I’d like to take a moment today and talk about something I haven’t really come across being discussed in this world of parenting, grief. The grief that runs parallel to this wonderful heart expanding love journey.
The grief for me began two days into my journey as a mother. I was sitting in a hot bath for a few moments while my newborn son slept. I was exhausted in a way I had never known before. Every bone, muscle and fiber of my body hurt. I tried to apply a tactic I used in my working life, I asked “how many days until the weekend?” In that moment I sobbed. I sobbed so deeply. Because I realized with this new gig there were no days off. The count down couldn’t really be started because this human being was going to be looking for me to take care of him for more days than my mind was able to count. Along with the fact that in the simple act of birthing him something fundamental had changed in my brain and I wasn’t actually ever going to be able to turn off the part of me that was going to be concerned for his safety. In this bath tub moment I lost the part of me that could work through tough work days in order to get the freedom of a day off. I saw the self I was before this moment gone forever. I didn’t think I would ever be able to stop crying over her loss.
But I did stop crying because that little human being woke up and called out to me with his cries. The part of my brain that loved and adored him was kicked into gear and I rushed to his side. Love warmed me from the tips of my toes to the top of my head as I cuddled in to give him what only I could. This is not to say my grief was replaced but it landed right there alongside my happiness as evidence of how this journey as his mother was going to be.
Another big moment of grief for me came after my second child was born. The four of us were snuggled up in bed getting to know one another as a new unit. My fabulous doula tried to help by taking my then two year old son off to his bed for sleeping time. He screamed like someone was trying to kidnap him even though he adored the woman whose arms he was in. I looked at him and realized it was over. Or time as a duo at bedtime was finished. His needs being the only ones I had to care for where over. I now had someone else to care for with him. The moment of extreme joy for the arrival of our final family member was met with a sideline of grief for how never again would my oldest son be the only child I had to tend to. This grief was heavy every night in those early months as I listened to one child cry for his mama to read him bedtime stories or another tiny baby call to be soothed by his mama. Yes, daddy was there to help. Yes, both boys were being tended to with loving attention. But the singularity of me being able to meet the needs right now of my oldest son was gone. It was again the grief running parallel to the strength of my love.
When my boys learned about death at the tender ages of 3 and 5 I thought my grief alongside the grief of their loss of knowing a world free of death might swallow me forever. I will carry with me the tears my youngest son cried when he excitedly told me,”Mama I won a free game of golf to play with Gramps,” and I turned to him and explained “Sweetheart Gramps died last night,” with me for all my days.
It was a primal cry that signified the loss of an innocence I had forgotten we all started out with. His tears did stop and he found the words to share of his epic golf journey the day before. And there it was again joy alongside grief.
Then there are the moments when I forgot to notice an ending and the grief takes me out yet again. This time I was standing in a hot shower alone. I was alone in a shower. I had prayed for this moment when I was showering most days with at least one child in the shower with me. But now as the hot water poured down my back I noticed my oldest son no longer wanted to hop in the shower with anyone. He was marching toward a place where privacy was important to him and he wanted those moments to himself. I had missed it. I had missed noticing our last shower together. I was thrilled for him and his new found independence but once again there right beside my happiness was a sliver of grief that needed a little bit of my attention.
As I sat crying in my teenage sons room yesterday working our way through this new phase we are in, where he is farther away for longer periods of time, we grappled to understand each other. He says “I don’t want people to be mad at me or sad about what I am doing.” I sat for a moment to gather my thoughts and said to him “Son, I am thrilled for you in this world. I am never mad at your leaving. I am sad for myself. Not for you. There is nothing you can do about my sadness because it is beside my happiness. I just want you to know all the parts of me that are loving you. Because if I don’t take care of this grief, let it out into the light, I won’t be able to keep showing up to love you.”
And that for me is the cold hard truth. If I don’t let that grief have a voice and some of my attention it will be buried away and grow stronger. It will threaten to eat my logical mind, my loving heart and unleash words that are not true to my intention as a parent. So I put these words down here, to give each one of us permission, to tend to the grief that is sidelining this amazing journey as a parent, so we can continue to show up with love for our children.