It has been 14 years since my daughter, Grace was born still and 9 years since her sister, Lily joined her.
Life has ever been the same.
I am not the same.
I think it’s safe to say that this kind of loss changes all of us in irrevocable ways. Life is different after loss. How I see life is forever altered. Sometimes, those thirteen years of grieving my daughter(s) feel like an eternity. Other days, it feels like just yesterday I was saying good-bye.
In my thirteen years post-loss, the grief and the joys, the love and the heartache, the messiness and the healing have all taught me a few things about life after loss:
Don’t Risk Waiting for “Someday When…”
If loss has taught me anything it is to not to wait in life, because the “someday when…” we too often wait for might never come. Something those of us who have lost so much already know.
We never know where life will lead or what will happen at any given moment.
We can choose to live, really live – fully, wholeheartedly, and completely. This life as we know it can end at any moment, without warning or preparation.
So, live. Say I love you. Be honest. Dive into your dreams. Go all the places you want to go. Do the things you dream of doing. Give your whole heart. Go on adventures. Learn whatever you can. Give all you are to relationships. Leave behind what doesn’t serve you or the things that hurt you. Be bold.
“Someday when…” might never come. The life you plan might end in the sudden stilling of a heartbeat. Don’t risk waiting for a “someday when…” that might never be.
We’re All Doing the Best We Can
Sometimes this thing called life is hard.
And sometimes we screw up, all of us do. Sometimes we aren’t there for people when we could be. Sometimes we aren’t as compassionate as we could be. Sometimes we lash out in our grief or our fear or our anger when we don’t really mean to.
Sometimes we fall apart. Sometimes we judge (ourselves and others). Sometimes we do things in the moment that we later regret.
Sometimes we hurt others.
Sometimes we hurt ourselves.
Sometimes we hurt each other.
We are human and we make mistakes. It’s okay.
I truly believe that most of us are simply doing the best we can in any moment with the information and/or the skills that we have. There is always more going on underneath the surface of life than any of us know.
People get upset or angry for things we do or don’t do when they have no idea weight of the grief we are simply trying to function under. Some goes for them, often they act or don’t act due to circumstances or situations we know nothing about. We’re all doing the best we can with what we have, whether anyone else can see that or not.
So, maybe we could all give ourselves and each other a bit of grace and acknowledge our mutual humanity. We’re all in this together, one moment at a time. One mistake at a time. Then perhaps, next time, our best will become better.
There Truly Are No Rules or Timelines
When it comes to loss and grief, there are many similarities. That’s why these amazing loss communities are so powerful and soul-healing – we can connect in the similarities of our experiences and find others who get it on a deep level, in ways that non-loss parents can’t.
Yet, there are also differences. No two journeys are the same – not even if the exact circumstances of the loss were identical.
Some are able to find light in the darkness within months and fight their way back to living in those early years after loss. Others find themselves continuing to stumble and crash in the darkness of grief for many years after loss. Many find themselves cycling in and out of painful grief over the years, sometimes buried under the weight of it and other times feeling the light on their faces.
Some of us bury our grief only to have it seeping out into our lives decades after the actual death of our babies. Others throw themselves into the messy, heart-breaking wilds of grief right from the start and find that years later the pain has faded to a quiet bittersweetness.
Any and all of these are equally valid and right. No journey of life after loss is wrong – they are all uniquely individual. My loss is not your loss, yours is not mine.
Grief, joy, sadness, laughter, tears, gratitude, and love – all of this is life. All of this is life after loss. No matter where anyone is in their experience after loss, they are living.
No Community Loves Harder Than This One
There is no community I desperately wish I wasn’t a part of more than this one – this community of parents living without their children, partners without their love, people living without those they love the most. Yet, at the same time, there is no better community to be part of.
I went a decade after my losses before I found this community of people living after loss – and in particular, parents grieving their children.
Finding others who understood the terrible ache and grief of losing their child was like breathing new life into my soul.
It’s family. It’s comfort. It’s love. It’s support.
Like any family, there are disagreements and grumpiness and arguing at times. Yet, I have never been a part of a community so willing to show up, to support, to give, and to nurture than this one.
Not everyone in this community agrees all the time – because again, we are all on our own journey of life after loss – yet there is love and support here unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.
If you let us, we will wrap you in love for a lifetime. That is this community.
Life on Planet Earth is Temporary, Love is Not
At some point each of us will leave this thing called life on Earth. Some far, far too soon. Some after many decades of life and living.
I have often heard it said that the only thing we can really count on is that we live and we die.
But I disagree.
We can count on love. Love does not die.
When we lose those that we love, our love lives on. Our love keeps them alive long past their physical bodies are laid down. When we leave this planet called Earth and lay our own bodies down, the love that others have for us will keep us alive. Life is an infinite circle of love. Love is life.
Love isn’t exactly something that we can touch or hold or identify on a tangible level, but as parents and as human, we know love. It lives in our souls.
Love is the greatest aspect of our humanity and it will live forever. And those we’ve loved and lost will live forever as love.
*Original version published on Still Standing Mag.