Grief doesn’t fight fair

Coming on 25 years ago this August, I lay in a hospital bed in the maternity ward. After complications during the end of my pregnancy, I was an 18 year old girl with a new baby who had just had an emergency C-section 2 days earlier. I was still under Doctor’s orders to be on bedrest when this tall, blond lady bound into our shared room with her giant (twice as big as my petite little gal) of a baby.

We spent our time visiting and became fast friends, then best friends and eventually sisters.

We lived through a lot together…a lot.

In a few short weeks, it will be 5 years since I opened my phone and saw that her son, my nephew, had been killed. I can still recall the feeling of my blood as it seemingly drained from my body. I walked out of my office at work in shock and told my coworkers. Many arms outstretched to comfort me. I stepped back.

“Don’t touch me! If you do, I will lose my shit and I have to go tell my daughter her longest and closest friend is gone.”

I got in my car and drove to her work, thoughts ringing loudly in my head. How do I tell her that just a few short days before her wedding she lost this important and irreplaceable treasure?

Five years later it is no easier to understand, to process or to accept.

Sixteen months ago I got a call my daughter was in labor with her first child. The moment I started my car “Still Breathing” by Green Day began to play and it played the entire (short) drive to the hospital. I cried the whole trip….ugly cried.

Today I jumped in my car and a sweet little reminder of my boy was on the radio, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”…Green Day…his favorite band…

I cried, all the way home. Hard cried. Head pounding, eyes swollen, “can’t I have a nap” cried.

Losing a child in your life is hard. My nephew was not sick; this wasn’t expected. He was simply gone. His mom described it best to me; it’s like “a sudden and unexpected amputation”. It truly is and we get to spend the rest of our lives relearning to do things (even simple every day things) without that huge part that has been amputated.

Everyone’s grief looks differently; everyone’s soul “heals” on it’s own terms. Please, don’t ever let anyone tell you you’re grieving wrong (don’t confuse that with choosing an unhealthy way to grieve) or taking too long.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m about to wrap myself in the sounds of his favorite band and enjoy some sweet memories and I will laugh and I will cry and I may even “ooglay” cry and that’s ok.

‘Cause I’m still breathing
‘Cause I’m still breathing on my own
My head’s above the rain and roses
Making my way away
‘Cause I’m still breathing
‘Cause I’m still breathing on my own
My head’s above the rain and roses
Making my way away
My way to you” – Green Day “Still Breathing”

Know your role

There are as many opinions on what the role of a step-parent should be doing (or not doing) as there are opinions of what parents should or should not be doing.

What is a step-parent to do?

You know there will be people who will protest your actions and investments as a step-parent no matter what you do. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t and that is perfectly ok. These same people will more than likely overlook you as existing let alone as having a parental role in the children’s lives. Guess what? That’s ok as well.

Are you doing what is right and what is needed within your family dynamic? Are you, your spouse, your children (regardless of prefix) happy with the role you are playing in their lives? Those are the only valid opinions in this convoluted step/parenting web.

Before I even moved in with my husband, we sat down and discussed his expectations of me with his kids and my expectations of him with mine. “If you are part of my life, you are part of theirs, in full capacity of a parental role.” Luckily, we were completely on the same page.

We each agree that the other is not just there to be a buddy to the children, a live-in baby sitter or simply play a supporting role to the “parents ” while hiding in the shadows. We are parents and we shall act accordingly and unified. We have both played step-parenting roles before where the expectations of us were to behave just as we would toward, and for, our biological children. This is the desire we share for our family; there is no division or line drawn in the sand of who can do or say what to which children.

So, as a step-parent, what is your role? You need to ask 3 opinions to find that out and I would suggest having this discussion early enough in your relationship that you can see if you have conflicting opinions.

1. your own

2. your spouse’s

3. the children

Let the opinions of others simply be that. They have no weight nor merit in your life or circumstance. That is simply a weight they need to carry.

Love your life, parents. Enjoy your children. The nights are long but the years are short and soon this time with your children will be a faded memory.

Taking care of busine…YOU!

Self-care is defined as “the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health” and “the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness “.

Making it a habit to practice self-care can be challenging. We all have busy schedules (with work, school, household, familial and social obligations) and let’s not forget the guilt. The “I should-be’s” can have very loud opinions.

How we should implement self-care into our lives:

1. I suggest trying to get enough sleep. How difficult is it to try to do anything when you’re exhausted? I know when I go through my seasons of PTSD nightmares, I can hardly function, let alone feel like caring for myself.

In order to set yourself up for success in the sleep department, my personal experience shows that (at least for me) routine and organization are key. Have a bedtime routine that shifts your mind from activity to preparing for sleep modes. One of the most helpful for me was making the bedroom a sanctuary….cozy colors, cozy blankets, soft lighting. Hygge the hell out of that space. Room darkening curtains are a must and consider removing electronics from your bedroom (cell phones, televisions, etc.

2. Practice the art of saying “no”. “No” is a complete sentence. If you have no time to give yourself at least 15 min, you don’t have time to add another bake sale, Susan.

3. Eat well to feel well. Practice mindfulness during your meals, truly savoring your food. Watch which types of food make you feel gross and sluggish and which make you feel great? Water, water, water…

4. If you are able, get a pet. Studies have shown that pets, especially a dog, help reduce stress, anxiety and high blood pressure. I’ve heard that people with PTSD are now using service dogs. I know for myself, although not a service dog, my dog has been a great asset in helping to calm and relax me – even going as far as waking me up from the nightmares that harass me and the dog will not leave my side when a panic attack sets in.

5. My personal favorite, get outside. Being outside reduces fatigue, burn-out and depression. For me, it nourishes my soul, especially when I am able to get away from the city, major bonus points when I can get out to enjoy a full moon or a sunset/rise…

6. Exercise daily

7. Get organized. Organize your space, your calendar, your routines. Organization reduces stress exponentially. Schedule your self-care so you reduce your chances of bailing on yourself.

8. Make time to read.

Life has shown me that self-care is a fundamental part of what we should do. How can we pour ourselves out for our loved ones if we feel there is nothing within us to give?

So, let’s take a look at our calendars, pick a day and schedule a nice, long walk, a hot bath, a leisurely meal with friends, even just waking up 15 minutes earlier to have an uninterrupted cuppa and some time for a little deep breathing.

Step-parents, this is especially important for us all. Hell, it’s important no matter what prefix is attached to parenting.

Allowing myself to heal

I need to remember to give myself credit more. I have lived through a lot and survived. I am a work in progress….what was once broken is being stitched together – by me.

In the midst of my healing, I make mistakes – some toward myself, sometimes towards others. I hope they can be gracious with me as I occasionally do or say the wrong thing, misread intentions as I look through eyes that have witnessed far more than was welcomed, and sometimes respond in ways I likely don’t mean…

I have lots of layers of healing to process and grow through and allow myself to work through. I have to learn to control my emotions during unfavorable situations. I’m so thankful for my little family that we jive so well together, creating a beautiful sanctuary for us all to thrive in. ❤

Please be patient with me as I am learning to piece myself back together and as I grow into the person I wish to be – full of kindness, love, respect and positivity.