Not Anti-Social. Just Selectively Social.

Grief changes lots of things.  

I am simply not able to spend energy on frivolous and marginally meaningful social activities anymore. 

I’m sure that hurts some folks feelings and I am truly sorry.

But I can’t help it.  

Truth is, we all have a limited amount of energy to spend on life’s commitments, celebrations and unexpected circumstances.  It’s just that most of us aren’t forced to admit it very often.  Before Dominic ran ahead to heaven, I could “rob Peter to pay Paul” as my daddy used to say.  A few days of not enough sleep, a few days of rushing here and there, a few days of biting my tongue and smiling when I wanted to cry were bearable.

I could survive a week or two and then take a day or two to recover.  Good as new.

I don’t have that luxury anymore.  

Now I operate every. single. day. on a razor thin edge of just enough energy to get by and not enough energy to get out of the bed.

So I am selective about social commitments because I know the energy just isn’t there.

I’m not withdrawing, I’m drawing boundaries.

I promise you are still important to me but I may have to check up online instead of in person.

I want to know about every special and exciting thing going on in your life-I want to celebrate with you!-even if it’s from a distance.  

Please don’t scratch me off your list just because I don’t always say “yes” anymore.

I will keep showing up when I can and send a card or gift when I can’t.

I care.  

I promise.  

I’m doing the best I can.

 

It’s Been YEARS, When Should I Mention My Missing Child?

This came up in a bereaved parents’ support group and I thought it was a great question:  When you meet someone for the first time, do you tell them about your missing child?”

It’s one of those practical life skills bereaved parents have to figure out.

I remember when it dawned on me a few months after Dominic left us that I would meet people who wouldn’t know he was part of my story unless I told them.

It was a devastating thought.  

I had no idea how I would face the first time it happened.  

Since then I’ve developed a script and guidelines, but it can still be awkward.

If the person I meet is going to be part of a ongoing relationship or partnership then I tell them fairly soon about Dominic.    Depending on who they are, how I sense they may be able to deal with it and if I feel comfortable enough I may give more or fewer details.  The main thing I try to communicate in sharing is that I will behave in ways they might not understand without the context of child loss.  I’m not looking for sympathy or special consideration but “bereaved parent” is as much a part of my identity as “married”.

If I am attending a social function and it’s a casual “meet and greet” then I won’t mention Dominic in terms of his death unless the conversation lends itself to that revelation.  No need to burden acquaintances with my story or run the risk of changing a celebratory mood to a sad one.

I always say I have four children-because I do.  But I don’t have to give details.  If the person insists I tell them more about my children it’s fairly easy to steer the conversation toward a detail or two about my living children without the person noticing it doesn’t add up to four.

I make sure to tell health professionals about Dominic because the stress, physical, emotional and mental changes grief has wrought are integral to my treatment plan.  I’ve had a couple of new doctors since Dom ran ahead and received different responses from them when I shared.  One seemed to understand the impact of child loss while another just continued typing without any acknowledgement of what I revealed.

My son’s death is not a dirty secret.

I don’t have to hide it to protect others.

But it is also not a “poor me” card that I fling on the table of relationships trying to manipulate others into showing me special consideration.

I want people to know Dominic.

dominic at gray haven

So I share.

I don’t want people to only think of him in terms of his death.

So sometimes I don’t.

It depends.

 

 

Hiding in Plain Sight

They say that if you want to hide something so it’s never found, hide it in plain sight. 

I think I’m living proof. 

Because every single day I hide my wounded heart.

band aid heart huff post earthy

I walk right up to people and they never know.  I conduct business, entertain family and friends, sing hymns in church and do daily tasks without a hint that something’s wrong-terribly, terribly wrong.

Am I stronger now than three years ago?  Absolutely!  I have developed muscles I didn’t know existed.  I have a go-to method to stop tears, stop screams, stop tremors, stop panic attacks and swallow words that might otherwise slip out and give me away.

I can make small talk with the best of them.  I’ve learned to redirect a conversation so that it cannot venture into territory that guarantees I won’t be able to keep it together.

I look for opportunities to serve at gatherings.  Kitchen duty?  First in line!  It’s easy and perfectly acceptable to mutter one word replies when your hands are in the sink washing dishes.

I locate bathrooms and exits everywhere I go.  Ducking into the ladies’ room or out the door for a minute or two is usually all I need to regather myself and reenter the fray.

All this hiding takes a toll.  So much energy is needed to shield the world from the pain I carry.

