By Anne Showalter
In the summer of 2022, both my father and my brother passed away. In both cases, they were terminally ill, their bodies were tired, and it was time to let go. This is my story about Self-Reg and Grieving.
Despite my cognitive understanding of death and the very physical experience of being with the dying and death, it was still all a big shock. This was followed by a lot of little shocks of grief that continue to stop me in my tracks at the most inconvenient and unpredictable times.
I had been warned about grieving. Right from the moment my brother was diagnosed a social worker at the hospital urged me to watch out for grief, because if I didn’t take time for it, it would “get me.” The message was repeated by others and came to haunt me. I promised myself that I would schedule in time for grieving. But I never scheduled that time and grief “got me.” And I am glad it did.
The dying process is very busy. We spent our days and nights giving my father and brother as much company as possible. The post-death period was full of the paperwork and packing required to put a life to rest. As a parent, I jumped into action to try to resurrect some summer fun for my grieving kids and partner. There was never a chunk of time for me to sit and be with my loss.
Recognizing, Responding and Reframing the Stress of Grief
Thankfully, grieving just happens unexpectedly and inconveniently on a schedule all its own. And it does get you, kind of like walking face first into a pole that you didn’t see. It knocks you down or drags you under and every time it does, I appreciate it, provided I Recognize it and am able to Respond to it in a very Self-Reg way.
Taking the time to grieve does not mean scheduling it in, but simply being with it when it happens. Recognizing is a process because like Self-Reg, grieving is not one size fits all.
My 8-year-old son who has never flinched at a needle and even got his ears pierced without any numbing cream melted down into a screaming kicking mess at the COVID vaccine clinic this fall. He told the nurse he had seen too many needles going into his uncle, and it hurt him. My eldest daughter got very angry when we changed our traditional Christmas plans – she said everything was changing and she was tired of it. And my middle child became obsessed with designing an Ofrenda, a display in honour of her dead loved ones. All of this was grieving. Some of it was challenging, but every instance was a moment to offer compassion and empathy for their grief – and my own.
Using this approach, I have come to understand that grieving is not a scary thing to avoid. Sometimes it does hurt a lot and I need a hug. Sometimes it’s something warm to relish, like the day before what would have been my father’s 80th birthday when I suddenly felt like baking chocolate cake. We had candles and we sang happy birthday and shared happy memories.
Grieving is simply feeling the love that was and the loss that is. It’s not a scary monster but a healthy response, if we stop to Recognize what it is and Respond with care.
Other Resources about Self-Reg and Grieving
Blog: Singing goodbye to my mom: How the five practices of Self-Reg are helping me through my grief
Blog: The Self-Reg Framework: Emotion Domain