Memes and GIFs are two words that came out of virtual obscurity…literally, in the last several years and are now household words on the tongues and lips, assuming you can correctly pronounce them, of seemingly everyone in America. Pop culture and the world of the internet have wedged their way into every detail of our lives for better or worse.
Almost daily I find myself and my husband or friends texting these quippy little quotes back and forth to each other. Some are just either so profoundly fitting in a situation or, more likely, just incredibly funny.
Of course you can find memes, often comical or at least satirical, to suit any situation; political issues, to family gatherings, workplace frustrations, etc.. But sometimes there are those meant to speak to the deeper feelings we find ourselves dealing with when words of encouragement are needed.
As the mother of a child who has passed, I see a lot of these posted on Facebook, Instagram, and even Pinterest from others who have traveled the same road I am on myself. And occasionally I post them too. Once in a while one comes along that just speaks so clearly to how I’m feeling that it feels like it could’ve been taken from my own personal experience. I guess before the modern day meme came along this duty was reserved for song lyrics sang (specifically to us) over the radio or the occasional Hallmark card – sent via snail mail, of course.
All too often though, I find that while the sentiment may align with my feelings, the execution is lost on me. A metaphorical ball metaphorically dropped, if you will. I recently ran across one of these little posts which proclaimed that “When you can tell your story without crying, that’s how you know you’ve healed”.
Now, “healed” is a relative term to varying personal degree for everyone. While it may be true for some, no blanket explanation could ever cover such a wide ranging, deeply emotional, and profoundly personal topic. I just want to say to the thought expressed in these seventeen all-knowing little words: bullshit.
If this has been your experience and you have gotten to this point, I am so utterly happy for you and I encourage you to celebrate the place you’re in in your journey and the accomplishment you’ve made. Hopefully the peace that encompasses it is a blessing to you in your stay. I can only account for my own experience, of course, but what I can say about my journey is that the absence of tears runs so much deeper than being considered healed at the lack of their presence.
I will never be healed of the loss of my daughter Not in the conventional, physical sense anyway. Not until my time on this earth comes to an end and am I reunited with her in spirit. Until that time, I am forced to wander around broken, like may of us are. Shattered like a mirror due to myriad circumstances we’ve encountered and endured. No matter how well you glue the pieces back into place the evidence of the break remains a part of the structure forever. The mirror may be reconfigured, but it will never not be broken. Broken is not bad or wrong, it’s simply the sum of the experiences that have taken you to become the person you are today. With rich experiences, both good and bad, we’re all weaving the intricate tapestries that are our lives.
Does that mean that healing cannot happen? No, it doesn’t. For some it may. Yet others may unsuccessfully or unwittingly chase it for the duration of their existence. Some may simply adapt to the new being they have become. And still many more find their new identity in the pieces of their life and spend the remainder of it romancing and nurturing their newfound brokenness, essentially becoming its prisoner. All of this in both positive and negative, healthy and unhealthy ways. It’s just that tears are not necessarily the barometer of health.
Not expressing tears for me, simply means I’ve become accustomed to my situation. I am used to it. There is no longer any shock or novelty in child loss in my life. I am desensitized to the idea of what most people would find too horrific to even entertain in their mind, i.e. the “I can’t imagines” because I have already lived it.
It’s simply another form of survival. It’s part of how I mitigate my pain. I have many wonderful aspects of my life to focus on, though they still doesn’t lessen the pain I feel in her loss. I just refuse to let that pain swallow me up. I can’t well up and break down every time my daughter’s name is mentioned or someone asks me how many children I have. In every part of my life; my job, my writing and speaking, my social relationships, my daughter, and her death are front and center. Not only would it not behoove me to break down at every retelling of her life’s story, but (for me) it wouldn’t honor her, either. I just don’t let tears overtake me. That doesn’t make me any more or less healed than anyone else. It’s simply a personal style of functionality.
I carry on with my life. I am happy, healthy, and productive. I tell her story a hundred times in a row and don’t shed a single tear. And yet, not always, but from time to time I may well up at the site of a dress hanging on a sales rack that I wish I could buy her. Or I pause to catch my breath whenever a particularly difficult hymn is sang during church services.
Grief and pain coupled with crying, though certainly not mutually exclusive, are not necessarily married to one another either. And with a situation so personal, so devastating, who is to say that everyone I interact with is worthy of my tears? For me, my tears are an intimate expression of my love for my daughter, and something that I’m accustomed to compartmentalizing, not sharing openly.
When it comes to grief, of any kind, please don’t oversimplify these nuances by applying generic thoughts on such a complex topic. There is no handbook to reference. There is no cookie cutter for grief. Someone may not be meeting what your expectations of grief are, but that doesn’t mean that they should adjust their expressions, barring physical and mental harm, of course. More likely it’s an adjustment of expectations of those grief expressions, and a more open discussion that’s required for deeper understanding.
Most importantly, just be kind and supportive. Offer a listening ear when needed, and don’t feel that it’s your duty, or even within your power to ‘fix’ them. Just allow your friend, coworker, or family member the time, space, and respect to grieve in the way that’s comfortable for them.
I encourage you to share you thoughts on what your personal barometers of healing have been in your own life, in regard to any event you’ve experienced. Let us come together to transform
the ideas of what both grief and healing look like to the world outside our doors.