Every life has its earth quakes. The things that shatter us. That cause seismic shifts in our thinking. The events that shake our core and reshape our hearts.
For me, it was the loss of my two week old son. Life stopped and pivoted. I would never return to what I knew or who I was.
I’m on the other side now. I am okay. Most days I am more than okay. But it took work. And time. So much time.
How do you get from the broken place to the functional place? After we lost Xavier I begged for a map. I wanted to know how to navigate the unknowable. I wanted a timeline and an indication of when it would hurt less. Instead I was gently told that grief came with no guidebook and I would find my own path.
I was given space and time to find that path. The loss of a child is devastating and thankfully unusual. Not all earth quakes are allowed the space. The loss of a job, the breakdown of a relationship, health complications and the pain of miscarriage are all earth quakes. But sometimes the Richter scale is set by someone else. There is an allocated amount of time to restore equilibrium and then the support runs short. But in all those earthquakes there are common elements, ways that we can learn from each other.
In that spirit, this is how I picked myself up, shook off the dust, fell over again (several times) and finally made it through.
I faked it.
I know this sounds so contrary to everything any self-help sort would ever tell you, but I faked it. I needed to. I faked being okay. I faked how I thought I should act (because I really had no idea). I faked being grateful by starting a gratitude journal when I least felt like it. Because if I completely crumbled, which was the closest to how I felt, I’d lose even more. So I told myself I was okay (when I wasn’t), I put on my big girl panties and I looked after my family as best I could. There were plenty of times when I had to coach myself through this. Telling myself that I knew how to shower, how to put on clothes, how to make dinner, how to drive, how to read a picture book. Gently reminding myself that the next little step would lead to the next little step.
Then I stopped faking it.
Somewhere along the line, the fake person who I could not recognise merged back with the me I knew. The shock subsided. Anger rose. Acceptance would surface and it all started back at shock again. There were no linear stages of grief neatly worked through. It was a mess. I was a mess. But the numbness eventually subsided and I could see myself in the mirror again.
I told people what I needed.
I was fairly articulate for a person in grief. In fact, it was Xavier’s death that led me back to writing regularly. I am very grateful for that. There was no hesitation in letting people know what I needed and what I didn’t. For some, that’s a burden too great and that’s where online resources are so comforting. More than once, I was able to find myself in someone else’s words and send them along to a loved one. That was validating and allowed me to feel less alone. It also allowed me to say “hey, this isn’t unusual how I am reacting here – it’s completely normal in an abnormal situation”.
I found and gave support.
In person and online I found the people that had experienced similar losses and we comforted each other. At the time I thought the most comfort would have come from those who had gone before. But that wasn’t the case. It was those in the thick of it, those that were processing their grief in a similar way to how I was, that were my life lines and anchors.
And then I let support go.
It can be a strange thing – feeling better. Almost like another tiny loss. For a long time I felt beholden to give support, to be a part of the grieving. Longer than perhaps I needed to. Eventually I stepped away and found that I could walk unassisted.
I forgave myself (some days)
The hardest part of my grief was the guilt. The heavy, dragging guilt. The kind that could take a person over and drown them. I can’t say what lead to it easing. Time really. Being able to extend a certain kindness to myself. I wish I had been kinder to myself from earlier on. Just gentler.
If you are going through an earthquake, if the ground beneath your feet is shifting, please be gentle with yourself. With your heart, with your expectations, with your assumptions, with the way you treat yourself and others.
There is no road map for getting through, but grace towards self is a remarkable compass.