Making A Place For Pain In Your Life
Today marks the 16 year anniversary of my daughter’s birth and death. The pain is as real today as it was that day in 2002, but I have learned how to make it part of my life. That’s it. It didn’t magically go away, or even lessen for that matter. I have just gotten pretty darn good at living with it and allowing it to be part of my story.
I started today like all other days…I woke up, went downstairs to make my coffee and get a little movement in before the rest of my daily responsibilities unfolded. When I walked into the kitchen, I found a lovely bouquet of sunflowers and daisies my mother had so thoughtfully set out for me. The moment I saw those flowers, I was flooded with the vivid memories of my entire house being filled with sunflowers, daisies, yellow roses and a variety of other happy, springtime flowers on the day of my daughter’s funeral.
All my senses came alive with the sights, sounds and smells of that day. The overwhelming scent of flowers and casseroles from neighbors and friends. The slightly chaotic sound of 30 or so people sharing tears, laughter and nervousness discussion that is so typical when someone dies. The feelings I had of sorrow were physically intolerable, mixed with a sense of relief the service was over and terrifying fear of what I would do next.
I recalled the overwhelmingly joyful memories of holding my daughter upon her birth, followed only hours later by indescribable sorrow. Lying in my hospital bed with nothing more than a “teardrop leaf” sign on my door, consumed by the thoughts of my child’s body, several floors below me in a cold, lifeless morgue.
I hopped onto my assault bike, turned on a song from my daughter’s funeral and quietly sobbed. I let those tears flow for as long as they needed and then I broke into some hard sprints on the bike. Loneliness, fear, regret, gratitude, anger, joy….just letting whatever feelings needed to come out, come out and make their way through my body. Refusing to hold them back or put a timeframe on their presence. About 20 minutes later, I felt relief. Happiness for my courage to feel it all, instead of holding back as I have done a time or two in the past.
I then went upstairs to wake my daughter, Scarlett, for school and spent a few extra minutes crawling into her bed with her. Savoring the smell of her sleepy little self and the warmth of her body against mine. Pain has this profound way of heightening all the senses when we allow it to do so.
The remainder of my morning was spent thumbing through some pictures and looking through Kathryn’s memory book with a mixture of emotions. I stumbled across a card from a nurse who cared for me during my recovery. Liz Billy, a charming black woman who was a pillar of strength and compassion for me during those days. As she wheeled me out of the hospital she whispered in my ear, “my girl, you aren’t leaving here alone, the Lord is going with you.” Words I will never forget. Words which to this day bring me great comfort and joy, yet came from a time of utter sorrow and pain.
I then sat down to write. Writing is my method of making room for all my emotions and not allowing them to take root.
Recalling this time of my life is excruciatingly painful yet comforting all at the same time.
My hope is I can help you see we can make room for pain in our lives. We will suffer more gravely if we spend our time running from it, hardening ourselves because of it or allowing it to rule our lives.
The days and months after my daughter’s death, people would constantly attempt to lessen my pain. Saying things like, “well at least she didn’t live long enough for you to get too attached to her.” Or, “at least she won’t have to suffer on earth like the rest of us.” Which are curious statements if you think about it. For those of you who have given birth to a child, I’m pretty sure you loved that child the moment you set eyes on them, as much as you do now.
Human beings are funny that way. We will say some pretty ridiculous things in order to try to ease someone else’s pain, rather than just being quiet and sitting with them in it. (As a side note, when someone around you experiences loss, just say you are sorry. Feeble attempts at comforting them typically is more about making yourself feel better than helping them embrace what they have in front of them.) Pain is the one emotion that makes us feel so many other emotions right along with it.
So why are we so afraid of it? It is an inevitable part of life because we all die. We all experience events in life that will cause us to feel loss, sorrow, fear, grief and loneliness, so why do we try so hard to avoid it? The answer is simple… because it hurts and it’s hard.
We need to see that avoiding pain is harder. When we run from pain, we start moving so fast and furious through life that we are missing so much living. Like hamsters on a wheel, we run and run and run in a circle, getting nowhere. We are so busy moving because we are afraid to stop and allow our true feelings enough time to surface. If you are running yourself ragged through life, I challenge you to ask yourself what you are running from. If you are constantly busy, over scheduling yourself and making commitments you can’t possibly keep, you aren’t avoiding the pain, you are avoiding the joy of life.
It is also easy to let pain harden us. I am a fighter. I spent many years fighting the pain in my life, all the while hardening myself to the world around me. Rather than feeling the pain, we toughen ourselves. We convince ourselves we are stronger than any hurt the world can deliver but we are wrong. Toughening our exterior does the same damage that running from hurt does; it causes us to miss out on the joy around us.
Allowing pain to consume our lives isn’t the answer either. Giving pain and suffering room to express itself in your life is very different than allowing it to rule your life. In the early days of a tragedy or loss, pain is like a bucket of pain poured over your world. Your home, your body and your entire existence are steeped in it. We all will work through this in different time frames but what matters is that we are open to happiness.
My husband came downstairs while I was on the bike this morning and gave me a quick wave as he walked out the door. Reminding me just how vastly different we grieved the death of our daughter. His grief was short and intense. My grief was drawn out and ebbed and flowed over the course of many years. He would agree the pain is no less today; he has also merely learned how to make room for it in his life.
Pain is a part of life. No one is immune from it and no matter the severity of your tragedy, I can assure you there are others who have experienced worse. You don’t own pain, nor can you control it. It is never going away. You cannot run from it, you cannot fight it nor can you surrender to it. It is when we expect it to go away that we struggle the most.
Instead, welcome it into your life without allowing it to take root. Give it room. Allow pain to express itself in you because when you do so, you will finally be able to experience all the joy life has in store for you as well.
In all emotions,