This is a submission in our monthly contest. November’s theme is Gratitude. In the darkest year of my life I stumbled through loss; three miscarriages in a row, the last wracking my body right as winter holiday spirit descended upon seemingly everyone else in the world.
Collapsing onto an overstuffed chair every two weeks during the therapy sessions I arranged, I determined that I had two choices: bend, or break. Accepting that I could not trace back my steps and adjust the course life had taken thus far, I knew I had to acknowledge the pain, and let it teach me. Loss was something that stole my joy, but if I let it shape me, instead of letting it define me, perhaps I could float my way to the top of the waves of grief that had been threatening to suffocate and sink me. It was nearly two years from the date of my third miscarriage when I sat with other women who had experienced pregnancy and infant loss, for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day on October 15, 2017.
We talked about everything but pregnancy and infant loss until it came time to light our candles for the international wave of light that starts at 7 p.m. in each time zone. Passing matches around the circular table, we abruptly engulfed ourselves in silence. I did not know what to say but it felt like someone should say something. The woman to the left of me quietly and gracefully broke the silence with her story of loss – and then words tumbled out of everyone’s mouths, including mine, for two full hours. I’d told my story before, though not often in person, but this felt intimate, and unlike anything I’d experienced. It seemed practically spiritual; a service of sorts, a gathering of souls that recognized one another’s unique pain, along with the commonalities of experience.
Walking home, candle in hand, I found myself straddling an invisible line between elation and vulnerability. It felt like some part of me had been flayed open and exposed, and it stung. And it felt like another part of me was freshly tilled soil with a few seeds planted lovingly inside with a question for a companion: what will you do with this? Every woman there – and each of her own circles impacted by her loss – benefited in some way, from community. Even if it invited vulnerability alongside. I made it my vow, that night, to tend to those seeds that had been planted. There is no replacement for what we lost. At the same time, I would go through it all again to be able to smile at my son; living, breathing joy. There is a concept of post-traumatic growth – instead of being weighed down by a terrible event and its fallout, one eventually rises from it, and better yet, changes for the good. While most people probably would not choose to relive that trauma to gain the growth, realistically, we don’t have a choice to go back and start over.
That growth then, as the popular saying goes, is the silver lining. I’m grateful for what I have learned, grateful for the people who held me when I could not hold myself, and grateful, especially, for the people who loved my growing baby when I was too afraid to unguard that particular part of my heart. Now it’s time to take that gratitude and give it back. What helped me through my darkness was knowing that there was a chance of light.That light was shown to me, in part, by other women who had navigated the same rough passages. They had crashed into the rocks, been pulled under, and fought to the surface. They showed me how to get myself afloat, too, with outstretched hands, reassuring words, and shared tears, slowly rebuilding my soul on the backs of others who had been there before me. Many of the flashes of peace I experienced through the most intense grief, I owe to my lighthouses. And so, I have decided that I need to be a lighthouse, too.
Perhaps sharing our darkest days is not gutsy in the sense of being brazen or confident, but I believe it’s courageous – and more than that, it is an act of compassion and candor. When we are lighthouses, we shine the way for others, so they can navigate and land more gently, and more safely than they would if they felt like they were completely alone in the shadows. Instead of sending up that thank you, sorry, please I am sending it outward. More than that, I want to say it out loud. Thank you for being there for me. I’m sorry that you are going through this grief and pain. Please let me help you in any way I can, because others have shown me how. And that, I am beholden to share.