By Jennifer Palmer
Those of us who have walked through dark times, through pain, through sorrow. Those of us who are still walking through such things today. We have no special power, no innate ability to survive such things. We are not stronger than you. We are not braver than you. We are not anything more than you.
When hearing of our failed adoption, people often express their dismay. “I could never adopt,” they tell me. “My heart couldn’t take it. I don’t know how you survived; I don’t have the strength to make it through something like that.”
Before I lost my daughter, I’m sure I voiced a similar sentiment when confronted with tragedy. It’s a common enough response, one we clutch like a talisman, a ward against pain. Surely only those who are strong enough to survive the heartache of unthinkable situations are forced to do so. Surely those who bear the death of a child or a spouse, who navigate the brokenness of the foster care system, who journey through terminal illness or disability or any number of terrible circumstances have some secret reserve which gives them the ability to stand when anyone else would fall. Or so we hope, for if pain only comes to those who can withstand it and we know our hearts would not survive such sorrow, this must mean we will never be forced to endure the worst. Our weakness is our own protection.
If you haven’t experienced deep loss yourself, you may question your ability to endure in the face of trauma. You might think you just aren’t strong enough to go through serious pain, and you may very well be right. There’s a good chance that right now, you don’t have what it takes to walk through such heartache on your own. But then, neither did I.
Neither did I. Had I known what lay ahead, I doubt I’d have had the courage to say yes when she came to me and asked me to adopt her baby. For four months, as we waited for the courts, as we waited for the judge, as we waited, waited, waited to know whether we would be allowed to keep our girl or not, I was weak. I was scared. I was exhausted. I had no capacity to think of the future. Doing so brought pain, and so I refused to let my mind dwell on anything but what had to be done in any given moment. Prepare a bottle. Change a diaper. Cuddle my baby. I had only the strength for one moment at a time, and even that strength was not my own.
We received the judge’s decision thirteen days before the transfer of custody was to take place. I did not have the courage to walk through those two weeks, caring for the girl who had captured my love, knowing I was about to lose her. Somehow, I managed. My heart couldn’t take it; on the day I said goodbye to her, it shattered, broke into a million tiny shards that still have the power to draw blood all these months later. And yet, here I stand.
My aim is not to invoke sympathy, for though there is deep pain in my past, my life is full and I am grateful for the many blessings I have been given. Instead, my hope is that you will hear this: those of us who have walked through dark times, through pain, through sorrow? Those of us who are still walking through such things today? We have no special power, no innate ability to survive such things. We are not stronger than you. We are not braver than you. We are not anything more than you.
I did not have the strength to survive that interminable summer, did not have the strength to walk through the loss of my daughter, and yet, somehow, I survived. Battle-scarred, perhaps, a bit worse for wear, but whole and alive. I have no explanation for this, except that we are more resilient than we believe ourselves to be, that the hard times themselves sharpen us, build us, give us what we need to continue forward. When tragedy strikes, most of us find the inner fortitude to persevere. To wake up. To put one foot in front of another. To take care of what must be done today. Different people find this strength in different places—in friends, perhaps, or family, in stubborn tenacity, in the desire to be there for a child or a spouse or a parent. I drew on my faith, on belief in a good and loving and present God, though I must admit that on those darkest days, when my own weakness could not find solace in the intangible divine, I relied on friends and family and loved ones whose arms held me up when I could not hold myself, who showed me hope when I could not see it on my own.
I suspect that you too have a strength you do not know, that you too have the resiliency to survive more than you believe possible. I suspect that, should the worst happen, you, like me and so many others, would do what needed to be done, relying on God or friends or family or some as-yet untested inner iron to make it through one moment at a time. I suspect that you would find a way through the pain, that perhaps the tragedy itself would build in you the courage you need. You don’t believe me now; I don’t blame you. Your heart is fragile, your will is weak. You don’t have the strength to survive such trauma. But then, neither did I. Neither did I.
Jennifer Palmer worked as an electrical engineer until her daughter was born, but has always been a writer at heart. She now scribbles in her journal between diaper changes, composes prose in her head as she rocks a baby to sleep, and blogs about finding the beauty in everyday life at choosingthismoment.com. She lives with her husband and daughter in the forested foothills of the Sierra Nevadas in Northern California.
Photo Credit: Diana Poulos-Lutz