Thursday, April 28, 2016

Gentle: When Being Kind to Yourself Does NOT Mean Living in Denial

So it's prom season again.

My Facebook page is filling up with gorgeous photos of my friends' kids and their dates. They look sparkly and happy, but the images sting because Jack won't be at prom. The pictures come in dribs and drabs at first, like early spring flowers, but when our local high school hits prom night, my feed will be full.

And it should be.

Friends need to be able to show off their children's milestones, as I did with Margaret's Confirmation two Sundays ago, and the stream of Baby Andrew pics I've been inundating you with.

Expecting people not to post happy moments like prom seems excessive and ungracious to me. And what about baseball team photos, Easter Egg hunts, college visits, and first day of school photos? I mean, where would my censorship stop? Sharing joy and documenting milestones is part of doing life together.

So instead of wishing the photos weren't there, because they remind me of what Jack is NOT doing this spring, I ask myself, "What can I do to be gentle on myself?" whether it's about prom, Christmas, or some other important event, of which there are many. National Siblings Day? Dear Lord.

Perhaps I can decide I need to stay off social media for a few weeks when I know it will be roughest. I am not willing to log off permanently, because social media has been key to me for acknowledgment, support, connection, and healing since losing Jack. Or, I can decide to dip my toe in and look at the photos, seeing if I can experience gratitude that I have friends in my life who are willing to share the good times, and the hard times, with me. One approach isn't better than the other, and each day is different.

In the same vein, perhaps some readers of An Inch of Gray and my Facebook page may need to step away for a while because of Baby Andrew's birth. My sweet little late in life bundle brings joy and wonder to many, but could also bring great pain to those who are in the trenches of baby-loss or infertility. I applaud anyone who is gentle to herself in this small way, stepping away when needed-- life is hard enough as it is.

Gentleness can take many forms. It could mean limiting one's exposure to certain friends who leave you feeling hurt, depleted, judged, or misunderstood, or declining to attend a baby shower or family gathering because it's just too difficult right now. It could mean skipping a school meeting or event now and then or choosing to go to a different grocery store, one that is not laden with memories. I have one friend who is very involved in her family's church, but she does not sit in the sanctuary during worship because that is where her son's funeral was held. She has not opted out of worship entirely, or of God, or community, but she does this one small thing to be gentle on herself each week.

Opting out of some things does not mean a person is living in denial-- it can be a form of self-care. Avoiding certain grief/pain triggers does not equate to avoiding life. A hurting person has many hours in each day to confront loss-- it's inescapable really-- but that doesn't have to mean diving right into the fire at every single opportunity.

Self awareness is always a good way to be gentle with ourselves and understand ourselves better. I mean, if we'd never cultivated any self-awareness, we might have thought it would be a great idea to attend that one ex's wedding in our late 20's, you know, the one with the open bar?!

Some triggers are obvious, and others more subtle.

When my family moved 2 years ago, our new house's location meant we would have to drive, an average of 6 times PER DAY, over the stretch of creek where our son's body was found. A house in almost any other section of town would have let us avoid the creek altogether, or encounter it maybe once a month, but that is not where we ended up. Fortunately, the creek is no longer a grief trigger. I can drive over it again and again, see the cross a friend erected the morning after Jack died, whisper, "Love you, Baby." or "Love you, Jackie" and go about my day. Perhaps driving over it so many times has actually helped diminish the pain seeing the creek could cause-- a kind of exposure therapy, I suppose. Moving out of our old neighborhood was one big way we found of being gentle on ourselves, even though we knew it would be daunting and expensive. Driving over the creek is one result of that move, but fortunately, it has not been too difficult for us.

My triggers may be very different from yours.

Being gentle could mean staying home from church on Mother's Day with a pint of Ben and Jerry's, or going ahead and attending church and giving yourself permission to cry openly or duck out early.

