I often feel as if I have lived several lives. Maybe, if one lives long enough, everyone feels this way. I don’t really know. I just know that I have played many different roles and been many different people in my lifetime of 54 years. I will fully admit that I don’t reflect on my past lives terribly often because there are painful and unanswerable questions there. There are also many, many beautiful memories; however, sometimes, it is hard to even recognize myself in those memories because my life is so different now.
Most often my mind chooses milestone dates to do the most reflection. Today is my wedding anniversary. The second wedding. The one that I got to by wading through the devastation of betrayal and divorce. The one that I never dreamed of because I truly thought that I would be married forever the first time. But also, the one that was my second chance at love. The one that was the beginning of a new life within a family.
So, do I regret that first life? The naïve girl who married her college sweetheart; married into a wonderful family; lived in a cute house in her favorite neighborhood; had two terrific kids; enjoyed her job, her friends, and her life—nothing to regret, except the ending….and the figuring out what was next, the feelings of loss because the life she thought she knew went up in smoke, and the guilt for what it did to her kids. But unfortunately, it happens every day. Things happen; life goes on; figure it out or get stuck in the mire. Learn.
What about that next life, the new beginning? So much happiness ahead….. ever the optimist, I believed. I bought into the new life, the new dreams, the new plans for the future. There was a great bonus family and new adventures ahead. But, then—cancer. Cancer changes everything, as most everyone these days realizes. It ate our lives. As much as I hate the disease, I am also grateful because it caused us to appreciate what was most important. It brought us closer together as a couple and a family. We laughed and cried together. So many lessons learned from beautiful to devastating. Amid all of that, there was also other serious illness, both mental and physical in our family, and there was dealing with “normal” life too. Looking back now, I know that I was stronger than I ever thought I could be. My brave husband was too. Juggling all the “things” was a lot. I didn’t do it perfectly by any means. I’ve always been independent, but I did learn valuable lessons about letting others help and to take care of you occasionally.
The end to that life came with what seemed like an unstoppable storm of death and destruction leaving huge voids in its path. The only way to describe the way I felt after the quick succession of the flood, my husband’s death, my mom’s death, my dad’s fall, and my son’s ongoing addiction problems is simply crazy. I truly didn’t know what was going on. I felt as if I was in an alternate universe. I find it hard to believe that I survived at all. I quit planning or even caring about very much. I used all of my energy trying to hold it together.
New life…..old hometown, friends and family who welcomed me. Just when I thought I might be able to breathe again…..the oh, so unimaginable pain of losing a child. Just when it seemed a new life was beginning for him…..why??? This is when I am just ready to throw in the towel. Before, I was crazy and totally confused, but at this point, I was completely ready to move on beyond this life. Somehow I never actually got to the point of planning to kill myself, but I definitely wouldn’t have minded moving on.
It’s doubtful that there is any parent out there who has lost a child and not felt the same way. Numbness….that’s what I remember most. After it actually sunk in that he was gone, I couldn’t feel anything except complete horror and deep regret. I blamed myself. I still struggle mightily with these feelings and probably always will. I had a great therapist who helped me tremendously with the guilt. I have wonderful family and friends who are always in my corner. I have a dad who amazes me with his strength and ability to stay positive. There are times that the only reason I got out of bed on a particular day was because I knew that he did. It was a daily fight against my natural inclination to curl into a ball and hide from the world. Sometimes I managed to win the fight but often succumbed to the seclusion. Thankfully, though they still happen, days like that don’t occur as frequently.
Another new life. After losing a child, there is always a new life because the old one is gone forever. Count that up—four, maybe?? So, here I am. Trying my best to move forward. It’s two steps forward and one step back or maybe even one forward and two back. I find myself zoning out more often and concentrating less. Regrets, yes. Important lessons learned, yes. This new person is a better person. Sadder and quieter, sure. A little less optimistic, definitely. But also, much more empathetic and understanding. More open-minded and caring. More patient and a better listener. More appreciative of all the beauty of the world and the beautiful people who try every day to make it a better place. Thankful for the kindness of strangers, new and old friends, family, happy dogs, nature, hope, & joy.
I still don’t plan anything beyond that next beach vacation but am learning to think about the future a little at a time. Forgiving oneself and letting love back in is extremely difficult because once you’ve been so badly hurt, putting up a wall is easier than opening a door. I assume that I will always be jaded and worn out and couldn’t possibly love or find joy anymore, but then, when I least expect it, a rainbow appears. I’m amazed at just how resilient humans can be and how much our hearts can expand and love if we let them. I am thankful.