Tuesday, May 28, 2013

An Aunt's Mask

At first it was a mask.  

In many ways it still is.

My daily grief as a baby-loss Aunt started out as a barrier I put up between me and the rest of the world.  As a full-time, newbie teacher, my daily grief took the form of a mask that I put on for what I thought was the benefit of the rest of the world. Literally a week or two before Nora died I was given a new job as a teacher at the school where I worked.  I was excited to take on the challenge of being a new teacher and a new aunt all within the span of a few days.  Was I going to be overwhelmed?  Yes.  But I looked forward to the challenge.  If anything, I was worried the birth of my niece would distract me from my new teacher duties.

In the end I was right, just not in the way I had anticipated.

Right after Nora's death, I had to find a way to blend my daily life of being a teacher to energetic and hormonal 7th and 8th graders (more consumed with their dramatic issues than anyone else's) and navigate this all-consuming and unfamiliar territory of grief.  I chose to hide it from them and from the majority of my colleagues.

To my students, I wore the mask of an energetic, goofy and nerdy teacher.  Too excited and eager to teach them everyday.  I told dumb jokes, that I knew would get me the all too common teenage eye roll.  Sometimes my jokes were actually funny and they would laugh (mostly at me, but sometimes with me).  I put all my time and energy at school into planning lessons and praying that they would go well.

To some of my colleagues (not all of them knew what happened with Nora), I wore the mask of a new teacher, handed an interesting situation with my new position.  Those who knew about Nora offered their condolences but mostly asked about how my sister and her husband were doing.  And that only lasted about 2 weeks. I still get some of my colleagues asking about my sister and her husband, but rarely...if ever...does anyone ask how I am doing.

For weeks I came home exhausted from wearing my mask.  At work I would often think of Nora randomly during my teaching, and wonder to myself about this mask I was hiding behind.  Was it healthy to act like this?  To completely try to ignore my feelings at work?  To not let my personal and my professional life overlap?  That is unfortunately what our society expects, so I was following proper protocol according to society.  But was I doing what was right for myself?  This was a tricky territory to navigate.  

After awhile, I noticed that my mask wasn't a mask anymore.  I had used it as a tool for ignoring my grief so completely that I almost stopped grieving after awhile.  Or, more like I stopped acknowledging my grief consciously.

Grief was taking over my life.  I didn't plan for my lessons when I came home (I could only do that at school when I was removed from my personal situation).  I didn't get into any of my hobbies like painting, reading, or sewing.  I just sat and lost myself in TV and benign internet searching--oh and lots of wine.  The only way I can describe how I felt is to say that life didn't feel as "shiny" as it did awaiting Nora.  Overall there had been a shift in my perception of life after she died.  Grief made moments in life seem duller.  I believe this was due to the fact that I was so over the moon excited for Nora, that life seemed amazing, wonderful, new, and magical awaiting her arrival.  All pregnancies probably seem this way to families.  Losing Nora meant I had further to fall.  Things that once excited me didn't anymore, but this was (and still is) temporary.  Just part of the grief journey.  

At some point I finally realized I needed to figure out how to let my grief be a part of my life and not put a mask up instead (I needed the glitter back).  Slowly, my grieving became remembering.  Instead of masking my sad emotions about losing Nora, I chose to turn them into happy and SHINY memories of my niece.  I still don't share too much with my students, but some of them know about Nora now, as do my colleagues.  Not having Nora here will always be sad, but I can choose to be sad, angry, and forlorn about it, or I can choose to be happy and grateful for the few months she was in our lives, even if those were only when she was in my sister's womb.

Life is slowly getting shinier and my mask has come off.  I have started painting and sewing again.  This past weekend I went dancing with a friend and had a moment where I truly felt the shiny-ness of life return.  I was happy to be alive and to have had Nora in my life.  In fact, it made me realize that she is a very shiny part of my life, despite the circumstances.

I know there will still be dull days and times when I need my mask, but throughout it all Nora will be a bright, shiny star that will help me remember the glitter that life holds.

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