We have all been there.
At one time or another we have been nurtured, or have nurtured others.
When we are young, we depend on our parents to nurture us. When we grow up, we have to learn do this for ourselves. Often times, we as women, or we as parents, are so busy caring for others that we neglect to care for ourselves. We often don’t think, or realize, that we need to nurture ourselves until we are left with no other choice. For me, the “no other choice” came shortly after the birth of my second son. He was born premature. And as you can see in the photo below, he was kept in an isolette, effectively putting a barrier between me and my instinct to nurture my child. I was not allowed to hold him since he couldn’t be removed from his isolette.
All of that changed on his 12th day on earth. And that was only because the steady increase in growth and health he displayed for the first 11 days of his life, ceased on the 12th day.
The doctor informed me and my husband that our son would not survive the night.
And so, we were allowed to rem0ve him from the isolette and hold him for the very first - and very last - time. I am grateful that I got to spend some time holding him close to me before he took his last breath. Time to study closely every minute detail of his face. Time to study his eyes looking into mine. I wanted to remember his eyes forever. I studied and stroked his fine, angel soft, beautiful hair. And each and every finger and toe. I had time to caress him, and to etch every detail into my mind and memory forever. And then he was gone.
For nearly a week after, I could barely speak. I couldn’t eat. Even with my husband begging me to take in some sustenance, I couldn’t. It was a very disembodying experience. I had never before been so completely engulfed in grief. And I certainly had no idea if that pain would ever end, or how I would begin to go forward from it. I didn’t think life would ever return to “normal”, as I once knew it, again. I was sure the heaviness in my heart would never lift.
What follows are some comforting, nurturing methods I employed over the days, weeks, months, and years that followed, to nurture and nurse myself, very slowly, back into a new “normal” life. And eventually…. Back to JOY.
The layman’s description, according to yourdictionary.com, of nurture is: to feed, train, or help develop someone or something.
Any form of recovery takes feeding, training, and help in developing. Perhaps your experience of recovering from a traumatic, painful, or even challenging incident was not as dramatic as mine. Perhaps it was moreso. What I learned from my experience is: we have no idea what goes on in the life of another, the wounds another has suffered, the depths of the challenges one has faced. And to therefore, as the saying goes, always be a little kinder than necessary.
In the healing process, we must begin licking our own wounds so to speak, and learn to give ourselves the care we require. The very first place I went to vent was into a journal.
In one form or another, I have always journaled. Whether a notepad, a sketchbook, piece of paper or small tablet of paper, my earliest memories consist of drawing, doodling, and writing. This was the most instinctive place to go to pour out my frustrations and to record and make sense out of the events of my life. In the early days following my son’s death, the healing words of others, or the venting of my pain in a journal, were the things that brought me the most comfort. Expression through words was cathartic. I needed to do this in order to allow myself to feel again, because my initial reaction to the pain of loss was to erect a barrier between myself and loved ones. I was afraid to love anyone too much again at that point.
My only living child was 3 years old at the time and unable to comprehend these events (he had never met his brother and was not allowed in the NICU). I would watch him so carefreely enjoying life and wanting me to participate and to love him.
But I was scared.
It hurt me to not jump in and experience his joy with him. So I entered back into our time together the best way that I was able. During much of the healing phase, we were living in Hawaii, so we took a lot of long walks on the beach. There was often silence between us but he didn’t seem to mind. It was just being together that counted.
Our time in Hawaii provided relief on so many levels. The most important event by far, just more than a year after my youngest son’s passing, was the birth of our beautiful baby girl.
Despite such a joyous event, there was still more healing to do. I spent a lot of time observing nature, in silence. One day I found this sign, posted to a tree.
Observe with the eyes, listen with the ears, don’t talk. Good advice, and very appropriate at the time.
