Taking Off The Mask: The Guilt of Grief Pt. 2
Hiding hinders healing. I stopped wearing the mask when I reminded myself that I have nothing to prove to human beings and no obligation to conform to this world. And even though I found myself in my room alone many nights, I was never truly alone. Taking off the mask may sound like an invitation to complain but it isn't. It's an invitation to work on healing without the use of cliches and platitudes.
People kept telling me “just breathe” but sometimes that was the hardest part…to keep breathing when it felt like I was drowning. Yet day after day I found a way to keep making it one breath at a time.
Why do people even say "just breathe?" As if I have a choice? You're telling me to do something that my body is going to do whether I want it to or not. To be honest there were many times that I would have stopped breathing if it were up to me.
How about people start sitting in the discomfort with those who are struggling rather than thinking that they can find some magic phrase that will take the pain away.
It starts when we are young... we're told not to cry, stop being a drama queen, and in some families told "stop that crying or I'll give you something to cry about." Crying and displaying sadness was discouraged. And when we do cry we are told to "be strong" as if shedding tears makes us weak. We have been taught throughout life to mask our emotions.
In grief groups I constantly hear mothers say "I'll get through it, I'll just put my mask on." But wearing a mask actually hinders the healing process.
I have met many parents who tried to rush the grieving process and have had serious health complications that have brought them dangerously close to joining their child. Unprocessed trauma weakens the immune system and impacts how we care for ourselves. Taking the time to actually process the pain and deal with it helps us have true healing. Wearing the mask is merely putting makeup over an open wound. There must be a balance between being honest and genuinely seeking to heal. Healing is hard work but is is possible.
It hurts to keep pushing, to keep breathing, to keep wearing a mask, pretending that everything is ok. Hiding in plain sight is exhausting. I grew tired of feeling judged on the days that I was not ok.
Everyday I'm bombarded by posts and comments that make me feel guilty for not being bubbly and happy but here's the thing...MY CHILD DIED! Cute quotes and anecdotes do not take the pain away! My sadness does not mean I lack faith or that I need to embrace gratitude. Contrary to popular opinion, gratitude and grief can coexist. I am eternally grateful to God for blessing me with my son for 17 beautiful years! I practice gratitude daily and even with my gratitude I feel an incessant yearning in the depths of my soul.
The average person has no idea how complex the question "how are you" is. I cringe every time it habitually slips out of my mouth when talking to fellow grieving moms. I immediately apologize for pushing their back against the wall with that passive aggressive, insensitive slap in the face and change the question to "how's today going" or something that society has not made rhetorical, as if any answer other than "good" throws off the equilibrium of the earth.
I remember about 6 months after losing my son, a friend asked me how I was. I mustered up the strength to say "ok" when deep down my mind was confused, having run through a multitude of responses that my brain wouldn't allow me to say... "drowning, barely surviving, trying my best, struggling, dying inside"...but I was tired of the responses I got when I told my truth so I mustered up the strength to say "ok."
Her response was "Just ok?"
"Yeah. Just ok."
If I was being honest I would have said not ok. But to the world I am supposed to give the cookie cutter answer to the question that should just be called rhetorical, because no one really wants our truth.
I’ve had to tell myself over and over again that it’s ok that life’s not going the way I’d planned. It's ok that I'm just ok. Ok is growth from where I was, from where God brought me out of. And being authentic about where I am is a part of my testimony of all that He has done for me. I think being able to say I'm ok and mean it deserves praise, because there was a time that I swore I'd never truly be ok again.
But what is being ok…really? Ok is ordinary. And in this new life where I’ve learned to see in the dark, I’m anything but ordinary. And even though I’m only comfortable saying "I'm ok" with a piece of my soul existing in another realm, I am learning to be enlightened, abnormal, operating on a different frequency.
It hurts to be enlightened when you’ve experienced so much pain, but through this pain I’ve gone through a metamorphosis and learned that pain has not defined me. It has actually refined me into a new being. I was never this version of me before and as I look into the eyes of the new me I find that pain, peace, and purpose are intertwined like a braid and some days one strand is longer than the others.
I’ve found the new form of happiness which does not always come with a smile...it is found in moments of peace. I may not always be smiling but my heart is finding peace with the knowledge that I am not in control. God is and I take off my mask and bear my soul to Him, placing my face in His hands, surrendering completely to Him, seeking peace that surpasses all understanding.
He whispered in my heart to never hide behind a mask. He said "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God."
This life is not what I wanted my life to be- I cannot change it, but I must surrender. It is my life and I have no choice but to accept what has happened as my journey- my reality.
Wearing a mask interferes with acceptance and surrendering and ultimately interferes with peace. Many people see our sadness and tell us to pray or have faith but sadness is not a lack of faith.
When Jesus said "Shall I not drink the cup the father has given me" he was not smiling. He accepted his role in fulfilling God's will, that does not mean he was happy. In fact, how many times in the bible is Jesus described as being happy? It is ok to experience happiness but happiness is not more important than peace, which is submission to God's will. Jesus surrendered and made peace with his purpose in this world. He did not wear a mask and living in truth allowed his light to shine.
The mask is shading my eyes, hiding my light, camouflaging my truth. No more masks, no more pretending, no more lies. No more letting pain have power over me!
With enlightenment comes freedom...and with fr