Find Your Tribe
For the past two years, I have done an excellent job convincing myself that I am doing really well with my son’s death. Procrastination has always been a talent of mine, and I really put it to good use when I walked out of the hospital without him. I excelled at coming up with reasons why I couldn’t mourn for him, or express my emotions. I had to plan the funeral, so I didn’t have the time to cry. My other children needed me to model being strong for them, so I couldn’t express how much I missed Ben. I didn’t want to burden my husband with the regrets that flooded over me, or the sleep that didn’t. My days were spent as the Black Knight from Monty Python, writing my emotions off as merely a flesh wound. My philosophy for dealing with grief was to not deal with it at all. People would tell me that they were impressed with how well I was doing in the months and years that followed. I wanted to scream, “Well?! I am on fire here. The world is on fire. How can you not notice? My grief is burning me alive, but here I am acting like everything is great.” Instead, I would just smile, and politely nod, burning a little more every time.
When I first heard of the Healing of the Heart retreat, I was immediately drawn in. The website promised that it would be a place where I would be surrounded by other bereaved mothers of children with CHDs. For one long weekend I would be in the presence of others who had been dealt similar hands. I signed up impulsively. As the months progressed and time grew closer to my departure date, my walls went up. My mind spent a lot of time trying to convince me that I was doing fine on my own. That I didn’t need to spend a weekend grieving. Two years had passed and I should be over it by now. Besides, what If the other women didn’t like me. What if I had less in common with them than I thought? My heart stubbornly dug in and insisted that I go along with it. My heart won, and the weekend arrived before I knew it.
I showed up at the retreat house thinking that I had made one of the biggest mistakes of my life. I was now 5 hours away from home, and I had been dropped off, so I was seeing this weekend through no matter what. That night, the retreat leaders, who were also bereaved heart mothers, had us gather in the main room. We were each given 10 minutes to sum up our child’s journey and passing to the other mothers. We laughed at the funny anecdotes that were part of some of the kids’ stories. We cried at the injustice of a child gone too soon. We made the Kleenex Corporation a lot of money. Most importantly, I think we all began to feel a connection. We may not have taken the same road, but we were all on the same journey. Some of us had been at it for months, some for years.
The days that followed were a whirlwind of workshops, and trying new things. I experienced gong therapy and art meditation therapy, and yoga, all for the first time. We had free time where we swam and explored the grounds and talked. If you get twenty something women together in one place, there will be talking and plenty of it. We spoke of our families, our life back home. We compared living in different states, and our different experiences with our children. The one sentiment that was voiced over and over was how nice it was to be able to speak freely of our children. For once, we could recall a story of them, or mention their likes and dislikes and the person on the receiving end of the conversation didn’t cringe or wear a look of pity. These women picked up on the fact that I was burning because they were on fire too. Some were at the raging inferno stage, others had their fire a little more under control. Yet we all understood that the inferno came and went. That all we could hope for was to acknowledge that the fire was here to stay, and learn how to become the master of it. To know when to stoke it, and when to leave it be.
We entered the weekend as strangers and left as sisters. I have found my tribe and they don’t take procrastination as an answer. When I am angry or sad or just really missing my baby, I can leave a post for them in our Facebook group. Within minutes someone is bound to get back to me, with a ‘me too’ or just a virtual hug. My advice to you, is step out of your comfort zone and try to find your tribe. Attend that retreat. Join that group. Reach out. Grief is not a one woman show. Become the master of your fire. Find your Hope After Loss.