In 2012, my 22-year-old daughter Teal dropped dead of a medically un-explainable cardiac arrest two hours after we ate dinner together. There remains no official cause of death… and so I am changed forever.
To me, this falls in the category of ‘unspeakable loss’. These are moments when life slams you between the eyes. You collapse into pieces unsure when or if you will pick those pieces up again.
Unspeakable losses can include everything from a sudden serious illness or accident to the loss of a marriage, a career, a home, a sibling, a friend, an arm, a leg, a parent, a child … or the love of your life.
One way or another we all know these losses. They pick you up by the short hairs and casually drop you off the nearest cliff. You sit up, blinking, with no idea where to go next.
So you cry and cry. Then you cry some more. Along the way you might rage as well. Then eventually you realize you are at choice. Somewhere back there, in the dark, murkiness that used to be your life, your heart knows the way back to the light.
It has to do with surrender.
There is no getting around your catastrophe – it simply is, as horrific as that may seem. And your pain simply is as well. What may be less obvious is that they have landed in your life for a reason.
That reason may take a while to reveal itself.
For me, the reason for Teal’s sudden collapse was apparent the minute I saw her stretched out in the hospital. At that exact moment, I knew her death would be the greatest teaching of my life – that it would return me to a self I hadn’t seen much of in the last twenty years.
That thought collided with the reality that the unthinkable had just happened. But it was there, nonetheless. My daughter, who longed to be a healer, would begin by healing me.
Teal was one of the most sensitive, compassionate, joyful people I ever knew. So my task now was to return to equal measures of empathy, kindness and love towards others myself.
My steely Internet Marketing Expert self simply dissolved, never to be heard from again. In my last two years of grieving, I have become that kinder, gentler person.
“How can you even think of other people?” another mother asked who had recently lost her child. Believe me, the ‘nice vibe’ wasn’t on 24-7. First I had to really surrender completely to my grief.
I had to lie down and cry my eyes out. I had to feel all the unfairness, the bitterness, and the agonizing truth that I would never see my daughter again. I had to lie awake on hundreds of sleepless nights. And I had to somehow wrap my mind around the fact that Teal simply didn’t exist anymore.
Then eventually, when the time was right, I began to pick up the dropped pieces. I have made false starts here and there, but a gorgeous thing has happened: I no longer have to know how things will turn out.
I no longer have to “Be A Success” or “Make Lots of Money”. Those agenda items seem oddly out of synch now. What I do with the rest of my time here is far more important now than the results I produce.
In the aftermath of Teal’s death, I find I am humbler and a little less dramatic.
I listen more and more for God’s will.
I ask for help when I need it.
I make my self-care the first priority.
I worry less and listen to others more.
I no longer try to control reality, and manipulate others to get results.
Instead I am learning Teal’s maxim: “Just be, Mom.”
As a result I now receive far greater love and abundance, without really doing much of anything to make it happen.
Or perhaps it’s that I have dissolved into an unexpected gratitude. For isn’t that always the choice with an unspeakable loss? We truly can be bitter … or we can become better for it.
The choice is ours.
So I have found an unexpected solace in being a good person and doing the right thing. Like Teal’s own warm, rich laughter, that goodness seeps into my heart and makes me whole again.
Now all I want to do is help people, and so I find my way.
Thank you, Teal.