“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” — William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun
“She took a step and didn’t want to take any more, but she did.”— Markus Zusak, The Book Thief
“It’s neither kind nor effective to bitch-slap yourself into a better way of living.”— Your Exquisite Self-Care Inventory –101 Ways to Love Yourself More Deeply from Life After Tampons Blog by Jennifer Boykin
About a decade ago, there was a morning where I found myself eating breakfast in a hotel ballroom in another part of the country while a speaker (whose name I can’t remember) stood at the podium and talked about exquisite self care. The audience for the conference was a mix of people who had experienced perinatal loss and those whose work focused on perinatal bereavement. The woman doing the keynote that morning promoted the idea of exquisite self care as necessary for coping with grief and as well as for working with those who are grieving. She spoke about accepting and validating increased needs after a significant loss, and suggested creative and heartfelt ways to increase both practical and emotional support in one’s life.
I remember liking the word exquisite being used in this way– it added an element of relief to picture something of beauty, sensitivity and discrimination associated with what can feel like the belly crawling time of coping with acute grief. I understood her premise to be that individuals can cultivate self-compassion and enlist it, along with other types of efforts, to stay afloat in the world. It expanded my idea of the long hard slog people can have with the basics of eating, sleeping, safety and support after a loss. The word exquisite made me consider space and grace seeping into the herculean efforts of those who are in crisis and who are attempting to get through the next moment or hour.
Exquisite self care also seems appropriate for attending to another need after baby loss, one that goes beyond the usual understanding of basic practical and emotional requirements. It’s something less tangible and probably presents uniquely to each person. I’m talking about how we care for the bits of involuntary interior remodeling of the self that happen after we lose our babies.
This remodeling may be big or small, have short or long term aspects and, sort of like the Winchester Mystery House, it may be ongoing. For some of us, we may feel a permanent change in the internal landscape. My own experience has been feeling that something was dug out inside me as a result of my losses and that the space has undergone many shifts. Early on, it was more like a situation room. Everything inside vibrated with intense feelings while plans were made, scrapped, and made again to deal with the circumstances at hand.
Now I think it’s more a room of requirement, a la the one found in Harry Potter’s Hogwarts. It fits the needs I have for it at different times. Sometimes it is a place where I meet others to hear and feel their stories and sometimes it is a place for me to sit with my own memories. It is simultaneously a space and an addition. It is a part of me shaped by a painful and significant part of my history.
Exquisite self care sounds like an appropriate way to tend to such a place. Some things are forever removed from the interior self post loss and some things should never be removed. It is a place deserving of respectful tending, which means not overlooking it, fearing it or forcefully messing with it. We look after it by gently looking inward. Sometimes we may nod to the space, make a quick round with a dust rag or take a minute to notice the current furnishings. Maybe other times we pull up a chair and sit awhile because something leads us there and it’s a fine place to visit.
Either way, a bit of tenderness and awe would not be out of line here. We can show some deference for our selves shaped, but not taken down by grief. We can remember our dreams and our babies and respect that we loved them and ourselves enough to make room for them.