By Jenifer Ruby
Living in chronic pain would prove to be nothing compared to the pain of losing my daughter.
Strength. That is my word for 2016, chosen after feeling weak throughout 2015. My focus is on getting stronger. Physically. Mentally. Spiritually. And so many other manifestations of strength. Last year began in some of the worst physical pain I had ever endured and would end carrying the most emotional pain of my life. Loss was not a new experience for me. My marriage had ended in 2010 and would challenge my heart and soul with unprecedented grief, loneliness and anxiety. About one year after losing my marriage, I woke up one day and realized that I was done being sad. I wanted to find happiness again. To choose joy.
In the midst of finding my groove again, years of a stressful marriage and anxiety caught up with me. I developed a nerve condition that causes me chronic pain. The only known cause was stress. Thus it was up to me to fight it by working hard to eliminate the stress in my life, and so my work to find joy expanded to find more intentional ways of seeking peace and healthy habits. I started a yoga practice, meditation, qigong, and mindful eating. I was determined not to let my chronic pain win and to continue to come alive. Then my back went out. But I remained determined to get better. Through physical therapy and yoga, my back seemed to be manageable, until it wasn’t, and nothing I tried worked. Ultimately, there was no other choice but to have surgery. At the very beginning of 2015, I spent my first time overnight in a hospital recovering from back surgery.
Determined to heal, I started a walking routine. My walks put me in contact with nature in ways that I had not been in many, many years. I couldn’t walk too far, but soon discovered beautiful sites in a short distance within my neighborhood – trees losing their leaves, others flowering, the sun shining through their leaves. These walks began to heal my back and a part of my soul I didn’t know was broken. My pain did not end there on the sidewalks though.
Exactly three months after my back surgery, I learned that I was pregnant for the first time in my life. My pregnancy was full of shock, fear, anxiety, excitement, love, protection, and unconditional support. That second blue line was not just full of dye but years of hopes and prayers for a child. The loss of my marriage and health were not the only losses I had endured; I would come to realize that the years of infertility I had struggled with were also a loss. This unplanned pregnancy was a huge surprise, and after adjusting to the shock and fear, a great blessing. My daily walking practice and breathing techniques would become a great source of calm during the early days of my pregnancy.
But no yoga, meditation, walking, or breathing would prepare or sustain me for the pain I then suffered when I lost my daughter on May 14, 2015. It was as though the world stopped, along with my heart, when I learned that hers had. I sat numbly for days and weeks, crying uncontrollably and without warning. But there was something in me, perhaps that same part of me that woke up a year after my divorce, that knew I had to go gently on myself but also to fight to find the light. I had to learn about grief, let myself grieve, and explore my grief. I read and I read about losing a child, grief, and any words that would bring some solace to me.
I found a support group online. I reached out to a friend who understood my loss, as she had been through her own. I started writing to my daughter a love letter that will have no end. I joined another support group. I made a prayer flag. I made angel sun catchers for my friends and eventually to give to other grieving mommies. I shared my story. I let myself be vulnerable in grieving openly. I started writing poems. I joined a church. I started going to a women’s group at church. I took a writing workshop. I joined a gym. All of these were my grieving process and my true coming alive.
Jenifer Ruby works with international college students in Orlando. She is also the author of the blog Goodbye Before Hello, her written journey of exploration of self, grief, loss, miscarriage, anxiety, identity, strength, and personal growth. Inspired by the many, strong, bereaved mommies with projects like Oncoming Alive, Project Heal, She of the Wild and many others, Jenifer resumed writing so that perhaps in time the words would make some sense of her suffering. Her renewed practice of writing has become a great source of comfort and a place to express her feelings without the awkward silence that can come when said directly to someone. In her writing, there are no awkward silences.