When my daughter was stillborn, I wondered if I’d ever be happy again. My life morphed into a twisted Lifetime Movie that wouldn’t turn off, and my days and nights were a blur of guilt and tears. But eight years later, things are much different. The darkness that inevitably accompanies tragedy has faded, and it’s provided a perspective on life I wouldn’t have gained without my loss. Here are six things losing a child has taught me:
- The heart has an amazing capacity to mend. My daughter’s stillbirth turned my heart into a block of ice. And then that block of ice smashed against the hospital wall into a billion pieces. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t feel, I couldn’t live. I was so certain that my heart would never heal that I prepared myself for a lifetime of sadness. Little did I know, my heart was rebuilding. Even if my brain couldn’t see it, the beauty in life is hard to ignore. It has a way of slipping into your blood and healing what’s broken. When I was at my lowest, my heart was busy sewing itself back together. And one day, I realized it was actually beating again.
- You never “get over” a loss. That old saying “Time Heals All Wounds” is half true. You start to feel better the further away the tragedy gets, but the wounds don’t actually heal entirely. They get covered with a thin layer of skin so they’re not as gapingly vulnerable, but they’re still there. They’ll get pushed aside by the chaos of everyday life, but they will always remain. Loss is not something you “get over.” It’s something you learn to live with, like a chronic disease.
- Forgiveness is the key to success. Have you ever been so angry about something that it eats away at you, day after day after day, until your life becomes stalled at the intersection of Misery and Wretched Streets? After my loss, I was suffocating in my anger. I was mad at everybody, at everything, walking through a fog of resentment, unable to move forward. To be honest, I’ve never been good at forgiveness. I’ve lost friends over my own pettiness. I’ve held grudges. But my loss changed that. There’s a quote by the author Robert Brault that puts things in perspective: “Life becomes easier when you learn to accept an apology you never got.” Once I was able to forgive my doctors, to forgive God, to forgive myself…life truly became easier.
- Grief is a master of the sucker punch. Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, grief stops by to say hello. I’ve been in the middle of a perfectly wonderful afternoon only to hear a song on the radio that sends me into hysterical tears. I’ve woken in the middle of the night with the pain of loss so fresh in my chest that I swear my bed is a time machine. Grief is a sneaky little bastard, lurking around dark corners, waiting to remind you that life wasn’t always so sweet. But when you realize he likes to show up uninvited, you can summon the strength to punch him right back.
- You have control of everything in your life. Until you don’t. I’ll admit to being a bit of a control freak. I micromanage. I’m a total backseat driver. My first pregnancy was planned to a T, and all of my impeccable planning was destroyed in the beat of one tiny heart. For the most part, we are in control of our lives. We can do our best to control our health and happiness, but there are other forces at play. Take the woman that never smoked a day in her life that gets lung cancer or the vegan marathon runner who dies of heart disease. Just when we think we have it all figured out, life throws us curveballs to remind us that we’re not really in charge.
- Carpe Diem. Have that piece of cake. Go out on a weeknight. Run that marathon. I’m not suggesting you have an affair or go on a crime spree and drive off a cliff ala Thelma and Louise, but whatever things you’ve had sitting on your fence, do them. People like to say, “Life’s a bitch, and then you die.” But life’s not a bitch. It’s a beautiful gift, a fleeting moment where we are lucky enough to occupy time and space on this crazy spinning rock we call Earth. It’s an opportunity to experience passion and joy and love. It’s a chance to share the best pieces of us with other human beings. Yes. We all die. That’s the inevitable bitch of life. But while you’re here, do your damndest to truly live.