I often forget that many of the people I interact with regularly have no idea I’m a grieving mom. Of course, this is ridiculous because the reason they don’t know is because I haven’t told them. Yet sometimes, I still feel like my pain is visible…like somehow, my grief over Maddie is carved into my skin, and strangers will look at me and just know.

Last week, a coworker of mine found out about Maddie in a very sudden, very public way. She had no idea Maddie had died, and was completely blindsided.  She then had to process this brand new information while she sat right next to me. She was shell-shocked and I felt terrible about it…I’d just assumed someone in the company had filled her in.

The situation was entirely my doing. I very easily could have told her myself anytime in the last year. One of the reasons I don’t usually bring up Maddie is to avoid painful, awkward moments exactly like that one. Seeing my friend go through all of these emotions, knowing I was watching her, was just awful…and it was my fault.

I found myself comforting her, assuring her that we were okay, that everything was okay. The words came out automatically, just like they did in the weeks and months after Maddie died. People would come to our house to comfort us, but I’d often find myself comforting them instead. I knew that people wanted us to be okay and so I’d compulsively tell them we’d be alright, even though I had no idea if we’d ever be okay again. I just I couldn’t bear their sadness on top of my own.

Of course, now we are okay, even if it will never be okay that Maddie isn’t here. And even though this situation with my co-worker was an uncomfortable one, I’m not sure if it will change how and when (or if) I tell people about Maddie. It’s not that I don’t care about the feelings of my friends and acquaintances (I do, very much), it’s just that I have learned that I have to protect my own feelings. I’ve managed to put myself back together but there are days when it wouldn’t take much to break me apart.

I keep reminding myself of this as the shattered look on my coworker’s face plays on repeat in my mind. This was a hard, uncomfortable moment for her, but this is my everyday reality and I’m still figuring out what I have to do to get through each day. I have a feeling I’ll be figuring it out for the rest of my life.