By Beryl Young
If there’s one thing I’ve learned through my story of life, loss, grief, and growth, it’s that perspective is everything.
If you saw me today with my wild, curly pink mohawk, colorful wardrobe, and sleeve of floral and woodland tattoos down my left arm, you might think of me as a bold, bright, rebellious risk-taker. This isn’t exactly wrong, but what you’d likely never guess is that I used to project a completely opposite “plain Jane” persona.
Knowing who I was then, and who I am now, reminds me that things aren’t always as they seem; there are always two or more sides to every story, and it’s important that we hold space and make room for perspectives that may be deeper than what’s on the surface.
Growing up, I was always the good girl, the one trying to do right by her family. The honor roll student who attended a top-tier college, found a nice boy, got married shortly after graduation, and landed a respectable job as a school teacher in the community where I grew up.
The next logical step in this storybook-sounding life was to bring a child into the world. I had no idea that this was the part of my story where it would all fall apart and fall into place all at once. Pregnancy came quickly, and I had no reason to believe anything would go wrong because up until this point, pretty much everything in my 28 years of living had gone right.
Serendipitously, it was Mother’s Day 2009 when I saw the double pink lines on my pregnancy test, and once we heard our baby’s heartbeat for the first time, reality sunk in. We dreamed a bit bigger, made our house a home, designed a nursery, and began collecting tiny onesies for our baby-to-be.
By far the best baby gift I received during this time was the fancy DSLR camera gifted to me to capture the little moments yet to become lasting memories. Little did I realize that the camera I was gifted to capture the excitement of bringing home a newborn, I’d instead use to process the grief of losing our first baby.
Over a decade later, I can still hear the all-too-quiet hush that fell over the room when our doctor walked into our 20-week visit to say, “Your baby has multiple problems,” without an ounce of warmth, compassion, or empathy in his tone. I can still feel the way our ultrasound tech pressed on my belly in the same spot over and over and over again, poking and prodding harder than the time before. I can still see the light in my husband’s eyes go dim, replaced with a vacant stare of shock and stoicism.
She was healthy. She was doing so well. She was supposed to make it much longer than this. We gave birth and grieved the passing of our first daughter, Bella Rose, in the wee hours of the morning of September 11, 2009. On a day when America was grieving the loss of our nation, I was grieving the much more personal loss of our first child.
When the hospital sent us home mere hours after her birth and death, I shut the world out. My husband drew the curtains, we cut off the phone, and I curled up under the bedcovers and slept. In between sessions of sleep, the tears fell and fell and fell as my body ached, my heart ached, and my mind ached.
Emotions ricocheted like ping-pong balls: confusion, anger, sadness, jealousy, anxiety, fear. Resentment snuck in as the world slammed me back into the workforce as an elementary school teacher just one short week after birthing and losing my pride and joy. My heart sank as every conversation around the internet, the break room, and my next girls’ night out turned to children and how amazing they are.
I wanted to hate everyone.
I went to hermit, hide, and sink into solitude.
I was longing for connection.
I needed a shift of perspective.
My favorite baby gift, that fancy camera, was the thing that would show me how to make that perspective shift possible.
A few days after our loss, when I was dried up from crying so many tears, when I was worn down from staying awake at night thinking about what I had done wrong, when I was tired of laying like a sloth all day in bed — I finally decided to get up, grab my camera, and take 100 steps from my front door.
100 steps. It was far enough to take me outside my comfort zone, but close enough to feel doable even in the midst of grief. Wherever I landed after those steps, I searched for one little bit of beauty in my surroundings and snapped a photo.
Sometimes those 100 steps took me to the mundane and boring. Other days the light was so perfect that it felt as if my daughter must be there walking with me. Each day taught me something and gave me the courage to step back out into the world.
In other words, the camera helped me preserve the memory of my daughter and process the complicated emotions surrounding her loss. I learned how we can hold space for grief in one hand and gratitude in the other. And I saw my perspective shift from darkness back to light.
My greatest joy now comes from guiding others through their grief using a camera and creativity as a tool to shift perspective. The 100 Steps Project is where we always begin. Want to join the Grappling With Grief community in a week-long “Walking With Grief & Gratitude” 100 Steps Project Journey beginning Monday, November 13th?
All you need is you, your camera (the one on your phone is perfect!), and a willingness to show up with courage and curiosity. Click HERE to register (it’s free!).
I look forward to hearing your stories and seeing them from your own unique perspective.
For more information about Beryl, you can check out her website.
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