How do you Plan to Live Your Life?
By Joe Kowalisyn
On November 5th 2014, my wife and I lost our daughter Emma at 23 days old. For me this was unbearable, and I completely lost who I was for quite a while. I went into isolation, wouldn’t answer calls, texts or emails regarding what we went through. The depression was something I had never experienced before, so I wasn’t sure if I was actually depressed. I knew I was angry at the time, and all I could believe was that I had failed as a new parent. In my mind, it was my fault that I couldn’t get Emma the help she required. I failed Emma. I failed my wife. I failed Emma’s twin brother Alex. I failed my extended family. I failed my friends. I failed myself.
This sense of failure was not easy to submit to, and that is where I believe all of the anger I felt stemmed from. Combine the anger with the medical bills piling up and raising a newborn with zero parenting experience, and you have a recipe for complete self-destruction. Not understanding what was going on with me or even who I was made my sense of confusion even more unbearable. Who was I now and what is wrong with me? This is the question I asked myself thousands of times. Looking back, I can honestly say that it truly was depression that was running my life. All I could think of was the fact that my baby girl was not with us. It isn’t fair. It isn’t right. What did I do wrong? I now know that all of these questions and feelings are natural.
It has taken me over a year to get to where I am today in my healing process, and I know I still have a long road to travel. I have changed. My thoughts are constantly around my family and my daughter who should be experiencing all of the firsts her brother is going through. It is so unbearable at times, I do not know how my wife and I manage. I do know that life is filled with wonderful things, and it takes a lot to push the grief and depression aside to start to see those things again. Once I got that first minute of “normalcy” during my depression, and I realized that I am still here for a reason, I was able to start what I would consider my healing journey.
How did I get that first minute of normalcy and move forward with it? I have to thank my wife for this, as she is the one who said I needed to deal with my depression. “I am not depressed,” is what I remember thinking to myself every time she said that to me. She was right though. I just needed to admit this to myself.
I said “Listen, Joe. Emma is not with you physically anymore so how do you plan to live your life?”
It took me months to figure out how to answer that question, and I am actually still defining it today. This question has an ever-changing answer, and it is up to me to answer it every day. How am I going to live my life today? There are facts to every day for me: I have to support my family. I have to be a great father. I have to be a great husband.
What are some things that I do to help me?
- Believing every day brings something new and molds the path of, not only my life, but everyone I am around.
- I go to work every day and am trying to remove any financial burdens our family has and take any pressure off of my wife’s shoulders.
- I make sure I continue building the best relationship with my son and wife.
- Giving my wife time to herself so she can feel a sense of normalcy and take a moment to deal with her depression. We are a team, and I can’t do this without her.
- My wife and I have become active members in our church and are expanding our faith further than I ever thought I could.
- Talking to people about Emma and her life.
- Explaining to people life in the NICU is tougher than you could imagine.
- Making myself available to anyone at any time.
- Taking breaks every day to remember my baby girl.
There isn’t one of the things I listed that is easy in anyway, but when I know I accomplished even one of them throughout the day, a sense of normalcy begins to sink in. I do admit that it is very hard to do when my instincts now are to do anything else but deal with my depression. I can also tell that the more I get done, the better I feel not only about my depression, but how my love is growing for my family. I love my family more than anything, and they all have a piece of my heart. I know Emma is watching over us, so all I need to do when I feel overwhelmed is look up, and every time she is able to bring a smile to my face.
I love you my princess.
Joe Kowalisyn is the father of twins – Alex who is 15 months old and Emma Rose, his princess up in heaven. Joe and his wife Amelia established Emma’s Footprints in 2014 shortly after their daughter passed away, and they have been bringing awareness to premature birth and infant loss as well as supporting those effected by both since. Joe’s day job is as the Director of IT at the Illinois College of Optometry in Chicago, and he’s a die hard Blackhawk’s fan. Connect with Joe through his personal Facebook or through the Emma’s Footprints Facebook or Instagram.