We all have defining moments. In fact, our lives are filled with them. I would describe these moments as stepping though a portal of experience that reshapes the world you live in. Once you’ve been through one of these portals, you can never return to the world you once knew; you can never un-learn what you now know. The question becomes, what do you do with this new knowledge?
Some of these portals are pleasurable and filled with awe and wonder. They could be like the freedom of getting your driver’s license or living on your own for the first time, getting married, or the experience of having your first child. These types of defining moments are often filled with self-esteem, empowerment, or profound love. They can expand your horizon of what you consider possible in your life or deepen your understanding of what true happiness is. These portals often represent your life at its best.
Unfortunately, the majority of our portals are sources of pain and fill us with fear and dread. They are moments that are galvanized in our minds as ones we never want to experience again and will go to great lengths to avoid in the future. They can be moments of utter failure or disappointment. They can be moments of betrayal or disillusionment. They are often referred to as life lessons, and they generally start when we are young.
Do you remember the first time you were bullied? Or the first time you failed a test or got caught cheating? Did you have a best friend who – for no obvious reason to you – decided not to be your friend anymore? Did you come to the realization that you could never seem to please your parents no matter what you did? What about your first major break-up from the person you thought was “the one”? They could even be more significant events, such as the divorce of your parents, the death of a loved one, or abuse at the hands of someone you trusted.
If these were life lessons, what did they teach you? Chances are, rather than teaching you resilience, deeper self-awareness, or how to better express your feelings, these portals led to self-imposed lessons of avoidance, mistrust, self-doubt, suppression of your feelings and emotions, and the underlying belief that most of the time, life just isn’t fair. We may have even come to believe that overall, the world is a frightening and dangerous place. Regrettably, these portals of fear and pain often just lead us to more of the same.
As we get older, these negative portals seem to adapt to our changing situations. Perhaps you’ve been cheated on, gotten fired or laid off from a job, been divorced, or suffered a major accident or setback. In many cases, these painful situations seem to outnumber the positive ones, reinforcing the notion that at its very core, life is hard.
This realization is perhaps the most painful of all. Some people try to numb themselves to the pain with drugs and alcohol. Others may turn to even more destructive behavior in the belief that the odds are stacked against them and life will never become easy or fair. Some put their trust solely in their God. And some never lose sight of the idea that the “grass is greener” on the other side of some invisible hill…if they could just figure out how to get there…without knowing where “there” was.
For the majority of my life (so far), I fell into this last group. I thought for sure that if I just learned how to better control what happened to me, I would be able to find the life I was sure I was meant to be living. The life that was filled with self-esteem, unconditional love, success, and true happiness. In other words, a life that was easy.
I purposely went through portals that I thought would lead me there. I got married. I worked my way up the career ladder by being the best employee possible. I had my first child. But despite all of these positive experiences that changed me forever, I never found a place where the grass was always green. Intermixed with grass I found many weeds, holes, and even dead spots where nothing was able to grow. I continued to be disappointed in life.
But I trudged on. After a divorce, I married again with a better understanding of myself and my needs. My family grew and it brought more purpose and joy to my life. I continued to develop my successful career path. Of course, all of this was intermixed with setbacks and painful experiences. Throughout it all, I kept looking for that illusive hill where the grass was greener on the other side. But I began to wonder if that place really existed.
In the fall of 2009, I walked through the most painful portal in my life. The sudden, accidental death of my 4-year-old daughter, Margareta, turned everything I knew on its head. I detested this portal with every ounce of my being. I desperately wanted to run back through to the other side and erase everything I had just experienced. Yet, as I mentioned earlier, there is no going back once you’ve crossed through a portal.
This particular portal seemingly transported me right back to that fearful place of my childhood where the world was impossibly unfair, dangerous and scary. And yet this time, I had the apparent advantage of almost 40 years of life’s experiences behind me. But to my surprise, many of my past lessons of avoidance, control, and suppression no longer worked. This pain was too deep and too large.
Not having ever been one to numb pain with drugs or alcohol, for the sake of my very survival, I was faced with the task of having to battle this unbearable pain head on. With a chest full of tools that no longer worked, I felt compelled to reach out for help in dealing with this overwhelming pain. For the first time in my life – and full of fear – I began to break down the innermost barriers that guarded my deepest, most vulnerable thoughts, feelings and emotions. I no longer cared about the possibility of rejection or being at the mercy of someone else. The worst had already happened.
The death of my daughter led to years of working diligently and purposefully to learn new tools that would help me work though pain in order to learn from it or let it go, become more self-aware of my needs and feelings, and most importantly, develop a deeper understanding of what I want in my life. In essence, this portal was a catalyst to the most meaningful personal growth I have yet to experience.
Albert Einstein once said, “The only source of knowledge is experience.” And while I will always regret the death of my daughter, I will forever appreciate what it has taught me – and will continue to teach.Tags: coping with grief, grief, pain, Personal growth
My 31 year old daughter died of brain cancer in 2010, it was Glioblastoma.It was diagnosed in May of 2004, actually they told me it was benign, in fact in July of 2004 when they finally removed the tumor the surgeon came out and told me that they got it all. We were not told it was malignant until she was told to see the radiologist just as precaution. It was he that came and said while reading her file, oh you have Glioblastoma it’s a very aggressive brain cancer, my daughter said to him I’m going to die? He told her she had about 5 years. She was serving in the army when diagnosed. She was so strong, so athletic that I never really thought she would die. She was my first child and out of my four children she loved me more than anything. She was so beautiful all she wanted really was to be married and have a family. March will make 6 years she is gone. She died here at home, she woke up that Monday morning, she had been sleeping for 3 days. I asked to say mom one more time, it took all her energy but she said it. Around 5:00 o’clock in the evening she had a brain embolism, than from 7:00 to 8:00 she made gasping sounds for an hour, it was very loud. I cannot get that out of my head. After the gasping she took 2 small breaths than died.
I do not know how to keep going. She is on my mind 24/7 . I even have PTSD from the day she died. My daughter was an exceptional soccer player, I don’t understand how such a healthy girl get brain cancer. And I am getting worse, I imagine if my other children (adult) had more empathy, instead they pick fights with me and do not want me to talk at all about Danielle. My son just wants his “old” mom back. I don’t even know what the old or new mom is. I am sinking so deep, I see a grief therapist every week but nothing can take the place, or make me better because it’s my daughter I want and we all know that’s not going to happen.
I also do not understand why friends and some family dropped me like a bad habit.
My cousin’s wife and I were so close and she started backing off before Danielle died. So now none of my cousin’s talk to me. I would understand if I was whining and crying all the time, but I don’t do that in front of anyone. I was actually uninvited to my cousin’s daughter baby shower two years after my daughter died. I had shingles and she called me and told me I probably should not come, the shingles were long gone.
Why do people treat mother’s that lost a child like we are contagious , that because our child died their child might die too. I couldn’t believe it, to do that when someone like myself needed to be around family and friends they took off running. I even have to put on my smiling mask for my other kids.
What a sick disgusting world this is, and I can’t wait to get out!