Gestating in grief

January 29, 2013 at 8:12 pm

“In encountering death, you are now at the very centre of human experience. You are in the presence of the sacred. Do not let anyone minimize its importance or make you feel that grieving is anything other than an absorbing, life-changing experience.” -Jerusha Hull McCormack

So I’ve been wanting to give you all something more informative and less me-centered for a while now. I have a few different posts I’ve been doing research for. But my mind and spirit are absorbed with other things, so I just haven’t had the time or energy to tackle those “real” blogposts I’ve been wanting to give you.

The stuff I’ve been writing about doesn’t technically have a whole lot to do with birth, per se, so I worry that you’re all tiring of reading about it. I feel bad… like I should apologize for writing so much about myself and what’s been going on with me, but then I step back and realize… this is where I am. Maybe I’ll lose some readers, but maybe there are others out there who need to hear what’s in my heart. And then I step back again and see that what I’m experiencing has everything to do with gestation and birthing.

So, rather than giving you something informative and science-based (those posts will come), today I’m giving you something from my heart and soul. And right now my heart and soul are waist-deep in grief, trying to get the courage to allow myself to become totally submerged.

I was in survival mode for the six months following my grandma’s death. I think my subconscious was screaming in agony, but my intellectual brain was in denial that my emotional state had anything to do with Grandma. I saw them as separate, for whatever reason.

The more I have pondered the past year, the more certain I feel that losing Grandma was one of the primary catalysts for my plummeting into anxiety, loss of appetite, depression, and despair. At first I thought… well, the first panic attack hit me a month before she died, so her death couldn’t have been the cause. But, strange as it sounds, I think that little wounded toddler inside of me (who had clung to Grandma as though she were life itself all those years ago) was utterly and completely panicked to feel Grandma slipping away. And once we returned home after our trip for the funeral, without her “foundation” the world came crashing down around that little girl.

There have been a few other times in my life when I have experienced similar (briefer) episodes of weight loss and poor mental health. And they have always been tied to “abandonment” experiences. I think this is just how my body-mind-spirit reacts to such losses. They open up the deepest and most painful wounds inside of me, and get the blood flowing again, filling me with panic and darkness.

This loss was the first time, however, that I eventually found myself losing my will to live. I always told Grandma that when she died I was going to “lose it.” I was mostly joking. I had no idea just how right I would prove to be. She was the most important person in my life until I met my husband (and I often say that I “married my grandmother” because their personalities are so similar). I suppose it’s no surprise that her loss had such a catastrophic impact on my soul.

I think maybe all of this time I’ve had some walls around my heart to “protect” it. And I think that’s part of why I could never feel her. Now that I’m allowing myself to grieve and process what has happened to me, it’s like I’m breaking down those walls around my heart little by little, and as I do so I feel like I’m letting Grandma back into my life. And it’s actually feeling like all of this is making our relationship even stronger. Turns out I haven’t really “lost” her at all.

One of the primary emotions I’ve been feeling as I have been grieving is guilt. I feel guilty for neglecting to call and write to her as often as I should have in the last year or two of her life. I was so overwhelmed by caring for my four children and finishing our book that I failed to be present for her. Most of my family lives near her, and they served her daily as she neared the end of her life. I envy them.

Over the past week, I have felt like she’s been sending me message after message, through a variety of sources. She keeps trying to tell me that she loves me so much and that she isn’t disappointed in me. One afternoon last week, my seven-year-old daughter brought this home from school and gave it to me…

When I asked her why she wrote what she did, she said she didn’t know. It just came to her. She didn’t know what I’d been struggling with, but Grandma knew.

Last night I was crying (again) to my husband. Once I finally allowed myself to open-up to the grief, I have spent at least some time every day crying. I’m told this is normal, even years down the road. But last night I had an epiphany that felt really important. I realized that there wasn’t any more Grandma could do or say to convince me that she really is proud of me and not disappointed in me. It wasn’t that the message wasn’t coming, it was that I couldn’t receive it. My guilt is what is keeping me from believing her. So in order to be at peace in my relationship with her, I have to forgive myself.

But I also had another epiphany. I realized that I didn’t want to forgive myself. I wanted to keep punishing myself. Deep down I didn’t feel I deserved to be forgiven. I felt that I deserved to feel bad because my neglect of her exempted me from being worthy of her pure love. I know she doesn’t want me to suffer anymore, and I know that she does love me, but I feel I don’t deserve it. So this is my next grieving challenge: to release my guilt.

I’ve been reading a lot about grieving and how it transforms you as a person. I really think it’s true.

From this new consciousness of pain, much can grow. It is the very grounds of our rebirth. . . . There are few opportunities for us to remake our life: sometimes a death, through its sheer devastation, can clear ground that will enable us to rebuild our lives to something nearer our most absolute desire. (Jerusha Hull McCormack, Grieving: A Beginner’s Guide)

I keep thinking about the dream I had last April. The one where my dead brother came and let me know I was in “labor.” I think I was in “transition” for the six months that followed. Maybe dealing with the grief is my “ring of fire” experience?

Hey, I just remembered a dream I had before waking this morning. I was holding a freshly-born baby girl, covered in beautiful baby slime. But it was bizarre because even though I was looking at her in my arms, I actually hadn’t given birth to her yet. I was still in labor, and I actually had big blood clots coming out of me (which was also bizarre to me). When I woke up I thought it was so strange. Why would I be holding a baby I hadn’t birthed yet? What were those blood clots all about? But now that I think about it, maybe that dream was letting me know I’m almost there? I’ve almost completed my rebirth? Keep my eyes on the prize? I’m releasing the “blood” of those old wounds little by little? Cool.

I do feel like I’m emerging from all of this as someone stronger, braver, more compassionate, kinder, and… well… more like Grandma. And that’s exactly the kind of person I’ve always wanted to be.