You may have met a grief pusher before, you may even be one. It may have happened when you experienced the death of a mutual family member, a friend among a group of friends, or maybe you are the “glue” of the family, where everyone looks to you and you likewise support or advise. When you are surrounded by people who are experiencing the same death and also grieving, it seems a natural reaction to pull them along to where we are with our own grief, or push them past where we have been.
When Flynn died, I became the grief pusher in my relationship with Landy. I was keen, eager to educate myself on our death experience, on government support plans, on grief and available support. I joined several chat rooms, called counseling agencies and contacted local bereavement support groups. I told my story over and over again, found comfort in websites with mothers who had common experiences to mine, talked to counselors about the depth of the sadness, my parenting skills (which felt non-existent) and the strain on my marriage. I did everything that I knew to do to try to beat this grief thing before it could get the best of me in fact everything that I have listed above occurred in the first four months after Flynn died. I did say I was keen.
A week after Flynn died, Landy went back to work. He was in a physically demanding job that kept him away from home long hours and sometimes weekends as well. I could not believe he was ready to go back to work already, when I could hardly get out of bed. I decided he was suppressing his grief that was the only way.
When he got home from work, I welcomed the end of a very isolating day, someone to help with parenting 3 year old Rhys, someone to talk to about all the thoughts and feelings that had tormented my thinking and kept me from leaving the house. When Landy got home from work, he wanted to take off his work clothes, shower and “turn off” his mind. He wanted to play with Rhys, maybe watch TV or go for a walk, he wanted to talk with me and share our days but not if that talk was about Flynn.
I wanted so desperately to talk to Landy about how I was feeling, to share what conclusions I had made about Flynn’s death, about our future, about how to parent a grieving preschooler. We were in this together, we had this common experience, a son whom we both loved and whom we both buried. To me it only made sense that we should be grieving together, talking and crying together and when Landy wanted no part of my grief, I really started suspecting that he was not grieving properly or at all. That is when the grief pushing started.
Instead of crying alone, at home during the day, I began calling Landy when I cried, while he was at work or on the road to share the emotions I was struggling with. I started printing out the conversations from the websites with other moms, with the thought that they validated my tears and grief. I would wake Landy in the middle of the night when my insomnia hit, letting him know how hard it was to sleep and how lonely the night time was for me. I begged him to share with me, to tell me how he was struggling to let me know when he felt the worst or when he cried. If he had an answer to any of these questions, I was elated, feeling like we were doing this grief thing together, but if he hadn’t struggled that week, if he didn’t want to share, I wondered if we were doomed or if his suppression would lead to “issues” down the road.
Wanting to share and grieve together turned into pressure to be the same. My crying turned into pleading and my phone calls turned into accusations that Landy was void of feelings. Instead of wanting Landy to share, I wanted him to hurt in a way that made my hurt feel like it was normal. I began to equate my amount of grief to his lack of grief and surmise that his love for our son or me was not comparable to my love for both of them. I began to push grief on him, force him to grieve or admit to not feeling, there seemed to be no other option. He would never get over the grief if he didn’t even face it in the first place.
It was in our support group through Bereaved Families of Ontario (BFO) that I finally heard the words, everyone’s grief is unique. In fact they told me that no two people, no matter the relationship to the deceased, will grieve the same way. A mother and father may experience the death of the same child, but they will grieve a unique relationship to that child that will be impacted by who they are as individuals. What looks like grief on one person will not look the same on someone else. It opened my eyes to what I had been trying, with best intentions, to do to Landy. To make him grieve the way that was familiar to me, to make him grieve like I would grieve.
After hearing about grief at BFO I decided that I owed Landy an apology for months of pushing grief. On a car ride to nowhere I told him how wrong I had been to force his grief to look like mine. I told him that I realized that whether he wanted to talk or cry, to work or to stay home that I had no right to tell him how to grieve his son. After my apology we had the first real conversation in months, it was on that car ride that he told me the hardest time of the day for him was when he was driving. The road into work and home he was alone with his thoughts of Flynn, of what could have been and of the family that was grieving the emptiness left by our baby boy. In the car, with songs on the radio and no-one to talk to or talking to him, Landy’s mind wondered to the grief and sadness over our loss and at times, he told me he would just cry for the half hour it took to make the drive. It was nice to know that we both felt the loss, even if it did not look the same.