Gentleness does not have to always be opting-out of things, but could also be OPTING-IN. It could be calling a friend and saying, "Next Wednesday is going to rough on me, and no one really knows that, but I am going to want some companionship. Could you be with me?" Pro-actively letting others know how to help us, and giving them the chance to care for us well, is a form of OPTING-IN. My sister usually OPTS-IN to an ice cream cake on the crapiversary of our mother's death, forks and sharing optional.

OPTING-IN could mean finding the perfect, foul-mouthed friend who will let you be snarky, sarcastic, or irreverent for a while, hissing, "Screw prom!" (or class parties, or Valentine's Day, or kindergarten orientation), knowing that you'll rejoin the well-mannered classes after you've vented for a while. It could mean OPTING-IN to a family gathering or memorial, knowing that it will be draining and hard, but giving it the small chance to open you up more or feed you in some way.

OPTING-IN could be finding an absolutely different thing to do, such as traveling somewhere exotic on Christmas Day, joining a writer's workshop, or taking up running. Often, when you have lost much, trying something new isn't as scary as it once was.

Life is hard. Life is Good.

And an important part of life is caring enough to learn ways to be gentle on ourselves.

Have you discovered ways to be gentle on yourself?


26 comments:

Sharon in Indy said...

So beautiful, Anna. Your first line alone grabbed my heart. I am thankful that you continue to share such personal thoughts and feelings with us, because I know that there must be so many times when it isn't easy. Your willingness to do this means a lot to me, even though I haven't experienced the loss of a child.

It speaks to me of how much you are willing to hand over to God, again and again and again. The bravery you show as you continue to write is a glorious testimony of faith, and it inspires me to reflect on how much or how little I am letting God do the same for me. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful. You have such a gift.

Jane said...

Anna, I know exactly what you mean. My son died 6 years ago at age 24 and I miss him only when I am breathing.... I try to focus on what he did get to do, but it sure did sting when his best friend had his bachelor's party last weekend. It has taken me a long time to give myself permission to do what feels less bad........and everyone's life does look great on social media...so, maybe look with one eye open and slam shut if too rough...

You have been an enormous source of comfort to me. And to think it all started when I thought I might stop dyeing my hair....
Your baby is beautiful. So happy for you all....

Robin said...

I lost my sweet baby boy at four days old in Dec 2015. My psychologist said something that made so much sense to me, "there are so many things that will bring you pain that you cannot avoid so if there are painful triggers you can avoid you should do so". This really resonated with me and helped give me permission to be kind to myself.

Anonymous said...

This is so eloquent and moving it feels channeled from above. I hope it reaches the many many people it can touch and help. Thank you so much.

Kate Coveny Hood said...

I loved this one Anna. And I love YOU! xoxo

Anonymous said...

All the comments so far are spot on and your thoughts, feelings and willingness to share for sake of love, understanding, compassion and fellowship through good times and bad show a beautiful soul - you rock Anna!

Deborah said...

Sometimes I think you live in my head though I suppose that also applys to most of us who have lost a child. The believe the only way I have survived the last 7 months is opting out of situations my heart can't yet take. Thank you for sharing.

Jennifer said...

Thank you for this. I lost my sweet second baby after waiting over 6 years for him and after carrying him for only 16 weeks. And yet, your beautiful surprise of receiving Andrew doesn't make me sad - it gives me hope that maybe, just maybe, even at age 45, God could have a miracle for me too. I realize that this probably won't be the case for me, but it reminds me that nothing is impossible with God. I have really been struggling with the announcement of the arrival of a friend's 6th baby though. I am weirdly obsessed with her Facebook feed - maybe it would be healthier to just. stop. looking. Thank you for being such a lovely, encouraging, honest voice about the weird journey of grief.

katrynka said...

I have come quite a ways dealing with my infertility, but avoiding as much as I can that involves Mother's Day (except for sending a card and gift to my own mother) is a way that I am gentle with myself.

Sandra Jerich said...

