“Together we will cry and face fear and grief. I will want to take away your pain, but instead I will sit with you and teach you how to feel it.” ~ Brené Brown, The Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto
On the day your loved one died, or perhaps the day when you realized your loved one was going to die, grief turned up on the front doorstep of your family home, bags in hand, and said: “I intend to stay for quite some time.”
Perhaps you stood in the doorway stammering in shock, as grief squeezed by you as though it had no time to wait for an invitation. Or perhaps you took a firmer stance and said something like, “We have no room for you, grief, and you’ve come at a terrible time.” Either way, it doesn’t matter because grief could care less about being an imposition.
When a loved one dies, grief moves in. It becomes a part of your family. It sits at your dining room table, it attends every family holiday, it influences your kids, and it impacts your ability to parent. You can try to wait it out, thinking that if you don’t make space for grief it will eventually leave, but this never works because grief will just cram itself into corners and closets and all the other empty spaces it can find.
I understand the reasons why you might not want to embrace grief. Maybe you’re worried that if you open yourself up to grief it will take over everything and you’ll lose control. Maybe you don’t know your strength and you worry that grief will hurt too much. Or perhaps, thinking of your family, your children who’ve already been through so much, and your belief that you need to be strong for everyone else, you decide that being vulnerable is too much of a risk.
After all, think about all that’s at stake — the wellbeing of your children, their future, your relationship with them, your sense of identity as a parent. I know, you have enough worries to keep you awake for weeks to come! But these are worries, not realities and as you run around slamming doors on grief and worrying about (possible) future outcomes, you are missing the opportunity to connect with your child in the present and to show them what it truly means to be strong and brave in the face of fear.
Not to make things more complicated, but I suppose once you decide to be strong, brave, and present you must also decide what these things look like. In many ways these things are subjective, but I will tell you what they are not. They are not running away, hiding, denying reality, or closing your eyes very tightly and wishing away the thing that scares you. These behaviors are seldom synonymous with strength and bravery and they always prevent you from being present.
Strength and bravery more often look like staring the thing that scares you in the eye and saying — I know you will cause me pain, but I can deal with you; I know you will hurt a lot at first, but I can tolerate you; I know you will make me weak at times, but I will try to learn and grow from you. And most importantly, I will make room for you because we’re all sick of tiptoeing around, wondering when you’re going to pop out from whatever small space you’re hiding in and startle us.
Those who grieve for your loved one will likely do so forever, but please don’t feel discouraged by this thought. As time goes on the look and feel of grief will change. You’ll still have bad grief days from time-to-time, but eventually, they’ll be outnumbered by good ones. And although you’ll still experience negative thoughts and emotions, their intensity will greatly diminish and in the space they once occupied something good will flourish. Because by making room for grief, you’ve drawn it out of the darkness. You’ve accepted it as a part of you and your family and you’ve created a space where your family’s abiding love for the person who died can continue to thrive.