I walked into the cozy room with the sage colored walls, preparing to offer my first of three seminars on perinatal hospice and bereavement support for grieving parents, to the OB staff at a local hospital.
The nurse and social worker who had helped us secure CEU credits for our seminar, welcomed me warmly and said in a soft voice, “Don’t be disappointed if not many attend.”
She went on to explain that some were dealing with various issues in their lives, and concerned about how a seminar on helping families through the loss of a baby may trigger emotions. I nodded, slightly disappointed, as I looked at the pile of packets prepared for the nursing staff, determined to press on. After the first training, the numbers grew a bit each time. Some walked in with their arms crossed.
One nurse informed me firmly through pursed lips, “I don’t want to cry.”
I smiled, “Well, I can’t make any promises. But, you are certainly not required to cry. Come on in.”
Others grabbed the box of tissues and settled in. One particularly skeptical nurse started with a list of questions. She ended our time together with a hug.
I stand in front of groups, often, sharing about Sufficient Grace Ministries, and our family’s story of how God carried us through the loss of three of our five children. I also stand in front of medical professionals to advocate for families and educate on the importance of compassionate care, making tangible memories, and understanding bereavement from a parent’s perspective. I tell a story that brings tears to the eyes of the shrewdest business man.
Tears are something I’ve never been afraid of. When I was a little girl, and into adolescence, my strong mother always used to express a bit of contempt for my weepiness. She was not a hugger, not a coddler. And, I oozed emotion and the desire to express it on every level. She thought I was weak. She told me that once, beside my son’s casket. She said she always thought I was weak, because I cried so easily. She said she was wrong that day, as she gave a rare hug. She said I was strong.
I didn’t know much about strong. I knew God’s strength was made perfect in my weakness. It turns out, my ability to lean in and embrace emotions, no matter how excruciatingly painful and soul-tearing they may be, was the very thing that would help mend my broken places. I learned quickly how to survive in the sea of grief after losing our twin daughters and later our newborn son, by not fighting so hard against the waves. I learned there was no fast forward button, that the only way out was to feel it…to walk through it…to let every ounce of struggle and pain bubble up so it could be mended. The pain was unbearable, and no walk in the park to feel. I wished I could numb it, escape from it. But, the only way to ever find my way to the surface again, was to feel it…all of it.
Not everyone lives in this place of perpetual feeling. What I’m learning as I stand in front of so many groups of people, is how much we as a culture are afraid to feel. Many times, after I share my story, someone approaches with tear-filled eyes, struggling to get the words out, words that have long ago been buried deep within. The bubbling up is almost visible. I stop to allow it time to find it’s way out. They apologize…for feeling.
And, I say…there is nothing wrong with feeling. Don’t ever apologize for having a heart that feels. We are afraid of our feelings. Ashamed of our feelings. We think they make us weak, vulnerable. Maybe they do. And, maybe that’s exactly the place we should live, a real place of vulnerability. Think of the capacity for healing if, instead of holding everything in until it oozes out in unhealthy ways, we just let it ooze when it comes. We pay therapists to help us talk about our feelings in a safe place, to find out what we feel, and to feel it…in order to find healing through it. What if we were less afraid from the beginning? What if we had the courage to feel our feelings and take off the mask? Couldn’t we be a safe haven for own healing and later, for someone else, if we were less afraid?
My position is unique in that I am a bereaved parent, and now a support person. There are times when the sheer volume of grieving hearts surrounding us is overwhelming. We enter, willingly, into the deep end of the ocean, again and again to walk with bereaved parents through their darkest hours. Sometimes, we wrestle with those feelings, ourselves.
As a culture, we need to take off the masks. Everyone is walking around with hidden, broken places. Everyone on planet earth carries wounds. We need to be less afraid, to muster the courage to feel. It is what connects us to other human beings, to ourselves, to the hope of healing. We want to numb every feeling, because it seems shameful, out of control, not put together in a perfect package. We don’t want it to seem like we’re weak, like we can’t “handle” it.
Life is messy. Grief is messy. The beauty comes when we stop hiding from that truth, and embrace the beautiful, broken mess, when we give ourselves and others the grace to feel, to mend, to heal.
Kelly Gerken is the president and founder of Sufficient Grace Ministries, an organization providing perinatal hospice services, bereavement support and Dreams of You memory-making materials to families facing the loss of a baby through miscarriage, stillbirth, infant death and the death of a young child. Kelly has walked through the loss of three of her five children, and now reaches out to walk with other grieving families as an SGM perinatal loss support doula and SGM Remembrance Photographer. She is a creator and facilitator of training for birth professionals on compassionate care for bereaved parents facing perinatal loss. Her memoir, Sufficient Grace, was published in 2014. You can read more about Kelly’s journey of grace, hope and healing and the outreaches of SGM, order resources or find her book here: www.sufficientgraceministries.org.