I love everything you write. This post is especially beautiful - and pertains to everyone, no matter what type of grief may apply. Thanks, always.

Shocked Kristin said...

Taking a social media break is excellent advice. Until people start posting ALL aspects of their lives - not just the happy moments - looking at Facebook everyday will always have a negative effect on most of us. We think, everyone is going out to fun dinners, exotic vacations, pretty houses, they have super happy families with really perfect children...

People generally don't post when they have a fight with their spouse, their child fails a test, they get a huge credit card bill they can't pay off, they despise their neighbors, they drive an old car and so on and so on.

Facebook is generally UNBALANCED, an unfair and unkind way to start or end your day. When we all start being more honest and balanced with our posts, we'll all be happier.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written as usual. Thanks Anna

Suzy said...

oh my. How many times I have wanted to run home, climb in bed and pull the covers over my head. How I have flip/flopped to why do they ask me about my son to why hasn't anyone said anything? have they forgotten him?

I can be my own worst enemy. I can be a wonderful martyr. I don't want to live that way... I don't want people to avoid me because life does go on.. I want to be happy - I want them to be happy... so, how do I cope? well, I allow myself periods of self-pity, of anger, of deep sorrow...and then I pray, always pray for courage, to be brave, to be genuine and honest, but to show others grace and compassion. Oh, grief is not an easy road, it is often dark and confusing, almost always lonely. Thank you for your honesty. you help me feel not so all alone.

Anonymous said...

Love to you. You don't know me, but I send my love anyway. XO
Claire

julie gardner said...

Thank you for this. It's so thoughtful and kind.
Your generosity of spirit is a miracle.

www.robinbotie.com said...

My daughter died five years ago, and now on her birthdays and deathdays, I take myself out for shopping sprees, and eat ice cream for breakfast, and treat myself like I'd treat her if she were here. It makes these otherwise miserable days offer distractions and small joys. Cheers!

Anonymous said...

Anna, My mom had this saying about giving yourself "grace and space." It has helped me through some rough times that came in strong or just crept up on me. I give myself grace to feel/act however I need to and the space to walk it out alone, with someone else and for however long that takes. It is very freeing.

Debby@Just Breathe said...

As always Anna, this post is amazing and well written. I haven't experienced what you have but I have some triggers on Facebook that get to me and all I can do is be happy for those who are posting their happiness at the time. I tell myself that I must trust in God's plan for me and He is in control! ((Hugs))

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful post! I am not in your situation, but I do have a child who is struggling - with depression, drug use, etc. And I too have to "opt out" at times from social media with its endless depiction of perfect lives and perfect children. Your post is so applicable to so many situations and I love the way you write and express yourself.

Rebekah Peterson said...

Thank you for your wisdom, and permission. Sometimes we know we need to do something (or not do something) but we need someone else to tell us it's okay. I find sometimes I'm just fine with other kids my son's age, but other times I need to not be around them. Sometimes it just hurts.

Unknown said...

Thank you....

Anonymous said...

Ya, I had to ghost a friend. Some people run around life so unaware of how there pain is sucking the life out of others.

Jennie Goutet said...

I need this now. I'm working on this now, but I haven't found what it is yet. I'm searching for how to be gentle with myself because I'm feeling sort of strung out.

Aurelia said...

I loved your take on this, especially when you pointed out that we cannot expect everyone else to stop the celebrating of various milestones that might cause us pain. We can only manage ourselves in relation to the triggers. I opted out of Facebook recently (and not for the first time) not because of happy news that pained me, but exposure to more sad news from the newsfeed that wasn't even from friends. It was taking me down depressing rabbit holes. I miss the good news from friends, but I didn't like the lack of control over the other.

Dee Dee said...

Social media is always reminding me who is missing. Some day, maybe it won't hurt to witness friends and family happiness in that manner. Self care is never easy but indeed necessary. After losing my youngest brother and then 7 years later my youngest child, Sibling Day ambushed me and prompted me to take a timeout.