A wave of surrender

Today we feature a guest post by Dr. Joanne Cacciatore.  Her is a familiar name to many-  she is the founder and CEO of  the MISS Foundation and is  a foremost advocate for Stillbirth Policy.

As Joanne writes on her blog, she is a mother of five children--'four who walk and one who soars'. This post is a gift through her beloved Cheyenne that she gives to us. These are words that we need to hear, touch, and read. And perhaps ponder over, ruminate and whisper to ourselves. These words we need to hear, from a fellow bereaved, who have traveled further ahead of the road, and who beckon us with a warm glow of light.

14 years ago, on July 27, 1994, my beloved child died.

And so I surrendered.

I was catapulted into dark, deep waters where waves of pain and loss crashed down upon me relentlessly. Grief, like a powerful rip tide, ensnared me and then carried me far from the familiar shore. I could no longer see my home between the waves that hammered me, and I fought for even a glimpse of the recognizably blue sky. The waves persisted ... and tumbled me, over and over and over, disorienting and confusing me. All was darkness and panic.  I fought it. Occasionally, I would reach the coveted surface for a desperate, gasp of saline-laced air only to be wrenched back under moments later. Pockets full of time, direction, and reason were emptied into the hungry ocean. Grief filled my lungs. I would not survive unless I surrendered.

Like any good surfer knows, there is no other way to survive this type of Herculean force. Thus they teach the mantra: Surrender to the waves. So, too, it is with the tide of grief; and the battle, which I could never win, ended. I allowed the victor to take me adrift to unfamiliar shorelines and places of discomfort. I became one with both the quiescence and wild motion of the waves.  I was mindful of grief‘s proclivities to ebb and flow, tolerant of its unpredictability, patient with the bitter taste it left in my mouth; and in exchange, it became kinder to me. We became cautious comrades.

Eventually, as does the rip tide, the sea of grief released me to the shore. It spit me, grateful, from its jowl like Jonah from the whale’s rancid belly, and I found my way back home. But the places I had seen while on my unintended and uninvited abduction would change me forever.

This was how I survived in those early months and years. I allowed myself to just be.  I stopped questioning myself – my impulses, my tears, my thoughts, my rituals, my wishes, my suffering, my sanity- and I let it be.  There was a certain peace that followed my decision to surrender. I no longer had to pretend to be “fine, thank you”, and I would no longer be the metamorphosed elephant at baby showers where only miracles are welcomed. I no longer punished my failure to complete grieving within the allotted three-month time period by subjecting myself to the insufferable insensitivity of others. I could relinquish the rehearsed smile and perfunctory hugs and, instead, acknowledge my ongoing sadness, isolation, and despair. I could be- me.

Here I am, 14 years later, and filled with gratitude for having surrendered to grief. My daughter’s life was worthy of every tear I shed into my ocean of pain. Her death was worthy of my armistice with the waves of grief.  Our love was worthy of a moratorium on normalcy and mediocrity. Simply, she was worthy of whatever time and space I needed to mourn her physical absence in my life.

I am still, on occasion, overtaken by the tidal waves of grief.  I don’t fear their arrival, and I am more prepared, now, to be transported to distant shores. I carry her flag with me as I travel, bury it deep in distant sands, and I hope to help others know her through knowing me.

I am stronger and have faith that I will survive and learn from what comes next. And I trust that the waves will release me, as they do, and I will come home once again.