I did so much reading after Eliza died. I read self-help books, books about the grieving process, memoirs about loss, and a lot of books about the Holocaust. I needed to know how people coped with great tragedy, how I could possibly get the point where I cared about life again. I needed to hear over and over again not that I would survive--that point was painfully clear to me each morning when I woke up with the sickening pit of grief in my stomach--but that eventually the mere act of being alive when my daughter was dead wouldn't hurt so. damn. much.
No book could explain how that would happen.
And yet, eventually, it did. There's nothing but time that can really help, even though time can't change the depth and intensity of my sorrow, it can and does soften the edges, heal the rawness, and help me find a way more easily balance the weight of sadness. As with all things, we get better with practice.
Words are woefully inadequate when we want to provide comfort to someone grieving the loss of a child, and as much as I want to reach out to someone who is hurting, despite the fact that I have written two-and-a-half years' worth of blog posts about grief, I sometimes feel like I have no idea what to say. Or at least, what to say beyond I'm so sorry. It's not fair. You're not alone. Your baby is loved and remembered.
Those words help--believe me they do, because I never get tired of hearing them. Especially that last part.
But how do you help someone get through the day to day agony of breathing when their child has stopped breathing? What strategies can we employ when we're feeling so lost and trying to find our way back to ourselves?
I was cleaning out my purse several weeks ago, and came across a small notebook I had filled up with various scribbles--shopping lists, things-to-do, book and movie titles I want to read and see, restaurant recommendations, a list of hilarious phrases I saw on t-shirts people were wearing when we were in Korea (that possibly deserves a blog post of its own). And I saw this quotation that has been attributed elsewhere to Martha Beck, although I neglected to write down the author (poor citation skills!).
If I recall correctly, I think I saw the quotation in a Yoga magazine at my therapist's office. At any rate, I have decided it is the best advice I can imagine for anyone who is grieving (including me):
When you're weary, find relief. When you're strong, find delight.
As with a lot of good advice, it seems almost obvious once it's stated. But in the dizzying and sickening world of grief, it was precisely what I needed to hear.
Grief is exhausting. For the first six months after Eliza's death, I was nothing if not weary. I was so very, very tired. Tired from sadness. Tired of being so sad. All you can do is seek relief in whatever form it takes for you. We watched a ton of television. I probably watched more hours of television in 2011 than I had in my entire life. I read a lot of nonfiction and then a lot of young adult fiction--starting with rereading the Harry Potter series. I got pedicures. I went to yoga classes. I bought new clothes. I wrote on the blog. I made a grief journal filled with quotations and poems and song lyrics.
These were fleeting pleasures, and I'm not even sure I could call them "pleasures." But they were brief respites, moments of relief from the relentless sadness and anger and disbelief and horror and anxiety that is life-after-baby-loss. Sometimes I felt guilty about it--how could I possibly enjoy a foot massage when my baby is dead? On the flip side... My baby is dead. Why the eff should I not go get a pedicure? I literally had nothing else to do.
I've noticed that stress and anxiety, even when it's work related or not about anything personal, will often dredge up those intense feelings of sadness for me, and I'm still learning to simply seek relief when I am weary. Sometimes it's as simple as an episode of Downton Abbey or a nap or a walk to the park. Sometimes I need a glass of wine or an e-mail venting session with another BLM. Or both simultaneously. Sometimes I just need to let myself have a good cry.
Knowing that I'm seeking relief makes my actions feel less futile and reminds me that this feeling won't last for ever. Eventually I'll feel strong again.
And when you're feeling strong, it's perfectly okay to seek delight. I think sometimes it's hard to accept that--that I could feel happy and enjoy life again without Eliza. I remember feeling conflicted about this especially on our trip to Canada six months after her death. There was something really healing for me about being up in the mountains and surrounded by the beauty and wonder of nature, and yet I was also sad to be enjoying myself when I couldn't share the experience with Eliza.
Now I try hard to squeeze the joy out of life, because I know I've paid my dues in grief. I still have days when grief knocks me down and makes me weary beyond belief. If I'm feeling strong, I want to embrace that feeling and make the most of it--and I think living a good life is a way to honor Eliza.
And sometimes delight and relief look the same for me (Downton Abbey is absolutely delightful as far as I'm concerned) but most of the time when I'm feeling strong, I can be social in a way that I can't when I'm weary. So now when I "seek delight," I try to do so by getting together with friends, by inviting people over, by making plans to get out and do things. I hibernated for so long, which was a relief, but there's a lot to delight in now that I have the energy to get back out in the world. The greatest gift Eliza gave me is the ability to more fearlessly connect with other people, to put my truth out there and find kindred spirits. I want to celebrate that gift by nurturing friendships and having new experiences.
There is no way to shortcut through grief. There can't be shortcuts when there's no finish line. We're just meandering through, doing the best we can to stitch ourselves and our lives back together, and meanwhile the ebb and flow of grief can be overwhelming and frustrating: How can I be such a wreck today? I thought I was doing better last week. What is wrong with me?
The truth is, there's no way around the ups and downs. Grief is crazytown and it's messy and unpredictable and sometimes really ugly. But thinking of it in terms of weariness and strength helps me to be able to evaluate whether I need to seek relief or seek delight, and then act accordingly. It is a simple way to feel a little bit of control and make sense out of something that is so big and sad and scary that it feels impossible to survive at times. It's not about good or bad, it's not about feeling better or worse. It's about whether I'm tired or whether I'm restored, and I can give myself permission to act accordingly.
When you're weary, find relief. When you're strong, find delight.
If you've dealt with enormous grief, do you think this jives with your coping methods? Is there anything specific that you can count on to provide you with relief or delight?