A question I used to ask myself daily. In the depths of depression, I couldn’t come up with an answer that made any sense to me. Nobody else could either. I had died but I also hadn’t. I almost lost everything but then didn’t. I witnessed several people take their last breaths in a hospital and yet I was allowed to live. Whenever I asked, “why me?” it encompassed both confusion and guilt. Why did this happen to me? Why was I allowed to live?
I still can’t believe all of that happened. At first, I was in complete denial. Five years ago, when we returned from our trip to Hawaii, a friend said to me: “I’m so glad you’re ok. I can’t imagine a world without Heidi.” I was shocked that he would remark about my death. At the time the seriousness of the situation hadn’t settled. I was focused on having survived an impossible incident, and I was not yet ready to confront how close I was to the end. In my mind, I was a freaking miracle. And that was the story I wanted to keep telling myself. I didn’t allow myself to feel sad about the cardiac arrest nor the cancer. I aimed to set an example for others to not pity me. I was female fortitude, strength embodied. But I soon learned that grief needs space to breathe – and I was denying mine that.
GRIEF DEMANDS SPACE
When my grief about the cardiac arrest caught up with me it appeared as a demon tormenting me through delusional thoughts during steroid induced psychosis. This was a week after surgery to remove a tumor from my brain discovered during the cardiac event. My grief arrived disguised as God telling me to take my own life. My psyche told me that my life wasn’t worth saving. God had changed his mind. My grief transformed into a bully that wanted me to suffer the most gruesome pain for denying my heart what it needed – love, patience, receptivity, nurturing. That’s how I can make sense of my medical drama; turning it into a narrative where personified parts of me were battling one another. The psychotic episode was a psychic rebellion, a reaction to neglect, and I was both the victim and the perpetrator, the damsel in distress and the monster.
How to make sense of the other events, though? A birthday earthquake that shook my heart in the middle of the night; spending the subsequent weekend at a memorial service for a young man, around my age, who died tragically and unexpectedly. Six day before the cardiac event, I spent my birthday celebrating the life of a man whose head was struck by a street sign that fell on top of him during his commute home by bicycle. Together, his friends and I stood in a circle of grief sharing kind and sad words about a life that ended too soon. Was that an omen for what happened next: losing my life days later? And when that happened, why had I been surrounded by people equipped to revive me? I can’t count on my hand the number of people I know who are trained in CPR. Where did all of those people come from? And how did they know to gather around me that day? And the tumor hidden in my skull perhaps since birth and the size of a ping pong ball; would it have killed me if I hadn’t found it sooner? And how about that tumble at the top of Nevada Falls during our trip to Yosemite, when I slipped and fell in water rapids only 20 feet away from a 600-foot drop to certain death? How do I reconcile that event? Was that a signal from God telling me to leave California forever? I could go insane trying to find an answer to these why’s. Perhaps I’m trying to make sense of things that just don’t make sense. My Umma and Appa believe there is an elemental reason why all that crazy happened so many years ago: I am primarily Water and the West Coast (including Hawaii) is primarily Fire. When Water and Fire mix, no good things happen. So, in their minds, I am never allowed to move back to California.
The thing about asking “why” all the time, is that it takes energy away from asking other, more helpful, questions like: “what did I gain from that suffering?” “how have I grown or changed as a person?” “what values have become more important to me as a result of that experience?” These are questions that actually have answers to them, and whose answers are answerable by me and not by an unseen mystical deity who does not address me in a language I understand. So now whenever “why” resurfaces, I prompt myself to ask other questions so I don’t make myself go crazy.
WHAT I’VE GAINED
When I tumbled into Nevada Falls, my mind immediately thought “Oh well… I guess this is how I go [shrug].” I was initially resigned to the possibility that my life was over. But when I resurfaced in the water, floating slowly towards the edge, another part of me emerged who was determined to survive. It woke the fuck up, took control of my body, and swam ferociously towards Brad, who was desperately trying to reach me. I was honestly surprised to learn how much I wanted to live. I had been so depressed and attached to my sadness and anger about life up to that point, that I didn’t pay attention to the part of me who was fighting to live through all that despair. Of course, I understand that can’t control depression and it wouldn’t have been healthy to suppress my sadness and anger about all of those terrible things that happened. But I learned that despair and will-to-live can co-exist inside my Self even if they counteracted each others’ efforts. And I am so grateful for that.
When things got hard again during my pregnancy, it was this history that helped me move forward. Knowing that I had survived years earlier and overcome so much together with my husband, helped instill a belief that I am meant to be here and we could get through any hardship together. And that belief helped me hold on to hope – hope for future joy as I looked forward to meeting my baby, hope that he would know me as his mother, and hope that I could witness him grow up. I believed that if it were my destiny was to die young, then I wouldn’t have survived those other impossible things. That was my reasoning then; and it still is but now I see reason and faith as similar concepts. And making sense of the past isn’t something I spend much time doing anymore. Instead, I focus on my faith about the future.
I’ve consistently held onto the belief that everything happens for a reason. That nothing is completely random and there is an order to our existence. I believe that all of our lives will present a narrative that “makes sense” to us as we look back and take our last breaths. The lines connecting all of our dots will appear solid and self-assured, not blurry and insecure. My belief has evolved though, incorporating the role we play in writing the story of our lives – the role I play in writing the story of my life. It’s up to me to make meaning. It’s up to me to choose the reasons why things happen and those choices can either serve my highest good, or not. It’s up to me to be patient as the lines connecting the dots my life reveal themselves in time. Being hasty by constantly trying to make sense of things is a disservice to my Self. What’s the rush in learning the answers to those “why’s” anyway? I have my entire life to have those answers revealed to me as I continue to blossom into a beautiful unknown.