I keep trying to write about receiving support after the death of our precious babies – how to ask for it, how to accept it, and the difficulties of both.
Instead, I find myself crying and the words get jumbled up in my head.
If I had any Achilles Heel in my journey through grief over the past 14 years, receiving support would be it.
Allowing ourselves to receive support from people who love us – and even strangers – is the very thing that pulls us through the darkest and most painful times of our life. It is a gift that makes life bearable through the unbearable. Unfortunately, it’s also often one the most difficult things to give ourselves.
Not having support makes grief infinitely more difficult. I should know, I denied myself any kind of support for years after the deaths of my fiancé and daughter.
After my fiancé died, I never really spoke of him to anyone. I never told anyone about my pregnancy because I couldn’t tell my fiancé and he was the one I desperately wanted to tell. As a result, when our daughter died, no one knew that either. I build a wall around myself that kept everyone out. It damaged relationships, prevented new ones from forming, and kept me lost and broken for far too long.
Now, most people don’t deny themselves support quite as dramatically as I did. But too many of us do in many subtle and socially accepted ways. We do it:
When asked how we are, we say “I’m fine.”
When desperately in need of a hug, someone to talk with, someone to lean on, we don’t ask for fear of being a burden or being concerned others are “tired of hearing about it.”
When needing time away to grieve and mourn around the holidays, we force ourselves to put on a brave face and attend family gatherings and holiday celebrations.
When friends or family say or do things that hurt us, we keep silent and hold the pain inside in efforts to “keep the peace” and “not rock the boat.”
We bend to societal rules of what is acceptable and appropriate for grieving and displaying emotion.
We deny ourselves the love and support we need and deserve.
We hurt ourselves with our inability or unwillingness to ask for or receive the support that would help make this most unendurable loss a little easier to endure.
Asking for support isn’t always easy. Allowing ourselves to receive it isn’t something we’re often taught how to do – and many of us don’t have great examples of how to do it.
Asking for and receiving support takes courage, vulnerability, trust, and a belief that we deserve to be supported. It takes being willing to risk being told no or not getting the support we want. It often takes persistence and asking more than once, clarifying what we need, and asking ourselves what it is that we truly want and need from others.
Sometimes people we want to support us aren’t able to give us the support that we want or need from them – for a multitude of reasons. At times the people we expect to always be there for us aren’t there. Asking for support means that they could say no or not respond in a way that we would like.
These things hurt.
Yet, sometimes, those who love us desperately want to help but don’t know how. If we would only tell them, they would be there for us in a heartbeat and hold steady beside us through the earth-shattering waves of grief.
At times the people that show up to support us when we allow them to are the people we would least expect. Beautiful beings who had formerly been on the periphery of our lives show up and give us a lifeline to hold onto when we need it most.
Sometimes when we ask for support, we get exactly what we need – or more. We might even get what we didn’t know we needed.
These are the things that enable us to pick up the broken, shattered pieces of the life we expected and slowly rebuild a life that is forever altered, yet beautiful and full of love.
It took me six years to even begin to allow myself to be supported around the loss of my fiancé and daughter. In the nearly 8 years since, I have fought hard to learn to give myself the gift of being supported.
I’ve had to learn to ask myself what it was I wanted and needed and to believe that I am worth being taken care of. Then I had to find the courage to ask others for that. I’ve had to learn to walk away from those who tried to tell me how to do this thing called grieving “correctly” so that I could do it the way that was right for me. I’ve had to learn to accept the “no” from people who couldn’t give me what I asked for. I had to be brave enough to keep asking people until I found someone who could stand with me in the way I needed.
I’ve had to learn to be vulnerable – and discover that true strength and connection come from those vulnerable moments. I’ve had to learn who had earned the right to be trusted with my vulnerability.
I’ve had to learn to speak up when my needs weren’t being met and to be very clear with people about what I needed from them. I had to be willing to accept it and walk away if they couldn’t or wouldn’t give me that. When people told me or showed me that they couldn’t support me in a way that worked for me, I had to learn to let that be ok and seek other who could.
I had to learn to be honest with myself and others. I had to learn to be honest about how I was, who I am, and what I was feeling – and trust other people to be able to take care of their own reaction or response to that. I had to learn to stop burying my needs out of a misguided need to try to protect others from possibly discomfort or awkwardness.
I had to accept that there are people who will never understand my grief or pain and who would never be able to walk this journey with me. And I had to trust that there are so many others who would stand beside me, step-by-step, and never give up on me.
In order to find those who could walk with me, I had to keep showing up, exactly as I was – real, raw, honest, and willing to accept their support.
Because the thing that makes this journey of grief and loss bearable and endurable is connection – connection with ourselves and with others.
I continue to have to learn these things on deeper levels every day. My journey is far from over – I will walk this journey of life after loss until the day I lay down this earthsuit of bones and blood and skin.
While I probably would have survived and struggled my way through life regardless, without learning how to let people love and support me I know I wouldn’t be living as I am now – fully engaged and connected. I would exist but I wouldn’t truly be living.
Allowing myself to be supported and loved pulled me from the darkness back into the light. It is what has made this lifelong journey of grief and longing for those I have lost not just endurable, but also full of joy and beauty and sweetness.
We all deserve to give ourselves the gift of receiving support.
We all deserve to have this life after loss be not simply endurable, but also full of kindness, love, connection, and beauty.