When you have had a loved one die, some days will be harder than others. Some days will be much much harder, and then there are the impossible days. Those are the days you grind through by sheer dint of stubbornness, steely will, more than a few tears, and a hopeful intention for the light between the cracks to be a whole lot bigger tomorrow.
One day that we respectively seem to find particularly bittersweet is the birthday of our dead loved one.
No single day can call up all the ‘could have, would have, should if’s’ like this day. It’s a day that can reach backward and forward all at the some time, and it can be hard to find solace any where. What could have been? What would our loved one be like now? How different would our life be? And it can be particularly hard to imagine it would be anything but a whole lot better on this day.
So how do YOU cope on these hardest of days? Let’s take a few minutes to collaborate and help each other. Even if there is a phrase you repeat to yourself, or a simple ritual you do. Let’s share our strength.
(Originally posted- 8/10/18)
From ‘An Unexpected Family Outing’...
I’m the lady with the dead baby.
It’s okay, I’m allowed to be so blunt because it’s my truth. I am the lady whose baby died. One day my baby was living and the next day she died. That is what happened. It doesn’t offend me if you acknowledge this.
It offends me when you don’t.
You see, I know that my baby died. I will not forget this. So, when you whisper about it like it’s a secret that feels shameful. It makes me feel like you’re embarrassed for me. I’m not embarrassed about my baby and I’m not embarrassed that she died. I’m sad that she died. It’s different.
I am allowed to be sad that my baby died. Please stop trying to cheer me up. When you respond by trying to cheer me up, it feels dismissive. Being supportive does not mean making me happy, it means sticking around even when I’m not. When you honor my emotions, you honor my child.
When I say my daughter’s name and you not-so-subtly change the subject, you are not doing so to “protect me.” You are avoiding the subject of my child because you are uncomfortable. If you were talking about your own loved one and I stopped meeting your gaze or frantically switched topics, you would be upset with me. Same.
My baby is not an awkward topic. She is a person. She is my daughter. I am not awkward about that, so why are you?
Please understand, I believe that when you do these things it is with the best intentions, but I need you to know that your intentions have a painful impact. So, while you get to stroll away with your good intentions, I am left with the hurtful impact you left behind.
I may be the lady whose baby died but you can still talk to me like you did when I was the lady who was going to have a baby. You can still say her name and let me know that you care about her. You can still ask me how I’m doing and wait around to hear my answer.
Please don’t ignore my truth, especially when I am so strongly committed to sharing it. I have not made my baby’s death a secret, so I don’t need your help in hiding her. That’s where the struggle comes from. I have to keep talking about her and saying her name because she can’t. I can’t stop because then she will disappear.
I know you want to change what happened to me. But, you can’t. I will always be the lady whose baby died. I will always be the woman who is living without her child. I am okay talking about that. Are you?
An Unexpected Family Outing / anunexpectedfamilyouting.wordpress
(Originally published- 07/11/18)
There are all kinds of loss, and at least a million kinds of grief to accompany those losses.
One loss that can be complicated and sad is that of a friendship. Sometimes that which sustained us, and was a source of love and strength slowly mutates into something toxic and draining. We all know there are a lot of reasons and ways for a friendship to go so sideways that the only choice is to let go.
But a friendship loss can be a particularly messy one. You may still see that person, or have acquaintances in common. There is no service, no stone to visit. And there can be the lingering and painful question of just exactly what went wrong.
I encourage you to give yourself permission to grieve the end of a friendship in the same way I encourage you to make space for all the accompanying emotion around any kind of loss. Be kind to yourself, acknowledge the sweetness of what once was, and reaffirm that there is good reason for moving into a new space in your life. (Originally posted-07/13/18)
I would like to invite you to consider something with me - and that is the language we use when someone is sitting with cancer, or serious illness. We have a whole pat phraseology in place around who those who are doing well in their health struggles - they are ‘survivors’ and ‘winners’ in the ‘battle’ to achieve wellness again. We want so desperately to keep life and death in a literal, black and white sphere. By doing this we deny ourselves and our loved ones a full range of human experience. Yes, it is fraught and hellacious to suffer from ill health. But it does not solely transform us into gladiators. Yes, a cri de couer can wake strong energies inside of us to heal illness, but it is not the only thing. When we shy away from more sensitive and nuanced language, we shape the experience of being ill in a narrow way and unfruitful way.
