Permission to grieve - what does that even mean?

I've been thinking about this idea a lot this week – ‘give yourself permission to grieve/feel/be ok/be not ok.’ It is a very therapist-y thing to say and it is definitely something that I have told clients. With all things we tell clients, most social workers know that it is easier said than done. But … you will also hear this idea from veteran grievers, especially those who have lost a child. In person and from the blogosphere it is apparent that child loss is undeniably, inextricably entwined in the lives of parent’s unfortunate enough to live it. Children cannot be removed from the heart. Moms on every corner of the internet share how the thought of their son or daughter, no matter what age or way or reason they have died, remains etched in their minds daily.
I’m still learning to be a part of this group – I, like all the others, am not here by choice. This grief, this new grief that has taken over my life, has me learning again all about the way loss reshapes you. Despite having lived through the violent, traumatic loss of my sister and discovering ways to stay connected to her while negotiating a life without her presence; despite spending the last decade participating in and facilitating grief groups; despite working with grief and studying  traumatic loss … I am not prepared for this tangled group of emotions surrounding my children’s death. So I’m giving myself permission to feel them.
What does that even mean? Permission seems like such a strange word in regards to emotions. Emotions happen regardless of whether or not we wish them too. Emotions are also not inherently good or bad, they are simply representations of the way our body or soul is reacting to whatever circumstance or thought is presenting. We can’t necessarily control our emotions (though we try to) but we can control our actions. So why do we say ‘give yourself permission to feel’? Permission insinuates an authorization granted. I think of it as creating an internal space and allowing the feeling to fill you.
I have a wonderful support system of friends and family that have given me permission to grieve. Their permission isn’t because they have the authority to tell me whether or not I can feel, but because they create space for me to express the emotions in this, whether that is through talking, crying, or even laughing.
I’ve noticed that people either struggle with feeling bad or they struggle with feeling good after loss. I think we all struggle a little bit with both, because our minds take over and tell us we should or should not be feeling that bad/good. We worry about what that feeling means about us. We worry the feeling itself is indicative of either our inability to heal or conversely if it is too good, our lack of love for our lost child. I do a little bit of both myself and I noticed it this week. So I took time to give myself permission to experience each feeling fully.
My husband and I went on vacation this weekend. Packing my bags felt bittersweet because I knew that we were only able to go on this trip now because I am no longer pregnant. As we were getting ready to leave, my Mom reminded me to “allow yourself to feel happy and enjoy your husband.” My mom is a veteran griever. She misses my sister all the time and she still wells with tears when she talks about wishing Rach were here. But my Mom also is a constant reminder that we have to accept joy too. So I took her advice. And I laughed a lot this weekend. When the thought of guilt arose I mentally granted myself permission to feel happy. My laughter was not an indication of remarkable healing after Finnian and Maisie’s death. It wasn’t a denial of their constant presence in my mind. My laughter wasn’t even an admission that it is “okay” for them to not be here. My laughter was simply the expression of joy that still exists when spending time with my husband.
During our trip, we enjoyed each other’s presence, we talked about anything and everything going on, and we reminded each other of our unwavering dedication to survive all the hard things together. It was exactly what was needed and I’m glad I had the permission to feel it.
But … it didn’t end there of course. We didn’t return with a miraculous feeling of having shed the grief. Monday evening, after wading through the pregnant bellies on Facebook, and thinking about all the babies and twins we had seen that weekend – it hit me how much I wanted them back. I want Finnian and Maisie back. I can’t have them, but the longing doesn’t go away, not even a little. At first, I tried to fight the tears back not wanting to “ruin” our momentum. Then I remembered to give myself permission. D looked at me surprised when he realized the tears falling again and our conversation went like this:
D- “Are you okay? Did something just happen?”
Me – “I think I just need to be sad for a little bit.” I surprised myself with this statement.
D- “Do you want me to sit with you or give you space?”
Me- “I don’t know.”
And so he sat with me. And I cried. I cried with a sore heart. I cried with an empty belly. I cried until the tears just stopped on their own. It wasn’t an indication that I was falling apart. My tears didn’t mean that I am undeniably broken or dismantled. They meant that I miss Finnian and Maisie. And I allowed myself to feel every inch of missing them in those moments. My wonderful husband also granted me permission by not trying to change it or remove the pain. That is not easy for him. He grieves differently. But he let me anyway.

I’m going through it. I never liked the description of grief in stages or phases. It doesn’t fit what I have experienced or witnessed. Others have described the grief as coming and going in waves. This seems like a more accurate description to me. Only the waves are not rhythmic like the ocean. These waves crash, cascade, and drizzle without rhyme or reason. They come and go in an a-rythmic, non-linear, unpredictable manner. I hear this spreads with time … that the intervals themselves change. I’m still becoming. I’m still integrating this new identity into my life. I am the mom of twins that died at birth. I don’t know how long it will take to weave these fragmented pieces of the new me together … perhaps a lifetime.

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About the Author
My name is Tiffany. As an LMSW, I've spent a lot of time studying grief (as a therapist and PhD student) ... I've spent more time living it. I don't believe we "get over" or "move on" from loss. I do believe we learn to live new after each loss, in the new world created by their absence, in the new way our hearts are changed. I live grief daily. This year I am raw with grief and figuring out how to still live after losing my children. I write because it is therapeutic for me and I hope in some way it can help others. Check out more of my writing at my blog
I'm Grieving, Now What?