I thought starting a nonprofit in honor of my late mother would heal my grief. I was wrong.
We Americans like the idea of redemption, of resilience, of picking yourself up by your boot straps. We love to hear stories of pushing out of the darkness and into the light, stories of recovery.
That's the plotline I wanted to follow in finally acknowledging the grief for my mother that I'd almost never talked about in twenty years. I'd create something with my grief, I'd lead in the service of others. I started The Mother's Day Project to fundraise and deliver gift bags to mothers with infants in intensive care every Mother's Day at local hospitals. Yes— I'd start a whole organization in my late mother's honor, I thought, and then my pain would be over. My grief would be gone, because I'd transformed it into something better.
But this year, in my sixth year of grieving through leading this effort, I noticed that my symptoms of anxiety and OCD were still escalating in the weeks leading up to Mother's Day. Those symptoms haven't settled down yet, even days after the holiday.
I'd been thinking to myself these past few days, "Am I doing this wrong?" Shouldn't I be feeling better by now, in year six of doing good with my grief? Why does this time of year still hurt so much?
I'm doing some grief reading of the stack of books I purchased but avoided actually cracking open since my dad died. In Grieve Leave, I'm finally reading them, and the timing of this week's book couldn't have been better. In Megan Devine's, It's OK That You're Not OK, she differentiates pain versus suffering in grief: that the pain we feel after a loss is going to be lifelong, but we don't have to suffer acutely. She highlights that there is no "better" when it comes to grief. There's just "different."
As it turns out, grieving isn't a zero sum game. Time spent grieving externally, no matter how much good you're doing with it, does not equal less pain internally. It might mean less suffering, but there is no even exchange, here. There is no cure for grief. You just live with it, and you learn how to be a better roommate over time.
So here I am, still very much learning how to live with my grief by trying different ways to grieve this year. And I'm adjusting my mindset in this Grieve Leave experience: I am learning how to grieve with the intention of feeling more at peace with my pain. I am not trying to evict my pain.
I am incredibly proud that I've founded a nonprofit to support women who need it, and that I am leading in honor of and in remembrance of my late mother. But I am no longer going to put pressure on myself to feel less pain when I honor and remember my mother. There is no redemption. There is no recovery. There's just me and my grief. And that's exactly where I'm supposed to be.
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