I’ve always been more of an introspective person. More introverted than extroverted when it comes to processing things and how I reflect on my day, more tucked into myself when I’m working through something emotionally difficult. It hit me a while back – about the time I wrote Burning it Down – that I keep waiting to feel ‘like myself’ again. I did everything I could to be present in the moment, feeling all of the feels and processing as best as I could when the waves roll in, but I just didn’t feel like I could get anywhere. I realized that the version of myself I was waiting to return never would, because my life had changed in ways that couldn’t be reversed – I had evolved. I had lived both lifetimes of my children, added ‘dad’ to my qualifications, and made it to hell and back. Twice.
Burning it Down was less about frustration of the world around me and more about the realization that I needed to tear down all of the walls that I used to define myself. Moving forward was less about getting back to feeling like myself and more about learning who I am now; more about figuring out who the best version of myself could be after the things I’ve been through. It took five months – from my first birthday after Jonah to just after his first birthday – to realize that I didn’t really know where I was. When the only memories you have of what has become a defining moment lasted a few hours, you relive it repeatedly. You’re afraid that you’ll forget if you don’t. You run through all of the things you maybe could have done differently, and you do it a million times. You feel responsible and guilty. You wake up every day hoping it hadn’t happened and sink a little further when it hits you. The weight is excruciating, and it’s hard to trust that you’ll have the strength to move forward without leaving them behind. So I stepped back.
I wanted to see who I was now, and where I was in the process. I wanted to come to terms with where my life has taken me, and put some real soul searching back into my life. I’ve spent the last fourteen months trying to focus on living the lessons I would have taught my children that I wasn’t paying attention to my own. In short, I stopped writing and started listening. I’ve learned that my empathetic heart is very much still there, it just hurts a little sooner. I’ve learned that there are some people and situations that I have significantly less patience with than I used to, and I’m not necessarily upset about it. I stopped searching for glimpses of them every day and found that they still came – they were one glowing field in a mountain of shadows or one hummingbird floating through. They are with me on bike rides and runs, on hikes and road trips, and on our little family adventures.
But more important than any of that, I’ve learned that I can trust myself to feel some freedom from the shackles of these losses because while my heart is still in tatters, there are four little hands holding it together. I can move forward because my family is the reason I keep going, and my children are always with me. The more I looked at who I am now and who I could be, I realize that I want to be more success story than work in progress. I want to show that parents of children that cannot be seen are among the strongest out there because we see their faces all around us and keep going. Every swing set, every tee-ball practice, every bike ride I think about sharing with them, and I keep walking. I look around me and feel their love, and I’m proud to be their dad. My lost fatherhood is something I’ll always wish was different, but it’s only half true. Before any of that, I’m a proud father first.
If you’re out there reading this and wishing you could just make it stop, don’t. Your heart doesn’t have to be healed for their hands to do good work, and your mind doesn’t have to be clear to know your strength. If you can get to a place where you can test it, give yourself a chance to trust that you can do this. You aren’t leaving them behind but taking them with you. As mommy, and as daddy.
“In my distress I called to the Lord, and He answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and You listened to my cry.” – Jonah 2:2