We have all heard the phrase, “everyone processes grief differently.”
Well, that’s a very true statement, but what does it really mean? How do you cope with your grief and how can your support system help you? Everyone’s answer to those questions will be different, and that’s perfectly fine.
For a long time, I didn’t understand how my grief impacted my day-to-day activities. Then one day my therapist asked me, what do you want people to know about your grief?
I sat on that couch for what felt like an eternity (although I’m sure it was about 30 seconds). To break the silence, she told me to go home and write down a list of things I want my support system to know about my grief. Then, I had to share it with them.
I’ll admit, it didn’t erase the feelings of isolation and guilt that I had, but it did help my support system better understand who I was as a grieving mom.
My grief doesn’t look the same every day.
Please don’t be mistaken. My happiness doesn’t mean that my grief is gone. I think about my son every single day. Fortunately, I have evolved to have more good days than bad, but that means that my grief isn’t always in the form of sadness every day.
Some days, I just want some quiet time. Other days, I want my sister circle and a round of fireball shots. I still grieve, often; it just looks different from time to time.
I’m at peace knowing that I’ll never be the same again.
A part of me died with my son in 2014 and that void can’t be filled. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day aren’t the same anymore, and the winter holidays are pretty emotional too. I have accepted the fact that this is my reality and I’m learning how to cope with this realization.
So instead of trying to be the old me, I look for ways to define who I am as I carry the pain from my loss.
For example, I try really hard to preserve my happiness at all times. I avoid events that may trigger my sorrow, like baby showers. I used to try to push myself to move past this phase of my grief, but the reality is, I was hurting myself more by forcing happiness through feelings of pain.
Grief is universal. Coping is relative.
While grief is something that everyone processes, the way I cope with my grief is relative to my own experiences and emotional needs. Take my husband and I for example. We both had our fair share of grieving after Joshua died, however, we found very different ways to cope with that grief.
I think everyone around me felt a deep sadness when my son died, but the way we all dealt with those feelings were very different from one another. I quickly learned that everyone isn’t going to “grieve like me” but I also had to remind my support system that “I won’t grieve like you either.”
To my fellow grieving moms, I want you to remember that you don’t have to compare the way you grieve to anyone else. This life changing event is unique to you, therefore your pain and your healing will be unique to you too.
I won’t get over my loss; I learned to live with it.
When I speak to support groups about how to help friends or family members who experience this type of loss, I emphasize how important it is to not tell grieving parents that they’ll eventually “get over this loss” and move on with life.
Losing a baby disrupts the natural order of things, and we aren’t really programmed to “get over” this type of loss. Instead, we learn how to live after our loss without leaving behind the memories we shared with our tiny precious human.
Don’t take it personal when I don’t ask for things I need.
Right after Joshua died, I quickly lost count of how many people offered to help us. Friends, family, co-workers, church members, neighbors, you name it.
If there’s anything we can do, just let us know.Literally, everyone.
That’s like the universal support system statement. It’s safe and it’s genuine. The problem for me was that I never really knew what I needed and I was never sure of what to ask people for. I would have loved to cash in on some of those “if there’s anything we can do” offers, but I literally didn’t know what I needed in those early moments.
I remember running into an old friend at Lenox mall and she thought I was upset with her because I never reached out for help, no matter how often she offered. She thought she might have said something that offended me or hurt my feelings. The truth was, I was extremely grateful that she offered to help me after my loss. I just didn’t know exactly what I needed to feel better.
If you struggle with this too, here are 5 quick things you can ask for:
- Attend a support group meeting with me.
- Pick up groceries and/or cook dinner.
- Help with house cleaning
- Meet for lunch and a movie
- Recommend some books to read or shows to binge on Netflix
I need you to keep showing up for me around milestones and holidays.
Listen. I still take off work for my son’s heavenly birthday. I avoid the malls on Mother’s Day weekend. Thanksgiving and Christmas are hyper-sensitive because I still long for family moments that I can’t share with my son – like taking holiday pictures and watching him in the Nativity play at church.
Save my son’s Heavenly birthday in your calendar and send me a text to know that you’re thinking of us. Keep offering to meet for brunch, no matter how many times I say I don’t feel up to it. It might not feel like you’re getting through to me but trust me, you are.
“Are you going to have more children?” is a painful question to answer.
I honestly believe that people have the best intentions when they ask about when I’m going to try to have another baby. I got asked that question nearly twice as much after my husband and I got married.
“So are you ready for another baby now?”
“When are you going to start trying again?”
“It’s time for you and your husband to start growing your family again, don’t you think?”
It doesn’t matter how you phrase the question. I will always choke up trying to answer you. Not only is this line of questioning super intrusive, it’s also uncomfortable. So when I reply with, “Stay out of my vagina,” now you know why.
You can’t fix me.
Grief didn’t break me; it changed me. I know it’s hard to watch me grieve, especially around Mother’s Day and my son’s Heavenly birthday, but I want you to know that my grief isn’t something that is fixable.
It’s natural to want to offer a solution when you see something wrong. Believe me, I get it. My friends and colleagues call me “The Fixer” because I love solving problems. It’s my thing.
Grief isn’t a problem though. It’s an ever changing feeling that is hard to control. As I mentioned before, my grief doesn’t look the same every day and that’s why it’s impossible to fix me.
Comparing grief stories doesn’t help me.
This is a tough one because again, I know that people have the best intentions when they talk to me. I also know that it’s hard to find the right thing to say to a grieving mother. When you put good intentions in the same space as not knowing what to say, anything can come out of someone’s mouth.
Unfortunately, the reality is that comparing people’s grief never works the way we want it to.
Grief isn’t a competition about who’s hurt is worse. Everyone’s grief is unique and their healing journeys are unique. Hearing about someone else’s pain doesn’t make me feel better.
Instead of comparing grief stories to help a friend, just offer to listen.
Don’t say this:
Friend: How are you today?
Me: Today isn’t a good day. I’m really missing my son.
Friend: My coworker just lost twins. Imagine how she’s feeling right now.
Try this next time:
Friend: How are you today?
Me: Today isn’t a good day. I’m missing my son.
Friend: You love your son so much. I know it because I can see that when I talk to you. I’m here to listen if you want to talk about it today.
I’m going to pose the same challenge to you that my therapist did to me. What do you want people to know about your grief? If you could tell your support system one thing about your grief that they might not know, what would it be?
I curated a list of 100 ways you can celebrate your angel and heal from your loss. Get the mini eBook here, as my gift to you.
Have you gotten a copy of my new book, Heartache, Healing, & Hope? Inside, I take a deeper dive into Grief vs. Religion and how I re-established my relationship with God during my healing journey. It’s available now on Amazon, in paperback and Kindle.
Hey, friends! If you loved this post, then I’m sure you’ll love these too:
Bereaved Mother’s Day: Ideas to Remember Your Angel
An Open Letter to My Son in Heaven
10 Comforting Bible Verses for Grieving Moms
20 Books for Grieving Moms: The 2020 Book List