Grief: Self-Compassion


So that last post about anger rage was pretty heavy. It was easy necessary to write, but hard to share. I question my objective in all of this from time to time: am I being sensationalist? Am I attempting to garner attention?

The answer is no.

The post itself received a lot of traffic but only a few people commented and I am grateful for any of it. I know it’s hard to comment on something like that; a post that so honestly shares something so primal and deep and universal that it makes us think about our own losses and how we [will] experience[d] them.

My main objective, if any, is to maybe help someone out there who is going through the same thing or who has gone through the same thing but might not feel OK with it. Another objective was to find fellowship, find a soul out there who might know where I was coming from, and I did.

I still go in and out of that memory from last week; I still wonder if it was smart to share it, to put myself out there: What if I want a job in criminal justice one day? Can I be trusted to handle sensitive information? Will I hold a confidence?

I’m a mother: I already do all of those things.

Anyway, today I’m hearing me beat myself up a little. I’m hearing myself question myself about my sensitivity to things, about the decisions I’ve made recently to let some things go: long-term volunteer work, while also rejuvenating other things that took a back seat before Mom died: the yoga certification and writing.

Per usual, my drive is to learn something from all these “messages” I hear.

As much as I’d like to say that I do everything for the benefit of others, I can’t. I do have to allow some form of benefit for myself: it feeds my heart, it makes me smile, it helps me professionally… but what if it doesn’t? What if what I outwardly do does none of those things for me? Is it wrong, especially at a time like this in my life (or maybe because of a time like this in my life) to question the value of the things I do? I’d like to think not, but when does this stuff become vapid navel-gazing?

So I find myself questioning the motives of things I’m doing. Primarily: what is the value? Where is the pleasure center in this? Nine times out of ten, I know the answer, I just want to fight myself. But the longer I fight myself, the muddier the work.

The fighting, in these days, needs to go. I know this. Sometimes I am feeling so pre-Labor Day that I think I can go at everything 90 miles per hour without looking up. Then I run out of gas, and I beat myself up, saying I should be done with this, this grief, by now.

I have heard myself say (but I haven’t really let myself to allow) that if all (in this instance, my own) grief were a child:

  • It would be only four weeks and four days old, considered by the medical community as a “newborn.”
  • I would handle it with care, and love, and patience.
  • I would make sure it wasn’t ignored, or treat it as a nuisance, or a reminder of our weaknesses.
  • I would make sure it were fed and nurtured and taken care of, let it take naps.
  • I would make sure it were not exposed to loud noises or harsh lights.
  • I would protect it from crowds and weird people.
  • I would love it; I would not mock it or expect so much of it.
  • I would show it the sun and nature.
  • I would take it for walks.
  • I would make mistakes in front of it.
  • I would let it see me as I am.
  • I would just let it be.
  • I would do everything I could to make sure that it were honored so that it could properly transition or assimilate into [my] life.
  • I would treat myself, its mother, with some freakin’ self-compassion.

And yet: I don’t. I rush myself. Grief is ancient, grief is primal, grief is NORMAL. Grief makes us vulnerable. I’m largely OK with the vulnerable thing (I’m writing this publicly aren’t I?).

I judge myself about recent choices I’ve made to cut out unhealthy distractions. I wonder if I am worthy. I wonder if I am playing the baby; milking this sadness, which I can not predict or control, so help me God, for attention.

I recently ended my affiliation with an organization because of several reasons, the primary of which is that it made no sense to continue on. So then I beat myself up. I felt as if I’d welched on my agreement; yet I knew the answer. But these cycles of self-doubt are hard to erase; it comes from decades of trying to change something that simply would not yield. So I feel as though I am not of service enough. I asked this out loud the other night about that decision I made, and my oldest son, who is 15.5, said, “Why would you continue to do something that you don’t need to do if all it does is add stress to your life and take time away from things you like to do?”

I looked at him and thought, “Wow, what a smart kid… his mother must be awesome…” and I marveled at his sense. Why indeed? I know the answer. I knew it months ago. Sometimes I shake my head at myself.

What I would give to have my pre-Labor Day self back and still be OK with Mom dying? ‘What I would give…?’ Is that selfish? Do I expect too much of myself? There is no way to answer this question, and there is no point in it. My life has changed inalterably, and that is going to have to be OK. Death happens everywhere, all the time, every day. I tell this to my virtual best friend. I do not heed it. So I determined that I need to practice some self-compassion.

So I did. Today, I decided to go back on the water. I’ve only been in a shell three times this summer because of all the traveling I’ve done. I knew that heading back to the boathouse for myself and by myself was going to be monumental. My mother and father met because of rowing. I love the sport.

As I descended the hill to head to our boathouse, I heard the hearty laughter of a rower friend I know, probably one of the happiest guys in the club. As I turned left, I saw his hat and I knew it was him. As I came closer into view, his face changed, and he showed me a huge smile. My brother’s college coach was speaking to this man, his back was to me and he was talking to other members.

The happy member saw me and said loudly (because he’s a really happy guy): “GOOD GOLLY MISS MOLLY! WHERE’VE YOU BEEN, GIRL? MY SMILING IRISH LASS IS BACK!…” and my brother’s coach turned to me and this guy has an intensity you can feel from 30′ away. He has known my brother and father for years and within the last couple years, I’ve become friendly with him again. He is a world-class champion rower in his own right, and one of the nicest, straightforward, and intense people you’d want to meet.

