I am pretty transparent about my healing journey yet there are parts of it I choose not to make public. Privacy is an important part of the healing process. Although I keep some details private, I no longer keep anything secret. Secrets harm. I kept secrets for a long time. I didn’t want to expose my fear, the poor choices I made in my pain, how much I blamed myself, and my deep, exhausting anger. My secrets undermined my healing for years. When I couldn’t shoulder the burden any longer I found the safest people in my life and told them all my secrets. When I was done my only regret was that I didn’t do it sooner. I could have saved myself so much unnecessary pain.
In the beginning, my love for Aubrey and Ellie was reflected in my pain. All you had to do was take one look at my tear-covered face and it was clear how much those little girls meant to me. As I made progress in my healing something strange started to happen; healing felt like betrayal. Every time I laughed again or looked forward to the future, it felt like I was leaving them behind. I didn’t know how to love them and heal at the same time. I had to learn that my love for them is reflected in my healing more than it ever could be in my hurting. Healing didn’t mean letting go of them, it just meant letting go of the pain.
After Aubrey and Ellie died I felt for the first time the kind of pain that would make someone want to put a needle in their arm. Although I didn’t, I certainly found other ways to numb the hurt. One of those ways was to drink. Alcohol is highly effective at stifling pain, but it is also highly effective at stifling healing. For a time, I used alcohol to suppress the emotions that seemed to never let up. Becoming aware of the role alcohol was playing in my grief and the obstacle it had become to healing was a turning point. Now I rarely drink and when I do it is for completely different reasons. I still enjoy a glass of wine on occasion but I protect myself more than I used to. I have ways healthier ways to face my emotions now.
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.