12 July, 2019

Celebrations vs Grief - a place for both

I've been thinking a lot about celebrations recently. It's part of the New Zealand culture that celebrations shouldn't be (too) over the top, and that we should pay tribute to, or at least be thoughtful of, the unlucky amongst us, whether it is a sporting event, career achievement, or anything else we might be celebrating. Fair play and humility are important to us.

Perhaps that's why I feel I am less willing to keep silent when it is perfectly legitimate to talk about my losses, or my situation. I've written about this before, four years ago, in Practising Self-Compassion. I don't think that we need to keep silent, for fear of upsetting other people or diminishing their happiness. Because our feelings are just as important as those of other people.

I'm writing this after reading Loribeth's post about wondering how to acknowledge the anniversary of losing Katie this year, because on the exact same date her nephew and wife are having an OB-GYN appointment for their pregnancy. She's a nice person - she doesn't want to upset them. Society tells us that we are supposed to put other people's happiness before our own grief. We feel it is unfair to ask others to ever-so-slightly subdue their own feelings about their good news, when their celebrations - sometimes gloating - can cut us to the core, or kick us when we are down. When actually, the fact that someone might think twice about celebrating, or how they celebrate, in front of us is not a bad thing. They can whoop and cheer behind closed doors, with other family and friends. They will have plenty of people celebrating with them. Their joy will not be diminished. But if it is, with an awareness of how bad it might make others feel, is that a bad thing? I personally don't think so. I think it can be a teaching moment, and contributes to a better, more thoughtful, world.

I think - as I said in the comments to Loribeth's post, and as I've said here before too - that this is one of the reasons why pregnancy loss and infertility are so misunderstood. We don't talk about it because we put other people's feelings before our own. That's what Loribeth is doing, because she is a lovely, thoughtful person, and because she adores her nephew. But her loss was huge, and deserves recognition. At the very least, she deserves to show herself self-compassion, and allow herself and her husband to honour Katie and their loss in the way that feels right for them.

The thing is, I often think that we worry that our news or situations or sometimes our very presence will bring people down. Whereas I think the reality is that, unless someone has been through what we have been through, they don't recognise the pain of individual days, or events, and they are easily able to dismiss our situations because "it won't happen to them."

The reality, I believe, is that if she posts about Katie, and her nephew and their wife see it, two things may happen:
a) they will feel compassion for Loribeth and her DH, I'm sure, and
b) they may feel increased anxiety about their pregnancy, for an hour or two.

If they get good news, as we all hope they will, they'll either
a) forget any small sliver of anxiety, and/or
b) feel even more grateful that they have a healthy pregnancy.

The one thing I'm confident of is that they will be surrounded by the good wishes and shared joy of family and friends, including Loribeth and her husband.

If the couple get bad news at their appointment:

a) they will worry, feel anxious or grieve regardless of what was said or not said earlier, and
b) they will have been reminded that they have an uncle and aunt who understand, and who will be there to support them.

Victory and defeat, joy and grief, celebration and commiseration don't have to be mutually exclusive. The bad things don't need to be hidden. The good things in life can be even more precious when the bad things are openly known, are talked about, and are mourned.

Of course, it's easy for me to say. I don't have this particular dilemma. But I'll admit that I'm tired of us always being the ones who have to tiptoe around others, who have to swallow the slights, the casual thoughtless remarks, who have to make allowances when we are hurt. I'm tired of squashing my feelings in the interests of "being polite," when it is not reciprocated.  I don't think an occasional, polite, diplomatic mention of my own circumstances is inappropriate. In fact, I will defend it strongly.

I hope that whatever any of us would decide to do in similar circumstances, we are reassured by the knowledge that this loving No Kidding community of women and men will give support and understanding, and that we will our needs - the needs of the minority - will always, in this space, come first. As I said above, there are plenty ready to be cheerleaders for the majority, and to celebrate the unbridled joy (we sincerely hope) of those lucky enough never to feel this particular loss.


  1. I am so glad i read this. A lot of times i find myself not posting on my blog or sharing what i post because i know it is an uncomfortable topic and people don't want to hear about it. Because I have recently been vocal about my grief some people inb my church community treat me different as if I am so sort of leper.

    1. I'm really sorry people are treating you differently. They need to examine their hearts!

  2. It's such a tough situation when you feel you have to balance others' reactions to your grief. It's true... There's a lot of shared joy without thinking of grief, and a lot of lonely grief. You make good points, it's so hard to reconcile the two when grief is so uncomfortable for the masses, but it's lovely to have the support of the No Kidding community regardless!

  3. I love what you have written here. You put my feelings into words! I am tired of being "polite" ESPECIALLY "when it is not reciprocated." I don't mean to say that I am mad or bitter; I am neither of those things. I am just tired of the societal expectation that I should be quiet. Everyone else gets to talk about their kids. Why can't I talk about mine? So I do. And it is very healing. And it honors my life, my experiences, and my reality.

  4. Dear Mali, thank you for this beautiful post. I agree with every single sentence!

  5. Somehow I missed this when you first posted it! You're absolutely right, of course... and I love that no matter how the rest of the world makes us feel (whether it be ignored, or condemned, lol -- seems like there's not a lot of in-between...!) we are here to support each other. <3 (I am feeling a whole lot better since I got that post off my chest, by the way.)