Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Healing Power of Friendships: Retreat HOPE Afterthoughts

Retreat HOPE crew!
I have not been posting much here. I'm sorry. It is kind of lame of me I know, but it isn't because I don't have anything post worthy. My time has been limited and it seems that this falls into the I'll get to it later category of my life.

To be honest I haven't quite figured out what to do with my blog lately. It used to be almost a compulsion to write here. It was a haven I built for myself that served me well for many years. I was in a lot of pain for a very long time. This place let me vent in ways nothing else did. I cried here, screamed, grew, changed, healed, and found bits and pieces of myself that I thought were lost forever a midst the ashes right here, in this place. 

It is sacred space here. 

I've sat down a million times to post something and my brain locked up or fingers would not type or I emotionally froze and couldn't get into the flow. BLOGGER'S BLOCK. Yes I invented that term. And I am completely in favor of inventing any words necessary to articulate myself properly. You should try it. It is empowering. But anyway...bloggers block is a real thing and it was messing me up.  For a few months now my words have felt forced and I didn't like that at all. Inspired writing inspires others, forced writing, well, doesn't. This is a place that should be overflowing with authenticity, not obligatory writings that fall flat and bum people out.

Truthfully though my heart just wasn't in it. Other things have been captivating my heart of late and I poured myself into them, and not regrettably because here I sit with something to write FINALLY. My diversion has not only filled me back up with epiphanies and overflowed my heart but led me right back here to tell you about it. 

So pour a cup of tea and get ready...this is going to be long one. 

This past weekend was Retreat HOPE. Kiley Hanish of Return to Zero, Crystal Tenpenny of Teamotions and myeslf co-founded the retreat and led the weekends' activities and lessons. Seventeen women showed up from around the world, literally around the world, to come together to find support and healing after the death of their baby/babies. I had been looking forward to the retreat for some time. We worked incredibly hard on it and poured our hearts and souls into creating a truly meaningful weekend. I have not been that nervous in a long time. I felt an enormous amount of pressure to not let the women down. We were all coming from a place of such profound pain.  I felt wholly inadequate yet fully willing at the same time.What did I really have to offer except my own broken heart? Would that be enough?

Most days I feel like I am in pretty good place now, but I know I still have a long way to go. I look back on the early years after Aubrey and Ellie's deaths and don't even know how I survived. I have not forgotten the intensity of the pain of losing them and the fear and confusion of trying to go on without them. I still miss them desperately but along with the missing and the longing I feel peace, joy, and hope too. For a longtime it was either/or, but now it is and. I am sad and joyful, broken and strong, heartsick and content, confused and clear. I don't know how it happened but it did. And I feel a little more like who I want to be. I can laugh and cry at the same time. It's pretty awesome actually. A skill I cherish. 

I've spent the last few days decompressing from the retreat. When everyone left on Sunday I was overflowing with thoughts, feelings, ideas, and memories I will keep forever. The retreat went better than I imagined and I got more than I imagined out of it for my own heart, but the importance of what was taking place was so huge that I had to step out from under the weight of it all come Sunday. I felt myself go numb. Sometimes I just can't cope with how heavy life is and don't really want to. Coping sucks. I've been exhausting myself for the past six years, pushing myself hard through grief, to get beyond surviving to thriving. I don't like when I feel myself seemingly take a step backward into those old familiar places of numbness, coping, confusion, and uncertainty. What was happening to me? Where was all this coming from? What does it all mean?

Grief is a beast. Healing is a mountain. The journey is long, unpredictable, and not for sissies. I've become quite the fighter. My days are full of slaying the beast and climbing the mountain. I can be pretty tenacious when I set my mind on something and healing was something I chose almost six years ago and haven't looked back. It hasn't been pretty. As a matter of fact, it has been down right ugly at times. There is no map and I have an ungraceful way of throwing myself into things. But until I draw my last breath I will not let Aubrey and Ellie's short lives and tragic deaths rob them of the legacy they are worthy of...and that legacy isn't being a shadow of who I used to be cloaked in sadness without light in my eyes. I've heard it put this way, we all know that we'd give our lives for our children, we'd die for them without hesitation, but would we live for them? 

