When Swings Hang Empty

The kindest thing someone once said to me went something like this. “That swing is empty. That hurts. That is a loss. No one will ever fill that swing again. Nor should they.” For the very first time, in that moment I felt the gift of space. I was given the space to feel the loss. I was given permission. It felt so right. And in that moment, something that had been silently screaming inside of me, was finally given the space to breathe. To be heard. To be witnessed. There was more healing in that moment than I knew at the time. Validation is powerful.
At the time I was in the middle of trying to come to grips with my loss of a mother. I didn’t have words but through creating art I began to find a way to express it.

All of our stories may be different, but there is one thing none of us have escaped. Loss. So this is for you. You, who had to say goodbye to someone too soon. Whoever you are missing on the swing beside you. If you find that your swing is empty. Vacant. Do not discount the loss. Give room and space for the loss and the grief. It matters. That might be the best gift you ever give yourself.

-The Empty Swing – JG 2019 – inspired by nhienan’s piece ‘lonely’

My journey of grief and loss has been complex and messy at best. It still feels new to me to say that I have a story, and that mine is a story of loss. For much of my life this far, I minimized, I didn’t acknowledge the loss. Partly because I didn’t know how to and partly because I was terrified of it. So why not ignore it and let it go away by itself, right? (Yeah, that didn’t work out so well for me.) I finally got tired of running.
If you have a loss that you know you need to process and work through. Find someone who will validate it, sit with you in it, and not try to fix or compare. Trust me, it is worth it.
For me, dealing with a loss that happened prior to my ability to remember or verbalize has been complicated. How does one grieve a death of a mom they don’t remember? How does one start a grief journey over 25 years after a death? Especially when it seems everyone else has moved on and forgotten. To honor a memory and a legacy of the one who gave you life without memories, it gets complicated.

A word on pre-verbal memories. They are real. They happened. I’m learning these things can have long lasting influence. Because I couldn’t remember my birth mom, it felt like it shouldn’t hurt and it shouldn’t affect me. If I didn’t have memories why would I grieve? If I didn’t know who I lost, why would it hurt? I found the quote below profoundly relate-able as I starting to accept the impact of an early loss of a parent.
“People who have survived these early experiences usually cannot recall them verbally, while they cannot forget them non-verbally. They may live lives of quiet desperation, reacting to every stress with a silent scream.” –Dr Linda Gantt (I’m not sure if this is Gantt’s original quote. I wrote it in my journal a few years back- I believe I got it off a video of hers.)

All grief is messy and complex really. There is no easy way around it. Ever. Yet, there is a way through. And for me that road through started once I gave space for that empty swing to be there. Painfully empty. Achingly vacant. If you need permission to start to acknowledge- here it is. Your empty swing matters. Your story deserves to be heard. Maya Angelou says it well. “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Tell your story.

10 thoughts on “When Swings Hang Empty

  1. I often wondered how you felt about not being able to know your mother. I couldn’t understand the loss as at that time in my life I had not yet experienced losing someone close to me. Now I understand. It’s an empty space that simply no one can fill even though others may try to fill it for you. It’s ok to mourn that loss and I believe it’s ok (at least for me) to accept that I’ve lost my mother and don’t have to replace her because others want me to.

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    1. Yes I believe others can be there- but no one fills the spot again. Not the same way they did. (You know I have a wonderful step mom who did amazing at stepping into a hard situation for which I’m so grateful.) but I needed to leave space for the reality of the loss. I think we all do in some way or another. Hugs to you as you miss your mom.

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  2. That’s beautifully said. It’s a process I need to go through… losing my mom and four babies needs to be worked through yet.

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  3. Comelordjesus1111@gmail.com I Japheth Weaver loss my DAD in 2013 although it a different journey grief is the same some have more then thought But The God still the same . Even though some are farther on THE JOURNEY THAN THE OTHER IT IS their I reminded Of Jesue saying come unto me all ye that are heavy laden& l will give rest.The charge just still empty one can fill the spot I don’t care how old you are it hurt you wish to talk to them.

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  4. Beautiful!
    Your sweet Mother lived at my Grandfather Norman’s place while she taught school and also did housekeeping for him as he was widowed.
    I loved going to visit especially when Hannah was there.
    She had the most welcoming smile and kind heart.
    I will never forget her.
    I’m so grateful you found permission and space to grieve your loss and tell your story.
    Much respect and love to you.
    Juanita Staken

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  5. Thank you. It helps me understand more of what my mother went through. Her mother died when my mother was not quite 2. She always talked about missing her. I don’t think she was ever giving permission to grieve by family and others. That impacted me because it was like her attitude was “I didn’t have a mother so why should you expect me to be a mother to you?” It also helps in understanding people I know who are foster,adopted and even those who were seperate d from their parents by the state for various reasons

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    1. That’s hard and I’m sorry your mom projected her loss onto you.
      I’ve found books written by adoptees or from their perspective helpful as there doesn’t seem to be a lot of resources for grieving a death of a parent without memories.

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  6. Another area that occurred to me that has never been acknowledged. The thousands of young children taken from their parents and sent to institutions for mentally handicapped the term used in those days. Those children are now adults living in group homes many with no contact with family. I wonder how many of them have “behaviours” when really it’s grieving the loss of family???

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