Monday, August 26, 2013

on finding meaning

Today is a story of my journey toward a more positive outlook. Being positive isn't something that comes naturally to me – I have had to work at it. And though I do work at it, I didn't exactly say to myself one day, “you are going to be positive.” Rather, it happened organically, as an outcome of a very low time. There is nothing simple about re-shaping your world view, and yet at the same time it is incredibly simple – somewhere along the line, I just made a choice to make the best of things.

For those of you who don’t know me well, the beginning of 2013 was pretty tough. Within two months’ time, we had 3 deaths in the family – Justin’s father, my grandmother, and a miscarriage of our first pregnancy. During that time, I was really in a bad place. I found out I was pregnant the same weekend Justin’s father, Doug, passed away and I began to think of the baby as a special gift from him. I thought it was a way for Doug’s spirit to live on and that it was meant to provide happiness at a time of great difficulty for my husband and I. Placing this higher purpose on our unborn child and then losing that child unexpectedly, made me question everything – from life’s purpose to the existence of God to my own life and what I was meant to be and do and become. I began having nightmares – really disturbing and traumatic nightmares – of being trapped or helpless; watching babies die; watching my husband die; being stalked, chased, murdered – and waking up screaming. The dreams were vivid and I had a hard time shaking the images for days after.

 My parents were taking a long weekend trip to Edisto Beach with family friends and I decided I needed time to properly grieve and clear my head, so I joined them. But it poured buckets of rain and the wind was so strong on the beach that you couldn't walk a few steps without the sand stinging your face. As I tried to make the best of the situation, we had another crisis. My mom had been trying to reach my grandmother for a full day and she wasn't answering her phone. We called the police to check on her and as we anxiously awaited their call, I went upstairs and stared at the ceiling, silently willing the universe to give me a break. They say God only gives you what you can handle, right? Well, I don’t know if I believe in God, but I certainly believed I couldn't handle any more. My mother’s cell phone rang and I heard muffled voices and headed down the stairs. I remember standing on the steps of that beach condo, already so lost and empty, and seeing my mother, crying into my father’s chest. I fell apart into sobs. My grandmother had passed away – two days prior, they thought – and I felt utterly broken.

I have been through some grim times that have challenged my spirit, but I don’t think I’d ever felt as abandoned and dejected as in that moment. I couldn't understand why this was happening. There seemed to be no light ahead but I had no choice but to go on. My husband needed me. My family needed me. I numbed myself to the hurt and stopped trying to find meaning and purpose – instead, just trying to get through day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. I forced myself to find joy wherever I could – simply because the alternative was sinking into complete despair. It wasn't easy.

We came home from my grandmother’s funeral and were forced back into regular life. I started journaling. I made time for baths and aromatherapy. I got back into reading. I held on tightly to the people I loved who were still with me. On a friend’s recommendation, I started going to a non-profit here in Charlotte, The Respite*. They provide therapy, classes, grief massages, and during my visits there I found a safe space to grieve.

After a few weeks’ time something miraculous happened. By letting go of trying to find meaning, I found acceptance. I realized that my attitude had shifted. I started telling myself that maybe the baby wasn't a gift from Doug but maybe it was a gift for Doug. I realized that if we had to go through the heartbreak of losing my grandmother, we were blessed that it happened while we were away. My mom never had to find my grandmother lying there. She was with some of her best friends and her immediate family when it happened. My grandmother peacefully slipped away while reading her book after her nightly cup of tea. And I received the closure I so desperately needed for losing a baby I would never meet – I was able to bury a token with my grandmother and leave a token at the grave site of my other grandparents. It gave me a chance to say goodbye and it eased my mind of the nagging thought that my grandmother would never meet her great-grandchild. I felt that somehow, somewhere they were together, and that gave me comfort.

My story isn't unique. Plenty of people go through loss and find acceptance in this way. But there are many people who don’t – who can’t let go of the why of it all in order to move on. I am not okay with what happened. I still think things like, “I should be 27 weeks pregnant now” or “I don’t have any living grandparents anymore”. But I make the choice, the sometimes-very-difficult choice, to snap out of it and focus on what I do have. I find motivation and meaning in the things I enjoy, in the people I love, in the wise words of others, and in the idea that no matter how hard I try I will never ever fully understand why things happen to us when they do. You can only control so much – and I’m choosing to control the way I face each day and the trials and tribulations that meet me.

*If you or someone you know in the Charlotte area is experiencing depression or grief, I cannot recommend The Respite enough. The support I found there and the safe space it provided was invaluable to me and integral to moving to a place of acceptance.

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