When, in a single moment, we were thrown into the depths of grief with a pain as big as the loss of a child, it is only natural to protest this new and horrific experience with every bit of our being. A loss this big infiltrates every single moment of our lives, with tentacles reaching into every thought, every breath, awake or asleep, into every mundane task and every meaningful moment. It is all consuming. It is dirty and messy. It is excruciatingly painful. This grief is an unwelcome invasion, and by all outward appearances, seems to be an enemy, the thief that came in the night and stole our joy and our purpose.
We naturally fight this enemy of pain, flee from it, or lay limp in defeat. We hurt like we’ve never hurt before, so we clench our fists and our jaws, scrapping for the upper hand that we can never seem to find. “It shouldn’t be this way,” “It’s not fair,” “I can’t,” or “I won’t, live like this.” When we’re too exhausted to fight, then we turn and flee. We will just do whatever it takes to avoid uncomfortable moments, to dodge painful feelings and memories, and when running from those feelings doesn’t work, maybe we will give up hope on a meaningful life and ever finding joy again, surrendering to the thought that I am forever broken and ruined. These are natural responses. Our bodies and our brains are designed to react in “fight or flight” to threatening situations to help us avoid physical harm. But this threat is of a different nature and it doesn’t have to be this way…at least not forever.
What if…just what if…we dared to look at that pain through a different lens and view it as a teacher, rather than an enemy? The constant ache of missing a child is so much to bear on its own. Are we really helping anything by fighting the invisible enemy of pain, or are we just adding a tremendous struggle to our already heavy burden? What if we unclenched our fists and laid the boxing gloves aside? What if we softened our eyes and our hearts and saw this pain as a teacher bringing growth to our lives. Some of the greatest teachers are the ones that demand the most of us. They present challenges that seem impossible and push us way outside our comfort zones. The lessons are painful, yes, but if we give them space to take root, something beautiful just might grow.
This teacher of pain has too many deep lessons to think we can tackle them all at once. This is a subject will take a lifetime to learn. If there’s a task that’s too big in the moment, that’s ok, maybe it’s a lesson to be tabled for now and approached again at another time. But bit by bit, we can learn from our pain and let our grief be our ally to growing in love and wisdom.
When I stop to consider this pain of loss as my teacher, rather than an enemy to evade at all costs, everything inside of me softens a bit. I am reminded of the experience of labor. It is an all-encompassing physical pain. I can fight that, tightening every muscle of my body, dreading with anxiety every contraction that’s coming, and in doing so, add exhaustion, tension, and emotional distress to my pain…or, I can know that while this is a painful experience, it is a natural one. I can know that I have a good support team, that I will be ok, and that something beautiful and life-changing will come from this experience. In being open to the pain rather than fighting it, I change the experience entirely. It is much the same in the pain of loss. When I stop fighting the experience, the sadness remains, but so much tension, bitterness, and anger fades away. And with that, my eyes are opened to the opportunities for growth, and I can see the beauty that has emerged from the dirty, the messy, and the ugly.
Ask yourself; what are the lessons, both good and bad, that have come from my grief and the pain of my loss? How have I changed for the better because of this? How do I want to change because of this? What are the beautiful things that have grown from these ashes? What am I still learning? What are the beautiful things I would like to see emerge in my life from this experience?
Go ahead. Let something beautiful grow.
September 20, 2018
About the Author-----------------
Brianne Edwards is the founder of Lach’s Legacy, a nonprofit organization created to bring comfort, connection, and hope to the SIDS community in South Dakota. Her son, Lachlan, was 10 ½ months old when he died of SIDS in 2008. A lifetime resident of South Dakota, she and her husband David, are the parents of six children. She writes for the Lach’s Legacy blog and Facebook page with vulnerability and depth, acknowledging the profundity of the pain of losing a child as well as the hope of healing.