Almost three and a half years ago I was thrown into the world of the grieving parent. At the time, I was in a highly alert state, taking words that were said to me and dissecting them one by one. Sometimes people said things that I found confusing, and maybe even hurtful. I started reading…
By now, I feel fairly knowledgable about grief and the myriad of emotion that it brings. Even though it has only been three months since my daughter died, we knew for many weeks prior what her fate would be. I had time to prepare for my meeting with sorrow and the various feelings that go hand in hand with grief did not surprise me.
Anger, despair, jealousy, numbness.
As the initial fog lifted after Elliott’s death, we started to think about how we would honor our daughter’s short life. How could we make sure that nobody forgot about her?
And with that, a new sentiment showed its ugly face and left me completely blindsided.
I was jealous, but not in the way you’d expect. Not of big round bellies or new chubby babies. Not even of how well other bereaved parents seemed to be doing. I was jealous of the extraordinary ways they were honoring their children’s lives. It seemed like everyone was doing something monumental and here I was, watering flowers and making photo albums.
“I really need to see my shrink,” I’d think, as I thumbed through post after post on grief websites, longing for the “perfect idea” to honor Ellie by. I shook my head in disgust at myself – how could I possibly be jealous of other parents, ones who were experiencing the same tidal wave of emotion that I was? I’m not normally a jealous person; the triggers of pregnant women and newborns around me made sense. This did not. I was viewing grief as a competition, and I did not know how to handle that.
Suddenly our Elliott garden, the gallery wall of photos, the donations made in her name – none of it seemed good enough.
I worried that people would think I didn’t love her enough if I didn’t go to extreme lengths to memorialize her name.
One morning, I was having tea on my porch, sitting next to the wildflowers we planted for Ellie on Mother’s Day. Something shifted as I looked at the flowers and I realized why I needed to let this uncomfortable feeling go. I was just being a normal parent to some degree, wasn’t I? Don’t all parents feel like they are letting their child down at some point in the journey of parenthood? And for a bereaved parent, it only makes sense that we would be even more critical of ourselves, the feelings more heightened.
When I put a stop to the comparisons, fresh ideas started flowing in as they were meant to be. Without trying, I was able to amass a list of ideas that were perfect for my baby and my journey with infant loss.
Even if all I ever did was plant a flower in her name, that would be enough, because it would be an act of love. Grief does not need to be yet another “mommy war” and I’m so glad that I did not allow that to fester.
Ideas and opportunities have serendipitously fallen into my lap, ones that suit our family and Ellie’s memory perfectly. Pulling an idea from Pinterest or another loss family would not make me feel better, because their story is so different from ours, even if the grief is the same.
This uncomfortable encounter with jealousy made me realize that being gentle with ourselves is really worth remembering for loss parents. We all do grief differently. We don’t need to change the world overnight, or reset the bar for society’s discomfort with child loss. We just need to honor our children in ways that come naturally, without coercion, and whatever grows from that will be an organic, absolute expression of our love for them. Even if all we do is whisper their name to ourselves everyday, that is enough.