Healing messages seemed to be everywhere in nature. Observing the crashing ocean waves, I was reminded of a story shared by an old high school guidance counselor. He told of an undertow somewhere among the Hawaiian islands that would pull a person right under the water. If you struggled against it, you would lose the battle. But, if you would surrender to it, the undertow would spit you out to safety. I thought of that story a lot in Hawaii, especially on my emotionally challenging days, and how it was a powerful metaphor for my struggle to feel good again. This process couldn’t be forced, it had to be surrendered to. The most painful struggles, when instincts kick in to fight, are often the very times we need to let go.
Upon seeing this lone tree on a rocky cliff, I wondered how many storms it had weathered and what it may have endured over the years. Yet, it was still standing.
And whenever I saw an orchid, I thought of what an orchid grower once told me, “some species require an extended cold snap in order to induce a bloom”. She explained how the plant may go through a period where perhaps it feels like it’s dying before it brings forth its greatest beauty. Hmmm. I considered the possibility that there might be a process built into humans that works that way too. And I was encouraged to endure the long, cold feelings in the hopes that someday, I too could bring forth beauty from this tragedy.
There were days when I felt more secure than others… that maybe it was safe to relax a little, and open up.
And there were other days where I would want to close down again and retreat a bit from the painful memories.
Even in the withdrawn times, when I felt “burned around the edges” like some of the petals in the flower above, I would feel a deeper wisdom guiding my life and sense that there was still beauty – even in the most broken, imperfect places – or perhaps, especially in the broken, imperfect places.
Out the car window, I would occassionally catch a view that would take my breath away. It reminded me that this life is fleeting and goes by so fast, and to take every opportunity to look for and appreciate the beauty that is always there in some form.
The sight of a dandelion reminded me to dare to wish, and hope, and dream again.
And the first tentative, yet trusting steps of my little girl reminded me to be patient with my healing process and take baby steps myself.
As I watched her “test the waters” of her life literally, I was learning to do this again metaphorically. It was unchartered territory for me, but this process of finding a “new normal” would have to be explored and trusted with time.
Little things that may have once bothered me took on a different light. One day, my kids took two worn-out, oversized pillows with seems beginning to split, from their play room and proceeded to tear out all the cotton batting. In the blink of an eye (or the time it took me to unload the dishwasher) it was spread ALL over the entire floor. Their unbridled joy was incredible. They were making trails, “snow” angels, and piling mounds into billowy clouds when I happened upon the scene. Seeing their jubilation, I couldn’t get angry. And in the BIG picture, I was learning not to sweat the small stuff. I was learning slowly but surely, this was “small stuff”. So instead of getting angry, I got out the camera.
My son had spent several years in Alaska so perhaps he missed the snow. My daughter had never experienced snow, and then again, she hadn’t experienced cotton either! So we left the cotton batting strewn about the floor for 3 days. And every day they played in it, well I believe they could’ve convinced just about anyone that this had to be the greatest stuff in the world. After one long day at the beach, they both came in and snuggled into their own billowy pile of it and fell asleep. I felt like I was witnessing angels sleeping on clouds. Had I gotten uptight about the so-called mess (it’s a matter of perspective I guess – is it “mess” or “imagination fodder”?), I would never have witnessed such a precious sight.
My hopes in writing this post is that you don’t wait for life to knock the wind out of your sails with illness, accident, or trauma before you take time for YOU. To nurture your hurts, hopes and dreams. Because while the journey into becoming a more healed and whole person takes time, it’s the best gift you can give to yourself and others. As your own cup fills up it automatically overflows onto others with whatever’s inside of it. Is it mostly stress that’s inside? Worry or Fear? Or is it Joy, Patience, Love and other fruits of the Spirit? You, and the potential for the blossoming of some amazing gift you may be still holding inside, are worth cultivating and worth nurturing.
In Part Two of Nurturing You: TLC For The Weary, I share some ideas you can employ when you’re feeling weary. Research has shown these tools to be effective in uplifting a person’s perspective and emotions. Below is a sneak peek of a few of the proven healing methods and tools in part two.
In the meantime, I have some uplifting tools to share on the “Spirit” page of my website and invite you to have a look.
I wish you great Love today, on St. Valentine’s Day, and always.