When the wife & I attended our first grief support group after losing our daughters, we were really looking forward to it. We knew that we needed the support and in some strange way, hoped it would actually make us feel better. I say that’s “strange” because honestly, nothing makes you feel “better”. In fact, you don’t really even know what “better” would look like for you because many of your definitions of things positive, may have changed. Things start to get categorized into “before the babies” and “after we lost the babies”. That’s true for my family. Things that brought me joy before 6/7/17 are sometimes very different after 6/8/17. I found myself saying, “I just want to feel better” but when I really sat and thought about it… when I really asked myself, “J, what would that look like?” I couldn’t come up with anything besides being pregnant with my girls again. Though we plan to continue trying for our rainbow babies, even pregnancy with my next child(ren) wouldn’t necessarily make me feel “better” right now. Why? Because the naivete of a blissful pregnancy is gone. We now know too much and that loss of innocence just feels incredibly sad.
So back to the group. We got to talking about being outside and whether anyone has gone back to work or just out and about in the community. The wife outs me because at the time, I really hadn’t been out of the house much. I wasn’t back to work yet and I was only outside in the community for very short amounts of time. I had anxiety… it made me super uncomfortable to be out of the house and also, this may sound strange, but I felt like I was leaving our babies in the house while we ran the streets. I wasn’t comfortable with that and ultimately, I just wanted to be close to my babies. When we did go out occasionally, I felt intensely emotional and of course, there were tons of pregnant people and people with babies everywhere I turned. We went to a restaurant and of all the tables, someone w/ an infant sat at a table directly in my line of sight and I completely lost it. Another time I had decided to take a walk because it was a nice day. I thought the fresh air would help. It kind of did but I also found myself crying walking down the street. I can be in the most random of places or situations and still feel close to tears or actually be in tears no matter the setting. Sometimes there’s a specific trigger and sometimes, there isn’t…. Or it’s an odd trigger like the time we went to see the new Mummy movie with Tom Cruise and there’s one point where the mummy is in a position that reminded me of my girls. I had to blink away the tears…
So grief bursts are real. Think of them like emotional outbursts sometimes in response to a stimulus and sometimes not. I mean, there’s always the stimulus of our loses, right? That’s always in our minds and hearts and bodies no matter where we are or what we’re doing. The loss becomes part of the fibers of who we are so we carry it everywhere. It’s not something one just gets over in my opinion. So what have I done when I experience them? Usually I can’t really control it so I just let it come. Thankfully I’m not usually alone when it happens so having a loved one around to help is ideal. If I could, I’ve just tried to push forward to get to a physical space where I felt more comfortable even if that meant that I stopped doing whatever it is that I was doing just to regroup. Here are some suggestions for you to try in the event that you have grief bursts while out and about:
- Take deep breaths – breathing is always a helpful way to bring your body down out of a heightened state. Being very intentional about taking in air through your nose and either out through your nose too or out through your mouth. I just learned in hot yoga that in through the nose and out through the nose is heating while in through the nose and out through the mouth is cooling. Do whatever works best for you but just remember to breathe!
- Find a quiet or quieter space – if that means to take a knee or squat next to your shopping cart or leaving your shopping cart all together and going out of the supermarket, do that! Go to your car, find the bathroom, sit on a bench outside the market, find a place to get fresh or fresher air if possible and where you don’t feel as constricted. I know I felt almost like the environment was closing in on me OR like I was too exposed so I tried and try to do whatever I can to get where I feel physically better and then do whatever is needed.
- Ground yourself – grounding is a mindfulness practice usually used in therapeutic settings to help manage anxiety. It can be done in a variety of ways but finding a place to plant your body so you feel the ground, a chair or seat, a wall, whatever, under or behind you is part of it. The point is to get into your body and feel the safety of the support. It’s also a way of focusing your thoughts and energy on something very tangible rather than wherever your brain is running away to at the moment.
- Carry something with you that has calming energy – maybe it’s a stone, maybe it’s a coin, maybe it’s a piece of jewelry or fabric. Just try to carry that thing with you as often as possible (read:all the time). I carry rose quartz with me all the time. It’s a crystal that carries healing and mothering energy as well as just transcendental love in general. Mine is actually a Yoni egg I never used but it’s perfectly palm sized! One of our couple-friends actually gifted us cremation jewelry so now, I have two necklaces with some of Aviva & Jora’s ashes inside that I wear at all times. Touching the necklaces actually really helps to calm me at times and has made it easier for me to be outside for longer periods of time because I feel like my girls are physically with me. That response may be psychosomatic or even creepy to some but it works for me.
- Employ your spiritual practice – it doesn’t matter if you carry & believe in the healing powers of crystals like me, you meditate, you pray, etc. Just do it. Whatever you need to do to center yourself and find strength, do that. There’s no one way to have a spiritual practice so find what works and do it as often as you need to.
- Let your tears flow – it’s ok to cry. In fact, sometimes it’s flat out necessary to let those tears flow so they can help to wash away some of the hurt. I firmly believe our emotions sometimes are like a dam and it gets to a point where there’s too much behind it and the dam has to release to relieve the pressure. Sure, strangers may ask if you’re ok and they may offer you a tissue or something so if you’re comfortable, accept that kindness and let them know you appreciate their help. This world is often unkind so when kindness is offered, take it in or as I say to a friend of mine, “breathe in the nice”. Sometimes that kindness will make you cry more and sometimes it’ll actually help you to move through the burst more quickly and complete whatever it is you were doing.
- Abandon ship – listen, be kind to yourself and if a situation makes you so uncomfortable that you just can’t deal, leave. Whatever that thing is that you were doing, it usually can be done later or at another time all together. Better yet, delegate the task to someone else if you can. It’s ok to change your mind last minute or in the midst of something if things are too much to handle. People who matter will understand and those who don’t understand, don’t matter.
Managing grief bursts is similar to trying to manage anxiety attacks or panic attacks. Sometimes they can even show up looking like that with shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, sweating, feelings of being confined, etc. If those things happen to you, try any of the things I listed above, talk to your therapist about other suggestions or try something I didn’t mention that you know works for you. Again, there’s no right way (caveat: harming yourself or someone else is not the way to go and I don’t endorse coping in that way) to get through this time in your life… what’s important is that you get through it. Not necessarily how you get through it. Take care of yourselves loves and reach out for help when you need it. <3