“Everything I need to become the woman I’m meant to be next is inside my feelings of now. Life is alchemy, and emotions are the fire that turns me to gold.”
—Glennon Doyle, author of Untamed

M y adult daughter’s birthday this year became the first in which we were not together. Anticipating this, I called her.

Grasping for ideas, forgetting I was talking to a twentysomething, I blurted:

“Maybe we could do a Zoom Bananagrams game or Zoom dancing together! I just don’t want a five-minute phone call. I know you have a full adult life. I honor that, but I really want to celebrate you! I’m your mom!”

“Mom, during the week I’ll likely have a dinner with my dad, then a lunch with my aunt, and drinks and a meal with my friends. I’m disappointed we will not be together, but I understand. Mostly, I look forward to when we can be with each other.”

“I do too. I love you.”

“I love you so much, mom.”

Then a fabulous idea downloaded. I can create short videos in which I share stories and memories of my daughter each day for a week including her actual birthday and send these to her! I joyously began this process.

Two days before my daughter’s special day, Layla, the dog I had gifted both of my children seven years ago, died.

Determined to stay in the joy amidst my sorrow, I continued recording whatever bubbled up. I included thoughts about her essential character qualities, her delightful, sassy personality, things she had said-all woven in a stream of tears, smiles, laughter-a treasure trove of memories that remains on an internal love-filled DVR.

On the evening of her birthday I received an unexpected phone call. “Mom! I had an amazing birthday!” Her exuberant joy burst my heart wide open. She excitedly shared the ways she had been loved, cherished, celebrated. She adored the videos. “Oh, I love you so much, Momma!”

“Happy Birthday, Sweetheart! I love you forever and always!”

In the days that followed her birthday, waves of grief arrived at all the expected and unexpected moments. In the absence of Layla, the silence still feels deafening.

I noticed stragglers-like hidden, lonely, crinkled letters, yellowed photos, and sparkling silver charms from a bracelet, climbed on board a precarious, slippery surfboard of my sorrow. I rode the waves of loss with memories of both my parents, who died during this last year, of not knowing when I will get to be with both my adult children, the three of us together. Unresolved grief persisted in piggybacking like thick blankets layered on top of an already heaving heart.

An edgy, agitation began to build in my body. I couldn’t sit still to get any given task done from beginning to end-even simple ones. I wanted to jump outside of myself, all this loss.

While pedaling my bicycle the next day on a crisp autumn morning, I remembered a friend’s essay about finding her joy in drawing, collaging, and another friend who drew stick figures to process her emotional realities.

That evening I clicked on music I love, pulled out white sheets of paper, markers, and colored pencils. I cried, created, and colored a drawing-unremarkable, yet filled with different parts of me. The process opened me in places I didn’t even realize had been blocked. I remembered-life is messy-full of celebrations and loss. I remembered the importance of feeling everything, taking out all the thorns to heal. While drawing, I discovered a comforting place for my younger selves to mourn and celebrate, for my adult self to be uninhibited and free.

When several beloved ones die within a relatively short time frame amidst life’s joyous occasions- like the woman I heard about who has lost six family members to Covid19, we can either distract ourselves by binge drinking, eating, shopping, by stuffing it all in boxes that we carry to a dark basement, or by courageously feeling the layers and depth of loss our hearts have carried. We can engage beneficial modalities for releasing the sorrow, the love, and the joy.

Many of us are filled with emotional pain, which we can no longer numb, avoid, or suppress because we have awakened to the fact that we want to live, that our souls deserve a chance to breathe, to dance.

How important to find ways to feel…All of It. How meaningful to hear a sage voice inside say, “Welcome to living life as a human being who feels, who experiences what it means to be alive, to embody radical empathy and exude love.”

Being present moment by moment as best we can for what can seem like a deluge of heart-wrenching experiences mixed with joyous, simple ones of celebration, life continues to flow. I believe hospice and midwifery are happening simultaneously inside and outside of us.

What will be born from our sorrows, our joys, our loves, from the brave releasing of a life we no longer live?

Keeping the heart open means allowing life to flow through-to leave tiny love notes, soft, tender touches, drawings as a trail that leads us to appreciate the tears of a thousand losses. Those sorrows often become seeds that grow loving kindness trees in the center of our vast, ever-expanding, beautiful souls.

Laura Staley is the founder of Cherish Your World and the author of her inspirational book Live Inspired.