By: Kayla Leibner
In any given situation, moving forward can be a difficult task as everyday life presents us with struggles that have the potential to make us or break us – or both. However, as bereaved parents, we’ve all been faced with the most difficult and painful of struggles. These sufferings likewise have the ability to destroy us or build us up – or both – which can make moving forward an even more daunting mission. I would be lying if I said that losing my babies didn’t completely break me. I would also be lying if I told you that my losses didn’t enable me to choose a path that has made me into a better version of myself, as I have picked myself up from rock bottom and I work hard every day to live my best life.
I read a quote recently that says,
“Grief is like an earthquake.
The first one hits you and the world falls apart.
Even after you put the world together again there are aftershocks,
and you never really know when those will come.”
These words deeply resonate with me as I continue on my journey as a bereaved parent. I realized instantly when we lost Melody, and then again when we lost Jamie, that our world would never be the same again. As we strove to put the pieces of our lives back together, we soon discovered that not only had many of the pieces changed, but also that some pieces were missing. As our family (like many others) continues trying to make our life puzzle fit back together, we have encountered aftershock experiences. Sometimes these aftershocks are triggers, life events, or even just a sudden overwhelming flood of emotion. Other times, the aftershock is something much larger that causes deeper distress that presses on the already heavy burden of being a grieving parent – like the current global crisis brought on by Covid-19.
Having already dug myself out of the deepest and darkest of holes, I have found myself especially motivated to take the necessary steps to prevent myself from sliding backward to the bottom of that pit again. Last year was a particularly difficult one, and I know the struggles are not over yet. The Covid-19 pandemic has struck more than the physical health of the world. This global emergency has spread fear, inflicted pain and loss, and has deeply exhausted the population in more ways than we can count. It has created so many vulnerabilities through widespread job and income loss, by forcing parents to make difficult decisions about their children and school, and for all those who are separated from their loved ones.
So how AM I holding it together?
The truth is, I’m not. I am a mess and I’m struggling, but I am working my way through it. I have always relied heavily on the closeness and the support of my friends and family during difficult times. Being prevented from doing so during the social limitations during this time has really made emotional survival even more challenging. It has required so much more than my own strength and knowledge from past experiences to get through all the hurdles I’ve faced over the last year. I’ve utilized multiple outlets and resources to help make up for the ruined routines, the discouraging distance between myself and my loved ones, and the quickly accumulating stressful situations. My hope is that, by sharing my own experience throughout the pandemic thus far, I can help someone else find ways to get through it, too.
My friends and family have always been an essential part of my life, but even more so as I have journeyed through my grief over my babies. As you can imagine, it has been a definite challenge to be separated from my support system. I do still struggle with this aspect of my routine change because I often find myself longing for the physical feeling of support through hugs, hand squeezes, and even just sitting on the same couch as someone I love. This distance has created boundaries, which have produced a loneliness in my life that is hard to deal with.
I have had to work a little harder over the last several months to stay connected with these important people in my life.
I have made more calls, sent more texts, and have begun having regular video chats with some of my loved ones. While it’s not the same as being able to hug and visit face-to-face with one another, I am so grateful for the opportunity technology has given me to keep up with everyone. I’ve found that the increased tech-traffic has also been helpful for my kids at home because they’re able to stay in touch with everyone, too.
I’ve been through counseling in the past, and from that experience I know it is a very important part of my personal mental health maintenance. As I began finding myself feeling overwhelmed and run down about mid-way through 2020 I decided it was time to utilize this important resource yet again.
My therapist is an invaluable part not just of my emotional survival, but also my ability to thrive despite what’s happening in the world around me.
Each week I bring my anxiety, my worry, and the rest of my burdens to her and she so graciously supports me by teaching me how to process and deal with each thought, struggle, and challenge – no matter the source! I struggle deeply with feeling overwhelmed and out of control on a day-to-day basis, so this pandemic and all the change that it has brought has been particularly problematic for my mental and emotional well-being. I look forward to the time I have with my therapist each week to focus on myself and learn skills to help me live my best life each day. Having been given goals, guidance, and direction by my therapist, I leave my virtual sessions feeling purposeful, lighter, and more confident in my ability to overcome overwhelming moments.
I lost my job in June of 2020 after the closure of my school due to Covid-19. I had been a preschool teacher for nearly twelve years and had grown quite accustomed to the routine and planning required for success each day. I had a specific set of things to accomplish each day and a schedule to follow, and when I lost that I momentarily lost much of my feeling of purpose in life. Basically, I felt really sorry for myself.
To balance out the void left by my job, I have found that it has been helpful to set goals for each day – I am able to organize my plans and prioritize each task, giving myself direction and purpose, as well as a sense of achievement each day.
Aside from seeking purpose and feeling the financial stress about my job loss, I was also feeling quite a bit of anxiety regarding school for my children. I repeatedly wondered… How do I decide? What is the best choice? Honestly, there was no singular correct answer. I decided then to view my job loss as a silver lining, as I was suddenly able to more easily decide to enroll my children in virtual learning for their first semester of school this year. I felt peace of mind knowing that, while I couldn’t necessarily control what was happening in my life that I could control my reaction to it. I’m aware that not all families are in a position to have a parent at home with their children during this time like we are, so I choose to feel blessed by the opportunity – even when it means that I lost a job that I truly loved.
There are many other things that have played a part in my survival over the last year, but if I’m being completely honest I have to tell you that my faith has helped me move mountains.
Mountains of emotion, mountains of separation, mountains of disappointment, and mountains of change. These are not easy things to deal with on my own, so I feel greatly blessed to have the security of God on my side, scripture to give me courage and comfort, and prayer as an open line of communication between myself and God. I have taken up prayer journaling and scripture writing to help me begin and end my day with God, and it has helped me have a more positive outlook despite the havoc this pandemic has brought to my life and other lives around the world.
It is my deepest hope and prayer that you are able to find ways to cope with these uncertain times, to push back on fear, and to find courage on your journey despite the changes, challenges, and limitations we’re faced with currently. I truly hope you know that you are not alone and that we can get through this together.
May God bless you and give you peace.
About Kayla Leibner
Kayla is a Christian, a wife, a mother, and a preschool teacher. She and her husband, Ben, have been married for five years and live north of St. Louis with two of their children, Jace (12) and Kiley (4). They also carry two of their children in their hearts – Melody, and Jamie. Kayla and her family have deep and strong roots in their faith and have relied heavily on God and His comfort in their journey of loss and grief. Kayla hopes that her writing would be of help, comfort, and encouragement to families who are suffering this same tragic loss.