There was a time, in the early hours and months following my son’s death, where hope was nothing but a desperate desire to wake up from a bad dream.
A hope that bordered on denial fed my wildest imagination, where I would wake up to find myself still pregnant or even better yet, to find my firstborn quietly sleeping in his crib in the room adjoining ours.
It’s a hope you can no doubt relate to, Neighbor, a plea for anything that would put back together the pieces of my shattered heart.
In the early aftermath that follows a significant life loss event, that hope is sometimes all we have.
For me, there was also a childhood dream of one day being a mom that fueled a different kind of hope. That hope bordered on promise, a steadfast belief that I would one day be a mother. I WAS going to be a mom. Period.
Six months following Gavin’s death, that stubborn streak was tested when I began passing steak-sized clumps in a second-trimester miscarriage. I’d had an earlier scare when a microscopic spot appeared on my panty liner, but following an ultrasound, the doc assured us the baby was in great shape. In fact, there was a less than four-percent chance that I would miscarry based on the fetus’ heartbeat in that early test.
Despite youth and my overall health, I couldn’t help but think that I may not be able to achieve the “natural” paths to Motherhood. I signed my hubby and me up for a foster parenting program, and we began exploring that alternative Parenthood path. Even after conceiving again, we continued until the very end, when I was on bed rest for hypertension and was unable to complete the final test of the foster parent process because of some rigid rules that I couldn’t meet in my physical condition.
As one hope closed, I could see another in the looming due-date-distance and I felt that door burst wide open when I heard my newborn’s cries. Over the next six years, I would encounter another miscarriage; two more complicated-but-successful pregnancies; a six-week psychiatric stay for severe depression; and six weeks before my youngest was born, I discovered that my husband and my best friend were having an affair.
In the brief hours following that latter loss, I felt bereft, as if hope had been stripped clean from my bones. And yet, I learned something powerful about hope; it is as eternal as love. It cannot be revoked, denied, destroyed or any other descriptor you might use.
Hope transitioned through each of these losses, just as it did following my Gavin’s death, from a desire for a different outcome to a promise that my life would somehow get “better.” As time marched on, hope made another transition and took on the form of meaning.
Initially, like you likely did, I wanted to understand how these losses happened. I wanted to know if I did anything to cause them. I wanted to know how to make the hurt stop. I desperately wanted to understand all of the emotions that moved through me with a mind and will of their own. I needed to make sense of the senselessness that seemed to accompany so many life losses.
But those answers, I discovered, are much different from meaning. I found meaning in understanding what each of those losses represented to me across all of my five facets—the academic, emotional, physical, social, and spiritual sides of the self. How did my son’s death impact my sense of who I was as a woman? What did it mean to the relationships I lost and gained or where I fit in as a member of society? How did it alter the way I saw my body? What did each of these losses have to do with my sense of spirituality and who I was at my very core?
It was in answering these pleas and following the leads of countless other questions that I found meanings that worked for me. Some of those include the simple truths that nothing, not even death, can strip us of love’s bonds because love transcends all space and time. There was meaning in learning that the only person I could change was myself and the fact that I am responsible only for my own happiness.
I learned that how each of us responds to loss is different and how we will react to each loss in our life is equally unique. I discovered that hope is eternal and that, if we will allow ourselves to open to the many ways she presents herself and how she prevails in our greatest times of need, we will be able to transcend life’s littlest and biggest grievances. We will not only survive loss and grief, Neighbor, we can go on to live our best lives, even in the face of extreme adversity.
I learned that grief and suffering do not have to be eternal. I have come to understand that it is not Time, itself, that heals wounds, but that we can heal our own heartaches through perspectives, understandings, and meanings that can only happen through the grace of time.
I can honestly stand before you and say that I no longer mourn my son’s death for I have found resolution in the conflicts across each of my five facets. This does not mean that I am not occasionally curious or wistful about what his life on earth might have looked like, but those instances are rare and they are neither heavy or hurtful, for my hope has transcended into a belief that he and I are only separated by a thin veil between this life and the afterlife.
Today, my greatest hope lies in a stubborn belief that you, too, can achieve the peace and resolution you seek. You have everything you need. You were born with it. All you have to do is find your own meanings and find a way to put your own resources to work for you.