Parenting Living Children Post-Retreat
By Elizabeth Wheeldon
The main reason I attended this retreat, almost 7 years after the loss of our daughter, is because of my living children. I have twin rainbow boys, who were 20 months old at the time of the retreat. I truly struggled with mothering my living sons while at the same time mothering my daughter and her memory. I felt out of control and wondered if I was having psychological troubles. I wasn’t handling life well, and sleep deprivation didn’t help either. The retreat provided the safe space I needed to rest, reflect, find supportive community, and mother my daughter.
It takes time to reconnect with living family after the retreat - and that’s okay. I didn’t expect to feel disconnected from my family after I returned. The retreat provided overdue sacred time with my daughter. My entire body, mind, and soul focused on her. No interruptions or intrusions. No one else to think about - just her. For five whole days. I wish I had known I would feel a bit disconnected from my living children for a few days after the retreat, and that it is normal and okay. I felt enormous guilt about this.
Emotional fatigue is normal - take time to rest and recuperate. I was surprised by feeling extra tired when I returned home from the retreat. I recommend a few extra days of rest and recuperation before returning home if possible. Use this time to drink in the essence of the retreat and gain extra strength before returning to your busy life. The safe feeling of the retreat, being with people who truly understood you, was incredibly hard to leave; and in some ways created anxiety about returning to the real world. I wish I’d know it would be like this and taken some extra time, without feeling guilty about it.
Consider extra help in the days following the retreat. Consider getting some extra help for your first few days at home (especially if you haven’t been able to take extra rest days). I went straight back into it - hitting the ground running, and it made the retreat feel like it was just a dream. If you have someone to help out, have them assist with a more gentle transition for you and your family post retreat. Use the time of extra help to rest and incorporate self-care and baby remembrance tools learned at the retreat, to avoid forgetting them. Help allows you to have more time to reflect on the retreat properly, and create space to build upon the healing experience and come out stronger, more at peace.
Living children don’t allow breaks for your grief. Children are children, and they only understand and care about what is happening for them. After such a retreat and reflective time, it can be difficult to adjust to their demands and avoid feeling terrible about being less emotionally available. One of my boys wouldn’t come near me for a whole day and a half after I returned home. It made me feel awful, but at the same time I needed time with his sister. In addition, this reaction is normal for young children after a parent is away. Finding the balance between caring for living child(ren) while mothering loss child(ren) can take some time. After allowing time, I became a more present mom to my living children because of the space I’d had to connect with my daughter.
Avoid comparing yourself to others. Thomas Jefferson said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” It is easy to fall into the false idea that others - even loss moms - are “supermom” and have it all together. Social media perpetuates this idea. Try suspending your account for a week, or taking breaks from certain pages. Be aware of and try to avoid certain triggers. Social media loss groups are sometimes good or can sometimes trigger hurt. Ask yourself if a group still helps you, and if not, unfollow them. Flood your news feed with positive images and sayings. Remember that what someone posts is an image they want to portray and is not indicative of their normal life.
The retreat fills you with gratitude for your living child(ren). Experiencing those sacred days with my daughter fully in my heart and mind made me even more thankful for her baby brothers. I created ways to make her a part of our every day, our family life. Through the retreat I realized that all the love I have for her can be spread. I can honor her by being a great mother to her and her siblings. Some loss mothers may not have this chance. The retreat opened my eyes with gratitude for my living child(ren).