I wrote this piece for an incredible site, Living The Second Act. It's founded by two strong women and dedicated to sharing the difficult truths that we can often avoid. My belief, and theirs, is that by holding space for these conversations we alleviate the shame, isolation and fear that can add weight to the already heavy load.
You can visit their website at: https://livingthesecondact.com/
I always say that my story is one I would give back in a heartbeat. But since I don’t have this choice I’ve decided the bravest thing I can do is tell my story courageously in the hope it will help others.
Currently? I’m a life coach, I host a podcast and a blog. I cofounded a business that has supported hundreds of women transform their lives and we are only beginning our work.
Previously? I didn’t want to live.
My daughter died at the age of four months. My life was completely shattered. The pain I felt in my heart and my body was indescribable. The world as I knew it no longer existed. “Mother” was stripped from me and the future I had envisioned was gone.
I’ll never forget the night we left Boston Children’s Hospital without our daughter. Driving home with an empty car seat in the back. A car seat that took me seven months to remove from my car. I found comfort in looking in the rearview mirror and seeing it. I would remember watching her life a hawk- and how the times she became so scared when her hat fell over her eyes in the backseat, I would pull over as a nervous mother to make sure she was safe.That was my job.
The guilt and shame I felt for not keeping her safe was suffocating. She didn’t die from a car accident or anything I specifically did. She died from undiagnosed intestinal damage that led to organ and renal failure. However, I had created her, and fed her and felt like I did everything wrong.
I’ll never forget the tears streaming as I sat in her nursery. Hours spent agonizing over which decor was best and now I sat on the floor with no baby, yet my body was still producing breast milk. The sound of the pump felt like it was taunting me in the silent room. The tears seemed to come quicker than the milk.
Survival mode is the best way I can explain navigating the initial days and months of bereavement. I couldn’t be around people, noise, or crowds. I would do a loop around Trader Joe’s, forgetting what I was looking for while obviously being in the way of others in a hurry. I remember trying to order at Starbucks, forgetting where I was while people behind me asked me to hurry up. I remember driving but not knowing where I was headed and showering without any idea if I had washed my hair.
The path from those moments to now is one I wouldn’t wish on anyone but one I want to share because I want every single person who is hurting and who has experienced challenge, heartache, loss, fear or guilt to know that they have the ability to love their life again.
There was one thing that was pivotal to my growth and one obstacle I had to overcome.
The first was accessing support. A grief coach, support groups, life coaching, podcasts, books and Ted Talks — I absorbed it all. I felt like I had to become an expert on what I was experiencing so I could learn how to navigate my path. I needed patience with the process, moving forward a little at a time.
I struggled with blaming myself. I spent the first year of Friday nights reading my daughter’s medical records –99 nights in the hospital totaled over 18,000 pages of paper.
In time came the guilt and the shame of wanting to live and live happily. I feared that choosing to live my life again would dishonor Leyden or minimize my loss. I worried that if I smiled people would think I didn’t care. I remember a friend asking me to do the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and post on social media a month after Leyden died. I looked at her and thought I can’t possibly have people see me smiling. Nor did I feel like smiling.
It wasn’t overnight but over time I learned strategies and skills to cultivate my happiness and reshape my life to live in alignment with the way that serves me well. To find a way to mother. To shine my daughter’s light.
I learned that we can’t go through this life expecting smooth sailing, we can’t run away from adversity or fear failure. Rather we can trust we possess the skills to navigate our journeys. Even when broken and shattered, it is possible to learn to love life again. Not only is it possible, it is worth it. I believe this as someone who truly felt no purpose in living after Leyden died. After a lot of work, I understand that everyone of us deserves to live a meaningful and happy life, even after the worst of circumstances.
I know in my heart that’s what Leyden would want for me too.