Our culture prizes quick responses and the ability to shrug off what happened in the past. At heart, we Americans are a “suck it up and move on” kind of people. We talk about closure, but it is less about pulling the meaning from an experience than a way to get past something.
One year ago today I was in the ER, holding vigil as my husband was admitted to the hospital and being given reassurances that the chances of his recovery were excellent. It’s hard not to think about that as I go about my life today. I’m old enough to have experienced other periods where my life underwent major changes within a single year; certainly the 12-month period that ended with a 3-month old child was one. The difference is that this time, nothing was gained; there has only been loss.
Years ago my mother told me she had a miscarriage a few months before she became pregnant with me. Had she not miscarried, I would not have been born. Perhaps in another universe that pregnancy was carried to term, and my parents have a different first child. Knowing that my conception was based on the ending of another didn’t hamper my parent’s ability to love me.
One of the hardest parts of grieving is learning how to move forward in a manner that is both respectful of what was lost while still being open to what can be found. It requires a cognitive balancing act to mourn the loss of someone while simultaneously being open to finding joy in things experienced only because of that person’s loss. The other option is to stay in the same place, to live in a state of permanent mourning, turning aside from real life to live in a fantasy land of what was and what could have been.
I think the key to making it past grief is to embrace that strange and confusing logic, and to accept that the happiest and most meaningful parts of our lives happen because we are in the right place at the right time; and that we arrive at that right place and time because other places and times ended, often earlier and in more tragic ways than we wanted.