The world breaks us all,
and afterward some are stronger in those broken places.
I remember the day with piquant detail. The first smile after she died, cracking my cheeks, splitting my skull in two. I felt as if I'd committed an act of desecration, voyeurs witnessing my fait accompli. My dead child in her pink satin casket lay there lifeless. And I smiled.
I do not recall who caused this act of irreverence- or what they said or did to prompt it. I only remember standing outside of myself in shame. Smiling is an act of the living. I was not alive; I certainly felt dead. But the dead do not smile.
I knew in that moment I was not one of the dead. No matter how much I beckoned, I knew Death would come on its own will. I also knew that I was not amongst the real living. I existed in some liminal place between breath and stillness, extinction and existence, nether and numinous, and life and death. I was broken, irreparably shattered.
For months, I wandered through the valley of the shadows as I vacillated between the world of the living and the world of the dead. I struggled to accept life's mediocrity, longed for my now fugitive naïveté, and wished for ailments of trivia instead of trauma.
What glue could hold those broken places? What stitch would ensure proper healing? What concoction would purge me of the pain? Which God could heal my suffering and despair?
It would be many months before smiles would come again. But they came. Slowly and painfully. I did not want others to assure me that it was okay to smile and that I should move on and be happy in my life. This, I knew, would one day be my truth. But I was not ready yet. I needed pause. Her life and death were worthy of this interruption in my previously assumed entitlement to an untainted, joyous sojourn. Instead, I wanted others to accept my shame without judgment, to hold a place for my broken, sometimes irrational, state of mind. Often, they could not. Like a leper, raw grief frightened them.
Nevertheless, I would not accept their platitudes or poisons. I rejected their attempts to tug me toward the future faster than I was ready. I refused to abandon my brokenness in exchange for cheap glue or careless stitching. I indulged in time and tears and tribulation. I became a seeker of healing that would endure, not healing that was shoddily constructed with plastic words, or pills, or even a magic wand, susceptible to rebreaking under the slightest pressure.
What I've realized over the past 14 years is that it was the very grief that frightened them- that raw grief which seeped from my broken places like blood spilling from a wound- that truly healed me. I have become stronger in my broken places. And I am smiling again.