I remember the first couple of weeks and months after saying goodbye to my precious Jonah at 30 weeks gestation due to a heart condition as extremely difficult and filled with so many ups and downs, I felt like a marionette doll living someone else’s life, because there’s no way that much sadness could be…
Last month I wrote about asking for help. This month, it seemed only appropriate to flip the script and talk about how helping others is self-care. Truly, helping other people is one of the self-care methods that healed me the most.
I’ve written earlier about the opportunity that we had to tell our story of loss, grief, and learning how to live our new normal in the documentary Transforming Loss. One of the things I learned after the first time we saw the film and met the rest of the families that were featured, part of each of our journeys was helping others in some way, shape, or form. Our family threw ourselves into helping the non-profits that helped us and I threw myself into telling our story on my blog and then here on Still Standing. I wanted so desperately to be a voice for those who had lost a child. To be one of those who was able to speak up and share so that others knew they weren’t alone, even if they weren’t able to or didn’t want to speak from a platform like this. We also worked with other charities through church, feeding the homeless or delivering food to shut-ins, giving in Colin’s name wherever we could.
What seems to happen when you help others is the focus goes from inward to outward. And it seems to happen somewhat naturally. I found that focusing our efforts on helping those who had a similar loss or focusing on fighting against what killed our son–congenital heart defects–was the most helpful to me to turn that focus on my own grief and pain into something useful to others. Essentially, I channeled the pain into good works.
The other thing that I felt like helping others accomplished was bringing meaning to Colin’s short life. Part of what inspired me to reach out and work with our charities was giving our son a voice. He couldn’t speak anymore. He couldn’t fight anymore. But WE could. We could do things in his memory, and turn our sorrow into a story to inspire others to support our charitable efforts–to donate time or money or to join our walk teams. We could elevate our grief into something strong and beautiful, something that would move people to help others themselves.
Helping others has been an opportunity to tell our story and make sense of it, too, as much as you can make sense of something like this. People want to know that you can have something terrible happen to you, like the loss of a child, or a stillbirth, or a miscarriage, or infertility, and survive. How better to show that than to tell it. Through words, film, art, music, whatever your medium. Telling your story again and again helps you realize that you’ve survived while you’re sharing that with others. I’ve found some of the best insights into my own grief and how I’m integrating it into my life through the times I’ve told my story with one focus or another. Or the times I’ve shared with other grieving parents and given and received advice that’s far more insightful than if I hadn’t shared with others.
Helping others that are hurting is especially rewarding because you realize that you’re helping each other to heal. Two or more broken hearts are mending together. And whatever that looks like: a support group, a blog, a Facebook group (much love to my small group of grieving moms on Facebook–you know who you are!), or the comments section of Still Standing, you will be caring for yourself as much as you care for these people who are members of the same, lousy club you are. When you share your journey, you’ll tell truths like: you won’t come out of this unscathed; you won’t come out “cured” of your sadness or grief; you will find the other side; you will find happiness and healing again. And as you help others by sharing those truths, you cement that truth for yourself.
I’m scarred, but I’m healing. I still have an ache in my heart, but the ache is sub-acute and I’m learning to love it, because it means that Colin is always here with me.
So think about what way you can help others. I would love to hear your stories of giving back and how it has helped you to heal. How has helping others been self-care for you? Has shifting your focus from you to others helped to lift you out of the depths of your despair? Tell me about it.
And know this: if you’re not there yet, that’s okay, too. Bookmark this page and come back to it when, and if, you are there. And if you are one of those who is still not there, let me know if we can help. We at Still Standing are here for you. Always.