By: Kayla Leibner
Have you ever felt pressured on your grief journey – by your feelings or by the words of others? There are some things that have been said to me repeatedly over the last few years – more frequently at the beginning of my life as a bereaved parent and only on occasion now. I believe these things have always been said with intentions of love, support, or even just in recognition of the painful circumstances of my losses, but after some time I discovered that they caused me to feel like I had to be something specific. I also had a few misconceptions of my own that contributed to this pressure to be “okay.”
It’s Okay to Not be Okay…
“You’re so strong. I don’t know how you do it.” This is one of those statements. I usually respond with something like, “I just do the best I can,” because I honestly don’t feel all that strong at times. Especially in the beginning, I felt anything but strong. I felt weak, broken, overwhelmed, and lost. However, I eventually realized that some of the overwhelming feelings I was experiencing were actually coming from the pressure I felt to be strong, to fulfill the perception of others.
Another implication of this statement is that we have a choice in our circumstances. If only this were true. Saying, “I don’t know how you do it,” very strongly suggests that there is another option. Fortunately, for those who use these phrases, they simply cannot understand. We are all just doing the best we can with the terrible hand we’ve been dealt. There’s nothing we can do to change it, and there’s no alternative for us but to become stronger because of our path. We just continue pushing forward and doing what we can.
In time, I came to understand that my sorrow and brokenness made others uncomfortable, so I did my best to hold myself together and to portray this warrior that others chose to see. Ultimately, the burden of keeping up this charade was too much to bear along with the weight of my grief, so I had to let it go. I couldn’t pretend anymore to be something I wasn’t. I realized that I’m not expected to be “okay” by the people who love me most. Instead, I am accepted, as is. Once I understood this, I was able to give myself permission to fall apart, to be a mess, and to embrace my grief for what it was.
It’s Also Okay to be Okay…
Once I finally allowed myself to feel the full force of my sorrow, I was able to begin accepting our losses. I was able to not only help myself grieve in a healthy way, but I was also able to guide my living children and support my husband as they all grieved alongside me.
Throughout the first few years, and even now, I find myself feeling guilty now and then for finding joy in things again. I have felt shame for enjoying the beauty of life, and I still sometimes fight against the inclination to do so. It took a lot of consideration, prayer, and searching of the scriptures to arrive at the moment when I realized that healing is composed of many things… including joy and sorrow. One particular set of verses I read reminds me that “there is a time for every matter under heaven.” This verse is actually part of the scripture reading we had done at Melody’s funeral, so it’s extremely relevant that I share it now.
“There is an appointed time for everything…
A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance.”
(Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4 NASB2020)
This isn’t to say that there is a timeline for grief or that it expires at any given point. We all know that isn’t true. But right here, in these set of verses, every feeling I have that is associated with my grief and healing is justified and defended by the King of my life. God’s word tells me it’s okay to feel tremendous sorrow and to weep for my losses, and it tells me it’s befitting to also welcome joy and laughter on that journey, too – not that there is a limit or that we can only feel things once, but that it is all acceptable and valid.
It’s Even Okay to be BOTH…
Joy and sorrow are quite fitted to go hand-in-hand because both are so deeply felt and can be truly consuming. After some time, I discovered that I don’t have to choose one or the other. I can feel both, and I can feel them separately or simultaneously. Coming to this realization opened the door to healing for me. I was able to recognize that grief doesn’t just travel in one direction, and it isn’t a straight path I can follow. There aren’t stages to work through and a certificate of completion at the end. Because of this insight, I have been able to truly embrace my journey of healing, to allow each feeling I have along the way – and with a lot less guilt. I still have moments when I can’t help but feel that pang of negative feelings when I consider how an enjoyable situation could be even more so if Melody and Jamie were still with us. But those times don’t overshadow my joy the way they used to.
I have learned from my experiences as a bereaved parent that it’s okay to feel what I feel and to be what I am in any given moment – from broken to rejoicing and anything in between. It’s more than acceptable to be okay, to not be okay, or to be both. Our grief isn’t a direct passageway. There is no finish line. You can gain closure, but there’s not an end to the rollercoaster of grief as long as we’re living. So long as we love our children, we will grieve them.
About Kayla Leibner
Kayla is a Christian, a wife, a mom, and an educator. Faith and spiritual health are a top priority for her and also for her family. She strives to cultivate a supportive and spiritually uplifting atmosphere for her children at home. Until the summer of 2020, Kayla was an early childhood educator, but she lost her job due to the Covid-19 pandemic when her school was forced to close. The loss of her job turned out to be an unexpected blessing when she and her husband realized that she would be able to be at home with their oldest children as they completed school virtually.
Kayla and her husband have known one another for sixteen years, have been together for eight years, and have been married for seven years. They have four children together. Jace and Kiley are their older children. Melody and Jamie are their younger children – and also their angel babies.
Kayla and her family have been on their journey of grief since August 2017 when Melody died shortly after birth, due to complications of a CHD. Jamie was lost in May 2018 when Kayla suffered a miscarriage. Their family has worked together and relied heavily on God for guidance and support through their losses.
Kayla enjoys music (writing, singing, and playing instruments), art (sketching, drawing, and coloring for stress relief), and writing in her free time. She began writing for Sharing Magazine in 2019, and she feels so blessed to be able to contribute to such an amazing platform in honor of her babies. She hopes that her articles are able to provide support and comfort to families who read them.