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October 9, 2020

The Struggle of Coming out & Befriending Grief.

 

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Grief is one of the most misunderstood emotions in our society.

Maybe it is one of the most hidden as well, which explains why it is so misunderstood.

Most people don’t allow themselves to grieve at all, let alone in public. Even in a funeral—the place where many cultures allow wailing and sobbing in order to process grief and show respect to the death of a loved one—people are still trying to stifle cries.  

During my coming out as gay and my subsequent divorce, grief played an integral role in my life. I felt like each day was a walk on a tightrope. If I fell to one side, I would surely drown in happiness, joy, and freedom of being, for coming out feels like I am freeing a part of myself that has been otherwise hidden for way too long. If I fell to the other side, I would drown in the guilt and grief of my situation.

I had torn apart my family just for the sake of my own happiness, hadn’t I? Every time I had a difficult interaction with my ex that would shed light on his pain, I would cringe inside, not wanting to look at the monster of grief that took up most of the room we inhabited.

When my children had a difficult day and could not find the words they were desperately looking for, they screamed at the top of their lungs to get my attention, and I would feel a crushingly dark grief that made me want to hide from the light of their innocent little faces.

And yet, each day, on my tightrope, I survived. I managed to breathe in and out all day. I managed to make meals, shuttle kids, work, take care of myself, build a new relationship, and tear down an old one, gently and slowly.

No matter what my inner critic said about me being weak or a monster for breaking up my family, my grief proved to me my strength again and again.

It is only through terrifyingly dark times that we are able to really harness our inner strength and feel it in a tangible way. How else could we possibly make our way through an emotionally crushing situation?

I remember my daughter’s third birthday. Divorce was still fresh in my mind, and it was the first holiday we had to navigate as a family post-divorce-bomb-drop-and-bone-crush. (For anyone who has ever had to tell their kids they are separating, they know that term is as real as it gets.)

Going into the day, I knew that I would be emotional—but not the usual “my youngest baby is all grown-up and time is going too fast” emotional. It was more of a tsunami of grief that would wash over me at inopportune moments. Feelings of shame, heaviness, hot, and thick tears glued my eyelids shut before running down my face.

Have you ever felt tears that are literally heavy in their weight? I had never experienced it up until that day.

My first instinct was to shut it down, cancel out the grief for the day, and carry on with a birthday celebration. Birthdays are supposed to hold space for happiness, right? And we can just cancel our bad feelings and shut them down, neat and tidy for the day, yes?

Again, grief proved me wrong. No matter what I did, I couldn’t contain the grief. When my ex came over for breakfast, I was smacked in the face with my grief. I envisioned him and me in the delivery room, welcoming our tiny, wet bundle of girl, staring in amazement at each other and what we had created.

I thought of the two-day postpartum that we spent in the hospital, how glorious it was to know that my mom was with our two older children so that we could soak in the newness of our beautiful third child. I literally did not dress myself or the baby. We were naked, skin to skin almost the entire time, and it was the most magical piece of baby heaven.

I thought of myself during that time and how I felt like I should be so grateful for this life—and I was truly grateful for this life. I was also scared because the thought of having three children to look after felt so surreal.

Somehow, I also felt strong and capable. Birthing a baby does that to you—of course, depending on birth stories and birth trauma. I was lucky to have a short labor with Emma and an empowering delivery—I literally roared her out of my vagina. Nevertheless, the woman who was there in the delivery room is a mirage to me now, knowing what I know about myself in the present.

Sometimes, I am struck with grief when I think about all that I didn’t know back then. Then, as always, the shame comes tumbling into my thoughts—the shame that I didn’t know I was gay, that I thought everything was fine, and that there was this huge piece of myself that I had somehow hidden so well and ignored that I forgot she even existed.  

On Emma’s third birthday, I experienced grief in many forms—the grief of a relationship that was ending, a family that was being painfully uprooted and restructured because of me, and not knowing myself until now.

Needless to say: waterworks.

I cried.

But this time, I did something new with this particular batch of heavy hot tears. I allowed myself to cry those tears. I hate crying in front of people—I really do—but luckily, I was in my car driving kids all over the place that day, which felt like a safe place to let go of some grief.  

I ugly cried in my car. Anytime I thought of my ex or Emma’s birth, I would just let loose. I wish I could say that this had a magical effect. I wish I could say that I felt instantly better. The truth is, I didn’t.

I did notice, however, that in welcoming the grief through tears, I felt more courage.

I felt like my pain was terrible, but I could survive it. If I’m able to surrender to strong emotions like grief and pain, I can honestly survive any other obstacles that come my way.

In this new life I am leading, I have often felt as if the pain has been made for me. In turn, I have felt as if I was made for this pain.

Pain is a necessary part of human life, growth, evolution, and transformation. Through those thick tears and the heaviness of grief taking up space in my belly, chest, and throat, I’ve learned that I can survive. 

This isn’t my last round of grief, and next time it comes knocking on my door, I would be more willing to invite it in—to befriend it even—as a teacher.

~

 

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