Grief Math

This is a guest post by my beautiful friend Jackie Dodd, who writes, cooks, bakes, photographs and makes beautiful things happen over at Domestic Fits. She’s also a wife, mama and community psychologist. Somehow she manages to make it all look easy. If you don’t know her yet, please go drool at the deliciousness when you’re done here.

Thank you Jackie, for sharing some of the not-so-easy story here.

Often times, when you are connected with someone through grief, they can only see your pain through a screen of their own. There will be a comparison, an equation. They will try to fit yours into a contrast – what you must feel versus what they feel. Everyone who becomes a “griever” will experience this and will probably do it to others.

I grew up crowded with grief math, with a mom who constantly swatted at my grief over losing my Dad with a figurative fist of her own pain. Probably a harsh statement, as she was 23 and pregnant the day my Dad didn’t come home from work, and someone told her that kids don’t grieve. She bought it hook, line and sinker, regardless of the evidence to the contrary. I want to believe that her disregard for my pain and loss was because she wanted so badly to believe it was possible that her babies wouldn’t hurt, that she hurt enough for all four of us. But as I have gotten older, older than my dad ever was, and I now have a little girl that is the same age I was when he died, I have new eyes and new pain. I have allowed myself to hurt for that little girl whose pain was scolded.

Sadly, my relationship with my Mom has suffered.  I wonder if I can ever accept the fact that she lay in bed, pregnant with tear swollen eyes a few days after he died and begged God to take one of her daughters in trade for her husband. I wonder why she can’t accept the fact that I was a griever too? Just a different kind. She was missing a real, entire person. She was grieving the hole that was ripped open in her life. My grief was for what should have been. I once had a grief-matician say to me, “But you didn’t really know him. I knew my Dad so it’s harder for me.” I asked her, in my own pain-matics, if she would trade with me. Her dad died when she was 12, and mine when I was almost 2. Would she give up those 10 years? No, she wouldn’t. Then why was it easier for me, if she wouldn’t pick my situation over hers? There is no equation. It all sucks.

I look at my own daughter, who waits at the door for my husband every night at 6pm, who walks around the house calling out, “Dada” if he leaves town for a few days, and I hurt. I always thought that after I became a mom myself, I would understand my mother better. It has been the opposite for me. I can’t imagine trading my daughter’s life for anything in the world, even the husband I love so much. I can’t imagine looking at tears in her eyes and telling her she doesn’t hurt. I can’t imagine watching her ache on her wedding day because she has to walk down the aisle alone, and tell her she was making, “too big of a deal” out of her dead father. I wish it wasn’t this way. I need to find a way to reconcile the way I feel, and accept that my mother’s opinions don’t change my experience. Because my mom is alive and I know that it won’t always be that way. I need to live for the living, and accept a relationship that isn’t perfect. I need to let the 2-year-old in me grieve and forgive the 23-year-old in her that made a giant mistake in the face of a hideous situation.

I’m working on it.

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3 Responses to Grief Math

  1. Christa says:

    This is so transparently beautiful, Jackie. Thanks to both of you for sharing it.

    I have found that the events that happened when we are very young – the events that form us, really, in neural pathways and everyday habits – those are the most challenging to heal. And likely the most rewarding ones to grief and reaps the gifts of that grief from. And it is really, really hard.

    Blessings to you on your journey…


  2. Cathy Smitha says:

    Years ago, when I was training to be a support parent for a pregnancy/infancy loss group in San Diego, the trainer said that we were not to participate in “competitive grieving.” A miscarriage, a stillbirth, a death in infancy lose different dreams and possibilities, and none is greater than another. I believe it applies to other situations too.

    • Alana says:

      Thank you Cathy. Absolutely. In a perfect world there would be no comparison and we would all strive to be compassionate and loving with one another. Here’s to doing what we can to create that world.

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