Permission to Grieve. Love, Santa Claus.

I had this dream last week. Matt had gotten up early to go mow his grandparents’ lawn. He kissed me goodbye and when the door shut behind him I drifted back to sleep for half an hour until my alarm went off. I wasn’t thinking about anything in particular as I closed my eyes, but I was thrown into the dream’s vividness immediately.

Like most dreams, the setting was irrational – I was in a hospital that looked like a nail salon, nurses bent over patients’ feet, administering manicures instead of IVs. I tell them I am here to pick up my mother’s belongings, she has died, can you help me?

They ignore me completely and I grow visibly upset. I see a doorway and walk to it defiantly; I don’t care if I’m not allowed in there, I will figure it out for myself.

And then I am in a bedroom, and a girl I knew from my childhood is there, someone I haven’t seen or talked to in years. I am crying and she tells me to stop, no one cares anymore what you’ve lost, you need to move on. She leaves the room.

I see my mother’s belongings shoved underneath a desk. An evening gown and black satin heels, a curling iron, a makeup bag, a tube of lipstick. I shove them into one of those plastic hospital bags with her name written on it in Sharpee.

I turn with the bag and my face wet with tears and I’m surprised to see there is someone sitting on the end of the bed, an elderly man with a white beard and overalls and a flannel shirt. I’ve never seen him before in my life, but he looks like Santa Claus dressed as a farmer. I want to feel repulsed by this stranger that has wandered in unbeknownst to me and witnessed my private grief, but he holds his arms out and says softly, it’s okay to cry. I sit down next to him and he embraces me, all large, protective arms, and scruffy beard and wide chest. It’s okay that you’ve lost her and miss her and don’t know what to do. Don’t listen to them. Don’t feel ignored. It’s okay to cry.

My alarm goes off and I wake up, surprised to feel my face wet with salty, hot, real tears.

I go through the motions of getting ready for work, all the while totally confused by my dream. Why a Santa Claus figure? Why a nail salon and a bag of belongings that weren’t really hers and harsh words from a girl that I haven’t talked to in a decade?

And also,

I didn’t think I needed permission to grieve.

But do I? Is that what the dream is telling me?

My independent, eldest child/only girl spirit doesn’t want to accept that answer. And she doesn’t want help, either. She doesn’t believe in Santa Claus, though he’s a nice idea.

But instead of letting my own subconscious irk my independence, I took the dream’s meaning at face-value, and let myself feel the unquenchable sadness of seven months and 23 days (and one year) sink into that hallow corner of my heart. I stayed quiet for a few days, asking myself things like, am I really going to write another sad blog again? And also, can I quit the internet? Because lately it seems plagued with politics and controversy and incessant arguing and it makes me tired.

I didn’t quit the internet, you’ll be happy to know. And this isn’t intended to be another sad blog, another reminder to each of you that this year I lost my mother, a pity party , or ploy for attention.

Instead, I’m here just to ask a question :

When you’re a twenty-something and you’re supposed to figure out your life and learn how not to be a student or a child or a follower anymore, how and when and where is permission relevant to us?

Because I realized that I have unintentionally been waiting for it – in my work, in my writing, in my grief, in my faith, in my own politics.

Do I need permission? How do I give it to myself? How do I let others give it to me appropriately, without depending on it to the point where I am immobile without it? How do I help someone else understand that they have permission to be who they are, emotions and words and tears and all? If you’re older than twenty-something, at what point did you learn to give yourself that grace and permission? Or, who helped you understand it?

Because the truth, as deeply painful as it is to admit this to you, is this :

I am afraid that if I admit that I need help I will give away my dignity.

[Image.]

  • http://www.courageandcurls.com/ Turtle

    “I stayed quiet for a few days, asking myself things like, am I really going to write another sad blog again? And also, can I quit the internet? Because lately it seems plagued with politics and controversy and incessant arguing and it makes me tired.”

    I am a blog-reading lurker, but I couldn’t sit quietly after reading this post. I will turn 25 on Sunday and have lost three babies. Three very loved and wanted babies. One in the second trimester. They were inside of me, but no one else could see them, and I felt like people wouldn’t acknowledge them because they weren’t “real” to them.

    So I talked about it and I wrote about it and I cried about it, but not often in public or sitting across from my best friend at dinner or even in the same room as my husband. I kept quiet. Even though I knew that what I was going through was most definitely grief, I felt silly.

