Lara Stewart-Panko

Grief Is Not A Dirty Word

This past year has been quite full of grief for me. In the past 12 months I've lost my "BFF" (I ended the relationship after struggling mightily for several years), my father died, my husband and I came to learn he has a neurological condition that significantly impacts many areas of life, my brother died and my son has continued his developmentally-appropriate individuation process, which means he's no longer the sweet baby for whom I was once the centre of the world; he's a full-fledged teen who spends as little time at home as possible. I've lost a lot in a relatively short period of time.

I've learned a ton about myself, and others, though. When people respond to death, things get tremendously real. I've come to understand more completely than ever that what anyone says or does is more about them and their way of being than anyone on the receiving end of things. The range of reactions to the very same stimulus is so telling.

I've discovered that uncontrollable, inevitable, normal parts of life can hurt more than words can tell. That type of pain is not wrong in any which way. I've come to see that we're being called to accept deep pain with only the same degree of questioning with which we meet great joy. There is often no neat explanation for either.

I've been handed opportunities to hold a myriad of thoughts and feelings all at once, appreciating how contradictions can find beauty as paradoxes. I've had surprise triggers let me know I have wounds and strengths and skills and limits I never knew I had.

It's been a lot -- sometimes "too much" -- and my resilience has never been greater. I've fallen and gotten up, fallen again, gotten up again...more times than I can count.

But what about you? What grief has come a-calling for you in the past year? You can't honestly say none. No, perhaps no one in your life has died or left or received a diagnosis. But grief shows up in so many forms, and it's important we recognize and live with it as readily as we dance with the gains.

If you've had your first child in the past year, you've lost a bunch of freedom, spontaneity, naiveté. Perhaps you've lost aspects of your work outside the home if you're now on maternity leave, including relationships with co-workers. You've probably lost aspects of your identity (only to take on new elements that can come with motherhood).  Maybe you've had mental health challenges to deal with, and they've robbed you of too many moments that otherwise you would've cherished and enjoyed. If you're partnered, the addition of a baby has probably had impacts on your relationship, so there might be some grieving there, too.

If you're further along in your parenting journey, you're likely coming to realize that grief is an inherent part of parenthood. As your child grows, you have to keep letting go. You let go of the warm, cuddly bundle of your newborn, then you let go of the baby that couldn't yet crawl so they were always where you left them, then you let go of the baby who mostly went with the flow as they get deep into toddlerhood, giving you a taste of what the less-than-rational teen years might be like. Perhaps you've been wishing they'd get the heck out of your bed for months, and when they finally do, your tears wet your pillow as you realize the tender moments of co-sleeping are also gone. Or maybe your child has medical, developmental or other concerns that have you sometimes wishing it wasn't so. You grieve for them, and you grieve your losses as their parent -- as a parent of a child with chronic health concerns, I'm with you.

And then there's the rest of your life that holds the potential for loss, disappointment and pain. No shortage of soil in which grief can grow.

Now, this post is not intended to bring you down; it's to acknowledge that we all go there, whether we like it or not. NOTHING SAVES US FROM BEING HUMAN. When grieving it is not the time to count your blessings nor accept platitudes nor pretend you're okay if you're not. Grief deserves honouring, just like joy. And as you honour your grief, it yields gifts without any effort on your part.

It teaches you, heals you, deepens you, expands you. You can become more compassionate, appreciative, wise and alive. Grief can make you a better person, and a better parent. As you embrace grief and it's power, you can model for your children how to grow from life's painful changes. And when you take safe risks, like telling a respectful other about your grief, you sanction their grief, and further reduce any unrealistic notions our culture holds about it. When you mourn your losses, you are expressing love.

I invite you to make space for the grief of your life. It's there anyways, so you might as well give it a place at the table so it stops trying to sit on your lap. I'll keep doing the same. And please know that if you see me smiling, that's real. While grief may have me aching one minute or 1000, if I go with the flow, joy will eventually have me uplifted for another span of time. And then another wave of grief will come. It's not a process that can be scheduled.

May you be gentle with yourself as you grieve any and all types of loss. The sun will rise, and then it will set. And then it will rise again.

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