Last week, our family held our annual celebration of my son’s short life. Every year, on the day that he was born (and died), we visit the common grave where his cremated remains are buried with those of many other stillborn babies. Some of us left mementos on the gravestone, some of us shed tears, and all of us wondered what he’d have been like as a fourteen-year-old.
And then we did what we always do – we went for ice cream. Because visits to graves are best followed with ice cream. Because it’s celebration and not just sorrow that marks the place he had in our lives.
Fourteen years ago, his short life ended quietly in the night, after I’d fallen asleep listening to lullabies. “Sleep sound in Jesus” played in my earbuds as I drifted off to sleep, trying to block the noises of the hospital. Some time after that, his heart stopped beating. In the morning, the ultrasound showed a lifeless baby. That afternoon, I gave birth in the usual labouring-through-pain way, knowing all the while that I was birthing death and not life. The next day we went home with empty arms. The next week my full breasts finally realized that there would be no babe suckling on them.
We’d tried so hard to save him. Three weeks earlier, the same doctor who delivered him had guided a young intern in the surgery that failed and resulted in my water breaking. After that, I’d spent most of my time in a hospital bed, trying to keep still to avoid labour, being injected with steroids to increase his development, and hoping against hope that he would beat the odds and survive.
Now, fourteen years later, I look back on those three weeks and know that my life is different because of them.
When I landed in that hospital bed, something cracked open in my heart. Leading up to that time, I’d been on a trajectory toward “success”. I had a job with an impressive title, employees I enjoyed working with, two beautiful daughters, a good marriage, a house in the suburbs, a camper at the lake, and the kind of financial security most people envy. Suddenly though, when I could do nothing but sit quietly to try to save my baby, I came face to face with the truth about my life.
I felt empty.
My life was full, but my spirit was empty.
I’d followed a path that was not my own. I’d pursued a career that seemed like the right fit because of the way it allowed me to use my skills in writing, leadership, and communication, but I was telling the wrong stories. I was communicating about things that didn’t really matter to me. More importantly, though, I’d ignored my own spiritual well-being for the pursuit of wealth and success.
Those three weeks in the hospital awakened a spiritual longing in me. I began writing in my journal again. I prayed. I meditated. I had deep conversations with people about things that mattered. I sat in silence and listened to the whispers of the Spirit. Most of all, I paid attention.
“When you are stuck in a spiral, to change the aspects of the spin you only need to change one thing.” – Christina Baldwin
That hospital stay (and the grief that followed) changed the direction of my spiral. Outwardly, my life didn’t change dramatically right away (I stayed in that career for a number of years before I was ready to leap into something new), but inwardly everything changed. I started a quest that lead me to the work of Christina Baldwin, Ann Linnea, Margaret Wheatley, and many other wise teachers. I began to explore the Feminine Divine and I fell in love with circles, spirals, labyrinths, and mandalas. I found opportunities to travel the world and to listen to women’s stories. I learned about The Circle Way and The Art of Hosting. I found the kind of friendships that fostered my spiritual quest and had lots and lots of meaningful conversations. I started teaching workshops on creative spirituality and self-discovery and eventually I launched my own business.
In all of that questing, something incredible happened. I found myself.
I discovered who I was when the masks were taken off, when the outward success didn’t matter anymore, and when I was honest about what I wanted in life. I discovered what was at the heart of my longing and I learned to pay attention. I have never looked back since.
Do I wish my son had lived? Of course I do. Do I regret that he lived such a short time and that his death changed my life? Of course I don’t. His death was the catalyst for an incredible journey that helped me find my way back to myself.
Ever since Matthew died, I’ve known that the impact of his short life was going to reach further than just me and my family. I knew that I would eventually write about his story and use it to help other women find their own paths back to themselves. I tried to write a book about it a few years ago, but then my mom died, and I wasn’t quite happy with the way the story was taking shape, so I set it aside and decided to wait until it felt more right.
But now, the story is burning in me and I know it’s time to share some of the wisdom I’ve gained in this 14 year quest.
I’m in the midst of creating a new program called The Spiral Path: A Woman’s Journey to Herself.
Inspired by the labyrinth, this simple online course will invite you to take an inward journey, spiraling closer and closer to your own authentic heart. It will encourage you to sink into the kind of stillness I had in that hospital room, where the longings you’ve been ignoring can finally be heard.
I’ll be launching it next week and the class will start November 1st. There will be 21 lessons that you can choose to receive all at once, once a day, or once a week. You’ll also have options for connecting with other women taking similar journeys. And I’m creating a special journal and some Story Stones that can serve as your companions on the journey.
I hope that you’ll consider stepping onto The Spiral Path. I feel confident that this could change your life. To be the first to hear about registration opening, add your name to my email list below. When you subscribe, you’ll be sent a link to download your free copy of A Path to Connection.
Also, if you love to write and want to learn how to do it in a more openhearted way, there is still space in the Openhearted Writing Circle that’s happening online on Saturday, October 4th.