Lots of things change when we become parents. Last year, my uncle died only 8 weeks after being diagnosed with cancer, leaving his young wife, 2 small children and extended family and friends devastated. In April, I had spine surgery, leaving me unable to bend, twist or lift (my daughter or almost anything else) for 6 weeks. Recovery to the point where I felt normal again was a long 3 months. Recently, I ended a 27-year friendship that had become toxic. It has been quite a year. How I handle these things now versus how I would have before becoming a parent is vastly different.
As the 1-year anniversary of my beloved uncle’s death approached last week, I felt grief in its current form take over me like a wave of sadness that was only relieved by a hike to the place where his ashes were spread.
- As a parent, I can say that having my girl’s sweet face to greet me each morning has been a game-changer in how I process just about everything, including such deep loss. On days when I would just cancel my day and go back to bed, I’m up, engaged and engaging. While I am lifted up out of my own sadness by the busy life of a 2-year-old, I’ve learned that this cannot change the actual processing that needs to take place in my grieving
- Let Nothing Stop You From Taking Care of Yourself
Having a supportive partner, I’ve been able to talk openly, when I could verbally express myself, about the impact that my feelings of loss have had on me. Recently, I also decided to pursue grief counseling. It is here that I learned the lesson to let nothing get in the way of taking care of yourself. Find things that are just for you – a hobby that brings you calming enjoyment, exercise, meditate, try acupressure, get back to listening to your favorite music. Having set times to write each day or each week has been part of my healing process. Whether it is posting a new blog post or free writing, I get into a groove and it is my relief.
- Don’t Hide Your Grief From Your Kids
My daughter is very verbal, especially when she wants to express her feelings. This comes from our willingness to share our own feelings, talk about them and get through the feelings. Being honest with our kids is modeling how to be healthy about their own stuff. I can feel sad openly, and then when I’m okay, I can feel okay openly. I want my daughter to know that she can do the same. I do this in the simplest terms like “Mommy feels sad because she misses (someone).” And then, “Mommy feels better because this photo of him makes me feel happy.”
- Slow and Steady
Trying to hide grief causes it to show up in less constructive ways. If I’m in a fog over it and not processing it constructively, I become distracted, irritable or tired. When I’m in it, it has to be a conscious decision to pull myself out, but I do it because it makes for a better day, every time. I’ve learned that while it’s important to feel it, maintaining control of how it’s doled out is also crucial.
Someone who experienced the death of their child once told me that grief is a like an ocean that comes in waves, and ebbs and flows as it needs to, forever. Indeed, it does.