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Confronting Grief

It was Easter Sunday and although we were a few minutes early, the church building was already feeling crowded. We squeezed into the sanctuary and made our way towards the family seating area in the corner. The main floor was quickly filling and my husband made a beeline for a row of available seats.

A few steps behind him, my gaze wasn’t on the empty seats but rather the row immediately in front of them. Perched on the theatre style seating were two matching car seats with a teeny tiny baby nestled in each one. Newborn twins.

My breath caught in my throat and I felt as if I’d been punched in the stomach.

The babies were obviously preemies. It felt entirely plausible that the mother had decided to swing by the church service on her way home from the hospital. A crowd of excited well wishers were already gathering around to congratulate the new parents and it was obvious that this was the babies’ first public appearance. They sat in their car seats, peacefully sleeping, and all I could see were my hopes and dreams, staring, taunting, back at me.

“I can’t do this. I can’t sit there.”

I wasn’t sure if my husband had heard my panicked whisper. But he did. Wordlessly, we found another spot on the opposite end of the family section. My husband patted my hand understandingly as I pressed a tissue under my eyelids.

Almost nine months into the grieving process and this was the first time that I’d experienced such a strong, gut wrenching reaction to seeing twins. Living in the Lower Mainland, with over two million other people, I find myself coming across multiples on a weekly basis. They’re everywhere. But this was the first time that I’d seen a pair of newborn twins.

Since the loss of one of our twins, this instinctual, public reaction has always been a lingering fear of mine. I worried about falling apart in the middle of some extremely public area, crumbling as a mother pushed a double stroller past me. I would be the woman sobbing in the produce department at the grocery store, the recipient of yet another dreaded “pity” look. I waited for this inevitable breakdown but when it failed to appear, I thought I was in the clear.

And yet, here I was on Easter Sunday, feeling overly dramatic and slightly embarrassed by my inability to face a pair of itty-bitty babies. I felt the frustrating and illogical, self-applied pressure to just “get over it already” and wondered if people were beginning to feel that my grief was annoying or drawn out.

It’s these sort of thoughts that often promote the need to hide or cover grief. They incorrectly whisper that grief should be solely private and personal, not shared or openly discussed. After the “appropriate” amount of time, grief should be neatly filed away, emotions completely in check. You’ve had your time to grieve, now be strong and move on.

But this is a lie. There is no countdown timer marking the “proper” length of time to grieve. We all grieve differently and should not push unrealistic expectations or time limitations upon ourselves. Grief takes time and patience to work through – something we’re not very good at. We cannot compare our grief to that of others and expect to react in an identical manner.

Only you know how you need to grieve. Give yourself the necessary time and outlet that you require. If grief is not being confronted and properly dealt with, then the natural tendency to “be strong” is not a healthy option. Burying our grief does not make it go away.

Over time, grief changes; the initial battering wave of emotion gently eases and releases it’s crushing hold. Most days pass without pain or tears. However, occasional triggers of emotion (such as the response given after spotting newborn twins) may still remain for long afterwards. Psychologists refer to these brief moments as a “temporary upsurge of grief,” a common and healthy part of the grieving process. It’s important to be able to recognize potential triggers and work through them when they occur. Grief is not always convenient or comfortable but it’s necessary.

I will always carry a small scar that may occasionally or unexpectedly flare up. And that’s okay. If we live long enough and love hard enough, we will all eventually encounter the difficult task of learning to grieve. It should not be seen as a weakness, something to be embarrassed by or to overcome as quickly as possible, but rather, a reminder that we loved.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”
Ecclesiastes 3:1-4

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