Sometimes we don’t even realize the power of the words we’ve been using to tell our story (to ourselves or others). Even more than that, sometimes we don’t realize we have the agency to change the words we use, to pick more liberating versions of our story, to step outside the dominant way of portraying what has happened to us. For instance, in Buddhist studies, you will often see teachers encouraging us to take a different view when talking about crime experiences. We are encouraged to view, refer, engage with a person in the prison setting as someone who has experienced committing a crime rather than as a criminal. It can seem like semantics, but think about it. When we call and consider someone a criminal, we put the act of the crime inside their very body. They are crime. There is no larger context of them being a person who experienced circumstances that led to the act of a crime.
For me personally (Kara), I felt this idea transform me when considering how I described my experience with my three dead children. For years and years, I called myself a bereaved mother. I put the grief inside my very body. My description of myself as mother revolved around the death experiences. But when I began to consider the power of words, I began to see that using the term bereaved mother negated the variety of motherhood I’d experienced. I was indeed a mother to dead children, but I was also mother to living children, step children, grandchildren. I began to consider that I am a mother, period. I have had lots of different kinds of motherhood experiences, including being mother to dead children. But I am not a simply a bereaved mother.
This sentiment was echoed for me in what I learned about the history of Mothers Day. I used to think that Mothers Day didn’t apply to someone like me. Maybe we did need a separate day for bereaved parents to be honored. But then I learned that Mothers Day was founded by mothers during the Civil War era whose sons had died. These mothers held peaceful protests calling for an end to war so that children would stop dying. The history of Mothers Day made it a day for *all* mothers already. I don’t need some special day to cover me. Mothers Day proper covers me just fine.
So consider the words that come into play in your story, in how you describe others, in how you categorize your interactions. While there was a time when grief was so strong and overwhelming that maybe I did feel I was only a bereaved mother, there came a place and power spark where I discovered I had the agency to change that description to talk about being a mother, period. To share my various experiences of motherhood. Where in your story are you still using words that no longer serve you? Where in your interactions with others are you cutting off your connection with the other person because you see them defined only as this one piece of their story? Where do you have agency to change the language? Just experiment with changing the language, and sit with how that feels? Do you feel any spots of liberation open up when you shift the story? When you shift the language, do the narrative possibilities open up for exploring your experiences or the experiences of others?
Just try it. See what unfolds!