“If you learn from a loss you have not lost.” ~Austin O’Malley
Two years ago I lost my grandfather. He’d been ill the last time I saw him and I knew it was coming. And yet, I was still not prepared for the depth of my grief.
I had lost loved ones before, but while I had loved them, they weren’t him. He was special. He saw me.
If you know what it means to be seen I don’t need to say anymore.
If you’ve never felt seen, let me explain what that feels like: It is the very best feeling; better than love, better than friendship. It’s looking into another’s eyes and seeing complete acceptance, acknowledgement, and the truest form of love.
And I got that from him. Every time he looked at me. Every conversation we had.
Every moment we shared together. And then he was gone. He moved on and I was left feeling/worrying that I would never know that kind of love again.
That I would never be seen.
We all wear so many masks. We wear them to fit a role: mother, sister, wife, good worker. We wear them to protect us in social situations: good girl, bad girl, tough girl, sweet girl.
For so many of us we hide ourselves because we’re afraid that the truth of who we are will not be acceptable. That if others, even those who we trust with our love, were to see who we really are they would turn from us, that we will be seen not as angels but as monsters.
Do you “see” your loved ones? Do you let yourself be “seen”? I’ve been reading Dr. Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. It’s an extraordinary piece of work. It’s beautiful and terrifying.
Dr. Brown explains that while we are all afraid of making ourselves vulnerable, study after study shows that the majority of people are truly rooting for you. They want to see you; they admire your courage. It’s eye opening information.
The very thing we are protecting ourselves from could be the source of our greatest strength.
It’s in large part because of these two things—the loss of my grandfather, and being inspired to let myself be seen (despite deep shyness and a healthy amount of social terror)—that I started my blog, and am working on starting my own business.
Before last year these are two things that I would have never considered. They were for other people, not me.
As I sorted through my grandparents’ photographs looking for a keepsake photo of my grandfather and me, a talisman I could hold on to, it occurred to me that my family’s photos were in desperate need of organization and preservation.
I began to think that I couldn’t be the only one in this situation. That there had to be others who were grieving a loss and were left with shoeboxes filled with precious family photos and no idea how to keep them safe.
I knew I could help. I could help them and I could help me. I’m naturally organized (my mom calls it bossy), I’m an amateur photographer, I’m a grad student studying archival preservation, and I’ve lost someone very dear to me. I’m perfect for the job of photo organizer!
But wait, I’m an introvert. I’m very shy. I’m very private.
I hate any kind public display. I find posting my status on Facebook challenging. The thought of putting myself “out there,” of letting others see me was just terrifying.
How could I let myself be so exposed? What if I failed? And that’s when I remembered what this was all about, my fear of never feeling seen again.
How could I ever be seen if I hid behind my fears? If I didn’t put myself out there, no one would even know to look for me.
See, I know that I struck the emotional jackpot with my grandpa. He was there from the day I was born supporting me, encouraging me, believing in me. If I ever wanted that again I would have to actively seek it from someone else.
Or would I?
You see, as I started to open myself up to being vulnerable, as I started to show myself through my blog, through my actions, an amazing thing happened: I began to feel seen. I began to feel appreciated. I began to feel admired.
And what’s amazing is that she was also there from the moment I was born, she had been rooting for me the whole time. She was me.
I had been so busy hiding from others that I hadn’t realized the real person I was hiding from was me. I had denied myself my greatest champion. I had been scared to not measure up to the ridiculousness of my internal standards, scared that if I tried and failed, I would hate me.
But that’s ridiculous! If I can’t accept myself, see myself as great, how can I expect anyone else to see that? It’s a trap so many of us fall into.
I’m still a work in progress and I still catch myself trying to hide so others won’t notice me, won’t judge me, but I am getting stronger. I am better at acknowledging that there is only one me and she’s kinda fun.
Now when I look into my eyes I see me and I see my grandpa and I feel the love and support that was always there.
Photo by Klondike Kate Photography