Reframe (verb): To express words or a concept differently
I’m a good student, pretty well suited for written exams, but I am (James can verify this) so terrible at unlearning things. That doesn’t mean that I remember everything, rather that once something is in my head, it’s difficult for me to unlearn it. Quite simply, if I get something wrong the first time, it’s likely to stay wrong. My favourite example of this, is playing the board game Cranium. There’s a question where it asks something like “what’s the fastest surface for playing tennis?”, with four answers ranging from grass to clay. No idea. I ALWAYS reason that:
1) I don’t know what parquet is
2) Pretty sure they don’t play on cement
3) It can’t be grass, due to friction
4) My answer is therefore clay!
My friend M laughs every time (and he’s going to chuckle reading this), because I always get this question, I always rationalise it out loud in the same way, and I ALWAYS get it wrong! (I’m guessing that the actual answer IS grass then, seeing as it goes against my reasoning – asks the girl who’s seen Federer play Centre Court at Wimbledon!). See, it’s so hard for me to unlearn things! It’s my training: a wholly embedded, lifetime of reinforced thinking.
It’s had me contemplating about baby loss: there’s a whole load of things I’ve needed to reframe or ‘unlearn’. So I’m going to do one of my favourite things: let’s make a list!
1) Being strong does not mean not feeling. I always thought that strength came from not succumbing to any number of potentially overriding emotions. I thought strength was compartmentalising, blocking it out. Silly me, it’s the exact opposite. If you want to call yourself strong, you need to feel it ALL. It reminds me of a mantra my younger brother once gave me, it was an acronym for FEAR: Face Everything And Rise. If you can face it all and come out standing, well, that is my new-found definition of strength.
2) Grieving “so much” over a life short-lived, does not make you crazy. So many of us bereaved parents question our sanity. “Why has this affected me so badly? What is wrong with me? I wasn’t even pregnant for that long!” This has probably been my most important lesson: There is nothing wrong, it is a perfectly rational response to what’s happened. Even if the feelings last forever, that is ok. It does not make you crazy, it makes others crazy for not understanding how it could be anything other than this. (I wrote a full blog on this earlier this week, see here).
3) It is not strange to celebrate a dead child. One loss mum documented the build up to her daughter’s birthday, and it made me smile, with every single update. It’s not weird to remember a child who’s passed, it’s weird not to. Think of it this way, if you failed to celebrate a living child, well that could be deemed negligent! Like Summer, her baby was born and then her baby died. She has a birth day. And so I for one – like my new inspiring loss mum friend – will be celebrating my daughter in March. Watch this space.
4) Being strong does not mean going it alone. Again, I had a very skewed idea about strength, because I had been privileged not to have had to test my mettle. I thought strength came solely from within, but human beings are not made to function that way. It’s science! Babies need to be looked after, babies need support (unlike sharks, google the sharks! Incredible, predators from day one). I could have tried to deal with this alone, but I’m glad I didn’t have to.
I always thought counselling was for other people, not me. Why would I need counselling, you just choose to be happy, right? So wrong. It’s not just ok for other people, its ok me too. It’s just helpful. Seeking help from friends, counsellors and other bereaved parents, is a show of strength: putting yourself out there is not for the meek.
5) Reminders (of dead children) in your home do not make parents sad. Before we lost Summer, I thought items in other people’s homes were a bit morbid. Now I realise that I was just a moron! They did not forget they died, they like to remember that they lived! Such a simple reframe, so important. And while we’re here…
6) It is not strange to talk about a dead child. It’s personal preference, everyone is different. When I had my two miscarriages, I eventually got comfortable talking about them, but it’s not something I dropped into conversation. Not like I now do with Summer. As you know, I love love love talking about Summer. It’s not always easy, but I adore it when other people remember her, just as any parent does, when I mention their child. So if a bereaved parent wants to talk about a miscarriage or a baby who’s died, just go with it (great film!), why wouldn’t you? All you have to do is listen and ooh and ahh in all the right places – just like you do with every other child.
7) Overthinking can be a blessing. People have always said things like “you think too much” or “just stop thinking about it”. I never disliked being an over-thinker/over-talker/over-sharer (I tend to have five sentences to every normal person’s one!), but I did recognise that my mind NEVER SHUTS UP and that it can be quite exhausting and so sometimes I’d quite like to be able to hear what it’s like in other people’s heads! Is it quieter in there?
However, this over-thinking thing is serving me well. I’m really able to pick apart what I think is happening here and make some sense of the nonsensical world of baby loss. My friend R said she thinks my blogs are like self-counselling, because she can see how at the end, I often find a neat resolution to my little quandaries, thanks R! (she’s also my Cranium teammate – sorry R!). I do agree though, this thinking and writing is really helping me. And the reason I’ve decided to put it all out there publicly (to essentially have a mental breakdown in front of you all!) is to emphasise what this grief thing can do, to a normally quite normal person.
8) If something makes you happy, it doesn’t matter what others think. I don’t want to get to ten points in my list, just for the sake of it, so I will finish on this one: Look, I will always strive to be a people-pleaser, it’s in my bones BUT I think I’m edging closer to caring less about what other people think.
I see Summer’s name in all my books, and I think it means something, maybe that the universe placed it there. That might sound crazy, but I don’t mind. It will always make me happy to see it, just as it will always make me happy if you message to say “I saw her name today!”
Anything can seem weird, when you stop to think about it. Like the word circle. I’ve always thought it doesn’t sound very round. The concept of going to a gym is weird too. (People pay money to lift stuff and run on a machine? If aliens landed, I reckon they’d find that odd.) Home decoration is another one, why do we have all this STUFF? (How clearly we’d see how strange this is, if we brought a starving person into our home). And crocs footwear – there’s no explanation required for that one! My long-winded point is, stuff’s just weird, until it becomes the norm. So birthday cakes for dead children, photos in your home, talking about them as if they’re alive; who cares, as long as it’s not hurting people and it brings some joy to the bereaved, what’s the harm?
Reflecting on this list, most of these are also cultural taboos. Urgh, I was so mainstream and narrow in my thinking. Flippin’ heck, I wonder how much else there is for me to unlearn! Life’s a long ‘un, so I’ll keep making my lists.
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