I was driving my son to daycare and the soundtrack from Disney’s Tarzan was playing. As he often does, he asked me the title of the song.
I couldn’t say it without my words choking and eyes brimming with tears. “It’s called You’ll Be In My Heart,” I stammered. Why was it hitting me so hard? Why was a twenty-year-old movie soundtrack bringing me to tears?
Because it was a sensitive time.
I’m far enough along the life after loss journey that I can usually figure out what causes the emotional swells – even if I didn’t predict it. This time it was a complex mix of contributing factors, each of which on their own could break me down.
Loss and grief-related sensitivities
If you’re reading this, you’ve likely experienced pregnancy or infant loss personally or you love someone who has. There are a lot (a lot!) of sensitivities and triggers related to the tragic loss of our children. It could be a special time of the year, a meaningful song, hearing your child’s name, or a commercial for diapers.
Sometimes it’s familiarity or similarity to another story – truth or fiction. Sometimes it’s someone getting the facts very wrong – again in real-world discussions or in fiction. Everything we see about pregnancy, infancy, and death can feel intensely personal. As you can imagine, it’s impossible to navigate the world (in person or online) without reminders that humans have babies, sometimes babies live, and sometimes babies die.
Sometimes the trigger is your own belly. Pregnancy itself is physical, emotional, and hormonal. Even without layering grief on top, pregnant people often break down for seemingly irrational reasons (just ask any comedy writer).
Sometimes the reasons are rational – fear of the unknown, fear of our bodies failing (again), fear for our mental health, fear for our ability to parent, the list goes on and on.
As much as grief often constricts our world, there are still other things out there that impact us. (Like, oh I don’t know, a world-wide pandemic or an intense election for the U.S. president.)
Pregnant people and grieving people are not the only ones who get worn down and raw emotionally. However, pregnant people and grieving people get worn down by those same things too – layered on top of everything else.
What can we do about it?
Nothing? In some ways – it is what it is. We can’t control our emotional reactions (or overreactions) any more than we can control if our heart beats. What we can do is figure out what coping mechanisms help us reset. And we can give ourselves some grace. It’s OK to break down. It’s OK to cry for seemingly no reason. It’s OK to have that release. It’s OK to order takeout instead of cooking. It’s OK to be where you are right now.
And for those of you here because you love someone carrying these heavy burdens – know that you don’t have to try to “fix” our breakdowns. Ride the highs and lows with us. We can’t ask for anything more.
Back to that morning in the car…
So what was the cocktail of triggers for me? A Disney movie featuring a grieving mother, a song written to bring out family emotions, it’s my deceased son’s birthday month, there’s a lot of political upheaval, and coronavirus cases are surging. I’m depleted, grieving, and sensitive. My voice choked, but I got the answers out. I didn’t have to pull over, this time. Next time could be different, and that’s OK.