Life After Tragedy: The Unexpected Gifts in Catastrophic Events

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A guest post by Jennifer Boykin of Life After Tampons

It’s been nearly twenty years since I held my newborn daughter Grace while she died.

In those days, I thought I would never be free of my sorrow.

But I have been, and there are actually great long stretches of my life when I don’t think about my daughter at all. But on occasion, something will catch my heart, and it brings it all back.

A few weeks ago this happened when I read Barrie’s piece, Grief and Loss: 6
Steps on the Path to Healing.

People will tell you that no one should outlive their child, and they are right.

Nobody wants to be a member of the “parents of dead babies club,” but we are out there. And, having lived through it, I can say – in fact I must say – that, if you really, really want it, you can find a way through your suffering, no matter what you’ve lost.

Here’s what I’ve found:

In order to get through loss, you have to be willing to give up your “story.”

Really, really, it is a very dramatic thing to be the parent of a dead child. And there are individuals and even entire communities who will give you unlimited attention for this for the rest of your life. But is that really the kind of attention you want?

Unless you are willing to give up your story of loss, betrayal, and suffering, you are doomed to carry it forward with you wherever you go. You become defined by your loss — but only to the extent that you choose to hold the loss in your heart and mind. Only to that extent do you squander the possible moments of joy that would have been available to you. The cost of martyrdom is joy.

In order to get through loss, you have to understand the duality of change.

Endings and beginnings are simply the yin and yang of change. One defines the other. And one can never be present without the other.

Thus, if you choose to spend the rest of your days with the love of your life, you “lose” forever the freedoms of your single days. Never again can you just do what you want to do when you want to do it. You trade that freedom for companionship. Loss is intrinsic in every joy that you have ever had.

Indeed, loss is intrinsic in all of life, and yet, as a culture, we seek to deny and avoid loss. Once you understand the futility of expecting a life free of sorrow, you are free to really embrace loving and the absolute breathtaking joy of living!

Sorrow is the bill that comes due for the price of loving. Accept that and you are free.

You can mitigate any loss by harnessing its transformative power.

Grief has an energy of its own. It will have its way with you, until it doesn’t. But you can help yourself through. Learn to set boundaries around your suffering. Make appointments with it, in fact, so that you begin to carve out some
moments where you focus on reclaiming your joy and your light.

Your losses are going to change you.

What this means is that your losses are going to make new discoveries, new soul-places, new visions available to you that were not possible before the loss. Before my baby died, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. And now I do.

All healing is possible.

There is joy in loss because loss is borne in love. There is transformation in loss because the bereaved has a deeper capacity to love. Loss hollows out your soul, and you either get bitter, or you get better. But you can’t have both.

Because I am Grace’s mother, I absolutely know that life is too short,  life is too uncertain, to spend one moment living timidly. We are meant, as Barrie says, to Live Bold and Bloom. But even the most beautiful blossom has a dormant season.

The next time you are suffering, fear it less. Know that this period can be a gift of transformation if you choose life instead of loss.

The only way out is through.

Love yourself gently.

Love yourself more fully.

Embrace and celebrate the love you feel for others.

Yes, there will be suffering when love ends. But only because there was great joy while it was here.

Jennifer Boykin is the founder of Life After Tampons where she helps women at midlife answer the question: “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” She challenges us to “Quit your bitching. Change your life.” Love it! Please jump over and say hello to Jennifer.
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Comments

  1. This is one of the most powerful – and healing – messages I’ve read in a long time. I’m sharing this today and saving it to share in the future. Thank you Jennifer and Barrie.

    • Thank you so much, Linda, for sharing Grace’s story. Because she is gone, the only way I can be the best mother to her that I can, is to live a life of healing and pass that on to others. If we make meaning from our tragedies, we mitigate.

      As it is, today, I want to move up and on. Over at Life After Tampons today, we’re helping people to that with our Free eRetreat, Reclaim the Sass.

      After you move past the tragedy, that’s the next healing task — to BE JOYFUL!!!!!

      Thank you for being part of Grace’s life. Love, Jennifer

  2. Dwayne@TWC says:

    Wow. This is a really powerful post, Jennifer. Losing someone is so hard on us and it’s normal to be upset about that loss but we should realize that we shouldn’t be sad but happy that they are in a much better place. It makes the grieving process so much easier and gives us much needed closure. Good job.

    • Thank you, Dwayne. I honestly don’t know if Grace is in a better place. If so, I still would have wanted her here first. But I don’t get that. So I’ve learned to honor her by healing. And now, I know how to, as Barrie says, Live Bold and Bloom.

