My Grief Experience
After a 2.5 year cancer journey, my mom passed away last fall. To say that it’s been a rough few months would be an understatement! I have put a lot of pressure on myself to navigate this season well, especially when it comes to how I help the kids process their grief. We’ve made photo albums and read picture books and talked to our therapist. Often I would put my feelings aside so that I could focus on ‘being strong’ for the kids. My personality type being what it is, it’s all too easy for me to fall into the trap of believing that my feelings and needs aren’t as important as other people’s. As a result, I have found myself struggling to stay afloat, so to speak. Recently I read a post by Ryan North about parenting as leadership, and he pointed out that we can’t focus on our children’s growth and healing if we aren’t doing the work needed for our own growth and healing. I realized that my grief journey is not something to be tended to if I have time after all the other stuff has been dealt with – it’s something that needs my attention on the front end. My leadership in this area will actually help my children process their grief as well! It’s like Karyn Purvis said: “You can’t lead a child to a place of healing if you haven’t been there yourself.”
So, I’ve been trying to be more honest with myself and my family when I’m having a rough day. The irony is that the kids already knew I was struggling! Sadly, they would often assume that it was something they had done wrong. Now, if I’m feeling at the end of my rope emotionally, I’m practicing saying things like, “I’m really missing Grandma today. So if I seem sad or grumpy, that’s why. It’s not your fault.” One of the beautiful things about this has been watching the way the kids respond. It has empowered them to show empathy and kindness to me, which has been wonderful. I’m learning that the messy living out of my grief journey is one of the most powerful ways my kids will learn. So I will keep practicing being honest about my feelings, voicing my needs, activating my support network, and generally advocating for myself. Not easy work, but I’m certainly grateful for the growth and healing I’m experiencing! I’m also practicing showing myself grace. I can be pretty hard on myself, but I’m learning to beat back the voices of shame and treat myself more tenderly. This post by Lisa Qualls was helpful to me. It reminded me that it’s more than okay to take care of myself; it’s necessary, and simple things can bring great joy.
Choosing Joy – Step by Step
One of my biggest AHA! moments recently has been realizing the healing power of joy. It can be easy to get bogged down in the sadness of this season, and the first couple weeks of February were really hard. (The fact that we are enduring one of the harshest winters of the last 140 years hasn’t helped!) When that dark cloud of sadness descends, it can be difficult to feel energetic enough to get out and do stuff. But, I had some movie gift cards and I’d been wanting to see The Greatest Showman since before it came out, so I took the kids with me to go see it. I absolutely loved it! There’s just something about a great musical that gets me fired up. I bought the soundtrack as soon as we got home and the kids started performing their own dance numbers. I found myself truly enjoying them. The improvement in my mood was remarkable! I’ve been reflecting that sometimes navigating grief will be dark, heavy work, and other times it will look like going to a musical with your kids and having fun together. It got me thinking about the importance of doing things that bring me joy, and looking for opportunities to experience joy together. It can be as simple as cheering for a sports team together, sharing a physical activity like walking the dogs, reading a comic strip together, viewing silly YouTube videos, or giggling at the smelly antics of pre-teen boys (and one nearly 50-year-old boy!). 😉 Sometimes it’s as simple as pausing what I’m doing, looking them in the eye, and smiling. It will look different for all of us, but I’m practicing looking for joy, and giving myself permission to embrace it.
Many of us grew up believing that strength equals emotional control and an ability to handle whatever life throws at us. I’m working on reframing that belief for myself. For me, strength is starting to mean getting back up and taking another step after I’ve fallen apart. When my kids look back on this time, I’m hoping they remember me as a mom who didn’t always have it all together, but kept showing up anyway.