by Amy Cirksena
Where do you see yourself in five years?
It was a typical question during a job interview.
Harmless. Not meant to offend.
I should have expected it, yet I suddenly felt completely caught off guard.
Where DID I see myself in five years?
I didn’t know.
I started to fidget in my seat, flustered by unexpected sparks of grief.
Pain and anger began boiling beneath the surface of my plastered-on-smile.
The question felt too personal. Too invasive.
I didn’t want to answer.
My cheeks grew flushed as I paused – my mind tripping and sputtering around the thoughts spinning around in my head.
I finally managed to babble an ill-formed response about flexibility and my family.
I tried to regain my composure, but it was too late, the facade of confidence collapsed.
By the time I arrived home, I was in tears.
I felt as if I didn’t belong – there was no place for me in the “real world.”
My ambitions blurred and dimmed. My heart ached for normalcy and the way things were supposed to be.
This was grief.
Where did I see myself in five years?
There was a time where I would have gladly laid out my whole three-, five-, ten-year plan. I am a planner by nature.
I thrive off of research and being intentional with my decisions.
There was a time when I had planned every detail of my future out. Everything would happen if I worked hard enough.
Get a great job.
Wait one year, then have our first baby.
Wait two more years, then have our second baby.
Buy a house in a great school district with a big yard for the dog.
I had a plan. I had goals and hopes, and dreams.
I knew exactly what I wanted, and it was going to be wonderful.
How painfully innocent and naive I was.
By the time I was pregnant with my daughter, I had experienced my share of personal struggle.
Life had proven that it wasn’t fair, and still, I believed I understood it’s unpredictability.
I had served my time managing its challenges, paid the price, overcame the obstacles – I had earned and deserved this happiness.
My baby girl was an overwhelming source of joy and love. She was a dream fulfilled.
With her, I found comfort and hope. I filled my future with dresses, pigtails, and daydreams of girly giggles and ballet classes.
And then, life handed me death.
In one instant, my dreams were twisted and contorted into a disarray of ambiguous shapes and sounds.
Every ounce of comfort, clarity, and safety was stripped away.
I sat shivering and sobbing, pleading with a demon I couldn’t see.
I begged for a different truth. This was not the plan.
This was not supposed to be my future.
Death made me relinquish the control I thought I had.
It is a painful, bitter truth to learn – that we don’t have complete control in life.
We hold our heads up with an air of invincibility, believing pain and suffering can’t touch us. We are disillusioned with power until it’s too late – the veil is torn open.
Without warning, we’re thrust into uncertain darkness, left confused and broken, trying to process a world we no longer recognize or understand.
I never wanted to learn this lesson, but then, life never asked me what I wanted.
I had no choice.
In death, my dreams of a future with my daughter were transformed into wishes I know will never come true.
Truthfully, I don’t know what my future holds or where things will end up.
The prospect of making any long term plans still feels overwhelming and suffocating – a betrayal to the future I once envisioned with my baby girl.
I don’t always know what will make me happy from day to day, hour to hour or, occasionally, minute to minute.
I cannot always predict what will trigger my wounds to reopen and my heart to crack – it could be my son’s smile or an innocuous interview question.
There are days when the feelings are so raw that it is all I can do to remember to breathe.
But over the years of sitting with grief, I have learned that it is okay not to know. It is okay not to have it all planned out.
I have learned that it is okay to change my mind. It’s okay to pause and say no because I can’t hold anything else.
It’s okay to be sure and unsure, confident and terrified, strong and weak – all at once.
It is okay to be selfish and do what your heart needs to do to survive this pain.
It’s okay to bend and break; to sit and linger in anxiety, frustration, and anger until you feel strong enough to stand back up and slowly step forward.
For now, I am okay merely living in the present. Smiling and loving those closest to me, focusing on listening to my heart and my grief.
This is not a future I ever imagined, wanted, or planned.
But it is my reality.
It is the memory of her, constantly roaming in my heart, that reminds me never again take life for granted.
It is because of the love for my baby that I am ferociously aware of how fragile it all can be and that the only thing concrete about the future is the unpredictability that it holds.