It was a staff training workshop. The social worker conducting introduced the topic as “Relating to parents of children with special needs”. She spoke about the grief process, and correlated that to the grief which parents of special needs children experience too, as they deal with the loss of the “ideal”, “normal” child, and have to cope with a special child instead.
One of the activities we were asked to participate in is to come to terms with an aspect of the grief or loss in our lives, to use that as a stepping stone to which we can empathise and relate with the parents. We were each given a small piece of clay to work with.
“What does your grief look like?” We were asked, after the lights were dimmed and we were asked to close our eyes to sink into a reflective mood.
I spent the first few minutes of this trying to think of a time of grief and loss in my life. Yes, we lost my grandfather a few years back, but that was not grief. Maybe… the lost of a friendship? But… I think I had gotten over that pretty concretely too.
And then it came to me: What about the loss of Self?
That thought immediately opened the floodgates of memory, to all the times I had to purposely lose my authentic self because I felt she was not good enough, all the times I felt that the self within had to be pushed into a closet and not shown to the world. All the times I had reprimanded that self and asked why can’t you be better, why can’t you be more “normal”?
And while some losses are experienced once, there are also losses that fall into the recurring category. And I think the loss of self is one of them. Recurring on a daily basis, sometimes several times a day.
Every morning, especially on work days, I intentionally lose a part of Self. The part that I might not be too confident about. The part that I feel the world might not accept. The part that is deemed “not as useful” in the “real world”. For practical purposes, I lose my Self.
And I don’t think I’ve ever grieved over it, though from the thought processes then I think I would really like to and it also felt like I needed to.
By this time, the clay in my hands had become a little box.
Probably the box I put my self in whenever I feel that she’s not needed in the world. When she needs to make way for the masks, the little wayangs, the occasional show of extroversion.
And somehow, holding that box in my hand, giving a form and structure to my loss, did help. At the very least, it got the thoughts going.
“Now, mould your clay to represent how you might cope, or have coped, with your loss or grief.”
It didn’t take me too long to follow that one.
The box emerged with wings at its sides.
For her to take flight. Maybe she hasn’t really dared to come out yet. But when she does, hopefully she’ll see the wings there, ready and waiting for her to take and use them, and she’ll soar high above, unafraid of the world seeing her for who she really is.
Maybe. One day.