We are sitting in my therapists’ stuffy office. Her uncomfortable blue couch makes me sit up rigidly. In our discussions, the topic of my daughter arises, as it often does.
“So, how have you dealt with the loss of your daughter? What have been your coping mechanisms?”
“I add her into our lives. We recognize that she isn’t with us, but we talk about her often. We light candles on special occasions, and I write. I’m involved in the baby loss community—it’s been my saving grace. I volunteer as a pen pal for newly bereaved parents.”
“What sort of things do you write?” She considers me intently.
“Whatever my heart feels like writing at the time. Poetry, prose ... I write about my daughter. Life with her, life without her. Healing and not healing, ways I’ve coped, things that still irk me about the way society receives and supports bereaved parents. It’s amazing, actually. There’s a whole community of us. We get together to support and encourage each other, or to simply let another bereaved parent know they’re not alone."
She looks at me in a way that tells me I am not going to like the next words that come out of her mouth. “But Jo-Anne, does that not keep you sad, stuck in the sadness? Has revisiting the same experience over and over again hindered your healing process?”
“The sadness exists. You can’t hide from it or fear it,” I say simply.
Whether you write about it every single day or never mention it at all, the sadness is there. Writing about losing my child does not make me more sad. Remembering her with a lit candle does not make me more sad. I am not stuck in some alternate universe, or walking around with a dark cloud over my head all the time. But I can't just be repaired. The world must see and accept who I am, and who I have become.
The sadness surrounds my heart. There are times when it feels like it’s crushing me; when I can’t breathe; when I can’t speak; when the absence of my child is felt so deeply it seeps into my skin and wraps around my bones. But sadness does not exclude happiness. They have become my great companions. They walk side by side, each comfortable with the space the other has in my life—because truly, they both do. The sadness exists just like my daughter exists. I can't see her, but she is a part of my life. She will always be. She exists.
I do not fear sadness. It has not held me back from living. On the contrary, my sadness is what helps me to live more fully. The more you try to deny the presence of sadness, the more crushing the pain will become, and the more heavily the guilt of being alive weighs on you. When you don't fully acknowledge all elements of life—including loss—living becomes utterly unnatural. And acknowledge we must, even if it takes us a number of years. You cannot hold sadness at bay and expect to live. You cannot conceal it or deny it.
In the Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them movie—as based on J.K. Rowling's book—an Obscurus wreaks havoc. It is the manifestation of the repressed pain and abuse of a magical child. This energy manifested as a separate entity that erupted in violent, destructive fury. As a bereaved parent, perhaps I've got my own obscurus. A force that can either destroy, lashing out—or, given acceptance and the support of caring people, result in achievement.
I've got no Dumbledore. We are all on our own to accept, to support ourselves.
I should be planning a birthday party this month. On the 16th of July, my daughter would have been four years old. There is no cake, no theme. There are no invitations. None of that is necessary. July 16th will be a day like any other, at least for the world. For me, the day will be a weight. As it passes it will darken my spirit, and that's okay. I will not suppress it.
The loss community can teach the world how to have the courage to mourn. We can teach the importance of community. And we can teach that sadness is not an illness. It is simply another facet of who we are.
Have you ever felt pressure to suppress your sadness for the comfort of others? Have you ever been made to feel like you've been sad for too long or that grieving is unhealthy? Have your methods of coping been criticized or looked down upon by those close to you?