Maximum Capacity Aliveness

A grieving person is sad, sometimes. However let me be blatantly honest about what the world can feel like following a trauma or loss: dull, grey-scale, lifeless, numb, scary, foreign, and lots of work. The feelings come and go at different times but leave such residue in the well that I forget how the water should taste. At some point I decided to officially make the claim that this is adulthood; that adulthood is primarily characterized by pain or “trudging”. After spending the first portion of my life determined to reach a maximum capacity of aliveness, the single most depressing thought I could ever think is: the best part is over – and I thought it.

It’s hard for me to write this because I immediately want you to understand that my days are filled with good things; one might even say that by some standards I’m living my life to the fullest. Not by my standards. I am not alive like I once was and I have felt like a stranger to myself in many ways. Though I pass the buck to adulthood, it’s not what’s to blame (sorry to ruin a good excuse for many of us). We all must move on from past versions of ourselves, but to forget ourselves is tragic.

I lost my mom during a time that I was adventuring, growing, and learning. I had experienced some highest highs – traveling India – and some lowest lows – relational confusion. With her death went my memories of what those things felt like. I could picture moments from my past but could not empathize with myself. It was a total disconnect.

This week, I unexpectedly experienced a trigger that pricked a pinhole in my mind, allowing a rush of locked-up thoughts and feelings to come back to me. It was perhaps less metaphysical than it sounds, but some group of wires in my brain was reattached. I felt my past; it was hard and confusing, and such a gift. This “awakening” of sorts reminded me that I am made up of more experiences than those surrounding and following my mom’s death. It revealed to me that I have unfinished business in my soul that needs attention, which holds the key to so many frustrating roadblocks I have faced. Needs and voids that are independent of death can be easily covered up by the grief experience, and so the quest to fill them can be futile. That’s what’s tough – defining the boundaries of grief.

Perhaps it’s not always something as dramatic as blacking out after a trauma that creates disassociation within ourselves. Maybe it too easily happens with time. Maybe we call it adulthood so that we don’t have to look back or dig within ourselves for answers. Perhaps feeling past wounds hurts so much that we have to block out the good too. It does hurt to remember it all, let me tell you, but it is nowhere near as painful as living with a stranger under my skin.

I guess my purpose here is to offer a vulnerable piece of myself in sharing this experience, since vulnerability has not been easy for me while emotionally dry. Maybe it’s also to ask some questions. Do we abandon ourselves by choice? Do we choose to forget what we looked like most alive because it hurts too much? Do we forget because it would take such painful work to carry that self into our present situation?

I must say, I’m terrified that I will again lose this feeling of connectedness; that I will forget to keep asking myself these questions. However, I have never been so grateful for the reminder that maximum capacity aliveness is worth fighting for.

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{Guest Post} Marching: Thoughts on Grieving a Miscarriage

Afterwards Grief Blog Nicole KemperOne thing I have learned through blogging and relationships in the past four years is that you just never know who you will connect with most intimately about your experience. For me, it’s often people who have a completely different story than I. My dear friend Nicole Kemper is one of these people. She is a beautiful wife and mother of two who has always been filled with wisdom beyond her years. She’s also one of my favourite souls to cozy up with over a cup of tea, as we evaluate all the shapes of the universe. Here is her story, I thank her a million times for sharing it with us.

November

This week, I was forced to sit down. To physically stop. Emotionally finished and at the end of myself.

Last week, we went to our midwives’ office. From the moment she started to examine me, I knew something was wrong. No heartbeat to be found.

Mine was starting to go through the roof.

Off to call friends, and family and pray. Like mad.

And then to the ultrasound. We had such hope, even heading in there. They said it happens, that they can often see the baby and find the heartbeat, sometimes it’s just hiding.

But such was not the case for us. The little life I had carried for almost 12.5 weeks was no longer with us. An empty shell, and I was too.

This is the second time. The first time, was my first time. My first baby. And I didn’t understand the full joy of carrying a baby, the wrenching and gratifying process of giving birth, and then seeing that little one grow. Smiling, talking, walking, laughing. The hard, HARD work, and the incredible joy.

But this time I know. This little one is not going to be with us, until we are finished here. Until it is time for us to go home. I have two little ones sitting with their Papa, smiling. Will they have the blond hair and blue eyes; the laughter and joyful smiles? I do know they are safe. Taken care of.

I sometimes wonder if I am. Is my body defective? Why does this happen, to me, and the many other women that I know have faced this reality. The hurt. The disappointment. The utter physical despair, and waiting for the life inside you to leave, the heart you know is no longer beating. Wanting to be pregnant so desperately, and yet wanting the pregnancy to end, so that grief can continue along it’s path.

We are so incredibly thankful for our two kids. From the bottom of my heart, I know we are blessed. But I still feel robbed, of this special little one. Who would have had a sister and brother to love them, and was already so a part of our family.

With their death, goes the hopes and plans of the day. That first shocking day. The week, the physical agony of loss. And then the life months and year of the firsts, and hopes of the things to come. A May birthday. A summer camping trip.

March

A fitting title for this winter, these months. They march on. The cold is mindless to the isolation and stillness it causes.

Time marches on. Lives march on. We must march on.

But in me, still, lives the up and down days. The sadness and the grief of the lost little one that will not be joining us this May.

My body has marched on. With some difficulty, and I think somewhat begrudgingly.

I have read a number of articles on the internet. What to say and what not to say to people who have miscarried. How a husband might feel about a miscarriage. Or just peoples stories about what happened to them.

The thing that I am finding out about grief is that it really doesn’t play by any rules. It is unfair. There are days that it catches me in my kitchen, singing some old country song. There are days that it leaves me alone, free to soar.

