Calling all Warriors: A Note on Life, Loss and Moving Forward

I wasn't prepared for this. I mean, I knew that 40 was on the horizon, I just wasn't expecting all of this loss, tragedy and heartbreak before that big milestone. My Mom used to tell me, "don't grow up too fast, Sarah. It's hard being an adult". I couldn't really hear what she was trying to say back then. I always felt somewhat invincible (it's a teen thing, right?), and I just wanted to live life on my own terms. Until tragedy struck at our small town high school and it jolted me into realizing just how fleeting this life can be.

I quickly learned that pain and loss are universal feelings and experiences. It is one of the times when we can put ourselves into someone else's shoes and have great empathy for them. The circumstances may be different. The relationship or the connection is different. The memories you shared and cherished are certainly different. And yet the feeling of immense pain, heartbreak or loss… that we can all relate to at some point in time.

So here I am, finally wrapping my head around those words that my Mom told me all those years ago. I get it now. She couldn't tell me back then that you would experience death, tragedy, heartbreak, betrayal and incredible loss before you are ready for it. That it could happen frequently. That it would almost always be unexpected. That it might take your breath away. That it could paralyze you with fear. That your fear might turn into depression or anger. That you might have to fight your way out of the darkness to survive.

I'm not sure if anyone can prepare you for...

  • the loss of loved ones to suicide, car accidents or other tragic events.
  • the anxiety you feel after experiencing traumatic stress, acts of terrorism, natural disasters or random acts of violence.
  • the harsh reality that loved ones will lose their babies.
  • the amount of funerals that you will attend for friends who have become widow/ers.
  • the betrayals from those closest to you and of whom you trusted most.
  • the fact that cancer doesn't discriminate.
  • the moment when your parent(s) become ill and/or you need to care for them.

You are never ready to experience any of these I suppose. I certainly never expected to face them all (mostly) before I turned 40. Philosopher Roland Barthes says that "love is the romantic solution to the problem of death". I suppose I find some truth to that, and it's probably why I feel so much joy and fulfillment in photographing families now (and weddings in the past). Surrounding myself with love became the solution to my heartache. It filled the void. It eased the pain.

I've also come to realize that the greater the attachment I had to the person, the greater the pain. The greater the shock or dismay in the circumstances, the greater the loss felt for me. I've also learned that I have to believe in second (or third or fourth) chances at happiness. I trust that I can fight my way back through personal empowerment. If all else fails, I will pave a new road when all other paths lead to continued fear, pain and suffering. And I admit that therapists should be on speed dial, and as acceptable (and as routine) as going to your primary care physician.

It has taken me a few months to find the courage to write again. To find my new normal. To find my words. To share what's in my heart. I've been moving through a really transformational time and learning to move forward again. I've been working on my healing and regaining my strength. So it caught me off guard when I woke up on June 1st and suddenly found myself struggling to breathe. The anxiety had begun to creep in again. It's hard to explain the short gasps of air and the tears that come unexpectedly to someone who has never experienced anxiety or a panic attack. It simply removes your ability to think clearly or breathe. And it hit me that as I was feeling these things, I wasn't alone. There were so many others who were fighting this darkness. So many others who are feeling a loss right now.

Two years ago this June the world lost an amazing man, Eric Langlois. I wasn't one of his closest friends, and yet his disappearance, our search for him and ultimately his death will remain with me forever. The experience serves as another reminder that this life passes by too quickly. It also reminds me of the devoted and affectionate spouse, mother, family member and friend that I want to be. It reminds me that having a community is far more important than we want to admit. It reminds me that I need to work hard to thrive (in my daily life) because I was not put here only to survive. It reminds me that I need to use my gifts and find fulfillment while I have the chance to. It reminds me that I want to experience an exhilarating life. It reminds me that we are so deserving of joy.

Eric would have wanted all of us to live life to its fullest potential. Your loved ones would have wanted that too. Life's harsh realities are not meant to keep us down. They are meant to teach us and shape us into the individuals we were destined to become. It's up to us to find out WHO that is and to move forward.

So warriors, fighters, soldiers, survivors and troopers, who will you become? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments here so please do share!

How do you move forward? How do you grieve, let go, feel the emotions, deal with your suffering, and embrace the changes? Here are a few things that continue to help me during these times of loss and pain…

  • choose your thoughts wisely, they dictate your emotional responses
  • allow yourself to be overwhelmed by the circumstances, not a victim of them
  • seek comfort and support from loved ones/your tribe/a sisterhood/homies
  • give yourself time to heal and to mourn the loss
  • learn to ask for help, even if you don't know how because you are used to being the helper
  • be patient with the pace of your recovery
  • talk to someone you trust and/or find a therapist who can help
  • recognize all the joy that is present in your life and hold on tight to that, and when possible - celebrate it!
  • practice gratitude, for each and every thing that you take for granted
  • accept the event(s) for what they are, the ever-unfolding dance of life
  • remind yourself that there is so much more adventure ahead, and even if you can't see it - believe in it!
Photo Credit: Dave Noonan, Modern Fotographic

Photo Credit: Dave Noonan, Modern Fotographic

Love and light my friends! This is me with one of my tribes. Out of the darkness, we can move forward together...