Grief has taught me how to be uncomfortable

Resisting the urge to turn on the light

Both Keener and Grace have felt left out recently. They are only 18 months apart and do many things together. So when one of them has an opportunity to do something different, the other one often feels the impact. Whether it’s a play date, a birthday party, or special 1-1 time with my mom, both kids have recently felt disappointed, lonely, jealous, or annoyed.

As a parent, it’s so easy to try and take away these feelings. To offer the quick fix of a lollipop, special treat, or extra TV show to make those feelings quickly dissipate. I’m guilty of doing exactly this. However, the more I think about it, I realize I am not helping my kids, long term, by trying to make these feelings go away. If I imply these feelings are “bad” feelings, I am actually doing my kids a disservice. I know first hand that it’s normal to feel left out, when you’re left out. Thankfully, my favorite mantra reminds me that feelings come and go.

Our role in the relationship

So why do we do it? Why can we not handle seeing our kids disappointed, lonely or sad? For myself, it has much more to do with me, than my kids. I might offer the quick fix because their sadness is causing feelings in me that I don’t like. A lonely Grace makes me feel uneasy, concerned, and sad. So in an effort to get rid of these feelings for myself, I try and rid her of her big feelings. I need to learn to recognize, label, and understand my own feelings better so I can help her do the same. As Mark Brackett so perfectly named his book, Permission to Feel, it’s all about recognizing, understanding, labeling, expressing and regulating our emotions. Because it’s normal to feel left out, when you are left out.

Grief is my teacher

Brene Brown talks a lot about courage, comfort and vulnerability. Since losing my dad to cancer, I have grown in ways that I never dreamed were possible. I strive to take Dr. Eger’s advice — that I keep on a post it on my laptop — The more I suffer, the stronger I become. While I would much rather have my dad and be much less strong, I am not given that choice.

On one of Brene Brown’s podcasts, she talks about comfort and says something along the lines of, My comfort is not more important than your discomfort. Bingo. The old me could not handle my own discomfort. When faced with challenging news from a friend, I was too uncomfortable to be helpful. What do I say? What if I say the wrong thing? My comfort was more important than my friend’s discomfort.

While I have far from mastered this, Dr. Chatterjee constantly reminds me that awareness is the first step. I am now aware of feeling uncomfortable which is key. I am also learning to be OK with feeling uncomfortable as my comfort is not more important than your discomfort. Whether it’s a friend, colleague or my own kids, I am learning not to put my comfort in the driver’s seat. I am learning how to get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Sitting in the dark

What has helped me the most is redefining my role. My role is NOT to make your discomfort go away. While I would love if everyone in my life only felt joyful, exhilarated and cheerful all the time, this is certainly not the case. If someone approaches me feeling frustrated, uneasy, discouraged or disgusted, my job is not to try and take that feeling away. My job is to join them where they are. As Brene says (and I paraphrase), To resist the urge to turn on the light. To sit in the dark with someone is the best gift of all.

Sit in the dark. I think about this all the time. My job is to sit in the dark. I’m learning to put my own discomfort aside and sit in the dark with others. While in the dark, some of the words I find myself saying are:

  • That sounds scary
  • Tell me more
  • That means a lot to you
  • I’m here
  • You’re not alone

In September, it will have been six years since my dad died. It took me over a year to even say the word, “died” out loud. And it’s normal to feel depressed, pessimistic, enraged or lonely when someone you love dies. Those that have helped me the most have sat in the dark with me and my big feelings. They haven’t rushed to turn on the light, offer me lollipops, or let their own discomfort take control. I owe it to my kids to do the same.

One comment

  1. Jenny, I love this post. I, too, get tired of gaining strength from suffering, but that is such a part of life. To sit with suffering, and honor it, and feel it, is so important.

    I have gained the most beautiful wisdom from people, sometimes seemingly out of nowhere. I have a penpal I made in an online game and she shared her mother’s wisdom that our struggles, our losses, are the golden threads in the quilt of life. That has stuck with me and given me solace in hard times.

    Our dark feelings enrich our lives, so living with discomfort as you so well describe, sitting with yours or others’ discomfort, can be seen as the necessary counterpoint to the good. Without the dark, there is no light.

    Thanks for your continued wisdom. <3

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