I remember it like it was yesterday. Dave and I left the hospital without our Gianna and were back at home. I was going stir crazy and once I was cleared to drive after my c-section, I thought running a few errands would be a good idea. I just needed a distraction from the pain and since I felt that the walls were closing in on me, going outside seemed like a good idea. Everything seemed fine until I drove by Target. The Target I bought Gianna’s nursery décor in. The Target I bought her first diapers in. The Target I got her first little outfits in. That Target did nothing but scream Gianna as I drove by. I didn’t even have to physically go into the store to feel the emotional breakdown stirring inside of me. I tired to hold back the tears as I drove but they were soon pouring out and blurring my vision. I had to pull over and just let it out. I cried and cried, alone in my car. How it is possible that just over a week ago I was driving these same streets with Gianna alive and well in my belly? Now she was gone forever. The harsh reality was sinking in and my body was trying to process it.
I felt better after that cry. There were many more breakdowns to come but letting myself feel them, instead of ignoring them or repressing them, was key in my healing process. And that’s when I began to realize that it’s okay not to be okay. In fact, it’s of prime importance not to feel okay because that’s how I heal.
In a world where everyone seems to look perfect on social media, we can feel something’s wrong if we don’t look or feel perfect too. In a world where books called “The Power of Positive Thinking” and countless self-help books are best sellers, one may feel guilty for feeling sad or negative. I prefer to call it the Tyranny of Positivity. We are told, “Just look on the bright side!” or “Happiness is a choice- so choose to be happy!” The idea that you can be happy if you simply just choose to be happy has saturated society and one can feel like a failure if they do not smile and look on the bright side in the midst of adversity.
But what if it wasn’t that simple? Frankly, it’s not. There are no simple answers to complex problems life throws at us.
I am naturally a very optimistic, positive person. Before my daughter died, I think I was naively optimistic. But when tragedy and devastation touch your life personally, things begin to shift. I was no longer satisfied with phrases or affirmations like “Think positively and positive things will happen” or “Focus on the good.” What good is there to focus on in the death of my daughter? Nothing. Was I not thinking positively enough and that is what caused my daughter to die or me to continue to feel devastated at her death? Absolutely not.
The fact is that really horrible (and pointless) things happen sometimes. People feel crappy. And sad. And anxious. And depressed. And people feel occasionally negative. And sometimes there is no bright side to look on. And that’s okay. It’s okay to not always be or feel positive.
You know why?
Because feelings are meant to be felt and when you don’t feel them, you suppress them, and they come back to bite you again someday. Usually louder and stronger than they were before. And that’s what you really want to avoid.
Being overly positive in the midst of tragedy takes you away from living in the present reality. And if you don’t live in the present reality, you can’t accept it, deal with it, and heal from it. You avoid it for the sake of being positive. And it’s just not healthy for your heart and mind to live in another reality but the present. Living with your eyes, and heart, wide open is what I call it. My personal reality is that my daughter died but we all have something difficult to accept in our lives: our parent’s divorce perhaps, a long time friend that hurt us, unemployment, infertility struggles, etc. When we ignore that reality because it is too painful, we only hurt ourselves because we are ignoring an essential part of ourselves.
Also, when one acknowledges and addresses negative emotions, they can find solutions to improve their situation. On the contrary, positive thinking can be a way of avoiding necessary action. People might say everything is fine when it isn’t and avoid fixing problems in their life. I think the one thing that helped me most after Gianna’s death was recognizing my emotional state and seeking professional help. I truly was suffering from her loss and couldn’t carry the pain alone. It became unbearable. I found a fantastic therapist who specializes in baby loss and she in turn connected me to other women who had also lost a child. In her, I found an unconditional support and a professional listening ear and advice giver. I feel like after two years, I am on the road to recovery and although I miss Gianna terribly and always will, I have more peace in my heart and mind after seeking help.
In the case of loss, I like to think that our deceased loved ones deserve to be missed. They deserve our tears. If we really loved them, we will truly miss them. That feeling of missing them is expressed differently for everyone; through tears, by visiting their grave, thinking about them and feeling sad that they are not here anymore. However you choose to miss them, don’t be afraid to do it. Let yourself feel sad, for however long you need. And if you feel the sadness or whatever “negative” feeling is too deep or prolonged, then seek professional help for guidance. But just don’t suppress or ignore. It is like breaking a leg and not going to the hospital and getting a cast to help it heal. Ignoring the pain or trying to “tough it out” won’t make it go away. By actually allowing yourself to feel the pain or sadness, you will be more quickly on the path to healing and wholeness. At least that is my personal experience.
By actually allowing myself to just “be”, to feel whatever I am feeling, has been incredibly freeing. I don’t feel inhibited by what other people or society as a whole expect. I know this is my personal journey toward healing and wholeness and I want to embrace it entirely and live it fully. And I am honoring myself, and my Gianna, by doing just that.
“People need to realize that there is nothing wrong with feeling bad when life turns dark. “It’s okay not to be positive all the time and unrealistic to believe that you can be happy at every moment. That’s not a character failing; that’s a full emotional life.” –Julie Norem, psychology professor at Wellesley College