four leaf clover

The Lucky Ones: Surviving Loss – By Stephanie March

We all experience varying degrees of loss, nobody is immune. We lose pets, friends, and family. We lose relationships and marriages. We lose entire houses to fires, floods, and tornados.

Life is incredibly unpredictable and impossible to navigate without that changing wind we know as loss.

Some are crippled by the sudden upheaval. We see this in the eyes of the homeless looking back at us through years of pain and loss. Some go on, only to develop unhealthy coping habits. Others find a way to bounce back, to be resilient, despite it all.

I am one of the lucky ones.

I know a thing or two (or ten) about loss. I have started over more times than one would think is humanly possible. I lost everything I owned at the age of 19 in a monumental flood after a hurricane. I lost nearly everything when my decade plus long relationship ended at the age of 30.

And, a few years later, I found myself homeless and in a shelter for women and children survivors of domestic violence.

The only belongings I had were those that I tossed into my car in a panicked hurry. Each time I clenched my teeth, searched for hope, and found a way to start again.

When I was 19 and a sophomore in college I got my first taste of what it is like to lose everything you own. A hurricane ripped through my town like many before. I thought it was minor and not that big of a deal or cause for concern. Nobody thought much of it and didn’t think to prepare for flooding, which is relatively simple and explained in detail here. Flood preparedness is something everyone should know but at the time I was clueless and assumed it could never happen to me.

The problem was that our state had received massive amounts of rain in the few weeks prior to the hurricane. This left the rivers swollen and the ground unable to absorb the rain from the hurricane. The next day I woke up to flood waters inside of my apartment.

My front door was swollen shut. I had no power, no phone, and the only way I could call for help was to scream out of my second floor window.

four leaf cloverPeople waded through the waist high water and helped me get the door open. I carried my dogs and cats out over my head and took them to the nearest vet for boarding. The dams around the state began to burst and the flood waters continued to rise as I waded through them hauling bags of clothes and anything I could save. Some people in a canoe came by and saved my computer. At the end of the day the water was up to my chin. I had to walk away, not knowing how high the water would rise.

In the following weeks I stayed with friends, family, and in a hotel room while I searched for a new place to live. The college shut down, the entire town shut down, and things like water and ice were airlifted to us. The water rose a total of 18 feet on my building alone. I was terrified and devastated but determined to start over and finish my college degree. I stood in line at food banks and applied for help from the Red Cross and FEMA. My building was condemned and later demolished.

I simply refused to sink.

After I graduated college, my long-term boyfriend and I moved together so that I could attend graduate school. I hoped that the move would rekindle our relationship and give him a chance to change his abusive and cheating ways. I, of course, was naïve and wrong. Nothing changed, the cycle of abuse continued, and after living together for over twelve years we finally broke up.

Again, I was terrified and devastated. I had grown up with this person and was now suddenly 30 years old and single. We divided our belongings and pets. I left graduate school and moved back home to put some distance between us. I searched desperately for healing and a way to start over.

The emotional pain was so great that my chest physically ached. There were many dark days but I reached for laughter and clung to the hope that I would find love, healthy love, in the future. I relied on family and friends to remind me over and over that I had done the right thing and that I shouldn’t go back. Eventually, I believed it.

A few years later I found myself in a short lived abusive marriage. It ended a week before Christmas with police and criminal investigators putting me in a safe house.

The only belongings I had with me were the ones that I packed in about thirty frantic minutes. But I was thankful to be safe, to be away from him. I was thankful for those frantic minutes I had to pack – many women out of the two to four million victims of domestic violence every year get none at all. I was thankful for food to eat and a place to sleep. I was thankful I was alive.

four leaf cloverI won’t sugar coat those months of living in a safe house. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But somehow, despite it all, I had many moments of laughter with the other women and children there and with the advocates keeping us safe. I learned their stories and felt grateful that I didn’t endure what they had endured. I’m sure many of them felt the same when they heard mine. I was not alone and I was safe but I had never felt so alone in my entire life. I clung to the donated quilts people gave me and fresh clothes with gratitude.

When my ex was released from jail I had to move far away to be safe. I took what little was in my car and I drove those miles alone. I left family, friends, and everything I owned and had ever known. I found a place to live in a foreign place where I didn’t know a soul or even the name of the towns and cities. I slept on a donated mattress on the floor for almost 2 years. But, you know what? Despite the debilitating grief, I had never been more filled with gratitude. My place wasn’t that nice but it was mine, all mine.

I had these moments of beauty and bliss that let me know if I could just make it through the grief my life would start again and be anything I wanted it to be. I recognized that grief was, as this article beautifully states,

“more of a journey, and everyone’s journey is individual”.

My journey didn’t look like anyone else’s and that was perfectly okay. Grief and the subsequent healing have no time limit and I allowed myself as much time as I needed.

