One of the first (and best) pieces of advice I heard after losing my son, Jonah, at 30 weeks, was from another bereaved mother in a Facebook group: she told me to be gentle with myself.
Now, I see and hear this advice everywhere, and I even say it to others. It’s such a lovely sentiment, and it feels comforting just to hear it or say it. Really, though, what does it mean to “be gentle with yourself”? How do you do that, exactly?
Well, first of all, for the first several weeks (or months) following a traumatic loss, you can’t even think straight enough or stop crying for long enough to have thoughts about gentleness. There’s a point, though, when the shock starts to wear off and you start having thoughts, and those thoughts aren’t always kind. It’s so common to feel guilt and anger, and the “if only”s set in. If only you had done something differently. If only the doctor had seen something on the last ultrasound. If only life didn’t turn out this way. At this stage of grief, gentleness just means letting those thoughts come and go, and acknowledging that they’ll be there. Do not judge yourself for having those thoughts that feel like they don’t help at all – it’s normal, and it happens.Be gentle, mama.
Be gentle when the tears come; let them fall.
Be gentle when the guilt comes; acknowledge that it’s there, but know in your beautiful mother’s heart that it was not your fault.
Be gentle when you just can’t face the world today; stay in bed and read a book or zone out in front of the TV. It’s okay, mama.
Be gentle when you fall apart in public. You’re a bereaved mom, and it’ll happen. Don’t let it make you feel silly. Your emotions are deep, and they are real and must be felt.
Be gentle when loved ones want to help you. Be truthful; tell them how you feel. Let them in. Let them help in whatever ways they can.
Be gentle when you feel like you’re falling apart. Give yourself what you need in those moments, whether that’s taking a break, being alone, or just taking a deep breath.
Be gentle with your new self. Yes, it’s hard to get to know yourself all over again – you will feel changed after going through trauma. Do your best to accept your broken but beautiful self as you are.
Most of all, being gentle with yourself just means giving yourself space, and being kind to yourself. Put aside judgmental thoughts, know that this was not your fault, and love yourself. Care for yourself with delicate hands. Let thoughts and feelings come and go without judgement. You deserve the world, mama. I wish I could give it to you, so very much….but I can’t, so I’m going to leave it up to you.
To yourself, be kind, be gentle, be loving.
Joli Skow is mom to Jonah Asher Skow, born sleeping in January 2017 due to heart block (neonatal lupus). She shares her and Jonah’s story on Letters to Jonah and she volunteers with the Star Legacy Foundation to support their mission of stillbirth education, research, awareness and support.