    I don’t have any answers because I’m in the middle of the same storm. But I just wanted to encourage you to continue writing, as that was my ONLY healthy outlet after the babies died, one right after another. Write thirty more sad blog posts if that is what helps you, and don’t feel guilty if there are happy ones in between. You lost someone you love, and I think it would be strange if you DIDN’T take your time to grieve. I didn’t know your mother and I don’t know you, but just being able to put this out there shows that you are able to say what you need. The people that know how to do that, in my opinion, are the strongest.

    • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

      Thank you for your encouragement, and for sharing your story so honestly here, especially in light of your struggle to tell others about it. My heart hurts for your loss – I cannot imagine how painful that must be for you! My prayers are with you – for every “might have been” and every moment that will never be with your sweet babies. I hope you can give yourself permission to grieve, and permission to love your body even though I am sure that is a struggle. 

      Thank you again for reading. <3

  • http://KatieAxelson.com/ Katie Axelson

    What a sad yet still sweet dream. I’m glad the Santa-figure let your grieve. It’s important.

    I’m also very independent and resonate with your last line. Yet I also ask permission too often. I think my crave for permission comes out of a fear. If I’ve asked first, I don’t have to worry about doing it wrong. If I asked first, I won’t have to ask for grace later. Sometimes, I even need to ask permission to allow myself to do something, especially for forgiveness. I hate to give grace to myself.Katie

    • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

      The old adage, “ask for forgiveness, not permission” is the hardest thing for me, Katie. In part because it’s not how I was raised, and in part because I always feel the need to please in a way. Grace is the hardest thing to give ourselves, I think. I have to always remind myself that God has already given it to me; there is no reason to keep pushing it away.

  • http://sayable.net/ Lore Ferguson

    Gosh I love you. 
    And this. 

    • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

      Love you, too, girl. Thanks, as always for reading and encouraging. :)

  • Emily_Maynard

    Wow, this is so good. This is why you have to stay on the internet, please. :)

    • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

      Haha thanks, Emily. I’ll stick around, I promise. :)

  • deb

    Dear Bethany.
    Your gracious loving Mama asked for help and advice and support all the time.
    And everyone who knew her knows that she never lost her dignity.
    Grieve away, sweet girl.  I love you.  : )

    • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

      Thanks, Deb. I know she did and I try to remember that whenever I’m wallowing, thinking that I’m the only one that “gets it.” Love and miss you. Thanks for reading and encouraging me.

      • deb

        I haven’t even begun to define my grief when it comes to missing your Mom.  My life has been blessed with so many dear precious friendships and for that I am grateful.  But your Mom…we were each other’s “go to” for everything big and small. Were soul sisters and daughters of the risen Lord. 
        There have been so many times in the last almost 7 months that I’ve had no where to turn…because she was the one who loved me unconditonally.  The one who knew me inside out.
        My father would have been 79 two days ago.  He died when he was 30 - I was 9. 
        I think there are some things you just never get over.    To this day I wonder who I would be today if my father had been there to love and guide me.   
        When I pray for your family, I thank God that Tina was there with all 3 of you until you and your brothers were young adults.  You will always know and remember her voice, her lessons, her influence, her spirit and her love.
        Grief for those we’ve lost will remain.  It just changes its shape and size as time comes and goes.  You are just where you are supposed to be.  Thank God you have Jesus to wipe your tears.
        Your blog is an inspiration to so many.  Me included.  I don’t have to tell you how proud your Mother is of you, dear sweet daughter of hers.
        I love you too.  : )

  • val dering rojas

    Hi Bethany,

    My father died 12 years ago next month, and under really poor conditions as far as relationships with my other family members were concerned. I felt guilty for loving a man who was hated (yes, hated) by the other people that I loved.  I was in a terrible marriage at the time, and my husband chided me and condescended to me constantly for my sadness, treating me as if I was a child crying over something utterly unimportant to “the adults”.   It wasn’t until months later, while sitting in an Italian restaurant (my dad was Italian) and hearing a song that reminded me of my dad, did everything come pouring out. My husband at the time made some horrible remark of course, but for some reason I realized at that moment that my grief had nothing to do with him, my other family members, or anyone else on the face of this earth except me.  It wasn’t selfish, it wasn’t unacceptable, it wasn’t childish.  It was natural, and I had a RIGHT to grieve. 

