. You deserve unlimited time to grieve and unlimited time to heal. How you do that is up to you. But remind yourself of the power you have to take care of yourself, to reach out, to set boundaries and to take time. Your grief and healing matter. So take your time because you matter, too.
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