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?