By the time I was 11 years old, grief and I knew each other intimately. It often invited itself to sleepovers, devoured all the food in the house, and always left me confused, angry, and horribly sad. Grief? Sucked.
My real grandmother passed away when my mother was just nine years old. I never knew her. So while technically my step-grandmother, she had been the only grandmother on my mom’s side I had ever known. Sure, she was quirky. But aren’t all grandparents? I remember loving her with all my heart even though we spent infinitely more time with my father’s parents. I keep a picture of her on my fridge even today.
A couple of months before she passed away, my step-grandmother knew she was staring death in the face. So she made several phone calls to share her final thoughts with loved ones. I got a call. During this call, my step-grandmother very firmly told me how awesome I would be one day. She told me to always do my very best no matter what the circumstances, insisting I promise her that I would follow through with these instructions. I promised under the pressure.
On Thanksgiving Day in 1988, my step-grandmother passed away in her sleep. She had struggled with Ovarian Cancer for over a year, I believe, and the cancer finally claimed her. As we wept on my parent’s bed, we also had to prepare ourselves to head to our other grandparent’s house for Thanksgiving festivities. For the first time in my life, I felt I had to fake how I felt. Of course, my other grandparents knew and we weren’t really expected to hold it together. But I put that pressure on myself. At 11 years old.
Even at her memorial service, I found a quiet place at the dinner hall to go and cry alone. At 11.
Life moved on and in 1989, I lost my other grandmother to Colon Cancer. This time though, I wailed. I cried. I did not care who saw me.
In 1998, I lost both my grandfathers within 19 days of each other. Again, I wailed, I cried, I did not care who saw me. I ended up in the middle of a lake, hands outstretched to God in the pouring rain and thunder, asking WHY. I had never experienced such a powerful and physical grief.
In 2004, I gave birth to my first daughter. Seven days after giving birth, I began to have intrusive thoughts. By 3 months postpartum, I convinced myself everyone around me could tell what a bad mother I was just by looking at me. I cleaned dishes obsessively. Showered. Brushed my hair. Avoided knives. I.Went.Batty.
Again, I hid how I was really feeling. I had to fake how I felt. Why?
Because I had just given birth. Wasn’t I supposed to be happy? I put on the mask society expected and NEEDED to see from me. I did my very best irregardless of the circumstances.*
In 2006, I gave birth to our second daughter. Again, I had intrusive thoughts, obsessive hair brushing, cleaning pumping supplies, taking care of our daughter who had stayed in the NICU, avoided pillows this time around, and yet, I felt I had to be strong. Even when I broke down in front of a nurse on day 2 and she said it was just fine, I apologized. She chastised me for apologizing. She.chastised.me.
She should have. I wish I had listened. But even then I was too far gone to hear anything sane.
Society has expectations. They’re all there in the Emily Posts and Miss Manners of the world.
But sometimes? Sometimes we just need to say “To Hell” with Ms. Post and Ms. Manners. TO HELL. Screw them. Sometimes we need to get primal. Sometimes we need to cry, scream, shout, and get angry. Sometimes we need to throw things. Sometimes we need to go stand in the pouring rain in the middle of a lake and yell at God. Sometimes we need to be organic in our emotions. Because sometimes? Sometimes messy is the very damned best we can do. And that? Is totally okay.
(*Disclaimer: I in no way blame my step-grandmother for my Postpartum Mood Disorders. Many of us are raised to put forth our best appearances and this often means lying when we are asked how we are doing. Because frankly, no one really expects to hear “I’m not okay.” in response. It’s a societal thing. I know my grandmother wasn’t setting me up for life down the road. If anything, her fight with cancer was extremely inspirational to me and inspired me to turn and fight against my own Postpartum issues. For that, I am grateful. But I would trade it all in a heartbeat to still have her here with me.)
Guest post written by Lauren Hale, a mother of three who sleeps in until 605a every day, Lauren survives her days on nothing more than Starbucks and sheer grit. She’s sassy, outspoken, and hardly ever takes no for an answer. Unfortunately, her kiddos are just like her and choose to exercise these qualities as she blogs about Postpartum Mood Disorders. She’s found a cure though – headphones and Pandora. Lauren wants you to know that if you or someone you love is struggling with a Postpartum Mood Disorder, there is hope. You are not alone. Please visit Postpartum Support International and click on Get Help. Or reach out to Lauren and she will get you connected with the best resources available.