I chose life. Everyday I choose life.

Choosing life can completely kick your a** though. I mean let's be real for a second. This isn't a movie. This is real life. And real life is a lot harder and significantly less glamorous than the movies. Even those of us whose life is a movie (Kiley Hanish!) would agree that there was a lot left out of the script. If my life was a movie it would be one of those straight to DVD movies that no one would ever admit to watching (unlike Kiley who gets a world premier and played by Mini Driver-but she deserves it because Return to Zero is really amazing and was such a privilege to watch). Although I'd be impeccably dressed the entire time though and have flawless skin in my movie life...I'd be shockingly radiant considering all I've been through. In my real life I am, well, less radiant. Grief has taken a toll on me. But that is ok. There is something beautiful about walking through the fire and living to tell about it. Something rare. Something real. I wear my scars proudly as they are evidence of my sweet girls and how hard I am willing to work to honor them with my life.

I have always known that if I am going to heal and leave a legacy for Aubrey and Ellie worthy of them I would need the support of others, but I didn't truly grasp the transforming power of that support until this weekend. I watched the power of our foxhole friendships transform each other from walled-off, hesitant and nervous upon arrival to open, engaged, and relaxed within hours. Tears flowed freely but so did laughter, we shared about our babies and ourselves, and we were understood without even having to explain anything. I was my uncensored real self. It was the safest place I've been in almost 6 years. 

I think that is why I shut down on Sunday after the retreat ended...the support I so desperately needed and finally found had disbursed. The little perfect island I got to live on for three days and two nights sank into the sea. It was just me again and all my sweet friends were missing. I felt so sad, too sad to cope really, so I had to turn off for a while. 

I miss every one of my new sweet friends. Every single one. I needed them more than I even realized. Each one was a gift. I am forever changed for knowing each one of them.

I am still so traumatized by Aubrey and Ellie's deaths. I have two wounds that just won't heal. I've become pretty adept at functioning with my wounds. I don't want to fail my girls. I'll fight for my healing for their sake for the rest of my life because I believe it is what is most honoring to them, but there is a tiny part of me that has always wondered what about me, my heart, and my future?  

No one tells you that you are ripped from humanity after your baby dies. No one tells you that you are thrown into a subcategory of mankind. Demoted and segregated in an instant, all in secret. The new place makes it borderline impossible to truly relate and connect anymore with others, at least not easily, not completely. I think we should call it what it is-grief leprosy. But instead of being shipped off to be with only "our kind" we remain among the oblivious becoming invisible in many respects and no longer able to relate. It is a tough place to be. Maybe if we wore some visible marker we'd be recognized for what we are and less would be expected of us. The hardest part of grieving is pretending that we are not.

Truth be told I had grown quite weary and I began to believe that the feeling of constant struggle was just part of the healing process. I was trying to get used to it. But this weekend shifted my paradigm completely. This weekend provided rest and strength I didn't even know was available to me. I felt truly accepted, understood, and valued. The constant struggle is NOT a permanent part of the healing process. There is respite. And that respite is found in the face-to-face heart-to-heart company of other women who know the pain of losing a baby. All the hugs, smiles, tears and conversations were priceless. More than priceless, precious. More than precious, miraculous. I am different now because of it, more whole, which is unfathomable to say after experiencing such loss, but I am. I found a part of me that I thought was lost. I didn't feel like a grief-leper. 

I've always said the human spirit is remarkably resilient. It blows my mind what our hearts can endure. But this weekend taught me that resilience is rooted in real connection. We simply can't heal without each other. The friends I made this weekend empowered me in ways I have never been empowered before. I felt more like myself than I have in years. I am closer to who I want to be since Aubrey and Ellie's deaths.

And it was powerfully healing for my heart. 

Thank you for a wonderful weekend ladies! I know it took courage. Thank you for the gift of your friendship and the connection that only comes when you take the risk and open your heart. 
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