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Stepping Out of the Bubble

The bubble is simultaneously good and bad.

The days you wake up and you just feel like you can’t face the day, you get into your bubble. Staying in your bed, knowing you won’t leave your house, or canceling plans you made with someone earlier secures that bubble and takes off any pressure or anxiety to step outside the bubble. This feels good. You can control it and everyone in the grief world tells you it’s ok and that you can do that whenever you want. It’s healing. It’s restorative. It’s what I need today.

But the bubble also is isolating. It can allow you to fall deeper into a sadness and get lost in a place where no one knows how to find you. If someone does reach out, you’re “fine”. You’re taking a day to chill out. Maybe you need to just cry for awhile. Maybe your mind takes you to unsettling replays of the day your son died. Seeing images that no parent should ever have to see. They become all consuming and they’re right there in the bubble with you, unable to escape. So you just scream. Sometimes out loud, sometimes in your mind. But you’re stuck in the bubble.

It can be both a calming and triggering experience to stay in the bubble.

So you leave the bubble.

You get out of bed, you got to the grocery store, you hang out with friends and family, but all of this is also good and bad.

You know you can’t wallow in the grief bubble forever, it’s not sustainable. But stepping out, even for a second, sends a wave of guilt over you for something as simple as smiling for just a minute. It’s easier with strangers. You smile, (or don’t smile, no one says you have to smile) and you know that no body at this grocery store has any idea the burden you’re carrying. It’s like you’re in a different world than the one you know you live in every day. The people just move around you going about their business and you can do the same.

Friends and family are a different story.

They love you. They know your situation. They sympathize with your feelings. But do they talk about it, or not?

There‘s an awkward elephant in the room. No one wants to bring it up if I’m having a better day than normal. If they do, will it make me cry? Will it make everyone uncomfortable?

From my perspective, I don’t want to start crying uncontrollably, but I also don’t want to ignore my son. If I’m smiling and laughing, do they think that I don’t miss him? Do they think I’m “healing” or “getting past it”? (FYI: a bereaved parent never “gets over it”) If I get really sad and quiet am I going to ruin whatever event got me out of the house? I don’t want to bring down the room. I don’t want to be too happy or too sad.

I’m just stuck in the world where I pretend everything is alright.

I had the chance to visit the ER where I used to work until a year ago.

First, I almost didn’t go. We were in town for other reasons and I was staying in the hotel room. Could have stayed in my hotel bubble. Watched TV for a few hours until it was time for bed, but another part of me wanted to break through this bubble. I wanted to go see the people I consider co-workers and friends for the previous 9 years. I knew it would be strange, but I also hoped it would be comforting.

It was a little of both.

The elephant in the room kept screaming in my head, “Johnathan died, Johnathan died”. And a part of me wanted to talk about him to everyone. But another part of me wanted to just laugh and smile and find out what each of them had been doing for the past year since I left.

That ER was my home for 9 years. Those people watched me go through pregnancies with both of my sons and watched my boys grow into little men. They had been snuggled and loved on and I knew they felt a loss, too.

It felt good to step out of my bubble for just a little bit. I was exhausted afterwards from all the strength it took to put on a happy face and make small talk with people. I needed it though. I needed to know I could gather the strength to get out of my bubble.

It’s two worlds. Inside the bubble and outside, both painful in different ways.

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