Thursday, August 13, 2015

How to live in the present after stillbirth

Being present after stillbirth

In Quinn's death, I have been re-birthed.  I approach every day differently and with much more meaning than I have had before.  Although very dark, my daily mantra is, "If I died tomorrow, am I happy with today?"  For example, am I happy with the amount of love I gave today?  With my relationship with Riley and Josh?  With family and friends?  There are certainly relationships I struggle with, but I try to have a consciousness that they are a gift in my life, even if we struggle.  Was I genuine today?  Did I appreciate today enough?  Did I treat today like a gift that some, like Quinn, aren't so lucky to experience?  Was I a good role model for Riley today?  How did I honor Quinn today?

Lessons from the books "Life Lessons," “The Gifts of Imperfection,” and my own journaling have helped bring me to a new consciousness about life and living in the present.  This has been healing for me because it helps me forgive myself for past actions that I question, especially when thinking about anything I could have done to prevent Quinn's stillbirth, and it helps ease my fears and anxieties, most of which live in the future.  

Here are ways I have learned to live in the present.  I hope they offer you some comfort and an escape from your pain as well.

After a loss, there is often a caution to loving again.  We are vulnerable – if we love again, won’t our hearts be broken once more?  However, love is courageous and is a risk worth taking.  Love gives our present meaning and wholeness, and transcends the past and future.

Create your “Ingredients for Joy and Meaning” (Brené Brown’s book, “The Gifts of Imperfection”)
Hands down, creating my "Ingredients for Joy and Meaning" has been one of the most helpful activities in finding the meaning of life after Quinn's stillbirth.  After Quinn died, I felt like I was walking around blindfolded inside a deep dark crater.  This list helped pull me out, and helped me find meaning for the life that lay ahead of me.  It was also incredibly helpful for my husband to come up with his own list, comparing them after.  It was eye opening to see how many things on the list aligned with each other.  For the couple items on our lists that differed, we were able to see what else the partner needed, which has strengthened our relationship.  We have our lists in a double-sided frame on the counter where we see them every day.  We honestly try to hit all Ingredients daily, and it has been incredibly healing.  

Express gratitude
People in our lives are a gift.  If we are lucky, we get to keep them our whole lives, but sometimes we are not so lucky.  Think of the people you are grateful for each day, and even better, tell them.  Send a “be well” thought to people you encounter, even if you don’t know them.

Savor the 5 senses
Sight - see the beauty in the world.  After a death, we reenter the world with a completely new perspective.  In many ways, this reentrance is a challenge, as we are learning to navigate our new world without the loved one we expected to have.  However, perhaps in our new sight of the world, we can see the beauty in the world and have a new appreciation for it.  Even in the small things – there is beauty that we haven’t seen before. 

Smell - indulge in the smells.  Take a moment to succumb to the smells around you.  If it is good, then relish it for a moment.  To give yourself this pause is a real treat.

Touch – connect with others.  When someone you care about gives you a hug or puts his or her hand on you, give in to that moment.  Don’t resist it or push it away.

Hear – the world is beautifully orchestrated if you listen – even in the most unexpected places.

Taste – have a more meaningful approach to taste.  My meditation program and mindful lunch has helped me savor taste – to be quiet with others in eating lunch has awakened me to many more complex tastes and flavors.
Keep a journal 
Reflect on your day – the emotions, the grief, any emergence of hope, or just a synopsis of the day.  I found the easiest way to do this is by keeping a one-sentence journal.  That’s it.  One sentence a day.  You might be able to handle that!  For me, it has become a way to recognize how I am feeling that day, and also a way to help me remember the funny or surprising moments of the day.  This idea is credited to Gretchen Rubin from the “Happiness Project” and I love it.

Worry less
I feel silly even writing this, because this is impossible for me.  However, I’ve learned that when I free myself from worry, I am able to live in the present moment.  Most of the time, my worry lives in the future.  I’m scared and anxious about what could happen (the “what-if’s”).  Give yourself a reality check.  How is this moment?  Is it good?  If yes, then live this moment and savor it.  If it’s not a good moment, then allow yourself to feel it.  Try not to miss the present by worrying about the future.  “Don’t miss the sun today worrying about the rain coming tomorrow.”

Find meaning in your day
I think it’s important to find meaning in your day, no matter what you are doing.  A lot of us work to live, meaning, we work as a means to provide for our family, but it is not the purpose of our lives.  Even so, I think since we spend so much time working, we need to find meaning there too - even in the menial things.  I often tell the students I work with to take pride in everything they do.  No matter what it is, do it with care and intention.  Put your stamp of excellence on it.  Even the little things have a great purpose which contribute to the overall big picture.  Also, I think finding pride in all aspects of your efforts helps you find meaning in them, which helps you be present.

I've read books that declare, "Act how you want to feel."  I'm not quite on board with this idea.  I like to feel and need to feel.  Sometimes I need the grief to wash over me because pushing it away is just going to make it worse in the long run.  Slapping on a happy face isn’t appropriate here – because of course I want to be peacefully happy, but in order to get to this state I need to also feel and experience my depth of sadness.  Emotions and feelings are much more complex after a loss – a constant rollercoaster.  So allow yourself to feel whatever it is that you need to feel.  If you are sad, allow yourself to feel it.  If you are happy, give yourself permission to smile or even laugh.  Feeling helps me live an authentic, genuine, and meaningful life.  Being in touch with my feelings also allows me to be kind to myself.  Is grief washing over me today?  If so, I’m not going to push myself to participate in a social event.  Maybe a soulful walk is what I need instead.

Meaningfully participate
Dr. Amit Sood argues that people can only do one “conscious” – I’ll call this meaningful – activity at a time.  The brain can’t meaningfully participate in multiple activities at once.  Try not to multitask (I know, impossible) unless they are truly mundane automatic activities.  When meaningfully participating, you find have a much higher consciousness of the activity and can find meaning in things that will surprise you.  A big challenge in our house is to put our phones down when we walk in the door from work and meaningfully participate in family time.  It has been a challenge, but it has brought our family closer together.  

Being present after stillbirth

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