Expectations and grief. Once I had experienced both, at the same time, I realized with some clarity that these are two words that do not match up…at all.
Nope, not even a little bit.
They are rather, quite opposite of one another.
Let me explain…
Grief is designed to give your heart time to love the one who is now gone from our earth…and to heal the would of losing them. It is individual, timeless, unscheduled, and unique. We live in a world where expectaions are the ‘norm’. Our own expectations, others’ expectations, even societies’ expectations, all weigh down on us. And in grief, these expectations can sink a barely ‘above water’ struggler down to the bottom.
Sometimes, I wish sympathy lasted as long as grief does, our own and others’. The fact is that in our socitety, grief is not recognized as a ‘real’ thing. It is seen as an event, versus an experience. Most of the bereaved receive a 2-4 week window of “grace” from society where you are free to talk of your loved one, to cry without reason in public, and to publically miss them. It is in this timeframe, that people don’t judge you for “stll being on this”. I have found in my life, and in the lives of other mama’s who have lost babies…that this window is pretty universal. Rarely, society allows 6 weeks for you to grieve. And for those few who allow you longer to greve- well they are just Angels, in my opinion. Right or wrong- this is the ‘trend’. After this specified allottment of time, you are expected to be “healed”, “fixed”, “back to normal”, “better”….except that there is this one fact that is critical, and yet missed.
Grief is an experience, not an event.
I can only speak from my own experience. In losing a child, your “old self”, your “normal”, your “life” is shattered. It takes weeks and months and maybe even years of personal, hard, hard, sacrificial work to first, figure out who you are. To find the answer to this question : Who am I without this child? And then, to figure out what your “new self”, your “new life” and your “new normal” look like. I am still learning. I don’t have the final answer.
It took me 6 weeks just to absorb what had happened- to realize the fact that my son died. Not to work through it or even absorb it…just to process that one fact. Yes, 6 weeks. By 6 weeks out, the meals had stopped, others’ lives had resumed, and my “grace period” of grief was over. And there I was, question-filled and answer-less. I was lost in a world zooming around me. I felt like i had awoken from a bad dream, and was in a foreign land that was so overwhelming I had no idea how i could do this.
I think my own expectations were the first to start grating on me. “I should be able to sleep.” “I should be able to laugh with the kids.” “I should be a better mom, and take them to the zoo with the other ‘good moms'”. “I shouldn’t cry so much”. ” I should be a better wife.” ” I should be able to move on’….
But I was stuck. Utterly and completely stuck.
I had no idea how to accomplish all these expecctations that I had for myself. I expected myself to bouce back to my “normal”, without realizing my “normal” had been shattered. That took me another few months to come to grips with…the fact that amidst all this pain, and sorrow, and hurt…I had to now create a new “me”. A new normal. A new life.
Talk about overwhelming. I shut down. I said “I just can’t” many, many more times than I said ” I can”. I considered how much easier it would be to give up than to try to overcome this too. I had absolutely no idea if I even could do this. Impossible is not word enough for what I was feeling.
I didnt realize that grief is an experience…not an event. Not yet, at least.
I tried to go places. People asked questions. Waves of grief overcame me. I cried… a lot. I got strange looks and awkward silence. I woke up each morning feeling like a failure to myself, to everyone around me, and to God. “If I am a true Christian, shouldn’t I be doing better than this? I want to be a good example for others of how Christians can survive infant loss better because of God.” echoed in my mind. My own selfish pride was in the way. I wanted to prove that I could do this “better” because God was in my life. It took even more time, and more failures, and more tears before I realized that it would be in my brokenness and honesty about my pain in grief…that Christ would shine through. I had to give up my pride and sense of being ‘put together’ before God could move.
And thats about when I figured out that maybe grief isn’t an event…its a journey. An experience. And it is mine. It is a road I will be travelling for a while.
My own expectations of myself hindered my healing process. Letting others’ expectations influence how I thought of myself only hindered any progress I made forward. Expectations crushed my spirit and made me not want to try to move forward.
I am still working on not giving myself high expectations. I’ve always been one to be the most critical and have the highest expectaions for myself. So this is hard. Very hard. I am working on being proud of my efforts, versus the results. Celebrating small victories on the road to big ones. Sometimes, my great victory is just getting dressed on the ‘bad days’. Sometimes, it’s arriving to something I said I would go to- even though we are a half hour late. Its’ being proud of finding a new piece of the new ‘me’. It’s finding purpose. It’s making a meal that doesn’t come from a box.
I am learning that life must be simple in the grief experience. The grief journey must be able to be priority in order for healing to come. We don’t go to many birthday parties or play dates. We are the family that may commit and cancel at the last minute- because on that day, it was just too hard. We have trouble uttering our ‘congratulations’ to pregnant women, though we are overjoyed that they have this little blessing within them. Why? Because we know what lost innocence feels like when you lose a child. We try, although others rarely see it. We are “that family” that may pay our bills late this month…but we celebrate because we got them paid that month.
To be honest, we fail more of societies ‘expectations’ than we succeed at.
But I dont feel as ‘ shameful ‘ because of this as I once did. I just have to keep reminding myself that my accomplishments are mine and only mine. Society doesnt have to see it. Family, friends, even my husband- I need to be OK if they ‘miss it’. I need to be proud of me because I am setting a goal and working toward it. I can be proud of me, because God is proud of my efforts…and not my results.
I must keep remembering that grief is not an event…its my journey, my experience.
Expectations and grief do not match up. At all. But…they can provide an amazing and humbling learning opportunity about my expectations versus God’s…and Whose is more important to succeed at.