Grief is terrifying. It can be so daunting. As a previous outsider to infant loss, I often wondered to myself why SO much grief was felt for SO long after a loss took place. I now hate myself for even thinking such a thought. Although, sometimes I do wish I was that naive again. It would be so much better than experiencing this level of pain.
But, you guys, grief is necessary. There is not an alternative. There is no other road. No detour. No shortcut.
Let me share my experience with my grief journey…
About a month after the traumatic loss of our daughter just over a year ago, my sister gifted me a book entitled It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand by Megan Devine. When I first began to read the book, I was a bit deterred by the dark cape that seemed to drape over me as I read it. I felt that I identified so deeply with what the author was explaining, that it actually made me feel worse; more scared and alone. I continued to read about how the author felt in her own grief experience as she went on through her grief journey. I was afraid of what I read; that I was going to experience feelings and emotions that no one could understand. I was reading that years and years after her loss, the author felt as if she remained in this state of darkness where little to no “advice” from others had helped in her healing. Why would anyone want to go down that path? I was determined to avoid those feelings; to take a detour around them. I made it a few chapters into the book before deciding it wasn’t for me and that I didn’t want to be stuck in this depressed state forever. I would feel how I feel and then distract myself so I didn’t have to worry about feeling the things that the author described.
How naive of me.
We don’t get to choose. As bereaved parents, the opportunity to choose a certain feeling or emotion on a given day is robbed from us so forcefully the day we say goodbye to our babies. We weren’t given a choice in that matter, therefore we aren’t given a choice in the way we “move forward” after that point. Our minds surely can trick us into being positive and maintaining this constant mindset of “they’re in a better place” or “they wouldn’t want me to spend all my time being sad”. But the truth of the matter is that our babies are still gone. They died. And there are no magic words, song lyrics, bible verses or images that can mask that. (By the way, I have an unfailing faith in my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. But just because I love Him and worship Him, doesn’t mean I don’t naturally question the things that happen). Sure, these things help provide a distraction to our pain at times, which we all need. But nothing takes it away. Nothing erases it and makes it not true.
As time went by, I began to feel myself experiencing the same things that Megan Devine described feeling after the loss of her husband. I found that no matter what I did, my mind always went back to the place that I was stuck living in. My child died. My son’s sister went to heaven and he will not grow up alongside her. My husband will not walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding. This is real. This is horrific. This is not OK. I am not OK. And the things I was feeling could not be avoided. They only seemed to reappear even more vividly each time I went to distract myself from them.
Finally, after months of talking with my incredible grief counselor, she encouraged me to lean into these feelings. I was not overly enthused about the idea of letting myself feel this way, but as she worded it, “the only way you can start your healing journey is to go through it.” I knew she was right. I knew I had to start letting myself feel what I felt. To stop pretending that I didn’t feel those ways. Especially when they came crashing over me like tidal waves on random days, knocking me down and out for days at a time.
Once I began to tear down the wall I had built up to protect myself, I noticed a difference. I felt like I understood where Megan Devine was coming from as she explained her grief journey. I started to feel a sense of entitlement, in terms of allowing myself to feel any way on a given day. If I felt angry, I had to remind myself that I was entitled to feel that way. If I was sad, crying for half a day in bed, I had to remind myself I was entitled to feel that way. Even if it was an entire year after our loss.
One day, not all that long ago, I picked up Megan Devine’s book once more and picked up where I left off. Having this new sense of understanding my healing and grief journey made me feel more prepared for what I might come across as I continued to read. My heart and soul felt almost liberated, in a way, by what Megan was saying. Although she and I had experienced a different type of loss, her words resonated so deeply with me and I felt that I could relate so much to her advice and her theories.
My advice to those of you who are newly bereaved, no matter what type of loss you’ve experienced, is to let yourself feel how you feel. Feel angry. Feel sad. Feel overwhelmed. Lay on the couch all day. Drink that bottle of wine. Sleep those extra few hours. Send your kids to their grandparents for the day. Talk to your spouse. Call that friend who can relate to your situation. Make that counseling appointment. Turn up that song as loud as you can in the car. Say that prayer. Eat that ice cream. Go for that run. Whatever it is that YOU need to do to get through those difficult days, it’s important to remember that you are entitled to feel that way and you are entitled to do what you need to do to make it through. Some days all we do is survive. And no one is entitled to tell you differently.
My heart is with you. Always.