I have enjoyed reading stories of others, knowing it has happened to them. Knowing that they, too, have walked those dark days. I have appreciated ideas and thoughts and suggestions that others have. I have appreciated my husband for walking with me and being patient in the mess. Oh the mess.

This grief is shared, and yet it is my own. It is my story, written in me and in my heart. I embrace it when I can. I cry, when I need to. I get mad, when I need to. I am learning to stop apologizing for doing what I need to do. Because I matter. And the little life that is gone, it matters too. It matters to me.

I matter. And because of that, I keep marching.

A most incredibly sincere amazed and blown away thank you.

WordPress has informed me that it is Afterwards’ second birthday!

It took me a long time to start this blog. Before I lost my mom I had spent much time writing opinions and sending them out into the internet abyss. And though it took courage, it did not require the amount of mental and emotional energy that this blog would ask of me. Especially that first post.

With her, I lost a very precious source of confidence. Somebody to read my words and tell me they were good. Somebody to tell me that I was good, no matter what. The process of opening myself up here has tested this drying well; but then, it has filled it up.

Sometimes I write regularly, sometimes I don’t have the words to say, sometimes my energy lets me down. I have been blown away by the support I have received anyway; by the trust you show me when you take my words to heart and when you share your own stories with me. Thank you for caring about my words; thank you for considering them to have weight; thank you for being kind and vulnerable enough to let me into your world. Thank you people from 95 countries who have crossed spacial barriers to connect with me from across the planet. It is more than I can understand.

I hope you know how much you help me to heal – your eyes and hearts are profoundly changing my life. Thanks for the adventure.

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A Post-Travel Reflection

My husband Adam and I spent a month making our way around Italy, Ireland and Japan, returning home last week to face reality, and an incredible hit of jet lag. Photos and words describing our trip are here (sans the last week, when busyness overtook typing).

I cannot tell you how this trip opened me back up to myself again. I was changed by a great multitude of tiny experiences that lent themselves to a slow, subtle opening up of my mind and heart – only fully realized when reflecting on it all.

Three things: The first, that I love traveling more than anything in the world besides the relationships in my life. As I previously shared with you, my last big trip had me return home only a few weeks before my mom was unexpectedly taken from us. I had traveled India, a place that left me so enriched it was almost overwhelming to deal with. And, due to the immediate experience of mom’s death, I didn’t deal with it. I barely showed anyone my photos. I lost the emotional capacity to reflect on or absorb the powerful experiences I’d had. It was all stuck inside of me and melded into the mix of grief emotions that I faced. This stuff has been scrambling around in my brain and body for almost four years.

The second, is that I had planned on returning home from India only to turn around and head to London, where I would be living. My belongings had previously been shipped across the ocean and were waiting for my arrival. However, I decided after mom died that I wanted to stay nearer to my family for a time. Stuff was shipped back. I stayed.

I didn’t realize how much of a hold these two things placed on my life. It wasn’t that I was hung up on moving overseas or that I was dying to put together a slide show of India, but it came down to an overarching sense that life as I truly desired it was over. That the things I’d previously experienced were in another life – the before – and that they weren’t accessible anymore.

A huge amount of reconciliation happened for me this last month. I stepped foot on new soil. I gained new experiences. I turned the page. I saw my passion still alive. I put the details of India to rest in a healthy way and refilled my mind with fresh scenery. I landed in London and it was still there.

The world is still here. Life is still here.

The third, is that my husband and I had to face each other for the first time in a long time on many levels; without wedding plans, without moving and job-hunting, without house-building, without a specific home at all… This was beautiful madness; just two humans trying to get around and make decisions and survive the day, and each other. It was intense – an intensity that shaped us and pushed us.

There were many times on our trip that I was tempted by or dragged back to “the dark side”; the shadowy place that tells you not to trust life or joy or adventure. Sometimes I went there. But to intimately experience the vitality of the world again dripped something into my blood which made the light want to fight harder. And the light will win. Image

 

 

It Lives in the Little Things

Today I read a letter from a daughter to her mother who had passed away of breast cancer. You can read it all here, but I wanted to share one paragraph in particular with you. Anyone who has ridden this roller coaster may relate to these words:

“I wish I had paid closer attention. The things that really matter you gave me early on—a way of being and loving and imagining. It’s the stuff of daily life that is often more challenging. I step unsure into a world of rules and etiquette, not knowing what is expected in many situations. I am lacking a certain kind of confidence. Decisions and departures are difficult. As are dinner parties. Celebrations and ceremony. Any kind of change.”

The size of my sadness doesn’t always correlate with the seeming size of the hardship. Yes, the big things are difficult – it’s heartbreaking to miss the intensity of her love; I miss her aura; I miss normal life. But at the same time, these are the things I had 26 years to take in. I know them well, I can still feel them when I close my eyes.

“It’s the stuff of daily life that is often more challenging”.

This is why the battle seems unrelenting some days. Because grief lives in the little things. And everyday there is a new little thing to face. New things to know, new decisions to make, new things to experience, without her.

To understand this is to realize that it will never be over. And this is not to bring hopelessness, but hope, and grace. It means realizing that you are a champion right now, when you make it through a day of little things. It means knowing that you will become more and more skilled at facing these daily moments, and after awhile these accomplishments will bring a depth to your life that you wouldn’t have otherwise experienced. Grief lives in the little things, but life has it’s home in the little things too.

To my fellow residents in the Afterwards, love yourself, right now, right where you are. This is my pledge to myself today. I will be proud of myself for making it through all the new that today threw at me. And I will consciously seek to notice the little things of today which presented sparks of life.