This morning I found myself in a trance, staring at the screen of my phone, opened to my mother’s contact. I wonder who would pick up if I dialed her number. I wonder if they would be kind. I wonder if they would know the best alternative ingredient to use, since the store is out of the one that is so etched on the recipe card in her perfectly formed cursive.
Grief is not something that goes away. It is not a wound that heals over time. It’s the emotion attached to a void, sometimes small and eventually unnoticeable, sometimes monstrous. Some grievous moments spark others… like the urge to cry on your mother’s shoulder when life gets hard or disappoints you.
The moments don’t come at the obvious times. They stealthily show up when you least expect them. Mine, conveniently show up in the shower, when there is no makeup to cry off and water is already conveniently flowing down my face… and sometimes it’s the car, where even on a cloudy day sunglasses cover bloodshot eyes and the river of tears.
I grew up in an environment where most emotion indicated flaws. Even anger was wrong. You could cry or be disappointed, but you’d better hurry up and not let anyone see you. It wasn’t malicious. It was just the way things were. Perceptions were important. Crying was embarrassing. It showed weakness. Hurry up and get back to “okay” because “okay” is where you can function, and if you can’t function, what good are you doing?
The more I learn about neuroscience and the biology behind emotions, the more I give myself permission to experience them. Did you know that tears have different chemical reactions depending on the emotion they’re stemming from?
Science has also shown us that emotions that are not processed can be stored in our bodies an literally cause physical ailments. (More on this can be found in The Body Keeps the Score, Your Body Speaks Your Mind, and The HeartMath Institute, to name a few.) So if you’re not ready to give yourself enough grace to feel the emotions that come up, do it for your long-term physical health!
Grief can be caused by the change in any familiar pattern of behavior. If you think about it, any change can cause a loss. Rewind back to childhood, how many big changes have you experienced over the years? So often the grief of changes in childhood are swept aside, as just a kid processing change or not even acknowledge as an emotion related to the change.
When left unprocessed, not only can our bodies store those emotions, but our brains create beliefs around the experience… beliefs about us, about the way we should behave in society, or show up in the world. I see it all the time in hypnotherapy… every single issue, whether mental, emotional, or physical typically goes all the way back to childhood… to meanings our brains conjured up for what seemed like good reasons.
As I’ve learned to give myself enough grace to experience emotions, like grief, I can feel the chemistry in my body shift. I feel lighter. I physically feel healthier. Now, when out of nowhere, I feel that lump sneak into my throat, I let it come up and let it flow out. I don’t need a reason to want to call my mom. I used to call her for no reason at all. It doesn’t matter that it’s been 8 years since she’s picked up my call. For 32 years, she answered, even when it rang from my Fisher-Price rotary phone.
Our children are watching us. They’re watching how we respond to our own emotions, so they know how to respond to theirs. Let yourself feel, and empower your children with a safe space to process theirs. Together, we heal.