3 years ago, my world was rocked upside down. My infant daughter, Leyden Saige, died at the age of four months. What began as a "simple" medical condition spiraled and evolved into a nightmare of complications and interventions. I watched her fight for her life, standing alongside of her hospital bed, feeling powerless as I was unable to fight her battle for her. Leyden fought so hard. Her little body overcame obstacles, showed incredible strength but in the end, gave way to the damage that had been incurred. She passed away in our arms. The sound of her last breath is one I will never forget.
I spent the first few months in shock. I surrounded myself with her belongings and could only sleep if I had her pictures, blankets and stuffed animals surrounding me. I couldn't get myself to take her carseat out of my car. I would read the books we had bought her while I was pregnant over and over. Each had a handwritten note with a story to share our aspirations for filling her world with love and learning. “Dear baby, we give you hugs and kisses through your mom’s belly every day! We can’t wait to give you hugs and we think hugs with two hands are the best. We wonder what kind of hugs you will like?” Hugs and kisses, mom and dad.
I never got to teach her different types of hugs. While I sat, reading these, fantasizing of our baby girl going through them before bed, I honestly had no idea how I was going to survive her loss.
I began a search- desperate to put the thousands of pieces of me perfectly back in place. I was on a quest for some undiscovered emotional superglue.
Drop in grief meetings, organized bereaved parent groups, a grief counselor, meditations, I read and became an expert on the subject of grief, watched more TED talks than I can count and even traveled out of the country to hear the presentation of a world renowned grief counselor, author and speaker. When I finally met Dr.Raymond Moody I felt a rush of hope that my superglue was within reach. My eyes met his as I asked, “how does one survive loss?” He saw the pain, pieces of me, shattered and whispered back “You lost your child, didn’t you?” I nodded through tears, reassured that his insight MUST indicate that he had the answer as to how to make the pain stop. How to be whole again. Still nodding I asked “what do I do?” And the world renowned grief expert, responded with a hug.
There isn’t an emotional superglue.
Challenges, heart-ache, fear, obstacles.... while scary to admit, these are all inevitable in life. Through my process of seeking a "cure" I discovered (slowly), that no matter what adversity faced, there are actions we can take, to actively work at surviving and becoming more beautiful versions of ourselves.
1) Build perspective and empathy. Trauma takes all of our little idiosyncrasies, our fears and our quirks, it amplifies them and then pulls them right to the surface. By default, our individual needs and habits express themselves, loudly. Grief expert Kendra Allen says “the biggest challenge relationships face in loss, isn’t the loss itself, but the expectations of others to handle it the same way as you do.” Choose to loosen grips on the way we believe others should manage and replace it with a deeper compassion for our own individualities.
2) Decide to act as the orchestrators of our own happiness. No one else is responsible for creating the life we want to live. We write our stories and we choose what roles others do or do NOT have in them. We remember that we determine the magnitude a person, a job, a stressor or a joy, gets of our time, our energy and emotional real estate. Choose to find clarity about what really matters and channel our energy there.
3) Work to operate each day in our zones of maximum efficiency. This is our individual “sweet spot” where we have taken ourselves out of the stagnancy of our comfort zones, but not too far, not to the point of being overwhelmed. This, is the place where growth happens. Sharpen mindfulness and self-awareness because when struggling, our capacity will change daily.... and sometimes even hourly.
4) Remember that none of us have the market cornered on pain. While it may feel justified, safe or even comforting to swim in a sea of "woe is me," be brave. Let go of the story of how we were wronged and write the story of how we survived.
And.... at the times we struggle with the consolation victimization lends, stay clear of social media. Torturing our broken selves with the online highlight reels of friends, family and celebrities will not help us swim out of that sea. :)
5) Fake it till we make it- trust that if we do our best each day, we will move forward and feel whole again.
By doing these things we position ourselves to survive and grow through whatever trauma we have encountered. For me, what was hardest wasn't taking these steps. I was ready to do absolutely anything if someone said it would "cure" me. What inhibited me was the fear of letting anything good come from Leyden's loss. As if that somehow lessened the impact. I was caught in a place of needing to move forward but petrified to do so. I didn't want her forgotten. I didn't want people to think I didn't care. It took some time, but I realized, acknowledging growth opportunities does NOT lessen the tragic nature or massivity of what we experienced. As hard as it may be, allowing good to come from Leyden's life only strengthens her impact. I learned, trauma and growth can co-exist.
The same words that left me shattered, became my superglue. A superglue that had been within reach all along. Words that they showcased a love present even before birth and that grows indefinitely, even after loss. “Dear baby, your mom and dad love you so much already. We have family all over the country- No matter where we are, or what we are doing, we believe an invisible string of love keeps us all connected. Always. Hugs and kisses, mom and dad.”