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When Grief Keeps You From Moving Forward

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Fall is generally a time of change and transition. Everything that has grown in the spring and weathered the summer starts to wither in the fall. In Arizona, fall generally doesn’t come until the end of October. At that time the weather begins to chill, though nothing like the North or East, but we feel it just the same.

My fall starts in September. Specifically September 24, when my son was born. And it ends on Thanksgiving Day, wherever it falls. The day he died.

He was born in 2006. My first baby. He was 7 pounds, 11 ounces and the first grandchild on my mother’s side. He had the complexion of hot cocoa and big brown eyes that always took in the world with awe and wonder. He smiled almost immediately and by 5 weeks, could sit up on his own. The next week, he went to sleep and didn’t wake up on the day that we are supposed to be the most grateful for the life we live.

Twelve years later, I feel as raw as I did at that time. A Band-aid is ripped off. The wound still oozes the pain and guilt that a mother still feels for losing her firstborn, losing herself in the process. I have not consistently celebrated the holiday for years. The first few years I didn’t observe it at all.

I had his sister almost a year to the day he was born and would bear another sister six years later. And although I love my daughters dearly, there’s still a hole in my heart where he resided. Nothing can fill that space, even today. But this month I’ve challenged myself to invoke the gratitude this season provides. I’ve shed my annual tears, and now I want to focus on the present… although in doing so, a part of me feels like I am moving away from him. Grief can hold you like that – scared to move forward because you are leaving your beloved behind. The guilt of living while he rests in the ground has enveloped me in fear and shame for over a decade, and I’ve allowed myself to reside in the thickness of that darkness. I didn’t feel worthy to step into the light and to hold on to the life I am allowed to live.

Every day we have the choice to shrink or grow. We are not plants or flowers, that if nourished properly and have the right amount of sunlight we will grow anyway. We have to make the choice to hold on to the life we have been given. On some days, that choice will be hard. Living, breathing, opening your eyes… these things will be the hardest to bear. Allow yourself the mercy, and extend yourself the grace needed on the days that you need to shrink inside yourself so that tomorrow, or the day after next, or the day after next, you can make the decision to grow again. Your space in this world matters, just as the space your beloved took up matters. The space they’ve left behind is not meaningless because they no longer occupy it. The memory of their love, laughter and light may sometimes not be enough to push you forward, just as the darkness of their loss is sometimes too much to bear and holds you back. I urge you, on those days, to allow yourself to believe that the hope and faith that still resides within you will sustain you. That every day you see the sunrise, it is not an invitation to run away but to run towards it, even if you have to take it one second, one minute, one step at a time.

I am grateful for the time and space I was blessed to be in the space of the wonderful being that was my son. I am grateful for the five weeks and six days I touched his skin, smelled his hair, and held him to my body. I am grateful for the time I was able to be his mother on this Earth and am his mother even after he departed this Earth. His absence does not make me less of a mother, and I am grateful he blessed me in making me one. His life made me a better human being. I am thankful for him. I am thankful that I was blessed with his sisters and entrusted with their souls that I believe chose me like he chose me. I am grateful for every day I see the sunrise because it is another opportunity for me to live for all three of my children and believe in myself. I am grateful for the blessing of believing again, even on my darkest days. When it’s hardest to breathe, I am thankful for the sips of breath I’m able to take to remind me that I’m alive and that I matter. I matter enough to live on and I matter enough to extend gratitude to God for allowing me to realize this.

Gratitude is a process, especially on the days it is hardest to find something to be grateful for. But I urge you to believe that, if nothing else, you can be thankful for the day that you get the opportunity grow or shrink because it’s the reminder you have that you can live to love another day. I am grateful to live for my son and my daughters…because it reminds me that I get to live at all.

Getty image by skyNext

Originally published: June 27, 2019
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