Everyone has moments in their life that mark “Before” and “After,” experiences or events that changed everything that came after. For some, it’s marriage; for others, it’s the birth of a child, the start of a new job, or a move to a different place. In all of these cases, life looked very different than before, and the promise of new possibilities felt sparkly and fresh.
But, of course, there are also tragedies and devastations that mark “Before” and “After”: getting a painful diagnosis, going through a divorce, losing a child. Each of these gut punches makes life look very different than before, and the questions surrounding what we believed and what we thought our future held feel heavy.
Navigating After in sadness is like slogging through mud. There’s no bounce in your step, no brightness in your eyes. You know something lies beyond the sinking feeling, the guilt, the sudden pangs of heartache, but you have no idea what it could be. You’re so focused on getting through the next 30 seconds before you that you can’t possibly consider what a year or five years from now will look like.
And then there’s the guilt that follows that recognition. There are millions of people who are no longer living who would give anything to be able to have the opportunity you have to walk the earth, do great things, and love people — so why can’t you feel the same overwhelming gratitude for life? Why does life feel like something you aren’t doing right or appreciating the way you should?
After is a cold shower after a hot bath. You’d gotten comfortable, become content and secure with what life had to offer you, and then suddenly, you’re naked in a spray of cold water. Nothing is what you thought it was, and the only person who can give it definition is you. And you didn’t do such a great job of reading it the first time. That’s how life caught you so off guard.
You can’t trust yourself. You can’t trust anything. You feel a paranoid streak creeping in, plaguing you with worries that keep you up at night. What if you lose someone else? What if you’re bad luck for the people around you? What if this is the first of many disappointments? What if?
What if you make it through? What if you find out what’s on the other side of sadness? Can you make your kid proud? Can you enjoy life the way you know he or she wants you to? You start questioning things again, but it feels more curious than devastated. The currents of sadness still pull you down, making you feel like there’s a weight on your back, but you come up for air sometimes and see things you didn’t before.
Before. What a wonderful time. Back when you were innocent when you didn’t know what was coming. When you could enjoy life to the fullest. You were so lucky, and you didn’t even know it.
Lucky, and you didn’t even know it. Is that you now? You start looking in the mirror, staring at the circles under your eyes, the lines around your mouth. Are you somehow still lucky? You were pretty darn lucky to get that amazing kid. Maybe there’s still something there for you. Maybe the universe isn’t out to get you. Maybe you’re going to find another amazing surprise waiting for you.
Waiting for you. Life is waiting for you, isn’t it? Did you lose time? No, you were grieving. Life waits for you to grieve. Life has beginnings and ends, and it has to let you truly absorb both. You were just absorbing. You’re still absorbing. You’ll never be done absorbing. But that’s OK. It means something lives on.
Something lives on inside you. Your baby’s memory. You want to ooze that every day of your life. That’s why you’re here. You had your Before so you could live this After.
You can live this After.
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