Who gets to grieve?
Sometimes we need to let our feelings out... and we don't get a chance.
I feel like I’ve been reeling for weeks. First there was the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Then the stripping of women’s rights via the Supreme Court. Then a shooting at a 4th of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois — a mere 35 miles from my home.
My husband was at the grocery store with two of our kids when news about the shooting in Highland Park first showed up in my Twitter feed. I had a panic attack in my living room. I called him and told him to come home right away. I wanted to keep the news from my kids. Somehow, even a school shooting seemed “far away” because it was in another state, but this was right in our backyard. But by noon, my older son had heard it via the news on our Alexa device. He didn’t react at all… just kept making a sandwich.
I, on the other hand, have been wrestling with fear, rage, and anxiety.
Needing time and space
I’ve been commiserating with a fellow writer and fellow parent about The State of the World. His son is five years old. He said, “How are we supposed to relax? To live life fully?”
I told him that I’ve felt like this before, in a near-constant state of anticipatory grief. It started when I found out that I was pregnant after experiencing two back-to-back second-trimester pregnancy losses. Because there was no medical explanation for those losses, I knew it could happen again. I barely allowed myself to hope during that pregnancy after loss and braced myself for the worst. I knew things were probably going to be ok, but after losing two babies I also knew that the “worst-case scenario” could happen.
My friend asked, “Did that anticipatory grief end when your baby was born?” No, it didn’t. Even after finally bringing a baby home, I still had fears that something would happen to her. It was probably about a year before I finally calmed down. Time does heal, but grief is not linear and there is no prescriptive timeline.
And therein lies the problem with The State of the World. We never get enough space after one horrific event before the next one hits us. It’s exhausting.
Space to grieve is a privilege
After each of my pregnancy losses, I took several weeks off of work. Even after returning, I was a mere shell of myself. I stumbled through the days, sometimes numb and sometimes crying. I’ve had similar days lately — can’t concentrate, don’t enjoy things that usually make me happy, don’t feel like I can write or be creative.
I listened to an episode of the We Can Do Hard Things podcast this week entitled “Why Grief - like Love - is Forever.” The guest, author Marisa Renee Lee, talked about losing her mother to cancer and then later experiencing pregnancy loss. She says:
The comfort in sharing our story, being able to take some time off from work and really process the loss, I recognize that as a privilege.
That truth really struck me. I had space to grieve years ago because I could take time off from work. Remote work provided an additional cushion between myself and my co-workers. My boss was understanding and I was able to half-ass it for a while without the fear of losing my job. I also had a supportive spouse who picked up the pieces at home when I wasn’t able to function well.
But other people don’t have that safety or security. They may not have access to good mental and physical healthcare, access to childcare, or the ability to take time off from work. I can wallow in my fear of gun violence from home because I don’t have a job that forces me to be out in public.
As much as I advocate for remote work for everyone, I know that it’s not possible for some jobs. I’m not talking about the bosses who think “in-person collaboration is necessary to get the job done” — I’m talking about jobs that have a physical requirement to be at work, like medical personnel or people who work in retail. Some people have to physically get up, get dressed, and leave the house, no matter what they’re feeling.
Yet The State of the World has dropped another weight on the scale in favor of remote work. People should have the privacy to process heavy things, if they choose. Employers that care about mental health should provide that space — including time off and flexibility.
After all, we’re human. We feel things. We can’t simply create a barrier when we work and pretend that nothing is happening.
One day at a time
I attended a support group for pregnancy loss for years. The moderator always reminded us to take things one day at a time.
It was hard to look into the future when I was pregnant after loss. It’s sometimes hard to look into the future now, to imagine a day when things will be better.
Writer Nicole Chung closed her most recent newsletter with the following:
I also recognize that there is a place for imagination and creativity and storytelling when our rights are eroded or threatened, as indeed they always have been. We need to be able to expand and nurture our imaginations in order to imagine a different world.
And so I sat down and wrote my own newsletter. I poured my coffee, sat down at my desk, and tried to articulate how I’ve been feeling over the past few weeks.
Because sharing stories fosters connection. And I recognize the privilege in that as well: I feel safe sharing, because my livelihood and relationships are unlikely to suffer as a result.
But for people who feel unsafe or a lack of support, reading stories validates our feelings.
Back in 2015 when my daughter died, I felt like I couldn’t do anything but write. It was a form of escape and a way for me to give voice to my grief. It’s different now. I’ve been paralyzed by the unknown.
I think back to when the pandemic first hit in March of 2020. In the span of a few days, our whole world changed. As we navigated the New Normal, I repeated the mantra of my support group: one day at a time.
And as I navigate this time in history, as a writer, mother, and citizen of this country, I’ll need to figure out again what feels like the right path forward. How do I balance risks against living with (and without) the freedoms I had Before? How can I reclaim part of that life?
I keep telling myself that it’s okay that I don’t have everything figured out right now.
And I recognize the privilege of being able to move at my own pace.
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