National Daughter’s Day was this week. While I don’t usually pay any attention to #hashtagholidays, this one caught me off guard. Suddenly, social media blew up with photos of the daughters of the people I follow. Captions highlighted why these daughters were so amazing or why their mamas loved them, or something funny or clever they had done recently. I read each one, liked or double-tapped, and moved on.
All day I thought about sharing a photo and writing about how I missed having a daughter; how a part of my life has felt empty these past almost three years, how hard this day was for me. Each time I would begin the post, get about halfway, and click the x that disappeared it off my screen. After almost three years, I’m still not sure how to honor that part of my son’s life. I’m still afraid I might write the wrong words, or violate some unwritten ‘rules’ I don’t know about yet. Not rules he has created, but ways of speaking and referring to transgender people that my cisgender privilege hasn’t allowed me to have to think about. How can I share this part of my life without offending anyone? That is a struggle I live with every time I begin typing.
As I moved through that day, I thought about reaching out to a few trusted friends and sharing how I was feeling about this hashtag holiday, but I couldn’t. You see, after almost three years, I still don’t know how to reach out to people and say, “I miss having a daughter and I’m really struggling with this right now.” To do so invites them into my grief. I believe this puts the burden on them of having to figure out how to respond. Or choosing not to respond because they don’t know how. It’s ridiculous, really. People will respond in whatever way they feel best. Because I was once in the position of not having walked this road, I know how hard it can be to offer the right kind of support when you haven’t been there yourself.
For almost three years I have grieved mostly alone, and it has been a dark place to be. When you physically lose a loved one, people rally around you in all sorts of ways. There are cards of comfort, meal trains, phone calls, and regular check-ins to see how you are doing. When your grief doesn’t fit in the usual mold, and you don’t share with people how you are coping (or not), they just assume that you are doing fine. Sure, I no longer have a daughter, but I still have my son, so how bad could it be, right? That grieving process should be over by now, shouldn’t it?
Grief is a tricky thing, and people can sometimes make assumptions about it that aren’t what’s true of your situation. Or, maybe they feel shut out. Inviting people to share in your grief allows you to open those doors and invite people into a place they might not have known they were welcome. Maybe the door is closed and they aren’t sure if they can enter. Or the sign on the outside reads, ‘I’m Fine, Go Home.’
The thing about grieving is that it’s very one-sided. You are mostly focused on yourself and how you are feeling, which is completely appropriate and justified. When people understand that you are grieving, they know how to step in, in spite of your being self-absorbed. If they believe that you are coping just fine, and maybe are just a little sad sometimes, I think they go about their business as usual. In order to accept the love and support of the people around you, you sometimes have to push past your own pain to take the first steps.
That can be hard when your world feels dark and heavy. I told my counselor that these past few years have felt like the loneliest time in my life. She asked me who I have been reaching out to for support. I rattled off a name or two, thinking I have been doing pretty good in that area. I see now, that I missed what she was trying to tell me. Because I wear an invisible hat that blinks ‘I’m Fine’ in large neon letters, I need to do the work that allows people to enter into my grief. If I keep waiting for them to make the first move, I’ll be grieving alone forever.
Because I have issues trusting others with, well, everything, this requires extra work on my part. It might not be as much for you. You might be able to just send a text, or a voice message, or a smoke signal that indicates you are hurting and need someone to sit in your pain with you. Just the idea of revealing my weaknesses causes my anxiety to go up a few notches. This is something I have to build up to.
Here’s what I know to be true: the discomfort of reaching out is better than the pain of sitting alone in the dark.
Take that first step. Invite the person you most trust out. Go for coffee, or tacos, or to sit on a bench (sometimes it’s easier to talk when you aren’t facing a person) in the park. After some catching up, crack open that door and let them into your grief. If you aren’t ready yet, make a list of next steps. Start with who you could talk to. Maybe write out what you want to tell them (feel free to burn it later). OR, consider sending those words to them via mail. Then, let them take the first steps. Either way, move towards the light of sharing your grief with someone else, one step at a time.
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