Holding Joy and Sorrow
Someone I work with commented recently that she thought I was brave for choosing to work at the agency where we work together.
I don’t know about brave, but there is truth in the fact that the environment where we work is pretty much always painful for me to be in. See, I’m a mama without any living children. While my primary work is in supporting other grieving mamas and families, I also work at an agency that supports pregnant and parenting mamas finding their way through substance use and mental health challenges.
So, I spend many of my days surrounded by pregnant mothers or mothers and their living children. It’s not an ideal environment for a mother of dead babies.
It’s an environment full of constant reminders of the children I will never get to birth alive, never hear them cry or laugh, never watch them grow, and never know who they would have been. There are times when the sorrow of being in that environment feels unbearably heavy and raw.
This woman that I work with has asked me more than once why I have chosen to work in this place filled with painful reminders.
I haven’t really had a concrete answer for her. It would, probably, be easier to avoid being in environments like this – to avoid being around mothers and living children, to avoid painful reminders, and create a world in which I might be shielded from the constant exposure to a life I will never have with my children.
She thinks it’s brave that I choose not to avoid those things.
Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. One could probably just as easily say I’m a stubborn idiot to keep exposing myself to that pain. 🙂
Regardless, her question about why I choose to do the work I do has stuck with me. And I think I finally figured out my answer – an answer to why I do all the work I do with both grieving mothers and mothers with living children.
See, when my fiancé and my oldest daughter died, I did the avoidance thing. I ran from that grief and that pain so hard I nearly killed myself rather than face it. I lived for a lot of years trying so hard to avoid the pain of the losses I’d experienced that I existed in dark abyss of grief and depression.
Then when my second daughter died, I realized that I had a choice. I could choose to leave and be with the family that was already gone or I could choose to live.
I chose to live.
I chose to live and since, by nature, I am not someone who does things halfway, choosing to live meant choosing to embrace all of life – the pain, the grief, the joys, the sorrows. All of it.
Of course, I had no idea what the hell that meant. Or how to do it.
I fucked up a lot in those early years. I got lost in the darkness. I ran away from the pain. I struggled to find any light or joy or reason worth staying. A lot of days I gave up. Most days, the only thing that kept me trying was the promise I’d made to myself and my family to live. For them, I stubbornly kept fighting.
I remember the first time I felt joy after their deaths, real true joy.
It was my 30th birthday party – a silly, outrageous night of laughter and fun thrown for me by friends. It was that night that I realized those friends had become family.
That moment was the first moment I realized that I could hold both incredible joy and terrible sorrow at the same time. I would never have the family that I lost and they would always be missing from me, that was sorrow. However, I had created a family for myself full of love and support and celebration, that was joy.
Learning to hold both simultaneously is why I do the work that I do – the work with grieving mothers and the work with mothers of living children. Because I have discovered that life isn’t about joy or sorrow. Life has to be about both. Life is about embracing both.
I used to think that healing meant getting over the pain, having the grief end someday, or having that terrible ache of longing disappear.
It doesn’t. I will never stop longing for them.
Healing, and life, isn’t about getting rid of the pain. It’s about opening up enough to hold both life’s joys and life’s sorrows at the same time. Choosing to live and to embrace all of life means that I can go to work in a place where I am constantly reminded of the magnitude of what I have lost AND allow myself be there and feel the joy of holding a tiny, squishy newborn baby or watching a mother and child learn to navigate life together.
Because just as life is about holding both the joy and the sorrows together, so is motherhood. Mothering, of children living or dead, is about learning to embrace both the light and the dark, the challenges and the sweetness, the joys and the sorrows of loving your child.
I am a mother. I can’t mother my children here on earth, but I can be a mother of life.
That is the heart of the work all the work I do.
For my daughters. For me. For all the mothers living with the joys and the sorrows.
For life. For motherhood.