I’ve always been an observer before being a participant. I think this comes with being an introvert (at least that’s what I’ve read). When I enter a new situation, I like to watch before jumping in. When something big happens or I’m thinking of making a big change, I have to sit with it for a while before I can talk about my feelings and ideas. Even when asked a question, I often need to take a moment to collect my thoughts before responding. This used to make me uncomfortable because I felt like I needed to be prepared at all times to deal with whatever came my way. If I didn’t have an answer, a response, an action plan, a clever idea, or a solution immediately, I felt like I was failing. The silent time I needed to process felt awkward, like I was letting people down.
To fill the silence after a question, and to buy myself time to think, I used to immediately respond with, “I don’t know.” But then I almost always followed that up with a response that showed I did, in fact, know. I didn’t realize I did that until my counselor friend pointed it out to me, and when she did, she said something I will never forget. She said when I responded that way, it put up a wall between me and whoever I was talking to. And it’s true. Answer a question with “I don’t know,” and see how much longer the conversation lasts. Answer two questions in a row that way, and you start to feel defensive. Answer three questions in a row that way, and you shut down the whole thing.
If you can give yourself permission, though, to be silent instead of saying you don’t know, or if you can say, “Give me a minute to think about that,” or, “I need to organize my thoughts on that for a second,” or, “Hang on and let me process that for a moment,” then you invite your friend further into the conversation AND give yourself the time you need to process before responding.
Sometimes I feel like I should be further along in the grieving process than I am. I think, “It’s been a month and a half. Why does it still hurt so much? Why can’t I just move on? Why do I still think about it all the time? When am I going to feel better?” But the thing is it’s only been a month and a half. Death hurts. Loss hurts. And I lost much more than a pregnancy. I lost a child. I lost the future I thought I would have with that child as her mother. I lost a lifetime I had hoped for. I lost the innocence and naivete I had before. I lost the unbridled optimism that defined me. I lost part of myself, and I don’t know what will replace it. I think about it all the time because I’m still in the process of figuring out what happens next. I think about it all the time because thinking about it and reliving it are my brain’s ways of acknowledging that it is reality so I can live with it and learn to let go of the pain and fear of it. And very, very slowly, I do feel like I’ve made some progress. It still hurts, and I still curl up in a ball and weep when I need to, but I can definitely look back and say that this week is a tiny bit better than last week, which was a tad better than the week before, which was an itty-bitty bit better than the week before that.
I’ve learned to give myself permission to process and observe before I take action or speak. Now I’m learning to give myself permission to process my loss. For me, it’s a quiet, internal thought process that slowly makes its way out of my mouth or through my fingers onto the internet. Talking about it helps because bouncing ideas off of others allows them – with their experiences, perspective, and wisdom – to contribute to my thought process. Blogging about it helps because I can break it down into blog-post-sized chunks and just deal with one thing at a time. A thought will come to me, and I will slowly develop it in my mind until it feels complete and ready to share. Then I’ll type it up, post it, and feel like I’ve let go of some pain, anxiety, or fear.
This is just my process, though, and I also have to learn to give others permission to do their own thing. Grieving for me doesn’t look exactly the same as grieving for anyone else, and that’s ok. The only thing that matters is that you deal with the grief and don’t suppress it. If you’re angry and need to break something, I have a bunch of stuff I need to take to Goodwill. I’ll just give it to you and let you smash it instead. Or shoot, go to Goodwill and buy some cheap plates. I don’t know where you can go to break them safely, but I’m sure we can think of something. If you’re sad and need to take a crying shower, just try to do it in a place where you won’t run out of hot water. And if you need to talk about it, please find someone who can listen. I am very lucky to have an amazing husband, caring and supportive friends and family, and several counselor friends. But if you don’t have a great network of people already, there are support groups out there (online or in your town). You can blog about it and let the internet be your listening ear. Even just writing in a journal helps. If you need to talk, please talk.
But if you just need to process on your own first, that’s fine too. And if people get pushy and tell you that you should be talking about your feelings, just tell them that you need some time to figure out your feelings before you can talk about them. You have my permission.