Monday, April 2, 2012

Before and After

People are like stained - glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed, only if there is a light from within.

Elizabeth Kubler Ross

Everyone’s lives are filled with before and after moments. I think they are the way we remember and define the events that make up our lives, as well as remind us who we were at a given time. 

Before college ~ after college
Before I met my husband/wife ~ after I met my husband/wife
Before I had kids ~ after I had kids

I now have an "after" in my life that demarcates it like nothing before. A line is drawn right down the middle, with October 22nd, 2010 as the point where so much changed. "After Matthew died." I straddle those three words as I try and figure out how to navigate this new path I find myself on.

I've come to realize that loss is an inevitable part of life. While I define this critical "before and after" moment in my life as the loss of my child, it can be many things besides the death of a loved one.  Loss can be the end of a marriage, the end of a job, a life-changing illness, or moving to a new place. All of these often require a recalibration of our life's purpose, which in turn sets us on a new path. 

Over the past 17 months, it has been helpful for me to hear people's stories and see how they have chosen to continue on with their lives.  I've been grateful when I meet people who despite being shaken to their core with loss, have gone on to redefine their lives in positive ways. They've managed to pick up the pieces and proceed with a new sense of purpose. 

I have many wonderings about my own path these days as I learn to navigate it without Matthew. Some of these are the natural stirrings of mid-life; some are precipitated by our loss. I have more questions than answers, and wonder how my grief journey fits into my overall life journey. But I do know connections with others are important. If you'd like to share your before and after story with me, I'd love to hear it. Comments or e-mails are welcome.

I'll end with a Mary Oliver poem that says it all much more succinctly than I can (although "gift" is not a word I think I can ever use, I do understand her meaning).

“The Uses of Sorrow”
Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this too, was a gift.

Mary Oliver

Hoh River Rain Forest/Fall 2011


  1. In October, 2010, I was on retreat and that poem played a big part in my silent week of days, two years after my son died.

    Before: student in seminary and spiritual direction training. Now: pastor and spiritual director. Since and always: heartbroken but moving forward.

    (Friend of Karen Gerstenberger. And if you are, too, then you must be one wonderful mother! I am so sorry for the loss of your son.)

  2. Robin,
    I recently read this poem, which captures the topic of the spirit emerging, despite all, in something of a visceral way.

    your openness is its own gift-

    Song After Sadness
    by Katie Ford

    Despair is still servant
    to the violet and wild ongoings
    of bone. You, remember, are
    that which must be made
    servant only to salt, only
    to the watery acre that is the body
    of the beloved, only to the child
    leaning forward into
    the exhibit of birches
    the forest has made of bronze light
    and snow. Even as the day kneels
    forward, the oceans and strung garnets, too,
    kneel, they are all kneeling,
    the city, the goat, the lime tree
    and mother, the fearful doctor,
    kneeling. Don't say it's the beautiful
    I praise. I praise the human,
    gutted and rising.

  3. Robin,
    Thank you for sharing your story. I'm so sorry for the loss of your son. But I like your phrase "heartbroken but moving forward." So true.

    Bobbie, what a beautiful poem. Thank you for sharing.:-)

  4. Before: married to Rob.
    After: divorced.
    A friend who is divorced told me, before my own divorce, that i had no idea what i was in for. He was right. Everything is different. Every single thing. This is nothing like losing a child, i know that. No comparison to your loss, which is the biggest loss in life. But this loss of mine--the loss of every single thing i ever knew before and the loss of every connection i had before (or if not loss, then a major change) has been the hardest thing i've ever gone through. And yet, i had no choice in the matter. To stay, as i've said before, would be to suffer a different kind of death. But now, i grieve daily. Twenty seven years with someone does not disappear overnight. Or ever.
    my community is gone. my past recedes into memory. In my new life, i am only me.
    That's my before and after story. And as with all before and after stories, mine continues.

  5. You are drawing me in, Robin. Today, your blog is the first thing I read. Blessings.

    1. Robin, Passover is approaching and Easter too, before and after's resonate in our memories. . . after losing Aaron right after Matthew I have been blessed with the reality that life must go on as I observed you and Israel and Karen and Reba and others who have walked this path before us taking one step at a time, the "agony of suffering love" as I had written in my Bible years ago . . . "always results in the ecstasy of Holy Joy" in that we will KNOW that our loved ones are with GOD for eternity. . .and we will join them when it is our day. . . THANK YOU for your Amazing Grace as you tread the deep waters of life! Be blessed!!! Teri