We all get those unexpected chances in life to look at ourselves.  For me, one of these unexpected chances has come in the form of a class I enrolled in, focused on learning about culture.  I never suspected that I would end up learning so much about my own culture as a grieving parent, and reflecting on my own life:

Just short of three years ago, I was catapulted into a co-cultural group of bereaved parents.  A unique group, appearing in small fragments around the world, connected by one of the strongest experiences possible – the loss of a child.  I remember feeling so alone, thrust into this group that I didn’t want to belong to, desperately wanting to go back to who I was the day before.  One day, fitting perfectly into a dominant group, a happy white middle class mom of two happy and healthy children, getting ready to celebrate Christmas. The next day, “living” in an entirely new world, having no idea how to be the new person that I am now.  Very briefly, trying to assimilate, trying to hold on to the remnants I once knew. Trying to convince myself that I could still try to fit my square peg into a circle where I no longer belonged.  Convincing myself that those around me somehow took that jump with me, and that we could still see the world through each other’s lens, something that had seemingly come so easily to both me and them before.  I was aggressive in my assimilation, showing up to a Christmas program and maintaining activities, feeling like I needed to fulfill all of the roles that I once had, putting the searing pain of being in this new group in a place that I couldn’t successfully compartmentalize.  Expecting, during this brief time, for the dominant group to have moved with me, to be able to empathize with who I was now, and put themselves in my shoes.  But they couldn’t make themselves go there, they could never put themselves in my shoes, because they weren’t me and they couldn’t even imagine what it was like to be me.

Then, I walked into a Compassionate Friends meeting.  And I found others who were like me – my co-cultural group. They understood who I was now, even better than I understood myself.  They were able to see me, and understand who I was in that moment as well as see the possibilities of who I could become years down the road, as I became more accepting of my new group membership.  I felt at home in this group, like I had been on a very long journey through a strange world, and felt like I had finally landed where I belonged.  From here, I sought others like me, finding them online in places around the world.  Watching their actions, hearing their words, and trying to figure out where my path would go.  Here, I entered a world of separation, physically remaining in the dominant group, but with little understanding of them, and with them having little understanding of me.  This separation took an aggressive turn at times, myself and others in my group being critical of some members of the dominant group for not understanding, and some members of the dominant group engaging in retaliatory criticism.  Neither coming from a source of mean-heartedness, but both as a result of not knowing how to establish a connection, and not knowing how to close the wide abyss of separation that had formed.

Now, I work toward a place of accommodation, vacillating between non-assertive and assertive, depending on the situation.  Now, I maintain contact with my co-cultural group regularly.  In our relationships, we help each other feel “normal” in a world where we will never quite belong.  Today, I still find myself looking to mentors within my group in all of my work as a bereaved parent, and am surprised to find that some others view me as a mentor to them.  Today, I am finding myself more comfortable in my own shoes.  I say Rowan’s name in conversation, with the more confident expectation that he will be welcome in the interactions of those who choose to be around me, and in those I choose to be around.  Today, I try to increase my own visibility as a person who can belong in my group and still function, still contribute, still change the world for the better, and still openly feel my loss and my pain.  Today, I try to educate others of what being in my group is like, and I am working toward being an example of what I and other bereaved parents can do to turn their tragedy into something that our children would be proud of.

Still, I find myself faltering, finding myself in brief moments that still range from non-assertive assimilation to aggressive separation.  What I have learned, in this study and in life, is that I am neither proud nor ashamed of my process of finding my place. Instead, I understand and accept that this journey has been a small part of a larger and longer-term vision for the rest of my life.  My hope is that, in time, I will continue to work toward striking a comfortable balance between my world and the dominant world around me, in a way that will always keep Rowan in my heart and in the hearts of others.

Thanks to the text: Experiencing Intercultural Communication for its use in this assignment