Early on in this new life of mine I had a hard time looking at photos of Hagen. Not all of them, just the recent ones. The ones with life in his eyes and a mischievous grin on his face absolutely gutted me. I could talk about him all day long and share his story -the good and the bad - with no trouble, but I couldn’t look at him. I had pictures of him when he was a little boy all around the house that made me smile each time I passed them, but the recent ones were stored lovingly in a hope chest out of sight. I kept two out, but placed them strategically so that I wouldn’t happen to see them. I knew where they were and deliberately avoided casting my eyes in their direction. I’m not altogether sure why his photos affected methey way that they did, but as the months went by, I missed seeing his face. I’ve had to overcome a lot since he went home that by some standards would seem more significant than an aversion to photos, but avoiding his face was not going to help me heal.
No one wants to intentionally inflict pain on themselves, but painful is what it was, and there was a tug of war within me. I didn’t want to look into his beautiful eyes because doing so caused my soul to wail, but I needed to be able to because he’s my child. And. I. Missed. Him. It was a physical and emotional pain that can’t be described, but is easily understood by someone who only has photos of their child to hold.
I knew it was going to be difficult and that I risked falling apart , but I also knew I had to face it head on. Rip the bandaid off, so to speak. I wasn’t ready to have him in every room, so with shaking hands and tears blurring the features of his beautiful face, I placed a small photo on my jewelry chest under the light switch in my bedroom. I forced myself to look at it each time I left my bedroom hoping in time it would not be as painful and each time I looked I told myself “this is my reality”. Whether I looked at photos or not, my reality was that he was gone and he wasn’t coming back.
With each passing day, and the reminder that my reality, while not pleasant, was in fact my reality, I began to tell myself “this is my reality, and I will LIVE in it”. I didn’t want to just survive. I didn’t want to just exist. I wanted to truly experience the joys of life by LIVING it. It took time, but looking at his photo without my chest burning, my heart hurting and massive tears falling became easier and easier until I didn’t have to force myself to look. Intentionally LIVING in my new reality became easier. And now, Hagen can be found in every room of my house.
It’s been almost 2 years since I said goodbye to the face in the photos that brought so much pain, and one of the most disturbing periods in our nation’s history has coincided with the loss of not only Hagen, but my dad and grandmother as well. At times it has been difficult to sort through the myriad of emotions to determine what exactly was weighing on me.
Hagen? Daddy? Grandma?
Grief sucks, especially when you’re grieving so much.
Or was it the pandemic? Or the social unrest? Or the political climate? Or the strangers hating strangers? Or the unprecedented overdose death and suicide rates?
Any one of those has the potential to dim the desire to have hope that things will get better, but throw them all together, and it’s enough to make you throw your hands up, crawl under your bed and just give up. It’s terrifying and painful to see what's going on in our world, and I think we are all struggling with our new reality but that picture taught me a lesson.
This is my reality. This is my reality and I will LIVE in it. I will not lose hope that it will get better.
Because it will.
It will take time, and we will have to endure discomfort, but intentionally LIVING in our new reality is how we will overcome it.
Find the good. Be the good. The rest will work itself out.