Grief and Self Trust

Grief teaches us so much more than how to live without someone we love.

One of the most valuable lessons it has taught me is how to trust myself more. This lesson is helpful in so many ways, but perhaps the most rewarding is when I am able to trust my parenting choices.

Like most moms, before I earned the status of mom I had many visions of what it would like in my head. My children would always be well behaved, polite children. They would follow the routine that I so carefully constructed for them. All we need is love, right? I knew how to love furiously.

I was in for a rude awakening. When my firstborn, Christian, entered my life I knew I was immediately blessed. What I didn’t know was that I was a woman who knew absolutely nothing about the most important job I was about undertake – parenting.

As a reader, I had read all the books. I assumed the knowledge gained would be applied and all would fall into place. My dad liked to tell me, “You may have read the baby books, but he didn’t”. Point taken.

On that cold, Christmas morning my husband and I brought home our brand new baby. We even stopped by our church to have the priest bless him. A baby blessed on Christmas Day. The irony of thinking that immediately we had afforded him some sort of special protection. We know now that does not exist.

We fawned over him. He was beautiful. He was perfect. As night approached it became obvious that he was not one for sleeping. My mom was with me, though, so I had added insurance that what I was doing was correct.

Time went on and his dislike of sleep became stronger. He never wanted to miss anything. Again, ironic seeing as his life was cut short. I re-read all the books, tried all the methods and felt like a big failure because no matter what I did, he wouldn’t nap as long as the books recommended or sleep as long as they said he should.

The problem wasn’t in what I was or wasn’t doing. It was in my lack of self trust, lack of self confidence. I have always had this underlying issue. Christian certainly did not make it appear. However, I had always assumed that I would be a successful mother. I always wanted kids, I babysat a lot, my mom was great. What could go wrong? This left me feeling like even more of a failure.

Looking back on this time with Christian now breaks my heart. I do wish I had enjoyed it more. If only I knew then what I know now… or rather if only I trusted myself then like I trust myself now.

There is nothing in the world that makes losing Christian okay or positive. Nothing. Given that I cannot change the situation, however, one positive that has come out of life since his death is learning self trust.

It is happening very slowly and it is a continual process. In my quest to have a continuous relationship with Christian as an angel, I have had to learn about myself and attune to myself in much different ways. This has fostered a more trusting self relationship.

In parenting, this has helped immensely. Questioning every decision I made with Christian was completely exhausting and damaging to my self confidence. These days, I am able to make decisions without questioning most of them. It is a freedom I never thought possible.

When faced with questions I didn’t have the answer to after Christian’s death, I was forced to rely on my own thoughts. Of course, I consulted therapists, other grieving mothers and trusty old books. The thing was no one had all the answers. No one could tell me what was right for my family, but me. It was then that I began to see and act on that.

As my boys grow and our relationship to death changes, we are learning a lot together. I have learned that they need an adult to be honest with them. How will I gain their trust if they don’t believe me? So it has been my practice to practice honesty, age appropriately. I have seen this be a positive in my boy’s lives.

I also encourage them to speak about their feelings and not shy away from them. We speak openly when someone is upset. If they are not in a place where they want to talk about things, I read their cues and let them know that they are not alone. I am always here. Then my trick is to try to get them moving, or get them in the car! Both help to get them talking.

When we were first thrown into the whirlwind of grief, I was terrified that they would forget Christian. They were so little. There were times when I had to really attune to them because I might be sharing a memory and their body language or attention made it obvious that they didn’t want to be a part of it right then. I had to put my own fears, worries, and anxieties aside to see that me forcing Christian memories on them wouldn’t make it any better.

When my boys began to be aware of graveyards and headstones. They naturally asked about Christian and where he was buried. They wanted to know how he could “always be around us” if he was buried somewhere. This led to our conversation about body, souls and energy. It also forged the way for me to see if they were ready to visit Christian’s headstone. They had never been before. There was no pressure, but rather me trusting that they would let me know when they were ready.