He put up his massive hands and kept looking at me, taking me in… He said, “Shhhh. Shhhhh.” The people stopped talking. He watched my approach and he waited for me to stand still. He walked up to me with his arms outstretched and said, “She gets a hug. Shhh… She gets a hug. Come here…” You could hear a pin drop — on the water — it was so quiet. And this coach was quiet in his trademark way, and he took me in and I leaned into his massive shoulder and I just started weeping. He put his hand on the back of my neck and held me and said to everyone, “Shh-shh… This girl just lost her mom. This girl just lost her mom… I got her…. Let it out. I got ya….” and I sobbed and sobbed.

His word choice was so beautiful. He didn’t say “Molly” or “mother”; he didn’t say, “this woman”; he said, “this girl” and “mom”; he lifted me up and healed me in a way that I can’t yet describe.

I knew that going back there today would be hard. I was tender on the drive there. I could feel my throat swell up and my eyes water. Two days before Mom died, I was on the water. I made plans to row in a head race this weekend, but she died, so I didn’t train for it. I knew that seeing him would be hard; he’s an authority figure to me; he was my brother’s coach; he’s a big deal in the rowing community; he knows our family; he probably met Mom at least what… a gazillion times (I can imagine her cornering him after a regatta the way she would a priest after Mass)?

So then he lets me go when I calmed down and he got me about 3′ from him and he looked at me again, with those intense eyes and gently declared, “You’re going back out there today. Nice and easy. A nice row to clear the cobwebs. Nothing exciting. Just get yourself back. You hear me?”

I sniffled and said, “Yes.” He hugged me again and said, “Nice and easy.”

And that was it. I went out. I almost forgot how to put in the oars; I was certain I would flip but I didn’t. It was gorgeous. The leaves are just beginning to turn. Being by the water helps keep them warm I guess.

So here’s the deal peeps: losing a mother, regardless of the tenor of the relationship IS HUGE — Mom and I had our issues, and that post last week wasn’t very nice about her, but regardless of what anyone thinks and I love a cousin who pointed this out: it did not diminish her; it just allowed me to clarify things, and breathe for once since she died — I need to give myself a break. A real one. I keep saying that I’ve not been able to even process the yoga retreat, and I really haven’t.

I have told myself, that if my best friend were living just as I have been, that I would advise her to write off the bad stuff and keep the good and to do what brings her back to center; to do what works and eschew the rest; to “wait until things stabilize” as my happy rower friend said today, until taking on anything unnecessary.

So I will tell myself to treat this grief as a newborn child; one with immune sensitivities, and needs for naps and awareness. To realize that it is, and allow it to be unpredictable. While I won’t coddle or spoil it, I won’t do what I’ve been doing, which is trying my hardest to operate in pre-Labor Day mode when on Labor Day, my life changed inalterably.

Thank you.

13 responses »

  1. That is, quite possibly, the most original approach to dealing with grief I’ve run across in a very long time. Great post and I’m glad you got back on the water.

  2. Hey Molly!

    I am glad you got back into the water…..I am glad you saw the coach and he handled you with kid gloves…..I am glad you are allowing and forgiving yourself for all of these raw emotions that you are feeling…….it is tough to lose anyone, but losing a parent is very difficult….it does get easier with time and you will have your good days and bad ones………sometimes things will play back in your head like a bad movie and then you will think wow, I woulda, shoulda, coulda done this or that differently……I think being humans we all do it to some extent… you are experiencing they are all stages of grief. I apologize for not responding to the last post……I wrote something, then erased it, because I was fearful it would have been misinterpreted……but I truly get where you were coming from and do not judge you for feeling the way you did/do……I am happy to hear that you are re-evaluating the things that you spend your time doing….you only have so much free time to give, you may as well do the things that bring you good energy and not waste it on those that do not!

    Hugs to you Mol!


  3. Have you read C.S. Lewis’, “A Grief Observed?” He journaled several notebooks full after his wife’s death. (Proving that writing must be deeply cathartic.} He may not have the same effect on you… but I whispered whole paragraphs from his book out loud to myself because I finally felt like someone had intelligent, meaningful and helpful words to help me comprehend what I felt were the loneliest feelings in the world. The more I repeated them, the more deeply they affected me. So many of his thoughts jumped off the page to spark a flicker of understanding. To this day, I love that book. It reminds {{me}} of slipping into the comfortable old sweater of someone who’s blazed a trail in the thick woods grief leaves us in. ❤

    • Sherry, your metaphors are such a gift. When I see you again, we will hug for six seconds. I started the book last night. I was reluctant to read it because I didn’t want to be influenced or to borrow from him. I am enjoying it immensely. It’s such a little tome, filled with essence and irony and truth. Grief needn’t be about a “death”; this is what I am kindly allowing myself. I have been grieving for many years. Mom’s death and my compassion, is as a private comment from my cousin suggests, a rebirth. Thank you for being so amazing.

  4. The way you describe pre- vs. post- Labor Day is how I felt when J was born. Went into the hospital as one person and came out as someone else entirely. Everything had changed for me and yet the world kept spinning. Everything was too bright and too loud. Took me 7 months to “emerge”. You will never be the same as you were before that day. Allow yourself to grieve.

  5. You sometimes question your choice to publicize your feelings (all of them – not just recently), “am [I] sensationalizing myself”. First – no, you’re not, and if a reader thinks you are, then he/she should get off your blog. Second, regardless of the need, there’s nothing wrong with using resources AND being a resource. It doesn’t matter where help, support, strength, motivation, validation come from – it’s only important that it comes. Someone might not like your blog today, but may remember it and come back to it later. It may not apply to someone today, but will at a later time. Write, feel, be good to yourself.

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