TTC: Grief. Such a common emotion as you ttc* and one that is hardly talked about. Grief each month when you know it hasn’t worked. Grief for a miscarriage. Grief for a different kind of life than we imagined for ourselves. Living with the fear and sadness that accompanies this grief is exhausting. For many of us this deep ‘missing’ it difficult to shift. It sits at the heart of our being and infuses every aspect of our life. So how do we process our grief so that we can move forward with gentleness and kindness and start to heal?
This holiday I listened to a podcast by Patrick O’Malley, a grief counselor with 35 years experience, about his new book called ‘Getting Grief Right’. There are so many aspects to his work that I found inspiring but I wanted to share three that really resonated:
1. Forget Closure
The original idea of closure came from Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s ‘5 Stages of Grief’. She believed that as you grieve you move through 5 stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, with the end point being closure ie. your finished grieving, you’re healed, it’s over. I don’t know about you but for me closure has always seemed an anathema. If someone you’ve loved has died, if you had a miscarriage, if your last cycle was unsuccessful, if your fertility journey has come to the end without success, the idea that one day you’ll wake up one day and it won’t affect you any more is crazy. Not least because there are so many triggers in our lives that create surges of emotion around what we have lost. O’Malley believes that if you feel grief 6 weeks, 6 months, 6 years, 60 years after the grieving event, it doesn’t mean that you grieved in the wrong way or didn’t get closure. There may be things along the way which make you feel that you’ve moved into a different place, but the idea of closure in the sense of ‘it’s over,’ is unrealistic. He believes that the word has been too rigidly defined for decades and we need to take it out of our vocabulary altogether so we don’t match our progress towards healing against it.
2. Sadness equals love
He tells a story in his book about a woman who’s baby died of SIDS. She was struggling and believed herself to be ‘stuck in grief’ which was why she was unable to find closure. O’Malley told her she wasn’t depressed or stuck or grieving incorrectly, she was just very sad. He said, ‘the depth of your sadness is simply a measure of the love that you had for your daughter‘. There is something profound for me about this. It gave me a new way of thinking about the people that we love who die and how we grieve for them. He says ‘Thinking about grief in this way frees you up to surrender to your sorrow. The loss shows how much you loved them, not something painful to put in the past‘.
3. Share your story
One of the most powerful ways that we can start the process of healing is to be able to share our story and be acknowledged. Rather than getting stuck trying to find closure we need to stick with our story. But so often our story can get mixed up or lost in the middle of grief. He provides a framework to help us process what has happened and breaks it down into 3 seperate chapters:
- The life before the loss
- The loss itself
- The life after the loss (which is continuing)
He asks us to not only share our stories about the one who died but ‘who we got to be with that person that we don’t get to be with anyone else‘. Thinking about this in terms of our fertility journey I found it very moving. When we grieve after a failed cycle, a 2 week wait, a miscarriage or the end of our path to motherhood, we’re not only grieving the event but also a way of being. Wrapped up in this grief is not only the loss that we’ve experienced but also the story of who we thought we would be, as a mother, a nurturer, protector, friend and mentor… This goes some way to explain the depth of sadness that we feel as we grieve. I knew this instinctively but hadn’t articulated this way before and found it helpful.
Finally, being able to share your story with select friends, family or a therapist and being acknowledged is an important part of being able to process your grief. Who do you have in your life that can acknowledge how you feel? Finding someone with whom you can sit and share, and for them to be present and listen without judgement is an important step to enable you to start to heal.
*TTC: Trying To Conceive