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Grief Found in the Most Unlikely Places

by Julie Keon on August 21st, 2017

We talk a lot about grief in the special needs community. It is common thread that weaves its way through all of us. Sometimes it is intense like in those early days when the life you imagined for your baby is unlikely to come to pass. Loss is all around you and it really feels as though you will never again have a day without sadness. It surfaces in the weeks before birthdays and as we witness others celebrating holidays that we know our little ones will never fully enjoy or in some cases, never comprehend. Seemingly benign moments in a day can be interrupted by the flooding of emotions connected to our grief that is never far from the surface. You see a child who is the same age as your own, and you weep with the realization that your child will never twirl around in a tutu or run like the wind chasing after a fly ball. In the beginning, just seeing a pregnant woman or hearing the birth announcements of friends and family can send a parent like me reeling into the abyss of grief.
The magical thing about grief is it can be transformed. It must be expressed and we must do so without judgement. Grief is very personal and what may trigger one person may have no effect on another. How we grieve is also very personal. Some people have moments of guttural wailing and this releases the built up pressure just enough to face another day. Others may not cry at all and yet still experience deep grief. There are as many theories about grief as there are losses to grieve. Many theories are inaccurate but have managed to stick around in our collective unconscious like a piece of gum on the bottom of your shoe on a hot day. The five stages of ‘grieving’ comes to mind. Don’t even get me started on that one.
It is best to really listen to your self and to honour your grief anytime you sense it percolating. Sometimes you will be able to anticipate it like when your child’s birthday is approaching while other times, it will take you off guard. Telling yourself that you shouldn’t be feeling the way you do does nothing to alleviate your suffering. You may manage to push it down into the dark, cavernous places of your psyche but it will only remain there before given the opportunity to be expressed.  Our bodies and our minds can be very creative in expressing emotion no matter how determined we are to keep things buried. Approaching grief with a sense of curiosity and self-love can go a long way in its transformation. It is tedious and exhausting yet necessary if you wish to eventually feel more joy and less sadness in your life. Each time you acknowledge and express your grief, you move closer to once again feeling profoundly happy.
Although I am fourteen years into this parenting experience, I am still intrigued by the things that will cause a stir and leave me flooded with sadness of what could have been. I remember when Meredith was nine years old, I ran into a woman I knew from elementary school while shopping. She noticed the box of Pampers in my cart and asked me about my “baby.” Five years later, I still have a moment of melancholy when I buy a box of Pampers for my almost 14 year old. I attended a baby shower recently and although I have attended many over the years, I was surprised when the unwrapping of one gift in particular, brought a wee tear to my eye. The mama-to-be tore away the wrapping paper to reveal a Graco high chair, a newer model to the one I received for my own baby shower. I remember looking forward to using this generous gift with our new baby but after the reality set in that our girl would be exclusively g-tube fed, the high chair made its way to our basement. It remained there for years, never unpacked or used. Seven years after my birth, I met a couple in the prenatal classes as I was teaching. They were struggling financially and we decided to give them our high chair. It was a bittersweet day when we hauled it out of the basement and handed it over. With so much time between then and now, I was taken by surprise when this gift was opened.
I have learned that our intellect can be very convincing when it comes to coping with loss. It is moments like the one I experienced at the shower when my heart silences my intellect long enough to allow the light to shine on my emotions. At this point in my life, these moments of unexpected grief are few and far between and when they do happen, it is swift. It lasted as long as it took for everyone in the room to “oooohhh” and “aaaahhh” as the honouree finished unwrapping her gift. It was gone as quickly as it had arrived.
We delay the natural evolution of our grief when we stifle it, shame it, intellectualize it and judge it. Accepting that grief is a lifelong companion in this experience of parenting allows you to wrap your arms around it when it pops by for a visit, trusting that it is the very nature of grief to be fluid. It cannot stay stuck indefinitely. Give it the attention it requires and the space it needs to evolve and transform and you will be gifted with its wisdom.

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