I had a marathon phone call with my sisiter Gina yesterday – close to three hours – the kind of call that can only exist between sisters. We hadn’t talked on the phone for more than one month, so we both instinctually knew we were in for a long talk. She hunkered down on her couch with a blanket and her cat Simon on her lap, and I hunkered down in my cozy corner of the couch with my blanket and a full glass of water nearby.
There are only three people on this planet that I can endure talking to on the phone for this long: my two sisters and my mother. Geographically we are far away, but like Julia Cameron says, “the heart can love despite geography.” We’re forever connected.
We covered a lot of territory during those three hours. We discussed food (always a top priority), our jobs, the places we’ll be traveling to, and the funny things our pets do. And we also talked about the tough things, mostly my recent loss, but also my dreams.
This morning, Gina sent me a text with a link to a piece of writing she said made her think of me and my loss and the conversation we had the previous day. So I grabbed my iPad and hunkered down once again into my cozy corner of the couch and clicked the link. It led me to an excerpt of Sheryl Sandberg’s recent commencement speech at the University of California at Berkley in which she talked about the sudden death of her husband a little more than one year ago. Her words resonated with me. By the time I read the last sentence, I was in tears. There was someone out there who understood this abyss of grief that comes after a great loss, but most importantly how that loss changes you in profound ways.
Sandberg writes: “For many months afterward, and many times since, I was swallowed up in the deep fog of grief – what I think of as the void – an emptiness that fills your heart, your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even to breathe. … But I also learned that when life sucks you under, you can kick against the bottom, break the surface, and breathe again. I learned that in the face of the void – or in the face of any challenge – you can choose joy and meaning. … You will be defined not just by what you achieve, but by how you survive.”
Since my miscarriage in February, I’ve experienced a lot of highs and lows. Some days I am so blissed out that every moment feels magical, every second feels like a gift. The past seems far behind. Then there are days where grief seems to rise up out of nowhere and slaps me in the face. A sad song on the radio will make me weep or a friend’s photo with their happy, smiling baby will pop up in my Facebook feed, and I quickly unravel. But every day, I still continue to get up out of bed, and every day I am amazed that I still can. My therapist says I am resilient because of all of the previous hardships I’ve survived. In her speech, Sandberg said that according to psycologist Martin Seligman, there are three P’s that are critical to how we bounce back from hardship: personalization (“the belief that we are at fault”); pervasiveness (“the belief that an event will affect all areas of your life”); permanance (“the belief that the sorrow will last forever”). Our perspective, how we process this negative experience, determines our resilience.
For a while, I blamed myself for the loss of our baby, knowing very well that I was being completely illogical, and knowing deep down I was not to blame. But when you don’t know the “why,” your mind begins to obsessivley search for possibilities and reasons. What could I have done differently? It took me a few months to make peace with the fact that sometimes bad things just happen, and maybe I’ll never know why, or maybe it will be months or years before I can look back and see that “x” had to happen in order for “y” to happen.
Grief is overwhelming, and swallows up our mind, body and spirit. Like the tide, it rushes in, pulls us under, then pauses to leave us in its calm wake, only to rise up again and repeat the process over and over. A few weeks ago, I told my mother that I felt like I was drowning. I was having one of those days where I was flooded with an array of emotions. I felt out of control. And yet, even in the midst of that dark moment, I knew not everything is lost. I have a supportive and loving husband, who is my best friend in life. I have a loving community of friends and family who have held me up during such a difficult time. I have a boss who lets me cry in front of him, and when I tell him that I’m still struggling and don’t feel like myself lately, he looks me dead in the eyes and sincerely says, “I understand.” These are all gifts.
Everything is temporary. Even in those darkest moments when I am overcome with grief, I know it will pass. “Finding gratitude and appreciation is key to resilience,” Sandberg said.
If I I have learned anything from this experience thus far, it’s that life is short, but most importantly, life is not an either/or. Life doesn’t happen that way; it is far from linear. We never truly know what’s around the corner. So what that means to me is that I’m not just holding onto my dreams anymore, I’m going after them. Someday has turned into now. That writing retreat that’s been on my wish list, I’m going. That career that’s been calling me, I’m no longer ignoring it; I’m going after it. That trip to Maine I’ve been dreaming about, airplane tickets are purchased. The mom that I know I am meant to be, it’s going to happen.
I read a quote recently that said, “One often learns more from 10 days of agony than 10 years of contentment.” (Merle Shain) I will never be the same. Losing our baby redefined me – but not in a bad way. I’m paying attention more, opening my eyes to everything around me, all the possibilities. I’m listening to my heart and letting my soul lead me.
Everything has a season. Even grief. The storm has passed. There still may be a lingering rainshower now and again, but I don’t want to continue to look over my shoulder any longer, wishing I could change the past. I want to turn my gaze inward toward reflection and be grounded in the present, and turn my gaze forward, toward the future, toward better days.