I often find that after a holiday or extended period of social interaction I need a day (or a week!) to recover.  And that’s OK. 

I’m learning to say “no” to invitations or expectations or intimidation.  

I’m learning I have to give myself time to regroup. 

Because then I can reengage, recharged and ready to keep hiding my heart.  

fine not fine

 

Fault Lines: Bereaved Parents and Social Anxiety

I’m no geologist, but from what I understand, earthquakes are nearly always “about to happen”.  Fault lines guarantee it.  Pressure is building underneath the surface of the earth and when it reaches a level that can no longer be contained, it spews.

Can I just let you in on a secret?

Bereaved parents are full of fault lines.

Many of us are nearly ready to blow almost every single minute, yet hold it in and hold it together.  If you could put a meter to our temple and measure how close we are to a come apart, you would be amazed that it happens so rarely!

And this is why we sometimes say, “no” to an invitation.  It’s why we stay home from church or baby showers or weddings.  Not because we are anti-social, but because social situations present unique challenges to our desire to keep it together.

We don’t want to become the center of attention when the center of attention should be the mom-to-be or the wedding couple or the birthday boy.

It may be months or years or decades since our child ran ahead to heaven.  And you may think that’s enough time to “get over” or “get past” or “learn to live with” his or her absence.  In some ways it IS.  Most of us have a “game face” we plaster on to make it through ordinary days and even some extraordinarily difficult ones.

But underneath the veneer of “everything’s OK” there are the fault lines and when extra pressure is applied, we just know we might blow.

Many times I want to be there, really I do.  If I choose not to be, know that it’s because I am trying to be thoughtful, not ugly.  I stay home out of love, not disrespect.  

So please extend grace. 

Give me the benefit of the doubt. 

Let me bow out gracefully when I  know in advance my heart won’t be able to hold on. 

It’s best for both of us, really. ❤

the best we can falls shour

 

 

 

What to say? What to do? Loving the Grieving in Public Places

 

Last week I wrote about some strategies I employ when in a social situation: Surviving Social Situations After Child Loss

But if you are the friend, family member or acquaintance milling around who bumps into me or spies me across the room, here are some things you can do and say that will help me as well:

Be aware that the greeting, “How are you?” sometimes feels like a challenge instead of an invitation. I’m scrambling for words to express my true condition without ruining the mood of the gathering.  It would be so much better if you simply said, “Hello” or “I’m happy to see you” without additional comments about how long it’s been.

Don’t pose or push for answers to questions that are primarily designed to satisfy your own curiosity.  If I give a brief reply, take the hint and move on.  If I say I can’t talk about it, drop the subject.  If I turn the conversation back to you, pick it up and carry the ball.  Public spaces are not the place to try to draw me out.  If you are concerned about me or want to REALLY know how I’m doing, take me to lunch or bring me dinner or invite me out for coffee.

questions

Notice my body language.  If I am fidgeting or hugging myself or backing away or crossing my arms it’s time to let me go.  I may hold my tongue but my body will give you abundant clues that I’m nearly at my limit for social interaction.  Give me permission to end the conversation and preserve my dignity.

Hugs are almost always wonderful.  Physical touch conveys love and compassion without requiring any response.  If you know me well enough to hug me or squeeze my hand, please do.

brene-brown-on-empathy-image

Don’t corner me-physically, emotionally or spiritually.  Backing me into a tight space makes me feel trapped.  If I’m on the end of a pew or aisle, don’t ask me to scoot down so you can join me.  I’m there in case I need to make an exit.  Don’t stand too close to me while we’re talking-my need for adequate personal space has greatly increased since Dominic ran ahead to heaven.  Don’t throw Bible verses at me or ask me how Jesus is meeting me in my sorrow.  These are things we can talk about together, in private, in a way that makes space for me to be honest and express emotion without fear of embarresment.

Don’t make comparisons between my missing child and person featured in the wedding, baby shower or engagement party we are attending. Trust me, I’ve already done the math. I already know the distance between Dominic’s homegoing and this day.  I am already mourning one more thing I’ll never get to see him do.

cant-understand

Please don’t use this time to tell me about another bereaved mother you “just want to introduce to me”.  I am open and willing to walk with others on this journey, but this is not the time nor the place to put me on the spot.  If you know of another mom that needs my help, write me a note, give me a call or text me.

If I leave a room, don’t follow (unless you are a very close friend).  Let me go.  I will return if I can and if I can’t, I won’t.  Text me if you’re concerned.  If I come back, let me slip in without any fanfare.

