I once heard a man interviewed on NPR. This man’s entire family had been killed in a raid on his village. He was telling the reporter that for many years he drank heavily in an attempt to cope with the trauma. Then he said, “I thought I could drown all my sorrows. But then I figure out that my sorrows could swim.”
That quote has never left me. The image of ever-present sorrow was a powerful one to me. Sorrow and grief are something I became familiar with at a young age and the impact of that experience is something I’m still trying to understand.
If I’m being honest, the biggest impact is that I spend a lot of time being afraid. I’m afraid someone I love will die in a sudden and tragic way. I’m afraid I will die and leave my children alone.
When I became pregnant this last time, my fears found a fertile ground in which to grow. I feared I was being greedy. I had two beautiful children, who was I to roll the dice one more time? I feared I would miscarry early on. I feared something would go wrong during the birth. I feared the baby would have major (or even fatal) health problem.
I let those fears consume my every thought until the pregnancy became a source of stress, instead of joy.
Then, my irrational fears became reality.
Suddenly, sorrow was not a future to fear. Suddenly, I was in the water with my sorrows.
At first, I did what you do. You breathe. You go on. You let your brain remind you in a hundred little ways that you live in a different world now – a world where pregnancies go on, just not yours.
Then, I started doing the things I know to do. I do the things I know work for me. I wake up every morning and run. I meditate. I get in bed every night and write in my gratitude journal and say this prayer.
Sometimes these things work. Sometimes they don’t. I have to constantly remind myself that while my emotions are relevant, they are not reality. It helps that when I feel shame or sadness, I also hear all of your voices reminding me that my sadness is not permanent, that the baby’s death wasn’t my fault, that the future holds more hope than fear.
I think for so long I feared sorrow because I feared drowning.
But, here’s what I’ve learned.
Sorrow can swim.
But so can I.