Grateful for the Pain

My Mother’s Day Card, May 13, 2018.

My Mother’s Day Card, May 13, 2018.

May 16th marked the grim one-year anniversary of my daughter’s death. I have come to realize that the anticipation of these milestone dates is much more difficult than the actual day itself. Mother’s Day is another one of these dates for me--the last time I saw my daughter alive. Our last words to each other were, “I love you.” That is a gift.

Emily at age 2.

Emily at age 2.

The night before her death date this year, I broke out in hives all over my body. But the next day I forced myself to get up out of bed. I was reminded of a time when she was young, about two or three-years-old, and I was struck by all she was able to experience in her short life. I’m grateful for that at least. Then, in a strange act of coincidence that I have found so often occurs on this journey through grief, a friend whom I hadn’t been in contact with for a while, sent me videos of her at that very age. She was so adorable; my sweet, innocent Emily before the world destroyed her.

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@angiekennecke

My post from May 16, 2018

On May 16, 2018, this is what I posted on my Instagram story: “Beauty is all around us.” The trees were in full bloom and sweetness filled the air. It was one of only a handful of perfect spring days you get if you live in South Dakota. When I left work that Wednesday, I sent a text to Emily, “Want to go hiking?” We had a state park nearby that she and I often frequented with her dog. There was no response. Now I know, she was unable to respond. She was already dying.

This year May 16th was hauntingly just as beautiful. The tree that shades my back patio was in full bloom and the fragrance was like Heaven. That morning, I took my coffee outside and sat on the patio as white petals rained down upon me. I set my feet upon a layer of silky soft petals and I was struck by the metaphor. This entire year I have felt as if my journey were somehow made softer -- that I wasn’t having to place my feet on the cold, hard ground of tragedy. I believe that love has been there every step of the way to support me, as long as I surrendered my will to it. Each day I reaffirm my choice to surrender to love.

It struck me in the moment to be grateful; grateful for the pain. The depths of pain from losing a child is not something I ever wished to experience. I have read over and over again in religious teachings that we need to be thankful, even for the difficult things that life throws at us. That always seemed like an impossible task to me. How can I be thankful for the tremendous grief and sorrow I have experienced in the last year?

I have discovered that this is how: the pain broke my heart wide open. It was so overwhelming that my heart physically hurt. When I was trying to fall asleep at night after the death of my daughter, I had to put my palm on my chest. It felt as if blood would start oozing out, if I didn’t put pressure on it. But something about this suffering has transformed me. I don’t know that I can adequately put it into words. But I do know that a part of myself fell away completely. The part of me that cared about my own personal glory no longer exists. In fact, whether I live or die is irrelevant. I have come to understand how mortal we all are. I don’t care if I’m given recognition for anything that I do. The constant scrambling to achieve has just fallen away. I only want to use whatever time I have left to spread compassion and love in a world which desperately needs it.

I will not run away from my pain. I will not look for ways to numb my pain. I will run directly into it. Because in the midst of pain, I have discovered, you will find a bridge to love. That love is there. I know it in my soul. I’ve witnessed it every single day since Emily died. And where there is love there is always hope. I am grateful for the pain that has transformed me and led me to love. That love will keep Emily’s Hope alive.

Faith, Hope & Courage,

Angela