10 years. Next week it will be 10 years since I sat down to write a blog post to say good-bye to my darling Emma. This morning as I went through the routine of getting kids ready to head to school I was so angry. Every little thing got on my nerves and I’m afraid my kids felt the brunt of my bad mood. After breaking up yet another fight between Will and Seth I started packing up lunches and Elise made the perfectly reasonable request to have her baked potato scraped out of the peel rather than packed with it. “Yes, HERE, go ahead,” I said as I roughly pushed her lunch to her. Elise, who is always really good at reading my emotions quietly began preparing her lunch. “You’re not mad at me, are you Mom?” she asked timidly. “No, Elise, it’s just hard with the boys and I just don’t feel like doing anything extra today. Your request was perfectly reasonable.” It wasn’t the last outburst from me in the course of the morning either. As I prepared to leave to take Elise to school I apologized to both her and Will (Seth was already gone) about my bad mood. Elise readily forgave me, saying “That’s ok, it’s mainly because of some people . . .” and she pointed at her brother. Breaking in before Will could voice his displeasure at this, I replied, “No, I shouldn’t blame others for my emotions and actions. I need to take responsibility for them.”
Later, after all the kids were at school and Dietrich played happily upstairs, I turned up the music and started to wash dishes. And I reflected on my bad mood and wondered where it had come from. Sure, the boys were extra hard to deal with this morning since Will came downstairs in a bad mood and neither of them could seem to get along. But, as Becky Bailey says in her book Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline, “you are never upset for the reason you think you are.” When I started really taking the time to notice how I was feeling and to allow myself to feel it, I realized that I was feeling a sense of melancholy deep inside. I had noticed it yesterday as well. Perhaps my emotional reactions were just this melancholy trying to break out and be felt. It’s hard to allow yourself to truly feel sad when surrounded by 4 rambunctious children. But that is what I apparently needed to do.
So, today I’m creating some space to feel sad. I’ve reread that painful blog post from Feb 22, 2006. I might pull out Emma’s album and look at her pictures. I’ve shed a few tears. And I’m writing, which is therapeutic for me and allows me to just feel what I need to feel.
I want to encourage each of you as well, to take the time to feel. No matter what emotion you are currently experiencing, give yourself permission to actually feel it. In my parenting, one of my goals is to help my kids also learn how to recognize what they are feeling and to give them permission to feel it. This is hardest when it comes to anger. It is easier to say, “stop being angry!” But I know that isn’t realistic or healthy. We can’t stop ourselves from getting angry. We will do better if we take the time to recognize that anger and then make healthy choices instead of allowing our anger to control us.
The same is true for sadness. Although in the case of sadness, I think we sometimes do need to allow sadness to dictate our actions, as long as those actions are healthy for us and others. We need to grieve. We must. This is true for both men and women. In this 10th year since Emma’s death, John and I have had some conversations about the grieving process for both of us. I had both practical and emotional support from many women, especially those who had also walked through the pain of losing a child. But there were no men who came alongside John in the same way, offering him a chance to process, a safe place to cry, encouragement to go to support group or counseling. My support group was open to men, but there were hardly ever men there and John would not have felt comfortable going. Why is that? I don’t think it is any one person’s fault. I don’t think John thought much of it at the time, it is now as he looks back that he recognizes the difference in expectations. And he thinks it should be different. We both agree that our culture is failing men in this regard. So, no matter your gender, please give yourself permission to cry. Give yourself permission to really feel the emotions that are difficult. And then come alongside those who grieve and give them permission also.