With so many decisions about raising a family after a devastating loss like child loss, being individualistic, we forged our own path. I was forced, in a positive way, to trust my instincts. As emotions rose, I knew I had other people to turn to talk things out, and I did. I also had faith that Christian would guide me, and he does.

As my boys get older, their understanding of death and how to continue on, continues to evolve. Each of them holds on to Christian in their own way. They each have a special relationship with him.

Just as I was thrown into the world of children not knowing what I was doing, I was thrown into child loss not knowing what I was doing. Love certainly helped with both. Self trust also made a big difference. If I could go back I would parent Christian quite differently, but maybe I wasn’t supposed to know that then. I don’t know everything about parenting after loss, but I am learning more and more as I go along. More importantly I am learning to trust myself and my instincts. It has been extremely freeing. I must thank Christian for that. Love to Heaven…

Grieving Children and Emotional Dialogue

At the start of my grief journey tears would leak out of my eyes, sometimes without me being aware. Many days I would be driving with my two living sons, then 4 and 2, and a song would play on the radio, or a beautiful sight would greet my eyes or a memory would float across in my mind. It was impossible to hold in the emotion. The question, “Mommy, why are you crying?” transformed into an early teaching opportunity on emotions.

It was not one that I had ever planned to teach my boys. Sure, they had seen me express emotions, but these were intense emotions. Children can sense and feel the intensity. It was obvious to me that I needed to address my tears, and the intensity of my emotions, with these two precious beings who were thrust on this unwanted journey with me. Since they were so young, we were together almost always, meaning that they felt my intense emotions almost always.

A photo of my two boys loving on each other. Thank God they have each other.

There was a certain anecdote that I read shortly after losing Christian. If I were ever able to remember where I read it, I would find the author and thank her a million times over, because it shaped how I handled grieving around my children.

The author was a grieving mother and she detailed the lengths to which she went to hide her intense emotions whenever her living child was around. She felt that shielding her would save her from seeing her mother in pain. One day when the child wanted to do something and the mother denied her because she was afraid that it would put her in a harmful situation, the child looked up at her mother, with large eyes and said something to the effect of,

You never cry about my sister who died, so I didn’t think it would upset you if something happened to me.

All this time the mother had assumed that she was sheltering her, but instead her daughter had interpreted her hidden emotions as apathy. Not only did this affect the way she viewed her mother, as a mother, but it also must have affected her own grieving process. She received the message that it was not safe to express her own emotions. She learned that when something bad happens, we just stuff it down and shut down.

That story has given me the permission and encouraged me to be open about ALL my emotions with my children. When they asked in the car why I was crying, I was honest and said because I miss Christian. When I gather them in a hug, now and then, I tell them how grateful I am to be their mom. Upon the arrival of milestones in each of their lives, it is not uncommon for them to see me shed a tear or many, as well as congratulate, celebrate and express my happiness for them. They are no stranger to seeing their mom experience a variety of emotions over a short period of time.

Isn’t this life though? So often a child is crying and we attempt to distract them from the thing that made them cry. It makes it easier on us as parents, at that time. What if I told you that it made it harder on the child as he grew up? Why are we taught at a young age to distract our feelings away?

It has made us into a society that is uncomfortable with messy feelings. The earlier our children learn that we must acknowledge and feel all feelings, the more equipped they will be to handle life. The more resilient they will be.

A great way to do that is to model it. Let them see that you have “blue” days and frustrating moments. Let them hear that you achieved a goal that you were working toward and you feel proud. Show them that there are a gamut of emotions and we all feel them at some point. The strength lies in feeling them.

The more we normalize and are open about our own emotions, the more encouraged they will be to share theirs. No one escapes this life pain free. Let’s help our children learn how to move through that pain and not disassociate from it. Let them know you see them and you are attuned to their emotions. Let them know you are a safe place and you will help them work through their emotions.

This has helped my living, grieving boys work through some really big feelings. It has helped them to learn that they can feel horrible in the morning, but things can turn around in the afternoon. Even more importantly if an event is traumatic and shakes them to their core, they can learn to work through it and rebuild. This is where strength lies. Love to Heaven…