There is something very humbling about realizing that others don’t see you the way you see yourself. Humbling and a little bit unnerving too.
The beauty of Kindness Matters is that it is helping to raise awareness to an ugly and often silent epidemic in our society. While I usually focus on kids, they certainly do not have a monopoly on bullying. So, I’ve become a bit of a door-to-door salesman, traveling from school to school and all over social media to peddle my wares. Only, instead of vacuum cleaners, I’m selling a better world. And just like the Fuller Brush man, I truly believe in my product and I think most of the people I’ve encountered do too. However, being the front man (or woman) for an idea also often puts you in the line of fire.
In the last few months, that reality has not only been shown to me in no uncertain terms, but it’s been a bit of a throat punch to my psyche. In one instance, I was blamed for what happened to Peyton, in another, I was told I was not being a good friend and in yet another I was told to “practice what I preach” when I disagreed with someone. Now, before you get riled up, trust me when I say that I am OK. I wasn’t at first. These comments caused many tears and sleepless nights. But I’m working on it.
I’m trying to see that the people that said these things only wanted to cause me pain or to use me as their safe punching bag. Their reasons may be logical in their own mind, but I know that they were only lashing out at me because they’re too afraid to look closely at themselves. I get that. Really, I do. Yet, I’d be lying if I said those comments didn’t hurt. All this time, while I’ve been sharing Peyton’s story and trying to spread kindness, I never thought about what it looked like from a different perspective.
This has given me pause and made me think. In the movie “Dead Poet’s Society,” John Keating (played by Robin Williams) has his students stand on the desk in order to remind them that they must constantly look at things in a different way. It’s one of my favorite scenes in the movie and it’s something I strive to teach my students in my own classroom. I want them to see the world from all angles and not get bogged down in the one that is the most convenient or the one that paints them in the most flattering light. But, it seems that I had forgotten to do this with my own life.
In my quest to make the world a kinder place and to help kids see the power in their own words and actions, I put blinders on to anyone’s pain but my own. After all, I win the grief game, don’t I? How could anyone ever suffer like I have, right? But, in my defense, and possibly in defense of all parents who have lost a child to suicide, the grief is so encompassing that it’s easy to forget that the rest of the world even exists, yet alone that anyone else may be hurting too. However, I remember the exact moment when I realized that I was not the only one who had lost Peyton and I wasn’t the only one who was grieving. It was a cold slap in the face, but it also helped me to see that I didn’t have a monopoly on sorrow. But it’s oh-so-easy to fall back down that rabbit hole though, and I guess I soon did.
Sometimes, the abyss of grief overwhelms me. Many people often lash out when they feel this way. Almost every other grieving mother I’ve talked to is, or has been, mad as Hell about what happened to their child. Mothers (and probably fathers too, but I don’t have any frame of reference) who are surviving their child’s suicide though often feel like they can’t be or shouldn’t be mad at their child. I feel this way all the time. I feel that if I’m mad at Peyton then I’m failing him again. So, when we’re mad and we can’t face the fact that we’re really mad at our child, who are we allowed to vent to? And we need to vent, just like a tea kettle needs to let off the building steam. If we don’t, then we risk either exploding or imploding, neither of which has a good outcome. But, I often feel that, because I’ve created this persona as the spokesperson for Kindness Matters, I’m not allowed to do that anymore. As if I’m supposed to be this perpetual Pollyanna who never has a bad day, never has an off moment and never (God forbid) has an unkind thought. Sometimes it’s just too much.
So, I’m asking for myself and for grieving parents everywhere – please don’t judge us if we don’t live up to your standards. I think I can speak for all of us when I say we’re trying as hard as we can – really we are. We’re trying to maintain some normalcy in our lives. We’re trying to continue to function as walking, talking, human beings when all we really want to do is curl up in a ball and cry. We’re trying to see our actions from your point of view. But, more times than not, we’re going to come up short. When we do, please don’t berate us or make us feel like our grief is a burden to you. If we seem to fly off the handle over something that is inconsequential, then please see it for what it really is. We’re not really upset over the trivial detail we’ve focused on, but that trivial detail is a safe place for us to unleash our anger, frustration and unending feeling of hopelessness. So, instead of engaging in our combat, take us gently by the elbow to a safe place, put your arms around us and hold on tight. Be our anchor and wait for the storm to pass. It will. And while there’s no guarantee that there won’t be another one around the corner, know that our love for you, the one who keeps us grounded, is always going to be there.