I believe the true measure of a person is determined by how she acts when faced with adversity. I am constantly amazed by my friends and family who have handled seemingly insurmountable obstacles with such incredible grace and compassion — both in their lives, and in the worst of times, when there is death.
And when I see these people, these people who are composed, who are lovely, who are kind in the most dire of circumstances, it makes me wonder, did their grief change them, or did they change their grief? Were they this strong before facing adversity, or did they find this strength only because they needed it?
I am in awe of the people I know who can still see the light in the midst of a tragedy. A mom who has shown so much compassion and gratitude as her young son faces leukemia. A friend who lost her battle with lung cancer, yet fought courageously even to the end. A young dad who creates a beautiful life for his daughters despite losing his wife in a freak medical incident. And a young girl who digs deep to win her war with addiction.
I often wonder, could I be that strong if faced with such an issue? Could I see beyond myself? Would I be paralyzed with the unfairness of it all…could I bear the unbearable? I’m not so sure, so I try to see life through the lens of my friends, to find my gratitude in the every day knowing that today it was not me, not my family, not my life that was shattered. I will be thankful, because I feel it is insulting to those facing such pain, such grief, such sorrow if I am not.
I discussed this once with a friend who has been dealt a lot of bad cards in her life. Of course making it all about me, I remarked that I often struggled with enjoying my own life when so many close to me were struggling with their own. She said something like this: “Life is truly seasonal. Some of us will never know that we are in a beautiful spring until faced with the harshness of winter. Some of us know that the seasons change quickly. And some of us never know because we’re too busy looking up at the dark clouds. Regardless, it’s up to each of us to know when the sun is shining.”
True dat. We must know when our sun is shining.
This past Saturday morning I woke up early. With nothing on the schedule and my three girls lazily watching cartoons downstairs, I rolled over to grab my phone to check some e-mails and Facebook. The very first post I read was from my friend Anne, a tall, beautiful woman with a California tan and an equally sunny disposition. She was the girl in my sorority I admired from afar, although she always gave me a warm smile when she saw me in the year I was a lowly pledge and she a supremely confident senior. Flash forward twenty years and she is equally gorgeous and tan, but now has a beautiful family, recently started a successful business, and lives a full life. Seemingly perfect.
And then she shared this:
In a continued effort to make my Facebook page as authentic and purposeful as possible, I am gathering up my courage and sharing this post. Here goes..
Six years ago today we lost our daughter, Brooke, when I went into labor at 21 weeks into my pregnancy. I never felt brave enough to openly talk about it on Facebook, but something compelled me today to share this very personal post.
Every year on this date, in the days and weeks leading up, I find myself quietly and painfully remembering her loss. We always mark the day by going to our special beach where we scattered her ashes, and we bring rose petals to toss in the ocean. But this year, it was not until well into the morning that I suddenly realized what day it was.
My husband had already left for work and I was packing the kids lunches, when it hit me. Of course I felt incredibly guilty that I had forgotten and not planned my day accordingly. And then all at once an incredible sense of gratitude and calm washed over me as I realized it was OK. It was OK that I did not feel the pain and the grief. I carry Brooke in my heart everyday and am constantly finding her beautiful little spirit in so many areas of my life.
But today for the first time in six years I allowed myself to let go of the painful part of her loss and simply celebrate her birth and her precious, brief, little life with us. So, instead of bringing roses to the beach tonight, I took our beautiful daughter, her sister, who was born two years later, to the beach instead. We played in the surf, made seagrass bracelets, and afterward we had dinosaur chicken nuggets and clam chowder, and toasted our blessed life with milk and Sauvignon Blanc at The Boathouse.
And now we are home and taking baths and my heart is just so full. Six years ago I could never have imagined feeling such joy. I really debated sharing this tonight. But despite my trepidation, I hope that maybe this post will serve as a little light of hope for anyone struggling with grief. In a huge display of irony I received a call today from a dear friend asking for advice on how to support a friend who experienced a very similar loss. As I shared with her all of the wonderful ways my own good friends “showed up” for me, it reminded me how fortunate I am to have such compassionate and loyal friends. Without them, I surely could not have reached this place of healing. So, thank you. You know who you are, and your friendship has made all the difference.
It took me until the end to realize that tears were streaming down my face. I have always thought of Anne as larger than life, but reading this, reading how her grief changed her, and then how she changed her grief…well, it was something special. Glennon from Momastery calls it living “brutiful”, where everything beautiful in our life now comes from the pain and grief we faced in our past.
And while some of our pain and grief and sadness is because of awful things like sickness and death and addictions, sometimes it is the small things, like insecurities or betrayals or cruelty from others that limits our happiness, our joy, our gratitude. Sometimes a lot of these small things can cloud our sunshine, make us miss our season of spring.
But by sharing these stories, sharing our pain — the pain we all have in some form or another — we can learn from it. We can help each other find our sunshine again, as Anne’s close friends and family helped find hers. While yes, grief changes us; but that does not mean we cannot change our grief. Moving on does not mean forgetting our loved ones, our experiences, our loss. With time and support, we can change our grief into gratitude.
At the end of the day, I am so thankful for the bravery of people like Anne and others in my life that share their struggles, and decide to share them with the world. We all face pain and grief and heartbreaking, unbearable loss, and we all face a multitude of issues that weigh us down– and in the face of this, we must decide if we want to see the sun again. By sharing our stories, we also give hope to those that may follow.
In the movie The Fault in Our Stars, there is a line that says: “Grief does not change you Hazel. It reveals you.”
May we all reveal our true selves, our best selves in the harshest of winters. May we all find the sunshine after our pain, after our sorrow. May we all find our spring day at the beach, that day when our grief turns to gratitude.