Let’s see that black and white language to it’s logical end...those who don’t ‘survive’ have ‘failed’? Really? I believe culturally we have come to align death with a kind of failure...but it does not need to be this way. Let’s be aware of how we encourage our beloved and ourselves when there is a health struggle before us, and make some changes.
I think it’s safe to say there is uniformly a sensitive material warning to anything I post here, but my children both want me to consciously say that here. I believe they are correct. So please read with caution.
A Mom needing to depart her children in their very young lives is gut wrenching, and yet reading what Sara Chivers writes here to her children makes me hopeful about what is possible with the map she gifts to all of them.
Over time this very story has unfolded for me again and again in my work in private practice. Culturally we deny death and refuse to consider and perhaps prepare for it’s inevitable face. Thus, when the moment of death comes to our loved one there is so much trauma and malevolent surprise encoded in the experience that FIRST we must come to terms with those feelings - we must realize this is how it is written. We must acknowledge the entire arc of life, finally. Then we grieve.
Or, the whole thing gets wrapped up in an impossible pile together and it must be sorted piece by piece. Grief and death are organic, they are part of the plan. Always have been, always will be.
I disagree with his phrase that grief will let go - I believe the surprise of death let’s go over time, but that grieving remains a constantly changing process in our lives once we have watched our loved one die.
(Originally posted -6/02/18)
Why do I work with people who grieve? Isn’t it too ugly to bear, too difficult to handle?
I am a grief counselor not because I enjoy bearing witness to pain, but because that pain is a testament to what is most important, meaningful, magical, and wondrous in our lives. Grieving is a way of praising what we’ve lost.
That praise, that pain over loss is different for everyone in its shape and corners and textures. Over time, I have developed some skills that help people through the pain. The first of these skills is my ability to sit in mystery with people. I feel comfortable suspended in a space in which there are no answers, and no certainties. I have had to work hard on this skill, and sometimes it needs attention. But mostly it is my organic and most comfortable state in my work. People who are grieving often feel restless and want answers. Why did this happen? How will I get through it? How will my life change without this person in it?
I don't have answers. You may have a few, and I may be able to help reveal them to you, but I don't have them for you. Over time, we may admit to each other that there are pieces we will never understand about your loss.
I can tolerate your pain, and I promise to never, ever try to talk you out of it. That does not mean I am not sad for you, and that I won't grieve alongside you. I will. It won't be my undoing, but I will let it change me.
I allow my own humanity to live in my work. I am not 'above' grieving. I may be able to help you find a space inside of your grief, and then outside of it, too. I will never deny your grief, or try to oil it in platitudes.
I will hold your hope when you cannot, but I will never force it on you. There is always a little torch inside of me that I tend carefully. Sometimes I hold that torch for a long time.
Sometimes when we are grieving, what we actually experience is a kind of emotional chaos. When we take our chaotic, grieving selves out into the world we are sometimes met with the judgement of others, and their need to control our feelings. Questions are not open-ended, they are framed with the answer in mind. An intimation that you should be over it, closed body language, an awkward joke. This is because we are threatening to others when there is a tempest churning away inside of us.
So, if we are faced with a friend in grief, what do we do? Take some time now to reflect about what chaos means to you -- what feelings, thoughts, and experiences it brings up. Take a good look at those feelings in your own life, on your own time.
Be ready to take a breath when a heartbroken friend dissolves in a puddle at the PTA fair in front of you. Be ready to dig deep, from the most authentic place you can find within yourself. Remember that may be you some day.
Don't meet their chaotic heart with your need to control, squash, judge and silence it. Their chaos won't consume you, but your authentic self just may offer some real comfort. Meet them as best you can.
Grief is a river you wade in until you get to the other side.