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Putting Grief on Pause to Parent
April 13, 2016
Dealing with just one of the above can feel like moving a mountain,
so how can it even be possible to be a good parent whilst grieving the loss of a loved one?
My normal day generally requires me to be an all encompassing one man circus show (juggling numerous tasks), from being a mobile milk machine, entertaining a 9 month old, being a taxi driver, cook, housemaid, to being a student, teacher, writer….UGH. Most days I keep all the balls in the air, but it all got so much more difficult when I had to deal with the loss of my brother. I couldn’t just put my parenting on pause till I grieved sufficiently and was emotionally well enough to carry my fort. I had to plough through. As parents, that’s what we must do, put our own wellbeing aside for the well being of our children. So, I put my grief on pause and continued to parent. I was in charge, I was the master of my little circus show, and I decided which act went first.
“My sadness was not on pause,
it was playing in the background”
After I had dealt with the practical tasks associated to a death, I jumped right back into my mummy duties…lunches, drop offs pick ups, groceries, dinners, tears, homework, lost toys, sibling bickering, I took it all on like a champ. The sacrifice actually felt good. That’s until it didn’t. My sadness was not on pause, it was playing in the background, and whenever the noise of my busy life was loud enough, I couldn’t hear myself, the self that needed to talk, to cry, to scream in anger. But every now and then, when things were quiet, my heart was on loudspeaker and the pain came on like crashing waves. By now, I had realized I was battling unprocessed grief, but being such a good multi-tasker, I had it all under control. I was managing to hide it all…the pain, the sadness, and the tears. In fact, I again felt quite proud of myself for being such a good mother, such a good wife, for burying my pain and being there for my family.
That’s until the 4 words I heard from my daughter on a cloudy Sunday, “Mummy I miss you”. In an instant, my little circus show collapsed. She continued, “It makes me sad that you’re sad all the time, you don’t laugh the way you used to, or dance, or even listen to the fun music you loved so much, I miss the way you used to be”. My little façade was broken, she was able to see all that I was hiding, and all of a sudden I was looking at a sad little girl, who missed her mummy. The wheels in my head that were on full speed stopped turning in that moment and it all came to a crashing halt. I realized that I hadn’t put my grief on pause; I had put myself on pause. And, what my children needed all this time was not me fulfilling all my roles, but ME. Our children love us and need us more than just as their caretakers and providers, they love that little spark in us that makes us unique, and they need the light and energy that is provided by that spark. My daughter had her mother providing her with all the basic comforts, but she wasn’t being comforted by those basic necessities in life. She missed the comfort she felt from seeing me happy, the warmth she felt from my smile.
“By not allowing myself to grieve
I was almost punishing myself”
When given safety instructions in case of loss of cabin pressure in an airplane, we are told to secure our own oxygen masks first before those of our children. This is to ensure that we are fit enough to care for them. And just like that, in order to provide the best care to our children, we must take care of our own selves first. Being a parent is no easy task and we don’t always make the right decisions, but whatever decision we do make, is with the intention to be good parents. Grief is a necessary part of loss and we cannot expect to put it aside for a little while. The death of a loved one leaves you in a whirlwind of conflicting emotions, for me guilt played a big part in preventing me from moving forward. By not allowing myself to grieve, I was almost punishing myself, and by pouring all my energy into my family, I was making up for the guilt I was feeling. However, after talking to my daughter that day, I realized that the mother I had given them was not the happy mother they needed. I had given them my body but not my spirit. After almost 1 year of being on full speed, I decided to slow down, and I finally allowed myself to put “me” first. I took out some time for myself to do the things I used to love to do, like going to the gym and listening to music. I reached out to my family and friends, I talked about the pain, I cried A LOT, and I forgave myself. Although I was a pessimist at first, receiving grief therapy proved to be very helpful in my case and I recommend it to anyone who is experiencing loss. It has been many months now that I have reconnected to myself, and although it rears it’s ugly head every now and then (such is the nature of grief), I can say that the spark is lit again.
Life is full of obstacles and we have all been given our fair share of hardships and trials. Being a parent certainly places us in a position of responsibility and our children need our full attention, despite the difficulties, but they also need our spark. Like fuel and oxygen, one cannot function without the other. Allowing our selves to come first sometimes is important, for us to keep that spark alive and to not lose ourselves on this journey of parenthood.