I few days ago I talked about how “Let it Go” has become my mantra the past few months. It has a twin sister: “Not my burden.”
“Let it go” is my response to the ever-present worry and anticipatory anxiety I feel over things I cannot control, like when and if I will get pregnant again. “Not my burden” is my new, post-Ander response to the sense of responsibility I feel for other peoples’ happiness.
For example: I am a very organized person. I’m sure it’s related to my OCD tendencies; I always check to make sure I’ve locked the door, turned off the stove, etc. It means I always put things in their designated place, and I never lose things (really. Never. Um… knock on wood.). But for some reason, it also means that when other people lose things, I feel like it’s my responsibility to either help them find it, or replace it. At one point, it got so bad that K wouldn’t tell me if she lost something, because I’d become so obsessed with finding it that it would impact my sleep. If we couldn’t find it, I’d be much more upset than she would be, and I’d vow to make sure it was replaced the next birthday/holiday. Perhaps that reaction would make sense if (a) I had been responsible for losing the item; or (b) the item was of significant value. I can assure you that neither was ever the case. And yet, I would obsess. And this was before I “lost” something of much, much greater value – my baby.
It was losing Ander, though, that finally helped me moderate this extreme reaction to lost objects. You would think that that is because of the obvious comparison between losing something like a gym lock and losing something like a child, but it was more than that. It began with the knowledge that Ander would be the first grandchild on either side of the family. All four grandparents dearly and desperately wanted a grandbaby. My mother, in particular, would ask us frequently after we were married when she’d get her grandchild (to her credit, at least, she knew we planned on having children). All of her friends had grandchildren, and most of her sisters-in-law (my mother was young when she had me, so many of her friends are older than she; K’s parents are 10 years older than mine). My parents are both elementary school teachers, and K’s mother worked as a preschool administrator until she retired last year. It’s not an exaggeration to say that all of our parents simply adore young children and are absolutely wonderful with them. Of all the grandparents in the world, these deserve many, many devoted grandkids – and right now, K and I are the only ones likely to have them in the near future (none of our siblings are married yet, not that that is necessarily a prerequisite, but the likelihood is certainly less in our families).
When Ander died, I grieved, but not just for me. For many days, I was more upset that I had denied my parents of their grandchild than I was even for myself, having lost a baby. I felt as though I had let them down, even though I knew it wasn’t my fault. I wanted to comfort them, apologize, let them know I was sorry, I’d try again as soon as I could, I’m make sure they got a grandchild before they got too old to enjoy him or her.
Not healthy, right?
Yeah. It wasn’t. My grief over upsetting them was becoming more powerful than my grief over losing my son. I must emphasize that NONE of my parents/in-laws put this burden on me. All four of them came out to Chicago from the East Coast to take care of us after Ander was born and after he died. They hugged us and cooked and did laundry. They called funeral homes and shoveled the sidewalk and informed the relatives. They did everything within their wonderful parent power to help us carry our horrible burden of grief. All of which actually made me feel worse. There was nothing I wanted more than to be able to give them a gift of a grandchild, and I failed.
I don’t remember if it was our support group chaplain or K who first told me that I had to let go of things that weren’t my burden to carry, but they both did at some point. I know that in relation to my obsession over missing items, K explained to me that my keenness to help actually made her feel worse, like she had done something terrible by misplacing a trivial object. She lost the object; it wasn’t my burden to carry that mistake. She would find it, or not, and life would go on. If she was okay with letting it go, then I should be too. Our chaplain helped me see that my parents, likewise, would be horrified if they thought I was grieving even more because I was upset over not giving them a grandchild. They were emotionally capable adults, she explained. They will carry their own grief, because they love you and they love Ander. You can’t carry it for them. They will be supported by their friends and family, just as you are. Let your parents grieve and heal. It’s not your burden.
I’m really working on this. I think I’ve said “Not my burden!” over 20 times in the last two months. It’s become kind of an inside joke between me and K now. Well, maybe joke isn’t the right word; an inside understanding. “Not your burden,” she’ll quietly remind me when I get upset, out of proportion to the event. “Not my burden,” I’ll breathe to myself. I have enough of my own right now.