One thing I’ve noticed about grief is how selfish it makes one. Rightly so, of course, as grief is a personal pain that has to be endured by the individual – there’s nothing ‘giving’ about it. We cling to the memories, we absorb ourselves in the pain of our loss, we channel our energy into coping with how we are feeling – often to the detriment of others.
In many ways, for which I’m thankful, Abi’s death helped me to be less selfish as a person. I had pursued my career running my business, giving all my spare time to it (in truth, it was my escape from the strain and monotony of family life). I considered myself an independent soul within my marriage. I did what I wanted. I deserved the things I wanted. I was dissatisfied if things didn’t go my way. I worried that what I had wasn’t enough.
My priorities shifted completely when Abi died. I saw what was important, that living now was more important than waiting for the right time. That I needed to treasure what I had, not hanker after what I didn’t have. Despite the pain of Abi’s death, I am forever grateful she gave me that insight, because I realised that my life’s perspective had become totally skewed.
But, confusingly, while grief has helped me to appreciate them more and the material stuff less, it has also pushed me away from them, as I try to cope with loss and protect myself from more pain. And this is more obvious to me (and them) when my energy tank is near depletion. Selfish mum is still there, it’s just that she’s selfish in a different way now.
When I found out I was pregnant again in August 2015, my toddler was 18 months old. I wasn’t prepared for the news at all. I was in a vulnerable place emotionally and had just started to get stronger after a period of psychotherapy and finally starting on medication for my anxiety. I felt better for the first time in a long time. The foggy anxious-filled weeks and months after having my fourth child were fading and I felt more like me again. Yet here I was, given a gift I wasn’t expecting. A gift I knew was going to sap my emotions and energy even further and most likely throw me right back to square one.
I asked God what was going on. If this was wise given my situation. If this was really what He wanted for me. I had just started to ‘get back out there’, to feel like I was controlling my ship again. My life wouldn’t be about serving Him, but about serving little people with big demands!
I found I craved even more personal time alone – to think, to do the things that interested me (working, blogging, creating, zoning out), to do things my way. Now, my ‘me time’ isn’t about sitting down for five minutes with a book and a cuppa, my me time is more about having some emotional space from the constant worry and grief – being with my children and dealing with their own complex emotions is draining and me time allows me to shut off from that.
Blogging is a big ‘me time’ factor that my family don’t understand. I need to write this stuff down to save my sanity some days! And as much as I love them, I found I wasn’t good at mothering them because I craved peace, time to grieve, time with my thoughts – I wanted to be mothered myself! The problem starts when that craving begins to overtake everything else.
But God has given me another child. A fifth child. Me? Lord, don’t you know, I’m really not that maternal. I really don’t have that many hours in the day. I’m really not that good at this selfless parenting thing like other mothers. Yeah, I can do the baby days with my eyes closed, but once characters develop and cuddles aren’t enough and the challenging starts I find my head in the biscuit barrel wondering why I’m finding this so hard!
My children need and want to be nurtured. It’s not their fault they were born and need me. It shouldn’t be that I resent them at times for that and then feel terrible, knowing all that I’ve lost! A perpetual cycle of mum-guilt.
This post isn’t meant to be a self-pitying rant, it’s recognition of how intricately life’s web is spun and how making sense of the details helps me to understand the bigger picture. I was brought up in an insecure environment which made me self-reliant and only trusting of myself. I know I’m a deeply thoughtful and caring person, but I have an inherent fear that switches my ‘flight or fight’ button on at any given moment.
With this new baby, I consider that God doesn’t want to give me the easier (for me) route of one-off giving such as helping a charity or someone in distant need, He knows I’d still have my selfish steak, that I’d still be wary of opening up to those I love most. He made me strong. He knows bringing up children with love, trust, selflessness and encouragement is what I need to build on, to show His love daily, and by doing so I will not only allow the better side of me to come through, I’d also be living my life as He intended, for Him.
That’s not to say ‘me time’ isn’t important. I know that in order to give to them I need to feel as though I’m giving to myself a little. We all need time to ourselves. It’s about recognising that I shouldn’t get consumed by the need for me time so much that it affects my ability to give all the other times. That life’s pace is slower than the one in my mind. One day I will have all the ‘me time’ in the world and will miss the sound of my name being called for the umpteenth time. I’ll miss being needed!
For now, I will remember that the joy is right under my nose! I’ll remember that I’m only human. I’ll remember that I am enough. I look back on this post and see all the ‘I’s and ‘Me’s I’ve written and how self-centred life has become. Yet I have been gifted with the most valuable treasures and I need to look after them. They depend on my love and love is the most important gift of all.
This post was inspired by the wonderful Melissa over at Your Mom Has a Blog who wrote this thought-provoking post about ‘The Me Time Myth‘.
6 thoughts on “Grief, selfishness and ‘me time’”
A gut wrenchingly honest post here Kelly and so true on many levels. Emotional pain is like a toothache and draws our focus inward. I’m at the opposite end of the parenting spectrum – up to just before Leah became ill I was a busy parent of four children, then I was suddenly caught up with Leah’s illness which required spending 20 weeks away from home, 14 of which were in another country. When Leah died, our family life fragmented and nobody wanted to go on picnics or play board games anymore. Anything we did together became a painful reminder of Leah’s absence. You lose so much when your child dies. Now they’re teenagers (my eldest is 22) and they hide away in their bedrooms glued to technology. The exception to all of this is when we go together to the respite breaks at Daisy Lodge provided for us by the NI Cancer Fund for Children.
Your comment made my heart sink for you, as I can imagine the atmosphere that at times must make you want to scream. We want to be together but don’t want to look at each other sometimes because we see the memory of them, of the former, happier, us. I’m glad you get some respite support though. We too find short breaks away a bonding experience. x
My heart ached for you reading this post. Everything you wrote was so honest and true.
One thing that I do, which helps to uplift me throughout my life – is adjust a word or two that might help me feel better. Words are powerful.
The word “selfish” might seem true, but it really isn’t helpful. If you look up the definition – it is extremely negative. I don’t believe you are uncaring, mean, inconsiderate, egotistical – or any of those meanings that the word selfish is defined by.
When a word is negative like that in my world – I search for a replacement thought. That leads to feeling much better.
How would I replace the word “selfish?” I see you more as: introspective, reflective, meditative, pensive, thoughtful – these choices of words are also true.
Taking care of yourself after losing a piece of your soul is absolutely necessary, as you wrote. Selfish just isn’t the best word.
And being a mommy – I can only imagine the love and appreciation you have for your “earth children.” I had trouble feeling like I was a good mother when I was so sad. But my kids are very wonderful. They grew up with compassion and strength; I am proud.
Thank you Judy, that’s such good advice! My therapist said my inner voice is a bit of a bully, always saying it’s my fault. I can see that changing the words would really help. xx
My therapist has told me the same thing lol! I think as humans, there is that tendancy to “beat ourselves up.” It is not something unique to us or even grief. Human nature it is.
But during grief, we especially need to be gentle with ourselves.
The feeling of bearing the burden that we could not save our child is a terrible one, too. I remember that well.
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