It is not surprising when we have an obstacle looming in front of us, our mind searches back to a time we faced a similar challenge to use it as a reference point.
We swiftly flip through the pages of history in our mental library to extract the relevant emotion—behavior and backstory paragraph needed to work out our emotions.
These learning experiences serve as a roadmap we can follow to conquer the current adversity in our path. What if the problem is undocumented, uncharted, and not cataloged?
The Art Of Compartmentalizing Emotion
I am an organizational junkie -- falling towards the obsessive/compulsive side of the fence. For example, when the world wasn’t digital, I had a colossal DVD collection organized in a 3-ring binder with colorful tabs separated by Genre, Actor/Actress, and Title.
When things don’t have a specific category, my world falls into chaos. Unfortunately for me, feelings are not easily categorized because they are not simplistic, leading me to laugh or otherwise act inappropriately when confronted with them. Sarcasm is my comfort blanket.
When emotion lurks into my realm, I call upon not one specific memory but a collaborative collage that weaves in symmetry and leads me to an innovative way to approach the problem. In the last few years, COVID has provided tangible struggles coupled with emotional turmoil.
There are two kinds of writers. Those that capitalize and learn from their struggles - finding the gold at the end of the rainbow. And then some wallowin misery and feed of its energy as a demonic muse. I didn’t know which I was until recently. As with everything in life, it comes down to choice.
The Defining Moments Of Choice
I stand in this precarious position knowing the consequences of my choice will not only be felt by me, but the waves will ripple through my family. The burden is overwhelming.
The uncertainty of outcome induces sleepless nights and a firmly held poker face on the tirade of emotions I am going through in a feeble attempt to disguise my concern and doubt from loved ones.
I know I will navigate this problem with time, mainly because the road that led me here was turbulent. In hindsight, I think it prepared me for this moment.
There have been several defining moments in my life, some resonating far deeper than others. Children do not understand death. They know what the word is. They know how to spell it. They know that animals or people go to heaven but the permanency eludes them.
Children do not understand the profound sense of loss and the wave of residual effects you feel with every beat of your heart when the loss is acknowledged-- and the hollow echoes of every beat thereafter because a piece of you is missing.
I lost my sister at a young age and it wasn’t until we were at the cemetery and I looked at my parents’ faces, searching for some type of explanation that realization smacked into me--pummeling my heart beyond recognition.
The stoic expressions as my parents and relatives looked back at me are burned into my memory and cemented my first defining moment. I understood the permanence of loss, the inconsolable nature of sorrow, and the anger at the unfairness. I felt a great injustice had been done to us. I felt robbed, betrayed, and lost.
My parents could not cope with the death of their daughter and I was delivered the second blow of a defining moment when they divorced shortly after her death. This led to a distant relationship with my father until much later in life--and the cause of my current emotional theme park--we will get into that soon.
The overbearing interference of my mother in my life was understandable and somewhat justified. She was terrified I would vanish at any moment like her other ill-fated daughter.
With the loss of my sister and my father’s absence, I had very little supervision and was forced to grow up fast to care for myself. My mother had to work two jobs, leaving me to my own devices.
I Had My Reasons
In my time alone, I would pour my confused and hurt feelings onto pages of journals in an attempt to understand so many things that I simply didn’t have the words for. Not much has changed--the digital ink still splashes.
By age 13, my life was a series of testing boundaries and pushing limits. I rebelled against any type of authority. Authority up to this point in my life had offered no guidance, comfort, or stability. I didn’t trust it.
My coping mechanism was to run, from everything. If I didn’t catch ‘feelings’, they didn’t exist. Relationships of any kind were unstable and toxic. I liked them that way because it reinforced the idea that everything was temporary and could be taken away, so it was best to be attached to nothing.
These events were traumatic and abruptly changed my world. I never thought I would be attached to anything or anyone again. I was not prepared for my third lightning strike of a defining moment.
In the blink of an eye, I suddenly had a purpose, structure, and clarity in a world that I had grown indifferent to, even hated. Hearing my son’s heartbeat for the first time was like a jumper cable directly linked to my heart.
Those quick-paced beats of his heard through the speaker jolted my heart into beating again and flooding me with warmth, compassion, and an overpowering urgency to be a better person and make the world a better place for him. I now understood hope, faith, and remorse.
Throughout the next several months of my pregnancy, I rekindled relationships I had abandoned with my parents, family, and dear friends. With their help, I summoned the strength needed to face my demons and reconcile emotions I had suppressed for several years.
I came to accept and acknowledge my sister’s passing and how I had done her memory several injustices with the relationships I had severed and the way I had been living. When I accepted her death, I was able to carry her with me and feel her strength with every step I took forward to better myself and my immediate future.
Her presence was a welcome comfort to me. By the time my son was born, I understood: perseverance, gratitude, accountability, and fortitude. The first time I cradled him in my arms, I understood unconditional love. In this brief moment, I was at peace with my past, my present, and my future. But, this was the quiet before the storm.
