When is it time to feel bad? My raw story of grief... this weekOct 07, 2023
Why are my stories all about me and my family? Because that's what my stories - Family in Focus stories - are about.
Family in Focus is about realness. Real emotions, real struggles, real parenting and real people.
It is all intertwined and I share real stories. I for sure don't have all the right answers (I regularly mess up and talk about what I learn from it, see Family in Focus with Wendy Schofer, MD, aka the Podcast, Episode #99 published yesterday!). And it is about how other parents are able to see the normalcy and possibility in their own lives by hearing the real-deal sharing of mine. (Which is why this photo of me crying is being used publicly. Let's normalize feeling.)
In that vein, it's been one hell of a week. As a military family, we have anticipated receiving the announcement of my husband's next duty station for the past few months. We submitted a list of preferences that we all aligning with his career, our family and our needs. We even rank-ordered those choices.
Now, keep in mind, we have been in the Navy (yes, we: while I retired in 2019, any spouse will definitely agree that there is a we in all discussions about families in the military). We know how this works: we submit rank order locations and ultimately, the Navy decides according to "the needs of the Navy."
Well, the needs of the Navy was quite different from the identified, rank-ordered needs of the Schofer Family.
The decision has been made by those higher up in this chain. Ultimately, we have seen how we (ok, I) truly had no choice here.
Cue the emotions.
I received the call from my husband while I was walking my dogs before work: and I felt like I had taken a punch to my stomach. My legs buckled and I actually came to my knees along a busy suburban road in Chesapeake, Virginia.
He was selected to go to a new station that wasn't on the East Coast, wasn't on our rank-order list, wasn't in the Grand Schofer Plan of What Works for Us. He was selected to go to the other side of the world: Guam.
(If you're not familiar, map it: it's a US territory Pacific island 8 hrs by flight beyond Hawaii. A tropical paradise and +14 hrs from our current EST)
That pain in my gut. That inability to breathe. The feeling that the whole world had been shaken inside of my head.
That was grief.
I thought that we were going to move on to the next adventure of our choosing, one that lined up with our family's needs and values, ones that aligned with the many roles that I play as a mother, wife, physician and entrepreneur.
It was gone. All that was left was grief for what didn't exist anymore.
I couldn't speak to anyone. Actually, it wasn't that I couldn't - I didn't want to. I didn't want anyone to try to make me feel better or start the swirl of questions and logistics, "Well, at least..." or "This is going to be an adventure," or "You can let your elderly dog stay with xyz," or "Are you going to move with him?"
I didn't want to start looking at the bright side or the very many logistics of moving to the other side of the world than both of my children, all of my extended family, potentially my pets, and the amazing clinical practice that I've been creating over the past few months.
The swirl was already in my head and I knew that the questions wouldn't help me now.
What I needed now: to feel the grief, to cry (ugly, visceral tears coming straight from the pit of my stomach).
It was time to feel.
And nothing else.
I let myself feel the grief because I knew that not only was it normal, but it was there for a reason. Pushing it away, busying myself with logistics and heading to the overwhelm of the many questions to come wouldn't help.
Grief was there because my world had changed - my current life and the one that I anticipated coming in the next few months was gone. I was grieving my life, my ideas about what it currently looks like to be a mom, wife, and physician who is building relationships with families one at a time. And now, poof. Changed in an instant.
The time to feel is now. It always is. I took a full day before I shared with my family - and when I did, I started with my kids. But before I told them, I had already started the process of processing my grief. The first day, it was too raw. I didn't want grief but it had me for all the "right" reasons.
I needed to be with the grief to normalize it for myself and to just be there with it.
Grief started to relax its grip on my heart and gut the second day (this is not suggesting there is a timeframe here, I'm just noticing). It was time to share with my kids.
How did I do that? My sharing what we were anticipating, the announcement that had been made about Dad's next duty station and the way I was feeling. I shared that I was grieving. And I left space for them to feel however they did. I also acknowledged that the punch in the stomach may feel a bit differently now, in a few hours, or tomorrow... and that I wasn't asking any decisions or answers or anything right now.
It was time for them to feel too.
And, I'm here.
Eventually, there are a lot of decisions that we can and will make. Ones that the Navy has no control over. It's the "Yes, and..." that we talk about in improv comedy as well as coaching. Yes, my husband will have orders to move to the other side of the world.
INSERT PAUSE TO FEEL --
And then what.
That's actually the part that folks overlook in improv -- we think it's yes, and" like a knee-jerk reaction. It's actually, YES -- this is what now exists -- AND this is how I feel NOW.
Ahhhhh.... I just realized that as I'm writing this. "Yes, and" isn't about acknowledge and taking action - it's acknowledging what is AND what you are thinking and feeling about it now. It's not building on and moving forward, it's being right here with the YES:
YES, my husband received orders to transfer to the other f'ing side of the world AND it sucks. I'm grieving. It is not what I wanted. It is going to be f'ing hard because all of my ideas about the next steps are all changed. It is making me redefine what it looks like for me to be a present mom/wife/physician/entrepreneur/thought leader when the different people in those relationships are scattered around the world.
I shared with my husband, "I'm tired of being the easiest-going military wife, always seeing the bright side. Right now, I just want to be pissed and grieving."
The bright side is still there - I'll find it, I will figure out what it is that I want to do moving forward as it aligns with input from my kids. But it's not time for rainbows and unicorns and logistics.
It's time to feel.
Check out the Family in Focus with Wendy Schofer, MD Podcast!
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