How to Stay Optimistic

On 31 October 1993 my first daughter died. Due to extreme developmental abnormalities her heart stopped beating during a 19 hour labour which was induced at 6 ½ months into my pregnancy. That morning I had felt my baby kicking me. That night her heart stopped beating

and my own heart shattered into a million pieces. I was 26 years old and had never experienced emotional agony before.

During the dark days, weeks and months that followed, I wished on more than one occasion that my heart would stop beating too, so intense was the desire to escape from the torture of my thoughts and emotions.

However, we named our daughter Hope and, at some level, I managed to cling on to the hope that I might recover, that I might rebuild myself and that I might be able to learn to open my heart to love again.

Eighteen months later, I gave birth to a very healthy, beautiful little girl called Georgia and her existence helped to remind me every day that even in our darkest times there is always hope for a brighter future.

Then on 31 October nine years ago, Georgia was hit by a car, thrown over the roof of the car and landed on the opposite side of the road. As I arrived at the scene of the accident to find Georgia covered in blood and surrounded by police and paramedics, my heart stopped once again. I thought I had lost her too and I knew that, if that was the case, my life would truly be over.

However, Georgia survived and as I sat in the hospital watching the Hallowe’en fireworks across Belfast, as I had done exactly eleven years earlier while Hope was dying inside me, the “coincidence” of this being exactly the same date was not lost on me. Was it possible that my life was trying to tell me something?

In many traditions, Hallowe’en/Samhain/All Souls is seen as the point in the year when the veil between life and death is at its thinnest. On 31 October 1993, Hope died and a big part of me died with her – my big, beautiful heart closed down and I was significantly altered as a person and I had to start again. On 31 October 2004, as I cried tears of relief and gratitude that Georgia hadn’t been killed, my life was significantly altered again. That night I woke up to what my priorities really were and what I really cared about and the next day I resigned from my job and started the process of creating a new life that was more heart-centered than fear driven.

I believe that nothing actually dies, it just changes form and something new will appear to fill its place but, as many spiritual traditions teach, there has to be a period of time set aside for the process of transformation. Herein lies the challenge for us as human beings in a world which seems to be constantly speeding up. We are impatient and we don’t allow time for transformation whether it be grieving the end of a relationship, breaking a negative habit or letting go of one way of being and stepping into another one. Most of us are in such a rush and so used to things happening instantaneously (microwaves meals, remote controls, iphones, online shopping etc). More and more I see people losing their connection with the cycles and patterns of nature, our bodies and our lives.

hope knows no fearIt took a long time for me to navigate the complicated journey through the darkness after they took Hope from my arms in the hospital. I had to go through a sort of personal hibernation from the world in order to deal with the pain. But then, just like in spring, new life appeared in the form of Georgia. And now Georgia is an independent young woman who has moved into her own house and is studying at university and I face another transition in my life. And so it continues……Everything changes.

In my experience, I see that the biggest challenge in this constant process of birth and death, beginnings and endings, darkness and light, is how you choose to experience the change. Do you cling on to the pain of heartbreak and shut down to the possibility of future joy and love or do you have the courage to learn, very slowly, how to open your heart again? Do you crucify yourself for the rest of your life with self-attack thoughts about choices you or others have made in the past or do you consciously work every day to forgive yourself and others for those perceived wrongs? Do you choose to learn and evolved as a result of the ‘dark night of the soul’ or do you shut down and die?

Twenty years ago I chose the name Hope for my baby who died and whatever challenges life has thrown at me since then (and there have been many!), I have continued to choose Hope every single day. Hope is like the light at the end of the dark tunnel. Hope is about trusting that there is a reason for everything even though you may not be able to see it at the time. Hope is about healing. Hope is about realising that everything belongs, no matter how painful it is. Hope is about new beginnings. But, most of all, Hope is about keeping my heart open to life in all its complexity, joy and sadness. As I experienced two decades ago, without Hope life can be a very, very dark place just as winter would be almost unbearable without the promise of spring.

Whatever transformation, pain, darkness or challenge you are going through in your life this Hallowe’en, please find comfort in the knowledge that “THIS TOO SHALL PASS” and THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE.

May you be well, may you be happy, may you be at peace.