The day my only daughter was born.
My baby would be twenty years old tomorrow. I imagine we would be going to lunch. Shopping. I’d buy her stuff. And hear about her school, her friends, some annoying boy.
Instead, I’m here with you.
Because on that rainy Friday twenty years ago, my beautiful little baby girl was born. Too soon. And died, 32-minutes later.
Here were her entire life possessions: one seashell, that the nurse used to hold the baptismal water while we waited for her to die. One baby blanket. I have it somewhere. It has a couple of flecks of blood on it. And one angel pin. That the nurse pinned to the blanket before she took her to the morgue.
That was it. Not even a diaper.
The death of a child brings unspeakable sorrow. It’s an “out of order” loss; wrong on so many levels.
One of the things that was really difficult to overcome was this – I was really suffering with the idea that the only people who ever met Grace were the staff at the labor room and the morgue.
I shared this sadness with a very wise man and he said this, “Jennifer, don’t you see? Grace’s eternity is that YOU ARE CHANGED FOREVER. And everyone you meet and everything you do will be different because YOUR LIFE was touched by Grace.
GRACE LIVES ON, JENNIFER, THROUGH YOU!
And so it is.
My whole life changed because of Grace. And because I made a decision. Any my decision was this – “I am going to find a way to make it matter that Grace was here.” And so I set out to learn everything there was to know about loss, bereavement, recovery, and legacy.
Grace is not getting a birthday party this year. There is no cake. No shopping. No lunch. And no gifts.
Well not for her anyway. But there are her Gifts. To me. And through me, to you.
And so, on the eve of my daughter’s 20th birthday, I share with you some of the Gifts of Grace.
Gift #1. Life isn’t fair. Or, often, personal. Grace’s death wasn’t personal. The universe wasn’t punishing me. She was simply born too soon for her lungs to work properly. When you choose to take hardship personally, you get all caught up in esteem issues, and blame issues, and justice issues. And those things make healing impossible, because they are the fertile ground of resentment and bitterness. Life — your big beautiful life — just IS. Don’t look for trouble. When trouble comes, don’t add to it by making yourself a victim.
Gift #2. You can take actions. But you can’t control outcomes. I’ve always been a planner. My father died of alcoholism when I was 11. I had my first strategic plan when I was 9. In my childlike mind, I decided that planning brought order to chaos. Grace’s death pointed out a key fallacy in my strategy. I could plan. I could even take right action. But the results of all that were outside of my control. Therefore, results are none of my business. Only Right Action is. So keep your Magical Magnifying Mind focused on the stuff that will count. Right Action.
Gift #3. When pain comes to you, you have one decision to make. You either get bitter. Or you get better. Which path you choose determines the legacy you leave.
Gift #4. Fear is not strategic. It’s pointless. Here’s why – if you decide that, no matter what, you are going to “get better” when tragedy strikes, then you can apply your Right Actions to finding the solution. No matter what happens to you in life, SOMEONE SOMEWHERE has survived that thing. Therefore, right now, you can claim fearlessness for the rest of your life if you just make this one commitment: No matter what comes, you will seek out healing by studying the work of those who have healed before. You will copy their work. And you will find your way up and out.
Gift #5. Love and Loss are the dualities of the same life experience. When you choose to love, you choose sorrow when love changes. Loss, sadness, bereavement, the depths of these are the measures of your capacity to love. You can’t have one without the other. Embrace both.
Gift #6. Sorrow digs a well for joy. Suffering digs into your heart. Your soul. It trenches through your psyche and leaves a harrowing and hollowing place for the next part of life. Remember, you either get bitter or better. So what fills that well is up to you. Choose love. Your sorrow expands your capacity and appreciation for love. You will love deeper. And more fearlessly, as a result of the hard work you do after loss.
Gift #7. Wisdom. It really used to pain me when people complimented me on my “wisdom” after Grace died. It felt like the “spiritual booby prize.” I wanted my daughter. Not the kick ass inner knowing that came in the space where she should have been.
But guess what, buttercup? I didn’t get that choice.
And so I make the most of what options I DO HAVE. And one option that I have is to make Grace’s life matter by sharing my wisdom with you.
I wish I had more.
Nope, that’s a lie.
I don’t wish I had “more.” I wish I had OTHER. I wish I had a twenty-year old daughter to spend time with.
And honestly, on days like today, the sorrow is still so incredibly deep.
So, I’m spending it with you with the hope that, if I help you, I honor her.
Blessed be. Namaste. With Grace.
Love, Grace’s mom.
Phtoto: Flickr, Pink Sherbet