A client and I were discussing some major life decisions she’s making this season. While we were listing the hesitation, trepidation, and niggling fears in the back of her mind, I realized that the underlying emotion preventing her from locking into a decision was grief.
A surprising realization, to be sure. New life decisions typically mean excitement, butterflies in your stomach, and eager planning for everything new.
Instead, she was holding off on making a decision, because to say Yes to one thing meant truly, finally letting go of another.
If she follows her passion and goes back to school to get her degree, she will push off pregnancy and motherhood for several years. She will never be a mother by age 30. For better or for worse, that fantasy is gone.
I’m reminded of a beautiful excerpt from one of my favorite books:
“I’ve thought that perhaps that’s why women are so often sad, once the child’s born,” she said meditatively, as though thinking aloud. “Ye think of them while ye talk, and you have a knowledge of them as they are inside ye, the way you think they are. And then they’re born, and they’re different – not the way ye thought of them inside, at all. And ye love them, o’course, and get to know them the way they are . . . but still, there’s the thought of the child ye once talked to in your heart, and that child is gone. So I think it’s the grievin’ for the unborn that ye feel, even as ye hold the born one in your arms.” She dipped her head and kissed her daughter’s downy skull.
“Yes,” I said. “Before . . . it’s all possibility. It might be a son, or a daughter. A plain child, a bonny one. And then it’s born and all the things it might have been are gone, because now it is.”
She rocked gently back and forth, and the small clutching hand that seized the folds of green silk over her breast began to loose its grip.
“And a daughter is born, and the son that she might have been is dead,” she said quietly. “And the bonny lad at your breast has killed the wee lassie ye thought ye carried. And ye weep for what you didn’t know, that’s gone for good, until you know the child you have, and then at last it’s as though they could never have been other than they are, and ye feel naught but joy in them. But ’til then, ye weep easy.”
– Diana Gabaldon, Dragonfly in Amber
At this time of year, as we look back on all the hopes and dreams we had for 2013, it might be appropriate and comforting to formally release the ones that didn’t come true. If you feel regret, assume legitimacy. You built dreams in your heart and lived out fantasies in your mind. Or maybe you don’t feel regret. That’s still legitimate.
Honor whatever you held in your heart, and honor your life without it.
I’ll never know, and neither will you of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.
– Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things