    I also felt as you do, that if I were to admit I needed help, I would give away my dignity–not only in this situation,  in many others as well–but I have learned since then, that that is just not the case.  Unfortunately, others may try to make you believe this is so, but in my experience, each time I have admitted a weakness and asked for help, I became a stronger person.  It’s true–there are people who will tell you the opposite, and may even hold a bias because of it–this is a sucky world sometimes–but you have to do what feels right, regardless of what others think or say. 

    I’m in my forties, and I don’t know that there was any lightbulb moment where I realized I had control over my life, in most aspects anyway, and therefore permission to be, say, do–and honestly, even at this age, I don’t always feel that way.  No matter how old we get, there will always be times where we feel we need to ask permission–it’s just that the older we get, the less it happens.  In my case, I just don’t care as much about what others think about me.  

    I wish I had some better answers for you, and I wish I was one of those ever-optimistic individuals with some amazing wisdom, but really, you just kind of figure it out as you go along. Don’t worry–we ALL figure it out as we go along, we all have self-doubt, we all feel as if someone has to tell us it’s okay to do or be–some of us (you) are just strong enough to say it out loud.  ;-) 

    • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

      Wow, Val! Thank you so much for sharing your story with me here. The more I think about it, the more I realize that my dream was about the war within myself more than it was about anything I perceive from others; it is more about my fear of revealing my grief than a real rejection of it from anyone. But yes, we each have to learn to be okay with ourselves and our grief in whatever form it manifests itself. I hope that despite the way your ex and other family members have treated your grief, you have been able to preserve the good parts of your relationship to your father and your love for him, no matter who he was to anyone else. 

      Blessings to you, friend. Thank you again for sharing your heart here. 

      • http://valderingrojas.wordpress.com/ val dering rojas

        Glad to share. Your blog is so inspiring in so many ways. 

        I completely understand that “war within myself” feeling.  I think that feeling for me was the struggle with the guilt of loving my dad and feeling devastated when he died, knowing he had hurt others who were not at all devastated and couldn’t understand why I was….and thank you, I have come to terms with it inwardly and outwardly. 

        I’m sorry for your loss, and only wish you the very best in continuing to deal with it. 

  • Wanda

    Bethany, I am older than twenty-something and lost my mother when I was 22.  Wow, it’s been 16 years in one month since she died and it still feels like yesterday but yet it doesn’t.  She never saw 3 of my children and was barely there for my wedding.  
    Platitudes did nothing for me and I felt so… alone.  My best friend held my hand through it all and he still does.  He never offers answers and just nods and hugs.  Like your Santa.  Thankfully he’s my husband.  
    Needing help is healthy and it is ok to ask for it.  Your blog is the perfect place to feel your friends comments and know you aren’t alone.  Writing is good for you.  
    I think you know that you don’t need permission to grieve but the emotion of grief is deep and wide and can be scary.  My hairdresser once said to me “go to your rock.”  Wherever that is. Maybe you should go there too.  
    I’ve said enough but I promise to lay you out in my prayers tonight.  

    • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

      I think out of all the people in my life, my husband has been my strongest pillar of support. He’s always been this way, but this year I am more aware of it and grateful than ever. Through my grief, I have seen him with new eyes. God really knew what he was doing when he brought these men into our lives, right? :)  

  • http://thebeardedidealist.com/ Stephen Haggerty

    Amazing piece of writing, Bethany. Glad to have stumbled upon your blog!

    • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

      Thank you, Stephen! 

  • http://twitter.com/AmberWack Amber Wackford

    I found your blog and writing through your work at Prodigal Mag and have been drawn in to keep reading by the honesty and vulnerability with which you tell your stories.  This post is a great example of that.  Thank you for sharing and writing and staying on the internet, especially when it feels hard.  

  • http://twitter.com/Jennifer_Young1 Jennifer Young

    dear sister, 
    it is in admitting your need that you will lay hold of your true dignity. For in this confession, you confess your humanity, your inherent need for wholeness found outside yourself, found inside God and his Body. Your dignity is not something to be grasped, but to be found before the throne of Mercy and Grace – words that speak not -so-subtly of our need for both. I’m not sure how to give grace to myself either, but i do know that your courage here will lead you to the grace you seek. 
    peace today, 
    jy

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