When the pandemic started and so many of us started to work from home, our collective facades were shattered. We saw each other’s pets, we heard each other’s kids, and we saw that kids can run into the room at inopportune times. But, again, collectively, we all tried to keep that façade of professionalism and “I’ve got it all together,” even when we often do not. I remember a picture of a mom dressed professionally, looking together on a Zoom screen, but when you panned out, you could see the reality—the mess in the room, the kid hanging on her leg, and so on. To me, it spoke to me not only during a pandemic shift but also to life as a grieving parent.

Parenting after Loss: Dropping the Facade

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“I’m good, thanks for asking.”

“I’m okay.”

“I’m fine.”

How often do we answer the question of how you are doing with these stock responses and its slight variations?

But, is that the truth? I can certainly say that most of the time, since losing Colette, I have not been completely truthful in those responses. Those of us grieving and parenting after loss have a hidden side that few know about. It is the truth behind our responses of good, okay, and fine. Sometimes the response words are completely false and sometimes they are just part of the larger story—the façade of joy, happiness, and excitement that we allow the world to see while we hide the rest of the reality below the surface, hidden by a smile and a self-assured yup, I’m good.

So what if we were honest when we answered? What if we told the whole truth to more than a few people?

I thought about what some of my responses would have been recently and here’s a look at them:

“I’m good but today out of nowhere, I got hit with a memory and I sobbed over Colette and why she wasn’t here.”

“I’m okay but I shared a picture of my family in a presentation with our Coco bear representing Colette and then all I could really think about is what my family could and should look like and then I was sad.”

“I’m good, but this morning my son got a hold of the dog’s food and I pulled it out of his mouth with little issue, but since I knew the food could pose a choking hazard, I had a panic and flash of him choking and dying. But, yeah, I’m good.”

“I’m okay and loving my time with Elliott as he is growing and walking, but I happened to see a headline about a child dying of COVID and now I am panicked that Elliott is going to get it and die and I don’t know what to do with those feelings.  But, sure, I’m okay.”

“I’m great and am so excited to see my son walking and love seeing the looks on his face as he walks to me, but I also wonder if Colette had lived, when would she have started walking and if she was here, would Elliott have started earlier, and I started down a rabbit hole filled with despair and what if’s that can never be answered.”

“I’m good, but then I saw a story of a 23 weeker who is now a teenager and I want to scream and yell about how it is that other babies survive, even those born earlier than Colette, and mine did not get the same chance.”

It’s a little different, no? It’s taking the reality that we, as loss parents, experience—the joy, happiness, excitement, mundane right alongside of grief, sadness, fear, panic, and worry.

Every day, it’s like our brains go to two lists of emotions and take one from Column A (the positive emotions and the neutral emotions) and one from Column B (the painful emotions, the fearful emotions) and then says, okay, so today you’ll experience this feeling AND that feeling simultaneously and maybe one more than the other, but we really cannot let you know which one. Oh, and if it’s a special day like a birthday or anniversary or a Mother’s Day or whatever, we may mix a couple of other emotions in there as a nice little surprise. But, don’t worry, we won’t save that surprise only for certain days, we’ll sometimes pick a random Tuesday and say hey, today, you’re going to experience one positive emotion and five painful ones.

It’s taking the small snapshot of how we look on a Zoom screen or how we appear to the person asking how we are and zooming out to the wide shot in which you see the rest of the story—the messiness, the truth, the things we hide out of frame, out of sight. And the truth is, we’re all multifaceted people and the façade we place in front of people is not always reflective of our true experience. Continuing to always say okay, fine, good does not allow us to develop and strengthen the humanity between us and limits our ability to empathize and relate.

So, just as I so enjoyed the work call I had last week where someone’s son got on camera to tell me he had lost four teeth that week and was almost going to lose his fifth, making my day, despite the fact that his dad was trying to quiet him down and get him off screen, I look forward to the times where we as loss parents feel comfortable stating our whole truth, of zooming out and saying, this is me, this is my experience, this is what I normally hide from the world.  And for non-loss parents who see and hear that, respect it, acknowledge it, and sit with us in that because that is the greatest gift you can give us: being there with us.

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