One of our family's inside jokes comes from a movie about the Civil War. A young soldier questioned about why he's fighting declares, "I'm fightin' for my rights!"-except is sounds like he's saying, "I'm fightin' for my rats!"
So we often laugh back and forth when faced with combative situations by using that line.
You wouldn't think that grieving would be one of them. But it can be.
I'm kind of a touchy-feely person. One who will hug strangers, pat puppies and offer a hand whenever I see someone struggling.
So it has been a bit of a surprise to find out that some people really want me to keep my grief in the closet.
They would rather I hide my tears. They have decided on an appropriate number of days, weeks, months for my grief to run its course and then it should be "over".
Now, let me just say that I do not think I have the right to ruin someone else's day.
I make appropriate arrangements when asked to participate in special events. If I can go and be certain I won't draw attention away from the celebration, I do. If I can't, then I'm honest about it and find another way to contribute.
But I can't spend my life in a bubble.
I'm inevitably going to be around others when a wave of grief hits me. Sometimes I will not be able to control my reaction.
And that's OK...
So here's what I believe to be my rights as a grieving mom:
I have a right to my feelings.
I am open to someone who has demonstrated sincere compassion to help me work through them or to share their concerns if they see me heading toward destructive expression of them.
But it is not up to someone else to validate my feelings about burying my son.
I have a right to draw boundaries.
So much of my energy is being sapped by working through grief that I just do not have the resources to deal with everyday drama. I care deeply about the other people in my life and I will absolutely be there for them when they really need me.
But I can't be a sounding board for every little thing.
I have a right to talk about my son.
He is still my child. He is still part of my life and my family's life. Most mamas talk about their children all the time. I talk about my living children and I will continue to talk about the child I miss.
I have a right to cry.
Tears make most folks a little uncomfortable. I acknowledge that and believe me, I try to hold them back. But when they fall-I won't hide them as if it's shameful.
I won't draw attention to myself, but I won't always slink away either.
I have a right to laugh.
Humor still moves me. And a belly laugh is good medicine. But don't mistake a moment of laughter as a signal that I'm "better".
I am healing, slowly, but I am not whole.
I have a right to NOT talk about how I feel.
Life still happens and every emotion I experience is not necessarily tied to missing my son. I don't always need to "talk about it". Sometimes, like everyone, I just need time to process and get over something.
I have a right to celebrate or not celebrate, participate or not participate in holidays, birthdays, remembrance days or any other special day or occasion however I am able-even if it means changing long-standing traditions or routines.
I do my very best to live up to the expectations and needs of the people that are close to me. I want to have birthday parties, exchange gifts, celebrate graduations and weddings and other major milestones. But sometimes I might have to attack these gatherings in a slightly different way.
I'm not the same person I was before my son left us and I can't always do things the way I used to.
I have a right to be heard.
I don't expect nor do I want to be the center of every decision or every event. But I have a right to express my opinion, I'm not invisible. And no one knows what is best for me except ME. It's easiest if people just ask me what will be most helpful instead of assuming that I would or wouldn't like this or that.
Navigating the death of a child is a treacherous journey. I understand that those who have not travelled this path may not think about how hard it is and some of the little things that can make it easier or harder.
I am so thankful for the ones who try.
This post is part of Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn't make navigating it any easier. The deep sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage or even moving far away from home, is real. But while grief is universal, we all grieve differently. So we started Common Grief to help learn from each other. Let's talk about living with loss. If you have a story you'd like to share, email us at email@example.com.