I Can’t Just Survive This
I have a confession: I don’t want to survive this.
I want to thrive. I want all this unfathomable, ridiculous and stupid pain and the oceans of tears that seem to have no end in sight to mean something past the fact that I buried my firstborn. I want my daughter’s life and death to mean something. And by mean something I am not suggesting that her dying could ever be okay, or justified, but I do want something GOOD to come of it.
And it’s more than the fact that I want her to have a legacy (though I feel like she does, in everything that I do, or say, whether or not people recognize that it is her legacy). Her loss pierced me personally. I have been wounded to the core, but I don’t want to live out my life just wounded. A part of me will always be fractured. Not quite whole again. Just like your body learns to build scar tissue around open wounds, my desire to is continually grow from my experience. My personal experience. My daughter and I suffered in two astronomically different ways. I fully believe she is free from pain and I am thankful I don’t ever have to worry over her again, but her healing doesn’t do a whole lot to mend the broken parts inside me that will always long to mother her, hold her hand and walk her through life.
I don’t know how you go from being completely broken to one day craving light even a little bit again… but you just do. And it happens differently for everyone, so don’t let anyone’s journey or timeline or story influence how you are truly to the core feeling. You just find yourself in a new (and usually uncomfortable at first) place in grief. Where you don’t feel intensely sad anymore, and you can’t figure out why.
I am begging you to explore that place. If you’re still intensely sad, then by all means — be sad. But if you’re feeling antsy about getting your hair done again or painting your nails or going to a comedy show (something that you haven’t done or wanted to do since before grief), then by all means do! And go! Explore things that don’t make your world worse. Dare to live outside the four walls of grief by societal terms – even when your own heart is screaming at you that you should be sad. Or mad. Or depressed. Or whatever.
Push back. Tell your heart that grief can’t be boxed in. It can look a million different ways. You just proved it.
And here is where I have found the most resistance to be since losing a child. Not the hardest, but it was a close second. And 100% self-induced. The hardest part was undeniably losing her, of course. The next hardest thing was learning to live again. My biggest enemy was staring me back in the mirror, every single morning. Me, myself and I. I stood in the way of my own happiness and my own healing. Some days I felt I didn’t deserve it and some days I just wasn’t interested in healing. It didn’t feel right in a thousand different ways. I tried to find my balance again, like learning to walk again… in this new world and fell time after time after time. I didn’t make a lot of progress for a long time, but I learned to appreciate the struggle (please check out this TED talk by Zain Asher, not loss related but still SO GOOD). Every fall, every setback, every time I told myself I couldn’t or shouldn’t or wouldn’t again, but then got back up anyway a day later, or a week later or a month later… I didn’t know it then but I was building muscle. I was becoming.
You will make it either way, but if you want to make it to the other side – past function and mere existence – it will be some of the hardest work you will ever do in your life.
You won’t surface without scars.
You won’t learn to breathe again without practically suffocating to death.
And you won’t be able to ever say, that could never happen to me — because it did.
But you will rise, and you will find.
You will come through this.
Compassion will overwhelm your soul. For the hurting. And the broken. And the lonely.
But so much tenacity that you will build for endurance through this impossible stretch will also make you vulnerable to a permanent hardness.
Tenacity will get you through the trenches, but it will also create a callous on your heart if it stays longer than it should.
Break into compassion, even when it’s hard.
Even when all of this doesn’t make sense.
Even when your heart’s breaking.
People need your story.
They need your light, and they need your darkness too.
They need to hear about the mother or father (or sister or brother) who faced their worst nightmare, and lived anyway.
Be exceptional. Be broken. Be ready to heal. Be whatever it is you need to be, but above all else be brave enough to break the rules on grief. Again and again and again.