Starting over is far from easy and the loss of belongings is nothing to scoff at. Many people say “things are just things” but to the person that lost it all this rings insensitive and untrue. Professor Rosellina Ferraro explains in her study that

“Material possessions are often much more than their function properties; for example, possessions may be used to construct one’s self and thus become a symbolic manifestation of who one is”.

She elaborates this point by stating that the loss of such possessions are equivalent to a “symbolic form of death of self”. This tiny death is something only those that have experienced it can truly understand.

These incidents – the flood, the long-term relationship ending, the time spent in safe houses and shelters are only a few of my experiences with loss. Like you, I have lost people and pets that have passed away. I have lost and lost and lost some more. And every single time that I wondered if I could start over again, life gave me a little window of hope to keep my perspective from going completely dark.

I reminded myself after each abrupt ending that I had started over before. I looked for laughter, for hope, and found angels that gifted me with food or blankets or a bed to sleep on. I found angels that gifted me with the kindness of words of support or a hug. I looked within me, and found an endless supply of new beginnings.

four leaf cloverMay you always find yours and have the strength to start over, to be one of the lucky ones, no matter how many times it takes.



Stephanie SparklesStephanie is a writer, survivor, and advocate.

You can find her on Twitter.

Read more on her blog



 

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20 comments

  1. Loss and starting over, sometimes more or less voluntary, others not at all – schools, jobs, relationships, etc., I could make a list here, but that’s not needed. I’m rather amazed at those people whose lives seem to run in a straight line with the losses they do have, mostly the deaths of pets and elder relatives, seeming to arrive on schedule or in a “normal” sequence. And, I have no doubt that for me there will be more. This long, strange trip is not finished. Thanks, Stephanie, for a lovely post. reblogging

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Stephanie,

    Thank you for sharing your story with us all. I am amazed and humbled at your journey and how you have kept your head and heart during such devastating experiences. You are inspiring and an excellent example of how to look beyond the devastation and into the gratitude of what IS.

    Today marks a month since my wonderful, incredible, funny, smart, talented and beautiful mother died peacefully at home in Hospice care. My dad and I cared for her, and although I wasn’t there in time to hold her hand as she passed, I felt her lovely spirit caress my heart. I had 64 wonderful years with her, and know that with all she taught me, I can survive this, too. My dad feels the same way, and when we get together each week, we smile and laugh at all those years with her.

    You give me hope and strength at this time, and I am so impressed with your journey. May there be more joy than sorrow, more laughter than tears and more hope and goodness to come for you.

    Thank you,

    Jane

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jane,

      Thank you so much for your beautiful comment and for sharing your story. I am truly moved by what you wrote. I’m honored that what I wrote resonated with you in any way. Thank you! ❤

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Wow! We have some things in common. I had my belongings stored in a downstairs apartment at my parents house on Galveston Bay. I had moved back in with my abusive boyfriend and a tropical storm blew in. No one guessed that it would be so bad. I cried as I sifted through my things and threw away a lot of meaningful items. One of those things was my senior yearbook. At my last high school reunion, I told an ex-classmate about it and she actually photocopied the whole yearbook and sent it to me.

    I was with my abusive boyfriend for 10 years and married to him for 3. Don’t let anyone tell you that when an abusive person stops drinking, all will be well. Without the anesthesia to numb his anger, the abuse worsened. I blogged about it on my website. When I finally left, I was lucky enough to be able to become roommates with my mom as my dad had died. I started going to Ala-non where I met my current husband of 20 years. I went to college to refresh my office skills and got right back into the field I had left in order to help my ex form a business. I joined a church that I found was a good fit though I am not hyper religious. I became a deacon, who would have thought? Danny, my husband found he also like the church and the people though he was more leaning toward atheism. when he first attended with me He also became a deacon and he and his three children were baptized. I don’t tell you about the church deal because I am touting God, I tell you because I survived probably with the help of God. When I left, I uttered a prayer “God help me.” and I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and every challenge was resolved.

    When I got into counseling after I left, my counselor/minister advised me that I had to break contact with everyone who was in both our lives. It wasn’t as difficult for me because I didn’t have a lot of respect for our common friends with the exception of one. Most of them including his mother had seen or guessed at the abuse and turned a blind eye. The two women I told basically informed me that they didn’t want to be involved. One of the women was a volunteer at a women’s domestic violence shelter. She didn’t want her husband who was a dentist to lose my ex as a client. My own sister who is a loving, compassionate soul told me I couldn’t come to her house because she didn’t want her young children to know.

    You can see the parallels.

    I admire you for doing what you had to do. I know how difficult it was to keep on keeping on but you did it. I know that feeling of gratitude to be free of the abuser. Thanks for sharing your awesome story.👍

    Liked by 1 person

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