      Please pass this story on to the people you care about. As Grace’s mother, I would be so grateful to see her living in the hearts of others.

      Jennifer

  3. Just beautiful, thank you both for sharing this. I will share as well ;)

  4. Thank you, Lilly. Let me know what else I can do to help. I’m over at Life After Tampons (dot) com.

    Love, Jennifer

  5. Thank you Jennifer for this powerful well written post. I too lost a child and understand how loss can actually enrich your life if you use it as a way to become more aware. Like is a series of adventures always revealing more about life itself. Embracing the changes that come forth is a way to enjoy the adventures rather than resisting and calling them bad. Life is good even with the stones in our path. I look forward to more of your posts.
    Carole OConnell

  6. Dearest Carole, I’m so sorry for your loss. And so joyful that you have found your way through.

    Blessings! Jennifer

  7. Beautifully written. I loved “In order to get through loss, you have to be willing to give up your “story.”

  8. When I read the title of this blog, I hesitated to read it. I hate every idea of the loss of a child. I have been greatly blessed with three amazing children and cannot imagine having to experience their death. But, I bit the bullet and clicked on it anyways. Such good thoughts and truths. I have a few friends who need to read this, and I am going to pass it on. Thank you for your time, energy, and consideration in writing this all out.

    • Thank you for your bravery, and soldiering through, Sarah. I understand the choice to be careful for what you put in “your magical magnifying mind.” But loss is just the other side of love. Please let your friends know that I’m happy to be of service if needed. They can find me through my website, Life After Tampons (dot) com.

  9. Beautiful post. You’ve really transcended and transformed. Your daughter is proud of you, I’m sure. You have so much to offer other grieving parents.
    I too am a mid-lifer on Long Island. I saw you took your weekend retreat at the Hampton Inn.
    Best to you.

  10. Jennifer,

    Powerful and honest! Your healing and sharing to help others heal and “get through it” is remarkable and the best way to honor Grace! Grace, in her short life, left an amazing gift that will no doubt touch countless people! I feel blessed to know you and share the Gift of Grace!

    Blessings my friend,

    Pax,
    Donna

  11. Hi Jennifer:

    First, my sincerest condolences for your loss. Even though its been a while I am quite certain one never completely gets over such a thing happening to them.
    My dear husband recently passed away after a year and half of pancreatic cancer. Of course I am struggling every day. As you well know, there is no way to prepare for all the changes that come after such an event. Even seeing it coming for many months did not soften the blow.
    His mother is still alive and well with all her mental powers. I believe you of all people can fully grasp what she has and is going through. As wretched as all this has been for me, changing my entire life in subtle and not at all subtle ways, its just unimaginable to me what she must be going through. He was the youngest, her baby and of course his siblings are suffering his loss as well.
    I know all of what you say above is true and that I have to somehow embrace all this pain and fear I am experiencing.
    Its just so hard a thing for me to go through. Some days are definitely better then others. Night time is always bad.
    Thanks for sharing your heart breaking story. Thanks for letting me know that someday, I might have less fear and pain and may actually be able to enjoy life again.

    • I am so sorry for your loss, Lois. And happy that you found love, too. I do know though that that may feel like “the spiritual booby prize” right now. I promise you that joy is possible — for you and your mother-in-law again. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help. I write over at Life After Tampons (dot) com and there is a questions page where you can reach me.

      Blessings, love. I will keep you and your family in my prayers. Jennifer

  12. I lost my mom when I was 19 years old, and now so many years later I am able to perceive all the positive ways that I (painfully) grew because of this.

    However: In our 3 years of trying to conceive we have been successful only once, and also lost our daughter. How do you learn to let go of your story when it’s still ongoing, month after month? I’m just so exhausted from living in tragedy.

    • Dearest beautiful Kiki,

      I am SO sorry for your loss. I didn’t share about it in the piece, but — you’re right — there are a THOUSAND other losses that come with the death of a baby. And, once you start “trying” again, every month you’re NOT pregnant again, does feel like another loss. For me, it was even more complicated by resentment that other young couples were having an easy time of it.

      If we were to have tea together, I AM CERTAIN we could also share a hundred other things.

      Here is my experience, the ONLY way out is through. And, sadly, you’re just in a very long “THROUGH” phase. And here’s another thing — this will be with you forever. BUT NOT in an acute way. For example, I can read your story and REALLY understand where you are, BUT I do not suffer anymore.

