For me, living life after child loss is similar to learning to walk again.
Picture a toddler as she learns to walk.
“Little one” tries to pull herself up on the couch after struggling several times.
Then bam! – she falls on her diaper-padded behind! Ouch!
But, little one courageously pulls herself up and holds onto the couch.
With anticipation she takes the first step, legs straight and looking a bit like a mini-Frankenstein. Then, little one swings her leg forward and takes a step with the other foot.
Then, plop. Falls on her behind again! This time the fall hurts and she starts to cry.
She hears momma saying, “Don’t give up. Try again.” Little one dioesn’t even realize that momma is watching.
So she gets up and tries again.
This time when she stands up, she isn’t aware that she’s not holding on to the couch. When little one realizes that she’s not holding on, she freaks out a bit and falls. Womp!
Now, she is stuck in the middle of the floor. With no one around this time, she’s got to move somehow, so she gets up and tries again.
One little foot in front of the other – until there’s some momentum and she takes at least 10 steps. Little one’s standing tall and proud.
The excitement to walk creates an exhilarating feeling and little one starts running. The problem is that she hasn’t really learned to walk, so her running creates too much uncontrolled energy and Wham! – she falls again.
Sometimes I feel as though I am “little one.” My recent life journey feels similar to the stages of learning to walk.
At first, it felt impossible to get up and get my feet on the floor in the mornings after Leah passed away.
I was dazed – the shock of my circumstance made me dizzy, unable to walk. Life was calling me to get going, but my sadness made it hard to securely stand. I kept trying to get up and take a step forward and bam! – a thought, a memory, another loss hit me and I fell.
The first couple falls really hurt, but after awhile my “padded behind” became a bit numb to the internal or external obstacles.
So for a year, I’d just get up and try moving through the grief – meeting friends for coffee, reengaging with my career, attending family events, paying bills. Regular life stuff. Each experience felt new because my ability to walk was different – and the truth is that my inner world was very different.
People who care about me wanted me to get up and walk. They knew I did before; why couldn’t I walk again? In my former life, I was a runner – metaphorically speaking. I’m an initiator and activator. So, people expected me to take my hands off the couch and get going – attending events, leading projects, initiating coffee dates, looking for new client work, etc.
So, like the momma, they’d tell me, “Don’t give up. Try again.” I needed to hear these words. Sometimes people would extend a hand to help as momma would, of course, help little one learn to walk. Other times, they’d call to me from the other room. However they encouraged me, they were supportive and I needed to hear the affirmation.
Sometimes it was frustrating to hear, “Don’t give up. Try again.” I wanted to say, “Well, it’s easy for you to say. Do you see how hard it is to walk? I’m learning all over again. These shoes are heavy and uncomfortable. Give me a break.” I needed the tough love, but sometimes it hurt.
The changes in my life, after losing Leah, caused me to walk very slowly – kinda like the Frankenstein-walking toddler.
As my legs became stronger and more used to living my new life, I began to engage more proactively with other people – and started volunteering my time to causes that would be special to Leah.
By the second year, it was a good feeling to stand strong and feel balanced. To know that I wouldn’t fall down, tumbling into sadness or depression, as easily as it happened the first year after losing Leah.
Today, three years after losing Leah, I feel fresh energy and enthusiastically want to do activities that I love again: such as hosting holidays, spending time with other children, doing crafts with family members, shopping for girly things, hanging out with friends for a ladies night out, hosting fundraising events in Leah’s memory, etc.
So, I get going and wham! – when I least expect it, I’m unsteady and fall! Ouch! Falls still hurt! And sometimes, they are more painful the longer that I go without falling. My “heart legs” can get a “cramp” because I am running and experiencing too much too fast. The feeling of joy can actually throw me off balance because in spite of positive experiences – I miss my girl.
Some of the falls have a recovery time. I’ve learned that, when participating in some events, I need to give myself a “restoration day” – a day to just rest and talk to no one and do nothing. For example, we hosted Easter at my home this year; it was beautiful and fun and wonderful. And – it took me two days to reorient myself to daily tasks after doing so.
Leah’s high school graduation would be next month. Her high school plans to honor her at the ceremony – an incredibly meaningful and beautiful gesture. As excited as I am thinking about this event, I know that, for me, this experience will be a toddler run. I’ll need to be careful that I’m holding onto something, or someone, so that I don’t fall. I’m already going to plan some restoration time after that event.
It’s good to feel progress as I learn to walk again. I’m learning to be kind to myself and aware of what a big deal it is – to learn to walk. It takes time. If you are learning to put one foot in front of the other again, for any reason, I hope you give yourself grace too – everyone moves forward at a different pace.