Years ago when I saw a therapist regularly she often reminded me that I needed to feel my way through all the feelings of losing a child. She said if I pushed away the grief or tried to stifle the urge to cry I would never get through those miserable days of searing pain. They would keep returning– the intense emotions resurfacing until I buckled to them, acknowledged just how much they sucked, then pulled a pillow over my head or cried a good shower cry.
She used to say “the only way out is through” and it became my mantra too. Those first few years after losing Hadley I told myself this often.
When I woke up with a physical ache, pressed in the shape of her head against my chest, I would put one foot in front of the other– the only way out is through.
When I felt hollowed out and overwhelmed by the thought of a lifetime without my child, I would write through my grief– the only way out is through.
When my living kids hit milestones their sister never would and the bittersweet feeling demanded my attention I would smile at them through my tears, hoping they would remember me happy– the only way out is through.
And when time went on and slow months turned to fast years and the “through” got easier in that gradual way time allows, I locked myself in the bathroom or hid away in my bedroom when the tears came, knowing they’d be back if I didn’t– the only way out is through.
But now, nine years after saying goodbye, I have to say that maybe my therapist was wrong about grief a bit. Maybe you can’t feel it all, all the time because it might just be too much.
If I thought, really thought, about the enormity of what I lost the day my daughter died I’m not sure I could have gotten through. If I thought about the opportunity to be Soccer Mom and Stage Mom and how the cuddly one still claims my lap– the stolen possibilities of all she should be and all I could be right back– it would be too much.
Maybe the only way through is knowing how searingly unfair it is to never watch your child grow up– to have to wonder how she would fill a dinner table chair and what bedtime story would be her favorite– to realize you’ve been cheated out of an entirely different kind of life, but to learn to turn your head from it in order to keep going. Because stopping for it and sinking into it is not a survival plan.
Maybe once you learn there is no out, through becomes tiptoeing carefully in life without going too deep unless you have time to sink. Because there is nothing good about it. There is no reason your child died, things didn’t turn out the way they should be and there are very few people who can say “I understand” and mean it because they know, even though you wish they didn’t.
You get to a better place by not staying in the awful one each day. You get there by telling yourself you’re okay enough times that you begin to believe it. And you get there by letting your tragedy be part of you, a huge, life-changing part, but not who you are.
You get through by realizing there is no “out” and the time you have from the day you said goodbye until the day you say hello again will be measured by breaths that are much more important that you could have ever understood before one was left silent.
You get through by deciding you’ve learned a heart wrenching lesson on the fragility of life and the crazy gift that is motherhood. Your time is as short as it is long and sometimes it needs to stop for tears but so much more than that, it needs to keep going for laughter.
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