I know, as all of you know, what it feels like to be sad. I defined my new state after my daughter’s death as “learning to live with sadness.” I have learned that my daughter’s absence is like a presence; it is always with me.
My sadness is invasive, often abrupt. Sometimes it blots out every other possible feeling. Sometimes it remains quietly in the background like white noise. But it is always there, only a blink away. There is no getting rid of it, no way really to avoid it. It is a part of me now. Just as Camila’s presence, her fact of living, hummed through my veins during her lifetime, her absence now throbs in me: a dull ache that I am learning to live with.
But I am learning to live, learning to survive. I remember my first night at The Compassionate Friends: I needed to say, I needed to admit to someone, anyone, really, that I had not yet decided to survive her loss. I came into the group needing to verbalize that – and knowing that, in this setting, among these other parents who had suffered a similar loss, I would be understood. No alarms would be rung, no psyche hospitals called. It was not a suicide wish; it was a very real expression of doubt: Could I survive this loss? Would I chose to embrace life again, choose life, or would I turn inward, tune out?
I decided to live. I have chosen to survive. Yet I can say that it was not the decision of a moment, not something I decided as one makes most decisions. Surviving was a unique decision primarily because it was not a decisive action. It was a slow, gradual, sometimes silent process. Sometimes my course was so obscured by grief and loss that I didn’t know what I would finally decide and, in fact, I wasn’t interested in knowing. Survival? Some days I could take it or leave it. But one day I realized I had passed some unmarked post. One day, I realized I had stopped asking the question.
I am surviving.
Most days, it feels more like a ten-step program, more vague than absolute, marked more by struggle than success. But I do know one thing: As I find ways to express my love for Camila in living and natural ways, some part of my natural self seems to come back. Giving myself permission to continue to love her, to speak of her, to celebrate her, helps me survive.