Recently, there have been quite a few posts in my Facebook news feed and in notes and messages from friends sharing stories of people trying to force them into some prescribed grieving period. Some have been told it’s a year, some have been told six months. People say cruel, heartbreaking things like, “You should be over it by now” or “Don’t you think this has gone on long enough?” or “You just have to let her go.” Most all of these reactions have their root in the fact that they are uncomfortable with the whole situation. They want you to sweep it under the rug because it makes them feel sad, or weird, or whatever. But your grief is not about them.
All of those people are wrong. That’s right. They are wrong. Period. I have to admit that I have been blessed to have the people I have in my life. No one has EVER told me that I should stop grieving my son. No one has ever asked me to stop talking about him. Near and far, friends and family—the people in my life have never tried to shoehorn me into their idea of an appropriate path for grief.
If you are in this position, I can’t begin to understand how you feel. I can understand how I think I would feel, though, and it’s not good.
What I hope that you will do, if you are hurting because someone has tried to force you out of your grief, is give yourself permission to grieve. If you’ve been stuffing it down to keep people from feeling uncomfortable, let it out. If you’ve been holding back because you are afraid of what you may find if you plumb the depths of your heart, let go.
We all grieve in different ways and for different periods of time. Right after Colin’s death I was a mess for weeks: crying in the bathroom at work, or muting conference calls while the tears welled up. Then my emotions shut down, and I went numb. And then, a year later, the feelings burst the dam that my psyche had put up to keep me from hurting, and I actively allowed myself to grieve. I learned that it was okay to miss him, to remember, to dream of him, to imagine what life might be like if he were still alive, and that I could be sad, angry, or distraught. It was finally okay for me to hurt. This was hard for some people, and hard for me, because people had been remarking for months about how strong I was. I felt that strength was a perception that I had to live up to and kept the mask on to maintain the façade of strength. It was hard to finally take the mask off and allow myself to be vulnerable to the intensity of my grief. But I gave myself the permission. It allowed me to start to learn to live without Colin in a loving, meaningful way. It didn’t, however, teach me that my grief needed to be erased.
I believe, for any death, grieving never ends. We learn to integrate the missing and the emptiness into our lives. We learn that the grief is wide as the love is deep. We learn to welcome the tingling in our nose and burning in our eyes as tears threaten to come, uninvited, even twenty years on. We learn that we carry them with us, everywhere, always, in our minds, our hearts, and for us mamas, even in our bodies.
I still grieve him today, three and a half years later. I have a friend who grieves her stillborn daughter 15 years later. I have friends who grieve early miscarriages decades later.
Should we be done grieving? Should we stop missing our babies?
There’s only one way to stop grieving: to stop loving.
And that’s never going to happen, so give yourself permission to grieve.