Offerings placed at Whiteshell Provincial Park
Offerings placed at Whiteshell Provincial Park during Landon’s Legacy Retreat, Sept 2017. These offerings symbolize a mother and her child; I placed knots between mine to show that Adrian and I are forever connected (Miranda Hernandez)

Starting to live again wasn’t easy. Going back to work was only the beginning. There were still days when I struggled to draw breath. (To be honest, those days never really leave me.) I still resented people who tried to pull me back into my old self. I’m not that person anymore. But I’m related.

I can’t really say when it happened. I know it started as a trickle. I know it started when I realized I still had opinions that don’t relate specifically to having or losing a child. There were times I surprised myself, midway through a conversation in which I had once again become articulate. In which I was actively engaged. In which I was making actual sense. These things were “progress,” but also hard.

I don’t think I would have understood before how difficult it can be to participate in the mundane when your heart is broken. Not because the actions themselves are difficult, but because you feel like your actions are a betrayal of your grief. For the longest time, I felt disloyal whenever I smiled. (To be honest, this feeling never really leaves me.) It took and still takes so much effort to claw into life anyway.

Here’s the thing, though, when you start to get out of bed — you find that when you start to put one foot in front of the other, it eventually becomes a pattern. You find that life returns whether you want it or not. You find you wake up one day, and you have started the process, and it feels impossible and inevitable all at the same time.

Motivation

I think one of the biggest incentives to come alive again was starting this website. I thought about it very soon after Adrian’s death, and then put it on hold. Starting a large, complicated project with no boundaries and no idea of the time investment was something the old Miranda would do. She was overflowing with energy. I was still struggling to remember my laundry. The idea didn’t leave me, though. It percolated. I sat with it until I decided it was something I could do. I think this was the first real spark.

The second thing that came to me was my volunteer work. When I was pregnant, I had backed off from many of my previous commitments, but one that I couldn’t leave in good conscience was my work as a CASA. Having been assigned to a case when I was technically pregnant but before I even knew, I felt a strong need to remain and see it to completion. My CASA supervisor had assumed my duties immediately following Adrian’s death, but when I started to breathe again, I realized it was something I wanted to do.

I can’t speak for other people after tragedy. I can’t state that what drives one person will work consistently. I can’t even state that these things worked consistently for me, but they started the process. They gave me reason to try.

Around this same time, I started therapy. It sounds funny now that that wasn’t one of my first steps, but in the immediate aftermath, it wasn’t yet right for me. I needed time to get to a place where words made sense again. And call it maybe kismet, but I also needed to meet the right person so she could hand me my therapist’s card. I started at a time when it was most needed, and I was ready to receive it.

Afterwards, I found more motivation. I started practicing yoga again, and I signed up for a yoga-centered retreat for mothers who had lost children. The retreat was hard, and scary, and also important to me. It showed me I wasn’t alone.

Protection

In the midst of everything, I recognized I couldn’t leap back into my old world. I had limited bandwidth and energy. I had also lost so much of my old excitement. (This is one more thing that may never change.) Pretty much everything was just — hard. In order to protect myself while re-emerging into society, I made a few changes:

• I avoided crowds. This included declining invitations to parties and social work events I would have attended previously. This continues in a small way today; while I no longer turn down invitations immediately, I do monitor my energy to determine what I can handle.

• I found new service people. Faced with the outrageous difficulty of communicating my loss to my handyman, dry cleaner, and favorite take-out restaurant, I chose to find new places to do business instead. It became one more layer to my loss.

• I avoided specific people. A few individuals, often through no inherent fault, unknowingly made my return more difficult. Recognizing I couldn’t ask people to change, I pulled back on my end. In some cases, I was able to reestablish contact at a later date. In some, I accepted that our relationship had come to its natural end.

When I returned to Facebook, I unfriended unnecessary acquaintances, and “unliked” or hid almost everything that used to spark my anger. I also uninstalled the Facebook app, and turned off notifications. This allowed me to visit the site to see family news on my own schedule, instead of being driven by the latest hot debate. I recognized debate was not a good use of my energy.

• I learned to say, “No.” This one should probably be at the top of this list, but I leave it here for impact. Learning to communicate the new limits to my abilities was a major achievement for me. It was also necessary, and is something I still practice today.

Even with protection, none of this was easy. But it felt inevitable, if not necessary.

And one day, I woke up, and I was alive. This still feels strange to me.

Elephant and Tree
Adrian’s elephant in Whiteshell Provincial Park. This was one of the first photos I took with elephant, on the roots of a fallen tree whose branches almost form a heart (Miranda Hernandez)