I had a different topic in mind for this week.
Considering recent events, and while feeling uncertain and somewhat anxious at times, I thought I would lean into how I’m feeling as it could potentially resonate with some of you.
I enjoy living in a world that supports my predilection of having control of the things happening around me. I think most of us subscribe to the illusion that if we plan enough, prepare enough, and minimize risk enough that we can ensure that all goes according to our own plans.
For me, this desperate need for control caused massive amounts of anxiety in my everyday life after Caleb died of a cord accident. Because a cord accident felt random; it was uncontrollable and happened the day before he was supposed to be born. It sent me into a tailspin because I did all the things I knew to do to ensure he was born alive – I ate well, lived at my OB and endocrinologist’s offices, minimized as much stress as possible, played music and talked to him in the womb, got enough sleep, got exercise but not too much exercise… I did it all. Read every article, listened intently to my doctor’s advice and applied it, and did all the things to ensure that after losing three babies before him, he would be delivered safely and alive.
I made plans with my husband, telling him that if he had to choose between my life and Caleb’s life, he was to choose Caleb, no questions asked. I wrote Caleb and my husband letters and stashed them in my bible to be found later if something happened to me. I gave exact instructions on my last wishes and made peace that if something happened to me, Caleb would have the very best dad to walk him through life.
I had controlled it all. I made plans (including plans A, B, & C) and lists, had paperwork and birth plans where they could be easily accessed and went to 150,000 doctor appointments before his birth. We even went to get a Christmas tree and decorated the house the day before my last doctor’s appointment, two days before he was to be born, because we couldn’t bear the thought of Caleb coming home to a house that wasn’t decorated for Christmas.
Then it happened. The day before my scheduled C Section, at my last appointment with the high-risk doc, the words no parent should ever have to hear came: “I’m sorry, there’s no heartbeat.”
Nothing made sense. I had planned, I had strategized, I had done everything right. EVERYTHING. And he still died. HOW COULD THIS BE HAPPENING??
When we got the autopsy results weeks later, I was even more angry than I thought I would be because he died of a cord accident.
I needed his death to be controllable. I needed it to be something that if/when I ever got pregnant again, I could add to my insane list of controllables so I could inevitably control the outcome of my pregnancy.
Instead, it was a cord accident.
A fucking cord accident.
For two years after Caleb died, I dealt with deep depression as well as extreme anxiety. I was concerned for every person in my life but, mostly, it was myopically focused on my husband. I was convinced that something random would take his life the way it had Caleb’s and I dress rehearsed tragedy every night waiting for him to come home from work. My husband runs bars and restaurants for a living and he wouldn’t get home until 3-4am most mornings; I was convinced that someone he kicked out of the bar for being inebriated would come back after hours and shoot him, or a drunk driver would take him out on his way home to me. My stomach was in knots and I slept like garbage for two years. Scott would get frustrated with me because I was in a constant state of panic about his safety and was suffocating him with my worry. It took therapy, support groups, medication and a lot of grief work to get through that anxiety.
I went years without it coming back and felt victorious over the fanatical grip it had over my life.
Over the span of a few years, things began happening to people I loved.
- My friend was drugged at a bar I spent years frequenting, and subsequently raped.
- My brother in law’s best friend died of a widow maker heart attack at 35 years old leaving behind his pregnant wife and small daughter.
- A friend of mine’s husband was senselessly shot and killed after going to buy cigarettes from a gas station a block from the concert venue he was seeing a concert at.
- I became pregnant with my rainbow baby and spent 9 months convinced a cord accident or something else would take his life.
- I almost lost my life to post partum preeclampsia after the birth of our rainbow baby, a day and a half after we went home from the hospital.
- A member of my chosen family was brutally attacked, strangled, beaten and sexually assaulted, while walking her dog on one of the most populated trails in the Metro Denver area.
- A member of my chosen family suffered a brain aneurism at 35 years old while on a business trip out of state, leaving his 8 months pregnant wife to fly there and work tirelessly to get him home.
These random events crashed over me as unrelenting waves of anxiety, grief and fear. With every event, the fear of something else happening to someone I love tightened its grip on my life and I had to work even harder to not let it win. Again, this has taken therapy, medication and intentional work to process.
COVID-19 has become a part of our lives and everything feels out of control and scary and uncertain.
Questions flood my mind constantly: My husband runs a restaurant and the Mayor of Denver announced today that all sit down restaurants must be closed for 8 weeks. What happens to us when this extends to other counties, including the one he works at? One of my dear friends is a meeting architect and without events, what happens to her livelihood? The dominos feel precariously perched to fall, one by one, sending our economy and lives into a tailspin. My default is to fret, to worry, and feel the overwhelming anxiety overtake me.
The events I enumerated above have taught me valuable lessons in resiliency and I have chosen to remain grounded in those experiences during these ambiguous times. I’ve learned the value of holding onto hope and taking things one moment, one decision, at a time. My friend who was raped? She is a badass cross fitter and advocate for sexual assault victims. My friend whose husband was murdered? She is thriving once again, having rebuilt her life brick by brick, one decision and moment at a time. My friend who was attacked on the trail? Put her attacker behind bars for 90 effing years and started a movement called #fightlikevanessa. My friend who suffered the brain aneurysm has fully recovered and is back to work after fighting for a year to get there.
Are all of their stories tied up with a bow? Of course not. Do they still struggle and work every day at becoming the best versions of themselves after the trauma they’ve each endured? Absolutely.
The underlying theme I’ve witnessed in each of their stories, as well as my own, is that holding onto hope, even when it’s only a flicker, is how they’ve cultivated their beautiful scars. Taking things one moment at a time, rather than trying to see the movie to the end and exert control, helps ease my anxious thoughts. This takes work because my brain doesn’t calm so easily. I don’t pretend to have it all figured out and my heart breaks for the industries being crippled by shutdowns and the people whose lives are in a tailspin because of it.
I just keep thinking of the line from one of my favorite movies, Hope Floats. “Just give hope a chance to float up. And it will.”
I don’t know what lies ahead and like most people, that lack of control and the piling up of the “I don’t knows” swirls like a tornado inside of me.
But I’ve walked through and witnessed enough to know that taking things one moment, one decision at a time and trying to do the next right thing is where I need to start. That, and giving hope a chance to float up.
Thinking of you all, Grief Warriors, and praying for hope for us all.