July 19, 2021
In the midst of coping with the impact of a global pandemic, my dad died of sudden heart failure. And after nearly 8 years of navigating grief associated with the death of my mom in 2012, I found myself back at square one. All of the grief work I’d done felt as if it swirled down the drain however, and the only thing I could think of at the time was NOT AGAIN.
I’d already been cast as a ‘motherless daughter’ (even though I loathe this description). A grieving heart whose story had been shared on podcasts, media interviews, in church testimony services, and even a memoir. (FYI, if you’re interested in snagging a copy of my book, you can do so here: https://www.amazon.com/Relaxing-Into-Pain-Journey-Beyond/dp/1512747084.
I knew what it meant for others to witness my pain and see through to the heart of it. Fortunately, I had the support of my family, a few close friends, and church members to help me navigate the treacherous landscape of grief. From 2013 through last year, I felt known. From celebrating the fondest memories of my mom to sitting in the depths of heartache in relationship to her death, others supported me. Nevertheless, last year, the contrary reigned true.
Immediately, I felt a twinge in my body — you know, that fluttery feeling experienced when something inside of you feels unsettled or unsure. I sat across from my therapist and finally mustered up the courage to share the truth.
I hadn’t felt truly known after my dad’s death. Of course, people knew he died and saw the impact of his death in my life. However, they didn’t appreciate the depth of my hurt.
On the one hand, the pandemic presented barriers to family and friends readily offering support. Literally everyone was simply trying to survive and make sense of their own fears, grief, and life transitions. And I was right there with them, attempting to breathe through each moment and cope with the layered complexities of grieving.
As I wrestled through the distinctions my therapist made between being seen and truly known, something pivotal occurred. I realized the difference between transparency and vulnerability. Do you know the difference?
Let me help you answer this by sharing a couple of definitions (see https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/).
First, let me define transparency: the characteristic of being easy to see through.
Next, vulnerability: the quality of being vulnerable (i.e., able to be easily hurt, influenced or attacked).
Being seen in my grief felt natural. From the outside looking in, others knew about my dad’s death. In addition, I shared about the challenge inherent in navigating grief in the midst of COVID-19, all the while coping with grief associated with the pandemic. It was easy for others to see through to the reality of my life experience. I felt comfortable being transparent. Unbeknownst to me, however, lay the truth that I didn’t feel as comfortable being vulnerable.
Vulnerability requires a heightened sense of openness. While others can see what you’re going through, they may not appreciate the depth of a life-altering experience. This, unfortunately, was the truth in my case.
For example, my heart wasn’t readily open to more hurt or influence as I began the work of grief shortly after my dad’s death. And somehow, my heart recognized this and shifted into a transparent state.
What I’ve learned about myself throughout the past year is that transparency comes easy for me. For instance, I can readily share the facts of my dad’s death, my feelings of sadness, and the ways I’ve attempt to remain connected to him as I grieve. Transparency requires little of me and in many ways, I can control the moments in which I choose to be transparent. (Oh dear … I have to acknowledge my controlling tendencies here!).
Conversely, vulnerable moments can’t be easily predicted and open me up to the potential of being hurt, even more than I already am. They unfortunately can’t be controlled, prepared for, or rehearsed in any way.
Exploring the difference between transparency and vulnerability helped me grasp why I felt so misunderstood last year. Essentially, I hadn’t opened myself up to being as vulnerable as I had been when my mom died. Since uncovering this truth, I’ve challenged myself to soften more to vulnerability by embracing safe grief spaces and connecting with other grieving hearts. How can others fully understand me when a wall exists between them and my heart?
Friend, I challenge you to take a moment to pause and reflect on this question. The answer may expose you to what’s needed to help you feel more understood in whatever life circumstance you’re currently facing.
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