Learning to forgive has been the hardest part of my healing journey. The wounds inflicted by cold and unsupportive loved ones cut deep. I resisted forgiveness for a long time because I misunderstood it. I thought it meant giving the harmful people in my life a pass and saying that what they did is okay with me now or no longer matters. Real forgiveness isn’t saying its okay. It’s actually saying it’s so NOT ok that I refuse to be connected to it anymore. Real forgiveness is about freeing myself from bondage, not freeing the one who harmed me from accountability. When I choose to forgive I set myself free. And free people are powerful people capable of bringing hope and healing to a hurting world. Give yourself the gift of forgiveness. Set yourself free to heal and watch how your healing helps other find healing also.
Co-founding Teamotions has given me a meaningful way to create a legacy for Aubrey and Ellie and I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished, but its success has not for one second been worth losing them. I’d trade it all in a heartbeat to have my babies back. It is impossible to replace them. I’ve learned that starting a company will never fill the void, nor will writing a book, having another baby, or any of the other things we do as we move forward with our lives. Keeping their memory alive isn’t the same as healing my heart. Nothing external will ever replace the internal work that healing requires and I honor them by healing my heart more than honoring their memory ever could.
I am constantly asked if I could give a grieving mom one piece of advice, what would it be? The truth is, there is no one thing. I had to adopt an entirely different way of living. I had to make caring for my heart a lifestyle. Everything I did on my healing journey mattered; what I ate and drank, how much rest and exercise I got, whom I allowed close to me and set boundaries with, sorting out my faith and having honest conversations with God, serving others when I got strong enough – all of it helped me knit myself back together. Healing required I didn’t cut any corners.
Grief Didn’t Get Lighter, I Got Stronger
I miss my girls every day and I will until the day I die. This is just the reality of life without them. It is a myth that grief dissipates on its own. It doesn’t. Instead, I have learned how to become stronger so what used to be too heavy for me feels like a much lighter weight to carry. Healing took soul-conditioning. I had to train myself to get stronger in ways I didn’t even think I could. It was hard at first. Every day took all I had. I stuck with it though. I didn’t give up on myself or my future. Small gains led to bigger ones and the I’ll-never-be-okay-again Rachel rose up from the ashes to find that she is okay. I am okay because I have done the work.
It took me years to realize I wasn’t just grieving the loss of my sweet girls, but the loss of my ‘before’ self. I’ll admit I tried very hard for a long time to get my old self back. I missed her and didn’t want to lose her too. The first step for me was to make peace with the fact that would never happen. Instead of feeling forced to leave my old self behind, I embraced my choice to decide who I’d become. I didn’t have any power to stop Aubrey and Ellie from dying, but I still had power over my own heart. I would never again be who I used to be but that didn’t mean I couldn’t become who I wanted to be. Ten years later I’m proud of who I am and I think my girls would be proud of me too.
True Friends Will Show Themselves
Soul crushing, incurable tragedy scares people. It takes a brave person to run toward a grieving mother instead of away from her. I was surprised when the people I thought would stay by my side didn’t and others showed up I never imagined would. It hurt at first, but the love I received from those who showed up well for me was the resin that glued the broken pieces of my heart back together. I decided early on not to hold anything against those who ran away. I saved that energy for my own healing and invested it into the irreplaceable friendships that helped me heal with their devotion and courage. I am forever grateful.
In the early years of my grief, I learned to borrow hope. That means, when I just couldn’t see how life would ever be ok again, I looked for others who had been through loss and were now role models of hope and healing. I borrowed from people who had gone before me. I poured over their books, blogs, and podcasts. I examined their lives. I saw hope in the authenticity of their healing. I could always tell the fakers from those truly healing. When you see real hope and healing in someone, borrow it. Borrow as much as you need. Don’t worry, you’ll get the chance to lend your hope and healing to others later on.
For those of you who don’t know my story, my twin daughter died after 7 and 13 days of life in 2008. I was 28 years old with a 2 and a half-year-old son simply trying to grow my family. I wasn’t any different than any other mom I knew and there were no special circumstances to my situation. One day I was pregnant with twins and in a blink, I was in preterm labor for what is still an unexplained reason. My labor was unstoppable and it forced my sweet girls into the world way too soon. They fought as hard as they could but there is a reason babies are supposed to stay in their cozy womb for nine months instead of six and all the advanced medical care in the world isn’t always enough to make up the difference.
Ellie died first on day 7 after her intestine ruptured. Then Aubrey died 6 days later. We chose to remove her from life support after a second brain hemorrhage stole her quality of life. I watched the light go out of her after her sister died and when her brain filled with blood for the second time I didn’t see any fight left in her. I did what every mother never wants to have to do – let go. As I write this I still can’t believe that decision was ten years ago because it feels like yesterday.
That means ten years of crying, of missing them, of asking really hard questions, and waking up every morning having to make the same decision again and again; to keep going. Ten years means a lot of mistakes, a lot of successes, and a lot of transformation. Ten years has earned me the opportunity to offer some wisdom because I’m still close enough to remember but far enough away to see more clearly than I did when my grief was new and my loss was recent.
The bottom line is this; I’ve learned a lot about healing (emphasis on the word healing) in ten years, helpful things that I wish someone would have shared with me. This isn’t a ten-part recounting of my grief. We don’t need any more of that in this community. We all know what grief looks like, we are living it. What is missing from this space are more examples of healing. If healing is possible, we should see it, it should be all around us.
And, in case you are wondering if you can trust me, I can only say this; I have not walked a perfect road and I’ll never pretend that I have. I reacted to my grief in some ugly, destructive ways. I also responded to my grief in beautiful and meaningful ways. Under all the pain, anger, and disorientation of grief is a fighter with an inexhaustible love for life. This combination of hope and my refusal to give up is what I credit for the healing I have experienced. That and lots of cups of tea.
So, can you trust me? Maybe not with a houseplant (I seem to kill every plant I’ve ever had in my care), but with that tiny spark in you that wants to believe that healing is possible even though grief is crushing every ounce of hope out of you? ABSOLUTELY. You can trust that if I can heal, you can too.
So, for the next ten weeks, I’ll post one lesson a week, recounting the epiphanies that impacted my healing most. I hope they have the same impact on your healing.
Questions? Please reach out to me in the comments. I’ll do my best to help anyway I can.