If I cry, hand me a tissue or a handkerchief.  Don’t ask, “What’s wrong?” Besides the obvious, I may not have an answer for you.

woman-mourning

Please help me move conversation along when I lose my train of thought or seem at a loss for words.  Grief makes it hard to think sometimes, especially when in a crowd and/or a place with lots of background noise.  Give me permission to end a conversation-it probably doesn’t have a thing to do with YOU-I’m just running out of steam and need a few minutes’ respite from having to talk.  

Attending social events is exhausting for me now.  I want to celebrate birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, graduations-but that means a lot of people and a lot of unknowns.  Dozens of potential triggers, any one of which might conjure a grief wave that can drown me.  

I do what I can to be prepared. 

But I’ll take all the help I can get.

best-way-you-can-help-me

 

 

Surviving Social Situations After Child Loss

The first three months after Dominic ran ahead to heaven were full of social obligations.

Dominic left us in mid-April.  My youngest graduated college five days after we laid Dom to rest.  My eldest son graduated as a veterinarian two weeks after that.  He married two months to the day from Dom’s funeral.

Friends and family members stepped up and lent a hand.  Most people present were very aware of our recent loss and didn’t force small talk. My living children were amazing-flexible, supportive and loving even in their own deep sorrow.

But I’ll be honest, it’s mostly a blur.

I have photographic evidence of each event, but not a lot of personal memories.

Fast forward a few months and there are other social occasions I must attend.

By this time, for most folks, Dominic’s death was an event marked on a calendar they discarded at the end of 2014.  For me, it was as fresh as ever and the pain had actually increased as the absolute truth that he was gone, gone, gone was settling in my bones.

Without a thought, people I’d known for years trotted right up and said, “How are you?” They didn’t really want to know.

Smiling stylish woman showing sign excellently, isolated on red

They were tossing me the conversation ball in the only way they’d been taught to do it.

At that moment, I had a choice:  I could give in to my inner child and shout, “How the heck do you think I’m doing???? I buried a child!!!” OR I could extend the grace I long to receive and say something more controlled and measured.

Now, I’m not nearly as grace-filled as I ought to be or long to be, but I did manage to construct some “pre-recorded” answers to that question in a sincere attempt to be kind. They continue to serve me well.

Heres how I do it:

  • I give an honest, brief response that does not leave room for additional questions. Something like, “As well as you would expect” or “It’s hard, but I’m trying to hold on” or “I’m here” or “Today is a hard day”  or “Today is a better day”
  • I turn the conversation back to them.  I might ask, “How are you and your family?” or, if I had information about a specific event or person in their family, “How is so-and-so doing?” or “I heard you had a new grandbaby-tell me about him/her!” It’s absolutely amazing how easy it is to get people to talk about themselves.
  • If the person is insistent or persistent in questioning me and digging for details I politely say, “I can’t talk right now.  I want to be able to enjoy the (whatever event we were attending) as best I can.  Sorry.”

I also plan a physical escape route if needed:

  • Whenever I enter a space, I scout the restrooms and exits so that if I need to, I can leave a conversation usually by saying I need to go to the restroom.
  • I take note of who’s present and keep an eye out for a safe person I can migrate toward in a crowd.
  • If it’s a sit-down event I make sure to choose a seat where I can get out without having to depend on anyone else-the end of an aisle, table near the door, etc.
  • If I feel myself losing control, I try to leave before it becomes obvious to anyone else.

And I come prepared:

  • I carry tissues,
  • drink plenty of fluids,
  • have some aspirin and usually an anxiety pill with me,
  • wear one of the special pieces of jewelry my children have given me in honor of Dominic and touch it often to keep myself grounded, and
  • wear comfortable clothes and shoes.

I choose a focal point if I must look in the same direction for a long period of time (like at a wedding) and force myself to consider details so my mind won’t wander as much and possibly take me places I don’t want to go.

I remind myself that when that one person I thought would be there for me and but wasn’t floats up like there’s no rift in our relationship, this is not the time nor the place to correct that.

I smile and wave and preserve the dignity of the situation.

Most of all I try to remember that the people most likely to be insensitive or rub me the wrong way are blissfully ignorant of the weight of the pain I carry.  They can’t see the fragments of my shattered heart. They don’t know how much courage it takes to show up.

band-aid-and-heart

I thank God they don’t and pray they never do.