Compassion for myself was something that I had to learn in a new way after Lach died. It goes very much hand-in-hand with the “letting go” post earlier this month. At first, I had to learn compassion in regard to the emotion that I was experiencing. I didn’t have much tolerance for the difficulty I had in holding myself together, especially trying to do routine things out in public. Shopping for clothes was one of those things that, for whatever reason, stands out to me. It was unbearable to look for the 3T size without needing one in the 12 month size. I fought back tears… no one needs to see this wreck of a woman standing in the children’s clothing department. Hold yourself together! Go do something else! I always seemed to lose that battle and the tears won anyway.
Eventually, I think I just got tired of fighting myself. I decided to let go of the fight and allow myself to feel whatever it was I was feeling. I allowed the tears to flow whenever they came. I had to acknowledge that I was going through every mother’s hell and I had to meet myself with the same compassion and understanding that I would give to others on this path. I had to somehow trust that it wouldn’t always be like this, and I needed to give myself permission to work through those things rather try to stuff them away. Not everyone will understand. I might get a few extra looks, but that’s ok. If they knew my story, they would say that’s ok too. Shopping and church were going to bring tears and I learned to let it be… and brought along the tissues I was probably going to need.
Developing enough compassion for myself to allow the craziness in my thoughts while I was working on picking up the pieces was the other part of that. At Compassionate Friends meetings, a group for bereaved parents, many people talked about how crazy you feel after the death of a child. I was glad to know that I wasn’t alone in that, and that just because I felt crazy, didn’t mean I was sure to jump off the deep end.
Even now, I have thoughts that I have to treat with compassion and just let them be, without giving myself a hard time about them. When I get a phone call at work, especially when I’m scrubbed in and can’t answer it, my first thought is “I hope nobody died.” If my phone rings again, I find myself running through the scenario in my head. I know, it’s irrational to jump straight to that, but it’s happened to me before.
I’m a little weird about pictures, too. Talia just had some professional photos taken. I’m excited to capture that cuteness that makes all the 3-year-old tantrums worthwhile, but I also get some sort of satisfaction in knowing that I’ll have those recent and beautiful images if she dies. It’s not in the budget to purchase all of the images, so I wonder how long the photographer keeps the files and I wonder if she would give them to me if Talia died …I know, morbid, right?! Things like that are regular occurrences in my head. They are not the average thought processes, but I suppose burying a child is not an average life event. I don’t bother other people with that mess in my head, I just try to meet myself with compassion, and acknowledge and allow the thought and then let it go. It’s not socially acceptable to think that way, so it’s not something that gets discussed much, but I don’t think it’s necessarily unhealthy to have those thoughts either. To be honest, I think we’d all do well if we spent a little more time considering death. Recognizing the finality of my own life and the life of those I love helps me to live a little more fully and to appreciate the people in my life a little more deeply—my life and theirs is a gift that won’t last forever.
I once heard this quote that I really loved: “Emotions are like small children—you can’t let them drive the car, but you can’t stuff them in the trunk either.” In sudden grief, it’s like unleashing a mindful of unruly and unreasonable toddlers. They are bouncing around EVERYWHERE. Ignoring the situation won't help. Sometimes you have to stop what you are doing, acknowledge the chaos, and grapple with them one by one to put them back in their proper place. Compassion goes a long way in calming the disarray of thought and emotion. It gives you the time, the space, and the understanding necessary to allow the healing process to unfold.