When Loss Comes Full Circle
With time came perspective and self-awareness. I was content with who I was and where I was going. As life would have it, the cold, unwelcome hands of death reached out to me again, this time taking my newly born daughter.
The precious 72 hours of her life and how she was taken from me is and will remain, the most significant, cataclysmic, paralyzing open wound in my soul. It was exceptionally cruel to hold her in my arms, to see her brimming with life, and at the same time, to know that the beating of her heart would likely cease in the next several hours.
When her light was snuffed out, there were no words for the torture and range of emotions I went through in the brief moments of her life. Desperation seized me and I was unable to do anything to help her.
When she passed on, I didn’t know how to begin to feel the loss, to accept and acknowledge her death. I didn’t know how to breathe. I was in shock. I knew I had to go home and explain to my son why there was not a baby sister wrapped in my arms for him to welcome home.
I went to open my mouth and locked onto his eyes. I saw him searching my stoic face for understanding. My heart dropped again as I realized I had tragically been here before. Not only was this a moment for me, but my actions or my inability to act would have an irreversible impact on my son.
Learning from the mistakes I felt my parents had made and reassured by the thought we had reconciled; I summoned the strength to show my son the one thing I shielded from others-- my pain.
I shared it with him so he would understand that I felt his. I was able to comfort my son, to work through my grief, and later, so much later, I was able to carry her with me as I do my sister.
The empowerment of owning my feelings and not having them own me was a struggle, but it was well worth it. I found the courage to try again and was blessed with two more children. The last one is a girl-- I gave my sister’s name.
My daughter knows how special the name is and finds it as a source of inspiration to do great things. I now understood: altruism, anguish, devotion, and healing.
Parlay Is Not Easy, I Need A Win
These events changed the direction of my life and how I viewed the world. Loss has a way of accelerating and invoking changes that unhinge the fierce grip you thought you had on the world and your place in it.
I worked through rage, hatred, depression, and far uglier, difficult emotions with the strength I drew from remembering who I lost and how I wanted to rebuild my life and ideals in such a way that would make them proud.
I found my peace in this and called a truce with life. I’ve learned that we take ourselves far too seriously and need to laugh more, dream bigger, live in the moment, take time to appreciate our circumstances, love our family and friends and yes, even dance like no one is watching.
Our fragile hearts need the good times to outweigh the bad to find that inner strength. The times I spent with my sister and the precious little time I spent with my daughter have solidified my faith in the divine. Anything else is unacceptable.
After reflecting on these moments, I take a fresh look and re-evaluate the obstacle I have in front of me. My father is dying.
I received the text from my sister that he has returned home with hospice, and they are turning off the defibrillator and ceasing his medication--both of which can’t keep up with his organs shutting down. This is me -- coping.
The Win Is In Gratitude
My dad has ‘prepped’ our family for this for a few years now. His comfort to us comes in through words like:
I have done all I wanted to do
I am at peace with my life ending
I have lived a fulfilled life
We have all nodded and agreed with him in somber tones. It is one thing to lose someone suddenly and without warning. It is another when you stare death in the face for an extended period of time.
I feel I have no excuse to be ill-prepared, to feel so lost, to be this helpless, or to have overburdening regret. As previously explained, I had a distanced relationship with my father in my youth -- in increased this distance through miles.
I am in another state and headed home soon to spend time with him--not nearly enough. I am not sure what I am going to say, or do--and you can bank on a lot of it being inappropriate. One thing he has taught me is to count my blessings, so I am.
At this moment we are alive. Soon, we will be together. We have shared many good times and he knows my love for him runs deep. We both take great comfort in that. His kids are his legacy. My father will live eternal.
Searching through past emotional material gives me perspective and focus on what matters. This is one of those times I call upon the sum of events in my life to address loss.
Please don’t misunderstand. I don’t tell my story to elicit sympathy or make you feel trapped in empathy for a stranger. I tell it to let people know to have faith. It is possible to restore a deep connection with life.
I have suffered immense pain, which gave me a greater appreciation for life. I have known loss which gave me a greater appreciation for all the moments in between. I had to work through rage at the world to love it.
Make no mistake; my story is a story of success in merging mind, body, & spirit to empower me in any endeavor brought to my door. I have a zest for life and an urgent need to live it to the fullest for the ones that I love that were not able to because life was cut short or expire too soon.
This is my message. Make a truce with life and live in gratitude for your experiences and relationships. Find your center, and you can handle any earthquake. For my dad, it is his children. For me, it is mine.
I have found my core values and strength in conviction by making peace with my darkest moments. The ownership of my feelings in these times nurtured my coping mechanisms into something far more significant than myself.
It became an appreciation and love of life. It was in these struggles I found my children are the gravity keeping me centered when everything around me falls apart. These are the things that matter. I will forever be their biggest fan.
Right now, I hold tight to this knowledge as I prepare myself for more than a journey across states - it is a journey to help my father embark on his and let him know that we are okay, he is loved, and I cherished the time we spent together.
The impact of his presence in my life will echo in every deed I do. He will forever hold a pulse in my heart and a voice in my head--as I will with my children when my time comes, and I see him again. That is my win.