Breaking Through: Letting loss open our hearts

tender-growthA friend of mine is having a miscarriage. I listen as the sadness pours out of her. She walked a long and arduous path to this, her first pregnancy, and the joy of those fourteen weeks cuts deep. “I hate that I let myself feel hopeful,” she chides. “I feel so stupid. I can’t believe I told so many people I was pregnant…and now I’m…not.”

I hear the whisper of shame in her voice and remember it well. I was 37 and still single when I found out I was infertile. I could barely find the words to tell my family what had happened. It was sudden and abrupt, and like all loss, it was permanent. I didn’t know how to talk about the brokenness I carried inside. I didn’t know how to explain the powerlessness I felt toward my body and my life. I didn’t know who to blame so I blamed myself.

That first year I could count on one hand the number of people I told outside of my immediate family and close friends. The assistant superintendent with whom I worked closely had to find Kleenex for both of us. A principal hugged me hard. But I could never bring myself to tell the teachers I was coaching. Being a coach meant cheering on everyone else’s life. I’d celebrated babies and grandbabies, engagements and anniversaries. To tell them my news set me apart, like I was the one standing on the wrong side of the divide, the side without the happy endings.

Three months before the anniversary of my doctor’s fated news, I was asked to assess some at-risk kindergarten students in a school south of Chicago. It was late March and nearing the end of the third quarter. I sat down at a table in the back of the room. Kendra slid into the seat next to me. Her hair was parted into two tiny braids with light blue ponytail holders that matched the butterflies printed on her shirt. Her brown eyes were warm, eager.

I handed her a pencil and asked her to write her name, something she could not do when she’d started school in the fall. She had not known there were letters in the alphabet.

Kendra nodded. She lowered her head and started to write. Her teacher passed by our table and said audibly to me, “Don’t expect her to do it. I highly doubt she’ll be going to first grade next year.” I cringed, but Kendra continued writing, undeterred.

When she was finished with her first and last name, both of which were correct, Kendra looked up from the paper and pointed. “That second name is my dad’s name. He passed away. That means he died.”

“Oh,” I said quietly, keeping my eyes fixed on hers.

“His name was Sam. I have three Sams,” she said, holding up three fingers. Her smile widened. “My dad is Sam. My brother is Sam. And my cousin is Sam, too.” She looked at me expectantly.

I couldn’t help but smile. “You are so lucky to have all those Sams in your life.”

“I know,” she said, smiling back. “People tell me I’m a lucky duck.”

The innocence of her words reminded me how much we need each other. Pain can either open us up or close us down. I didn’t want the later. I wanted to grieve fully and honestly. I just didn’t always know how. Driving home that afternoon, I couldn’t help but pray for Kendra’s dad. “Mr. Edwards,” I whispered. “I don’t know who you are, but your daughter is a beautiful little girl. Thank you for bringing her into the world.”

I rode the rest of the way in silence, staring out at the frozen farm fields that passed by on either side. A coat of white seemed to have sealed over the earth. Spring had officially begun that week, but it would be quite some time before shoots of green would appear. Buried underneath that hard exterior, down in the darkness of that soil, I knew new life was stirring. And just like my own feelings of shame and isolation, that frozen ground had to be broken through.

My heart still aches for my friend. I remind her that she did nothing wrong. The losses that are thrust upon us teach us that life is fragile and that we are vulnerable beyond measure; that things can change without us even knowing. And we can’t do anything to change them back. All we can do is dig deep within ourselves to the core of who we are and bring that out into the light.

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