      It’s the spiritual booby prize, because what you WANT is your baby, and her brother/sister. And what YOU GET is WISDOM. That’s not a very good deal. BUT it is what you are getting AND, TWENTY years from now I may be gone and the world will need a KIKI who can carry on the message of hope and healing.

      Still, you have to make it through the time from here to there.

      Here is the MOST EFFECTIVE book I found for healing from loss. Here’s the thing, love, you have to ACTUALLY DO the exercises in the book. Otherwise, the information will not — CAN NOT — move from your head to your heart.

      The book is The Grief Recovery Handbook, by John James and Frank Cherry. The newer edition also adds in the work of Russell Friedman. Here is a link to the Amazon list for the book (I am NOT an AMAZON affiliate person, so I have no skin in the game here.) http://www.amazon.com/s/?ie=UTF8&keywords=the+grief+recovery+handbook&tag=googhydr-20&index=stripbooks&hvadid=5845707861&ref=pd_sl_896sh2sfum_b

      If you like, let me know how you are doing. You can reach me through the Contact Page on my site. (I won’t be checking back here after Barrie takes our blog down.) Blessings to you and your family. http://www.lifeaftertampons.com/about/shall-we-chat/

      Jennifer

  13. Jennifer, Your words and writing style are powerful. I can’t imagine ever losing a child and living through it. Thank you for sharing how you didn’t let your loss define you or your life. How it is a sign that you lovely and live deeply. At some point, you chose to live in spite of your loss, this is your story.

    I remember thinking very early after my first child was born that it every day is about joy and loss with your kids, letting go and enjoying them.

    • Marci, you are so right about the way to view each day with joy and such. As for the other, though, I acutally hesitate to write about Grace because I am so far past the healing from loss part and, for years after, I felt a lot of pressure from other people to keep me at that stage of MY STORY. And yet, letting go of YOUR STORY is CRITICAL to the next phase — which is TRIUMPH.

      I want Grace’s story to be about TRIUMPH. In other words, the work i do, the vision i have, the capacity i have for love and such is BEYOND what could have been possible without also bearing that loss.

      That’s what the whole point behind Life After Tampons is about. I hope you’ll come visit.

      And thank you so much for your kindness.

  14. Jennifer Belanger says:

    Wow, great post Jennifer. I can’t even imagine nor do want to.

    I love the part “In order to get through loss, you have to be willing to give up your story.” this is so true in many areas of your life. Some times we get stuck in the fact that we had a divorce, our parent’s didn’t love us, we were in an accident and the “story”becomes our way of staying the victim.

    • Exactly, Jennifer.

      And you don’t have to imagine my loss, everyone gets their own. And our losses — the unique nature of them — makes us each UNIQUELY qualified to help others who suffer, particularly those who have suffered similar losses.

      Wisdom through tragedy is a gift nobody really wants. But, when tragedy strikes, one way to WIN is to insist that you are GOING TO RISE AGAIN. I had my daughter for 32 minutes. I wanted to be a really good mom.

      In my case, the only way I got to do that was to be a healing mom. I wouldn’t have wanted her, but I get the wisdom, instead.

      And I honor her by DECIDING to heal, be whole, and help others.

      Thank you so much for taking time to write. I wish you every WISDOM and JOY in your journey, too. Someone will need your story. And only you can bring it.

      J

  15. Jennifer,

    I can’t think of a more devastating loss or a more profound pain than that of losing a child.

    Thank you so much for reaching into the depths of that pain to share the lessons you’ve learned through the years of living since this unfortunate experience.

    I especially loved the reminder that in the midst of pain, I have to be willing to release my “story” about the circumstance. That can be one of the most challenging steps, isn’t it? We identify with our stories and we advocate for them. Letting go is so hard, but it’s so profoundly important for healing and growing.

    I’ve know this, but it’s necessary to have reminders when you’re in the middle of the drama of the “story”.

    Thanks

    • Thank you, Steve. I’ve actually come to the “letting go of my story” part of the equation quite slowly, I’m afraid. But to the extent that we hold on to anything – to JUST that extent — do we squander our ability to reach for something else.

      I want to be renewed and refreshed and be an effervescent source of love and light. Grace is part of my story, but there are three stinky, back-talking boys who came after, and they need me to GROW!!!!!!

      Every blessing to you!!! Jennifer

  16. Jennifer,

    Thank you for reminding me about the duality of this precious life. :o) These last few years, I have embraced the concept of letting go, and it’s done wonders to my spirit and the space that is my mind. We have the ability to get so caught up in tragedy and problems that we clout the opportunities that are in front of us, as a result.

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