THE MOM’S SPACE: The grieving mom’s island
Please be gentle with me. It’s a phrase that encompasses what many of us grieving moms want from others and need from ourselves. Yet too much gets in the way, leaving us feeling overwhelmed, paralyzed, and alone. Perhaps this is you, or maybe a friend or someone you know who has experienced the loss of a child.
When a mother is grieving, we know the stages of grief, but what we don’t talk about is the guilt, shame, and blame that floods us. We also don’t talk about the increased pressure and expectations, or the tremendous fear and anxiety that drowns us after our child has died. Add this to the excruciating pain of our grief, and it’s no wonder we feel fragile, vulnerable, and exposed, longing to be treated with gentleness. It’s the reason we create an island.
This island becomes a safe place to hide and heal, away from the outside pressures and expectations of everyone telling us it’s going to be OK. As we try to distance ourselves from these pressures, thoughts that we’re doing something wrong slowly begin to creep in. Soon they become overwhelming and lead to increased guilt and worsening shame. We start to blame ourselves for failing our child. Everything begins to feel like it’s our fault, and our once safe and private island feels scary and lonely. Fear and anxiety take over. Naturally, we want to escape our island as fast as possible (this can look like distraction, numbing or anything that takes us away from feeling). Perhaps it is here, when we want to run the most, that we courageously return to our island instead.
When we return to our island, maybe we give ourselves permission to:
- Feel every feeling. They are valid, and need be felt so the pain moves through
- Trust ourselves. We will know when it’s time to come back up from the black hole
- Seek truth. Our thoughts might feel true, and they are not actually true
- Fall apart. Remind ourselves that it’s OK to not be OK, be strong or to meet others’ expectations
- Ask for support. Reach out to a trusted person whom we feel safe asking to visit our island
There may come a time when we need others to visit our island, but often we don’t know how to ask or what to say when they visit. We’re terrified, whether it’s out of fear of burdening them, fear of being judged and rejected, or simply because we’re scared. It takes tremendous courage to invite someone onto our island. The pain and fear likely won’t fully subside when they arrive, but when it’s the right visitor we feel seen, loved, and less alone.
Consider a trustworthy visitor who will:
- Enter without judgment
- Really listen, without an agenda to help or fix
- Feel comfortable talking about you and your child
- Hold space for your rollercoaster of emotions
- Consistently check in without the any expectations after they leave your island
If you’re invited to a grieving mom’s island, try to remember all of the above and treat her with love and gentleness. And if you’re a mother who is grieving and feeling overwhelmed, alone, and scared, give yourself permission to return to your island, and when you’re there, remember you’re going through a lot and that it’s OK to be gentle with yourself.
MOLLIE GEE is a clinical mental health counselor, mother of two, and owner of The Nest Counseling. Follow her on Instagram @thechubbydebutante.