To Thrive, Not Just Survive
By Lori Mullins Ennis
“It is therefore not true that we become less through loss—unless we allow the loss to make us less, grinding our soul down until there is nothing left but an external self entirely under the control of circumstances. Loss can also make us more. In the darkness we can still find the light. In death we can also find life. It depends on the choices we make.”
― Jerry Sittser, “A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Loss“
Days after my first son died, a book arrived. A dear friend, not knowing how to comfort the broken, devastated woman I had become in just the few hours my son lived and died, sent me Jerry Sittser’s A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss.
Frankly? I didn’t want to grow. I didn’t want to breathe. I didn’t want to kill myself, but…I certainly did not want to live one minute longer.
After years of infertility and failed adoption attempts, and finally, a perfect pregnancy achieved with the help of IVF, the beautiful child my husband I had prayed for for over 11 years unexpectedly and shockingly died the day after he was born.
And I wanted to die with him.
For weeks, I was near catatonic. I went through the motions of breathing and day-to-day life, and still? In my head, I plotted how I’d die.
I would just stop eating. It would make sense—a bereaved mother so traumatized that she just withered away… But this book came. And, in desperate attempt to make meaning of the most horrific thing I’d ever known, I began to read it.
I began to realize that my pain, while great, was not isolated. This world was full of pain that I could only get on my knees at night and give thanks that the pain of so many others was NOT my pain. I began to understand that there is nothing special about me and loss…nothing that makes me immune to pain and suffering and grief any more than anyone else. But what I learned, through the camaraderie of others who’d walked this path of devastation, was that loss did not have to define me.
I could always be Matthew’s mother but I did not always have to be a shattered mother. I could live a life that was marked with sorrow, but encompassed by joy. I could take the heartache our family was given and allow it to destroy me or I could allow my grief to settle into my bones, reminding me every rainy day that it was there, and I needed to take it easy, but never taking my life over so I was continually crippled with the pain.
I chose to believe as Jerry Sittser did—that the seemingly ‘randomness’ of my tragedy was a very bad chapter of the most amazing and beautiful book—authored by God Himself. I did not want to believe this just to survive…I chose to believe this because I wanted to thrive.
The loss of my sons (I lost another baby boy, Trey, two-and-a-half years after Matthew died) absolutely changed the woman I was before they lived and died. I’d be lying if I said that all the lessons I’ve learned and gifts I’ve been given in the aftermath was worth their lives. Nothing, nothing on this earth is worth that.
But I’d also be lying if I said that their lives, however brief, and more, their deaths, heartbreaking as they were, have not inspired me to live every day with the desire to thrive and not just survive.
To me, there is a big difference in living and in being alive. If our hearts beat and our lungs fill with air? We are alive. To live, though? To truly and fully live this life and thrive in it? It’s a conscious choice I gratefully and joyfully make every day—a privilege I don’t take for granted and an honor to make in memory of my sons.
Lori Mullins Ennis is the owner and editor of Still Standing Magazine. A freelance writer, speaker and photographer, Lori is a proud military spouse who lives in Jupiter, Florida with her husband and five-year-old son Luke.
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