I was once asked to describe myself in one word.
The best I could come up with was: Contradictory.
Trying to neatly fit me into a specific label or box is somewhat of an exercise in futility and frustration!
I am a mother, yet I have no children here with me.
I fiercely love my gone-too-soon daughters, yet I have chosen not to pursue having another child.
When my fiancé died shortly before our daughter, I wasn’t exactly single yet I wasn’t considered a widow either.
I am a happy person living a joyful life yet I ache and miss for the children I cannot hold.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my paradoxical nature lately. I get asked frequently how I can be such a happy person after all the losses I’ve experienced – the deaths of my fiancé, my children, many friends and family members.
I’ve never really had a very good answer for that. It wasn’t easy. It took me a very long time to find the beauty in life and living again. I work really hard every day to live a happy and joyful life.
But exactly how I created that? I could never find the words.
Then last week a friend and colleague and I were talking about resiliency and loss, specifically the loss of children. She asked me how I defined resiliency in this area.
I found myself blurting out, “It’s the capacity to allow contradictions exist at the same time.”
Our world tends to want everything to be black and white. But black and white makes the world a very hard and painful place to live after the death of a child.
Black and white means we can be grieving or we can be happy. Sad or joyful. A mother or not a mother. A father or not a father. People are supportive or not supportive. People are helpful or not helpful. We are loved or not loved.
Without the space to allow for contradictions, grief suddenly becomes unforgiving, endless, and isolating.
My contradictory nature, however, apparently came with a built-in resilience to loss in it.
I can grieve and be happy. I can feel joy and sadness at the same time. I am a mother without a child to hold. I can miss my daughters immensely and still choose to not pursue having additional children.
My contradictory nature has given me the resilience to feel sad for my losses even as I’m happy for others who are able to get pregnancy and birth living children. It has enabled me to accept that some friends and family can’t support me in exactly the way I want and be grateful for that they give the best support they know how to give. It has enabled me to realize that loved ones can struggle with not being able to handle my grief yet still deeply love me. It has helped me see that people can say careless, hurtful things yet still be kind and good people.
This ability to hold space for the contradictions of life gave me the resilience to be open to people’s flaws and imperfects, to be open to life’s pain and gifts in equal measure.
When I could be open to the imperfection and beauty of others and of life, I was able to be open to my own imperfections and beauty. When I was open to my own imperfections and beauty, I could open to both grieve and experience joy.
In the contradictions of life, there is space for forgiveness, healing, love, gratitude, and peace.
Life and death.
Joy and sadness.
Pain and peace.
Love and loss.
Life is full of contradictions.
Maybe that’s what makes it beautiful.
*Originally published on Still Standing Mag.