Healing Balm

By Emma Pearson

June 22, 2024

21 September 2019

Another Megan Devine prompt with a piece of May Sarton’s writing, inviting us to write from whatever line caught our attention. I chose this line: “I suffer from these brief weekends, the tearing up of the roots of love, and from my own inability to behave better under the stress”.

I have reflected quite a bit on the notion of “behaving better”.

I’ve felt that, since Mike died, it’s the area where I have felt most “corrected” by others. Where others outside my life experience have most felt entitled to wade in and give me advice. (Advice is not the same as support, or understanding or curiosity or empathy or even sympathy, by the way).

“Oh Emma, please be kinder”

“Oh Emma, please be gentler”

“Don’t be so harsh, so tough, so angry, so edgy…”

I’ve written about this a number of times in different places. I’ve reflected on the subtle but crucial difference between “being nice” and “being kind”. I’ve even assessed my edginess, and one dear friend commented, kindly, that I had always been edgy. Which is true. It’s also true that I quite like my edginess.

So it shouldn’t be so hard to hear that I am edgy/tough/harsh. Those traits are always there, more or less close to the surface. I have never been one of these saints with apparently bottomless vats of empathy at their disposal. Some people like that do exist, (though they too would say that edginess is a trait of theirs).

So why is it so awful, in Grief, to be corrected?

Today my sense is that it’s about the judgement.

It’s about the “missing the point”.

It’s about the lack of curiosity.

Balm to the souls of my feet and the palms of my hands would be someone beside me (not in front, not behind, and most definitely not outside my life), turning me towards them, putting their hands lovingly on my shoulders, looking deeply and warmly into my eyes, and taking time to breathe with me, slowing down my breathing.

Balm would be saying, “Emma, I am sorry it’s so hard. Let’s just take a few moments together, to sit, to breathe, to be. To not have to do. To not have to carry and lift and struggle and stagger, just for a few moments”.

Balm to the palms of my hands and the souls of my feet would be an arm around my shoulders and a warm, slow kiss on my face.

Balm to my heart and soul would be acknowledging, even admiring, my grit and tenacity, my courage and determination, and my willingness to educate people as to how I am feeling and what I need, rather than a critique of the ways in which I was falling short.

Balm to my belly would be curiosity, not correction.

Balm to my tight shoulders and neck would be not expecting me, with my already decimated resources, to soothe your experience of me in my grief, but to do more of your self-care yourself.

Yes, I am edgy and tight and tired and irritable and fed up with a lot of things.

Ask me to breathe. Or give me some space and understanding. Be the one to take responsibility for how I impact you, rather than asking me to change how I impact you.

Not for ever, but for a pretty damned long time.

While the concept of “recovery” doesn’t go down well in my grieving community, I read yesterday (in the New York Times, so it must be true), that it takes six to seven years to recover from the death of a spouse. Add in that of a child, or a death by suicide, and it’s likely to be many more.

I am not going to be constantly edgy, but I am going to need gallons of healing balm for a long time to come.

And I am fine with that.

About Emma Pearson

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