You’re allowed to say, “No.” Yes, it’s true. You have the right to say no to any request that you don’t feel you can or should comply with. This is true of everyone. But for the folks like us, who’ve suffered losses or infertility, we have to remind ourselves that we have the right to say no, especially when we’re not ready for something.
Not ready to go to a baby shower yet? Say, “No.” Not ready to dive right back into life like nothing has happened? Say, “No.” Not ready to face a group of friends for an evening out? Say, “No.”
It’s OK. And you don’t even have to give a reason. People always seem to think that they have to explain themselves if they’re declining an offer, any offer. But we don’t have to. We don’t owe anyone anything. I’ve thought about why I explained “No” to people back when the grief was the strongest. I think I was afraid that people would come to their own conclusions, and I wanted my motivation, or lack thereof to be clear, and to be my interpretation, not theirs. I didn’t want people to assume I was depressed if I wasn’t. I didn’t want them to assume I was too fragile to handle an event or task if I was just in a lousy mood. I wanted ownership of what people thought of me.
Through months of grief counseling, I discovered that something that my father once said to me rang honest and true: “What other people think of you is none of your business.” I always thought that was a platitude, but it’s really the truth. It isn’t any of our business, unless they choose to share it with us. And if a person thinks badly of your “No” response to their request or invitation, it’s up to her to share it with you. If she doesn’t, let it go. Make your statement, do what’s best for you, and move on.
Part of why I was inspired to write about this was thinking ahead to our impending holidays and all that goes with them. Family get-togethers, gift giving, meal making, and cookie baking can all seem overwhelming at a time when grief can be at its worst because of the firsts, or it rears its ugly head again with a loss that gets further away with every year. If it’s your job to bake the cookies, say “No.” If it’s your job to host Christmas dinner, say “No.” You will worry that things won’t be the same. And things aren’t the same, and, frankly, will never be the same as they were before your loss.
It’s OK for things to be different. I didn’t want any part of preparation for Christmas the year after Colin died. I didn’t care about our usual Christmas Eve celebration. I didn’t want to bake cookies, and I didn’t want to help execute in the way that I did previously. I knew that everyone was disappointed, but I just couldn’t do it. Just showing up for something was going to be hard enough, singing in the choir that evening was going to be hard enough–I didn’t need anymore challenges that year.
You know what? Christmas Eve still happened without my efforts. My mom found the strength to do what she needed to do, and my sister-in-law, Marcie, stepped up and got food ordered and prepped. She even came over early and helped my mom as I had in years past. I just showed up and did my best to keep it together. Everyone understood.
My experiences with saying no after losing Colin have empowered me to do it more often in my everyday life (my husband might disagree, but I swear, dear, I say no more often than you think!). Taking care of myself has become a priority, finally. It’s too bad that I had to lose a son to learn to take care of myself, but any opportunity to improve helps me to better cope with the loss.