Grief Myth #5: Be Strong for Others
I still remember my grandfather pulling me aside when I started crying after finding out my mother had cancer after surgery for a bleeding ulcer. He grabbed my arm and said, “Tara, you have to be strong for your mother, she needs you, and she needs you to be strong.” Looking back, I remember wiping my tears quickly and nodding my head yes in agreement and then entering my mom’s hospital room, standing tall and strong, ready to hold all her emotions but not dare share any of mine. I remember thinking I needed to keep my emotions at bay to be strong for my mother.
I have learned over the years that what we need when we are suffering is not someone who can hold our suffering without showing emotion but someone who is human and can allow our suffering to become their suffering. Someone who can be honest about how hard and scary a new diagnosis can be for everyone involved. Someone willing to be honest about what they are feeling so that others can feel safe to do the same. Being strong only works if your definition of strong is being vulnerable; it takes so much strength to be honest about what you are feeling. This is why when you are vulnerable, your bravery allows others to be brave and share what they hold in their heart. This is what connecting with another human looks like, giving and receiving care simultaneously.
Grief Myth #6: Keep Busy
Growing up and still to this day, my identity was and is often connected to my ability to move quickly, produce, and stay busy. Therefore, my response when asked how I am doing is most often, “busy. . . but good”. Today after offering this response to my sister, she asked, “Good busy or bad busy?” Immediately, we both laughed as we know we both struggle with unintentionally or maybe intentionally, setting our lives up so that we are running from one thing to the next so we don’t have any time to feel what lies beneath the surface. Like many coping mechanisms, being busy can save our lives; it can offer us a reprieve from the unending sadness of our grief. It is important to note that, in many ways, these grief myths have served us and allowed us to keep going as humans in this fast-paced life that offers little to no room for reflection and grieving our losses. However, at some point, we realize our coping mechanisms are no longer serving us, and we need something different, something that will allow us to feel and get to the root of our sadness and pain.
When I am feeling overwhelmed and running from one thing to the next, I have begun to ask myself, “What are you running from, and what are you running to, Tara?” When I am beginning to feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and burned out, I realize I need space to question the root of why I am so busy. What am I ignoring or running from? What am I running to help save me and escape from my sadness, anger, and/or frustration? Is it because I cannot say no, or I have not been good about setting boundaries with my time and energy? With this question, I can stop myself and slowly disentangle my worth from my ability to produce. Being busy is tricky because it is honored in our society as a sign that we are successful and accomplished humans in our field. It means we are thriving and important because we have so much to do. When I slow down and unweave these stories of staying busy and my worth, I realize that I want a connection with others; a connection and courageous spaces for someone to ask how I am doing and tell the truth.
As we look at the six myths of grief, I invite you to journal about your experience with these myths:
- Don’t Feel Bad
- Replace the Loss
- Grieve Alone
- Just Give it Time
- Be Strong for Others
- Keep Busy
- What myth have you been holding on to, and in what ways has this myth helped you and served you for a time?
- What myths are ready to let go of, what does this mean, and what does this look like?
- What are you running from, and what are you running to? Why? What could help you to slow down and connect to yourself and others?
Lastly, I wonder what happens instead of questioning our ability to stay busy as “good busy or bad busy,” rather, what if we place our hands on our hearts and offer ourselves compassion? Compassion for all we have been through, and all we have endured, acknowledging all the ways staying busy has helped us. Then through compassionate and courageous care for ourselves, we can get curious about slowing down and learning more about what lies beneath the surface. Taking our ears to our hearts to hear the beat, the dance our heart does every second of every day. Slowing down long enough to listen to the whispers of what we are feeling, what we need, and how we can truly care for ourselves. In a world that honors busy, I invite you to join me as we stop honoring the busy and instead honor our ability to slow down, set boundaries, connect, and allow space to unveil what lies beneath. It might just actually save our lives.
Tara Rynders, The Dancing Nurse Educator and Nightingale Luminary, is the CEO and Founder of The Clinic, an arts and play-based immersive theater company that offers workshops and keynotes to create more sustainable, (Re)Brilliant, and equitable healthcare systems.