In grief we discover coping mechanism that help us to manage the day to day, relationships, the memories and the pain that follow the death of someone we love. Some coping mechanisms are healthy and help us to work on our grief while others can create complications, even compound the grief and send us backward in the journey. The mechanisms themselves are not static, they are fluid and they change and adapt as our journey progresses. They are the foundation of our resiliency.
My coping mechanisms have changed with my grief experience. They have provided me with an outlet, relief and at times, additional stress.
Flynn died in May and because of legislation in Ontario surrounding maternity leave I was entitled to 17 weeks from work. This provided me with a reprieve from the chaos of my workplace but also a large amount of time to be home and think. This type of time created an anxiety in me about leaving the house and I found it incredibly debilitating to venture out of the comfort of my space. I was trapped in my little house and confined to our gated backyard. What began as anxiety ended with me in a lawn chair and a cold beer in one hand most of the time.
- side note here-I do not even like beer, never have.
By midsummer it was becoming difficult to continue the substance alternative to coping. Hangovers were not helpful with a preschooler in the morning and the guilt of responsibility weighed heavy on me. It was becoming expensive to support the amount I consumed in a week and it took more and more beer to keep the pain of the grief at bay. I stopped drinking.
That is when the flood hit, like a tsunami wave that had been building off shore I was hit with all of the emotion, reality and depth of sadness that I had been keeping at a distance. It came in and destroyed all the weak coping mechanisms that I had created and swept them back out to sea. I needed to start again and build myself better this time.
That is when I started writing. Journalling about missing Flynn, about how I was feeling and about what I needed to get through that day. I began to write poetry to let go of the intense sensations that would wash over me. I wrote the story of Flynn's birth just as I had done when Rhys was born and I created a baby book for Flynn as a memorial to his life. Soon writing was not enough, I needed to share the pain of my experience, I began to wonder if I was going crazy or if it was normal to dream of a life I had known so briefly.
I began looking for people to talk to, first in virtual chat rooms and eventually through local bereavement organizations. I told the story of how difficult Flynn had been to conceive, the doctors, the infertility, the drugs. I told people about the five weeks in and out of the hospital, sifting through blood, praying for a heartbeat. I would experience the trauma of his birth, people yelling, doctors talking, an ambulance gernie, my mother crying, my senses numb, his mute cries as I wrapped him in a blanket, the weight of him in my arms, he gripped my finger, and waking up in recovery to the news of his death.
I told his story over and over and my heart, which had fiercely beat against the chest wall when I told Flynn's story for the first time, began to reside deeper in my body again, thudding to a beat less aggressive every time until finally his story became my story and I found comfort in it.
Eventually coping turns into managing and the grief needs less attention. That is when my path intersected with providing support to people experiencing grief. I could be that person that people needed to tell their story to, to validate the love and the life that they had experienced, to remember the death. Flynn's life and death took on a new importance, one beyond being my son, his life created a human connection in the world of grief, a growth and maturity in my journey of life.