Today, while I was running errands, I picked up a box of Bridge Mix in the check out line. As a personal rule, I don’t give into impulse buys, but I grabbed it on a whim. I took a picture and sent it to my sister with a text that said, “I bought this JUST because it reminded me of mom.”
My mother died over 16 years ago--the same year I got married. I remember feeling frustrated that I couldn’t do justice to either the sadness of losing her or the elation of being in love. I couldn’t wallow in either feeling for too long; instead, it was a seesaw from one extreme to the other and back again. As I rode those peaks and valleys, I learned many lessons about what it means to be alive...what it means to be human.
Each year when Mother's Day approaches, I subconsciously think more about my mom (thanks Hallmark), and I usually have an a-ha moment when I realize it’s happening...like the unchecked urge to buy bridge mix. Sometimes these thoughts turn to grief, acute and surprising. Since I’ve had kids, I’ve often reflected on the contrast between the joys of being a mother and the emptiness left by the loss of my own.
Sometimes, I want to be sad. I will go take out my stash of pictures of my mom and look at them until I cry. I don’t want to pretend that it’s okay that she’s gone. I don’t want to pretend that it isn’t a total injustice that she never got to be Grandma June (she would’ve been GREAT at it) and that my girls will only know her through pictures and stories.
This week, in addition to the coming of Mother’s Day, we also lost a family dog (RIP Loki) and learned of yet another fatal school shooting just a few towns over. The weight of the world is heavy, my friends, and I want to feel the weight of it. I want to miss my mom, grieve our dog, and feel angry and scared about the violence in our schools.
And you know what? That is OKAY. I can feel sad and mad and helpless while still being grateful and present and loving. We tend to think of emotions as good or bad, and sadness, grief and anger come down hard in the bad column. We also tend to think of emotions as mutually exclusive. If we are angry, we can’t also be happy. We can’t be grieving and grateful at the same time.
What if we change our perspective? What if we just allow ALL emotions? What if we name them and wallow in them for a bit? What if we learn from them and use them to grow and change ourselves and the world for the better? What if we recognize and honor the complex web of feelings we are caught up in on any given day...in any given moment?
Because here’s the thing, if I pretend I’m not sad...if I hide from my feelings of grief or frustration, they don’t go away. They fester and arise when I am wholly unprepared, often converting to a more volatile emotion, erupting as anger or despair. Once I am angry or feeling helpless, I am useless. If I am in denial, I am not able to move forward. If I am repressing, I am not processing. And when I’m stuck, I’m not able to honor anyone’s memory or work toward positive change.
What can we do then, when these emotions come up? Here are some strategies to try:
Try these strategies, but also remember that you shouldn’t deny yourself the chance to honor all the feels. You are a human being and the full spectrum of emotions is normal and healthy. Take a moment to allow the pain. Remember that it will pass and you will grow.